Interview: Lucha Underground’s Johnny Mundo

This originally featured in VultureHound’s wrestling spin-off magazine SteelChair. You can read the full interview and more in the magazine here

If you are like me and aren’t into illegal streaming and all that jazz, then you will only have heard rumours of ‘The Temple’ and wrestlers such as Angelico, Son of Havoc and Sexy Star. One name you will have heard of though is John Hennigan formally known in his WWE days as John Morrison and Johnny Nitro. Now wrestling as Johnny Mundo, Hennigan is one of the faces of the high-flying Lucha Underground promotion.  

I wanted to start with the news that broke last night, which is that Chyna sadly passed away. You during you career have had a couple of very strong women in your corner. What are your thoughts on Chyna and the part she played in changing the face of the game for female performers?

Oh man, I can’t say that I knew her very well but I did meet her a couple of times and she was very nice to me, and behind the scenes she was a very sweet woman. She really ushered in a new age for female wrestlers, and was the first woman in modern WWE that was wrestling with guys and made it acceptable for women to bump guys. As far as empowering women in the squared circle, she was a trend setter. If you look at what’s happened since, Lucha Underground has followed that! Stuff like this is really tragic man, and it has happened to too many wrestlers at too young of an age, I was really shocked by this one.

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In terms of Lucha Underground, you’ve got a very cult appeal because the product isn’t readily available yet. Despite that, you have a vocal UK fan base. What are your thoughts on why you are doing so well not just in the UK, but also at home in the US?

I think Lucha Underground is the evolution of wrestling; it’s a combination of Lucha Libre wrestling, America pro-wrestling, and the gritty grindhouse style of Robert Rodriguez. There has never been a wrestling show produced in the same manner as Lucha Underground. Then you’ve got the top talent from around the world in my opinion; guys from Mexico and AAA. Guys like Fenix, Pentagon and Aneglico, and then the top independent talent too in my opinion, Son of Havoc and Killshot, and then you’ve got guys like me and Rey Mysterio who have had time with WWE and left for their own reasons.

The roster at Lucha Underground is hungry, and I feel like we’ve all got a chip on our shoulder but in a good way. We want to prove that we are the best in the world and it shows when you are watching the programme. The type of action you are seeing is at a faster pace and higher level than any other show. The third thing in this equation is the world we have created in Lucha Underground. It is more protected and constructed than any other wrestling promotion; with that I mean it is a world that is fully fleshed out with supernatural characters and ancient history harking back to Aztec mythology with characters like Johnny Mundo and Rey Mysterio where everyone knows where we’ve come from. The world is constructed in such a way that it makes sense, and the characters come from somewhere that people understand.

Also, it is a tight hour of television that respects people’s time, a lot of wrestling shows are three hours but you can watch it in twenty minutes with your TiVo. People who watch Lucha don’t need to fast forward their DVR, because of all those factors. It is paced differently, because it’s for a different generation.

You mentioned the pacing. I’m not sure how much Robert Rodriguez is involved but is that pacing something that he brings to the table?

Of everyone in my circle of friends, Robert is by far the busiest, he’s super busy but he advises and watches. He gives as much input as he can and he works closely with Kick Punch Films – who handle the vignettes – and they have a very similar editing style. Those guys are geniuses, man and that’s why the vignettes look like they do. I think as far as how the matches go, the art direction and the grit that you see in The Temple stems from the grindhouse feel of a lot of Robert’s films.

Was Rodriguez something that swayed your decision to join this project, because I imagine you had plenty of offers following WWE.

Yes, him and Mark Burnett! I was a film major, also. I didn’t do my dissertation on him, but I wrote papers on his films. When I was first contacted about Lucha Underground I was a little sceptical, because you are always sceptical about this stuff. But when I got the call about the set, “this is the set, Robert Rodriguez and Mark Burnett are both in on this” and there were a lot of people that I knew and respected, and it didn’t hurt that the arena was ten minutes from my house. I was born and raised in Los Angles, and I’ve wanted to be a part of something in Los Angles for a long time.

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Looking at the history, LA isn’t somewhere that usually pops up as having a cultural wrestling heritage.

I think what has happened is that a lot of the history books have been written about the territories by American pro-wrestling historians, so those guys are going to write about the guys that produced American stars. But at a lot of the stuff at the LA Colosseum was Lucha Libre. Chavo Guerrero’s father was wrestling at the Colosseum forty or fifty years ago. They say that history is selected memories, and it is cool to be part of a show that is bringing about a revival of Lucha Libre and telling stories with characters that are second and third generation Luchadors. We are going to revive that part of wrestling history.

It feels like Lucha Underground is wrestling in its purest form, because at the end of the day wrestling is storytelling, and it’s the storytelling that gives it this epic feel.

I think you can reduce any form of entertainment down to simply emotions. TV, movies, wrestling; the whole point of any of it are the emotions. As a member of the audience, you go to feel something, and stories are what hook you in and make you relate to the characters. At its core, great wrestling is storytelling, and it is definitely what Lucha Underground has been about since day one, telling stories in this cool comic book universe.

You’ve mentioned the brilliant roster that Lucha Underground has, what is morale like within that roster, because Lucha Underground is arguably in a position to soon become the ‘other’ promotion on TV.

I think the whole Cruiserweight Tournament is a response to Lucha Underground, I think that a lot of the stuff that Triple H and Stephanie did in the WrestleMania entrance was similar to the art direction of Lucha Underground. We are on their radar. Their superstars have been addressed not to acknowledge anyone on our roster, but I think as far as the production of shows go, Lucha Underground is new, it is fresh, and it’s something that has never been seen before in the world of professional wrestling, using stars that are more talented than any other wrestling promotion.

If you look at something like WWE, a lot of their top stars are hanging around still, because they never made any new stars. The whole time with WWE they had their Cena, their Undertaker but they never made any new young stars. And the stars that they did make? Look at like guys like Daniel Bryan who was one of the most talent and nicest guys in the business. Unfortunately for him right as he was at the peak of his success he got hurt. Then you’ve got CM Punk, who broke through the glass ceiling and they weren’t treating him like you treat a top guy. What we’ve got is a roster of young and hungry lions that are more talented than any other roster in the business, with more to prove than any other roster in the world.

Vince said on the Stone Cold podcast that his problem with his current roster was that too many people were afraid to try and fail, so they don’t take chances. But the principle with Lucha Underground seems to be, that if it doesn’t work you just try again until it does.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve failed a lot. I’ve messed up opportunities and I’ve fallen down a lot. But this opportunity I have right now with Lucha Underground, feels like the best opportunity that I’ve had in my career, and the proof is in the fact that we are doing this interview right now. I can go to a country where Lucha Underground isn’t even on TV, but still people are finding it on YouTube or elsewhere on the internet and are just raving about it. Like, I went to Sudan and people in Sudan were talking about Lucha Underground.

We are in an age where fans are savvy and know what is happening backstage, but we still want to be entertained.

You want to be entertained, and you want to be treated with respect. You don’t want and I don’t want, when we’ve invested time in a TV show, for a storyline to change without explanation half way though, and then changed again a few weeks after that. Because then it feels like ‘why am I even bothering watching it?’

You’ve got a few UK appearances coming up, what are your thoughts on the UK independent scene? It is arguably the biggest it has ever been right now. Is it something that a lot of the American wrestlers are aware of, and want to be a part of?

Absolutely. Personally, I think the UK Indy scene might be the strongest in the world right now, there is more talent, more shows, more promotions in the UK, running better shows than any other area in the world. Guys like Will Osprey, Noam Dar and Marty Scurll! Everybody is doing really well, it is innovative and interesting.

Huge thanks to the team at Lucha Underground and Johnny for the time. You can get a hold of Lucha Underground through iTunes.