Vicente Fernández: The Cuban wrestling legend who owned Washington

Vicente Fernández was no John Wayne.

The Cuban pro wrestling legend was a graceful and elegant entertainer, known for his steely eyed patter in the ring, and for his high kicks that knocked competitors right off their feet. One match ended with the massive athlete, wearing only a pair of skintight jeans, performing a disappearing act.

He was adored by fans, even if his name was disturbing, a pejorative that morphed into something even worse – a Latin equivalent to the “Ya tu basta” dialect: Víterees. He could be cruel but also kind and generous. Machos are the favorite but the ladies would have to take a back seat to him. He had much more to offer than pure intimidation.

When they heard his real name, people thought he’d be “a bit of a jerk,” said Danillo Ayala, co-owner of one of the largest wrestling promotion companies in the region, Lucha Libre AAA, to the Miami Herald. The company, known for its cringe-worthy violence, soon introduced him to another audience – the straight-laced Washington wrestling crowd.

Ayala started booking Fernández on the DC Women’s Wrestling circuit. “He was like a brainiac,” he said. “He loved performing.”

As time went on, he became an important figure in the local wrestling scene. He performed and trained some of the wrestlers, got involved in promotions and was revered as the King of Machos.

“Very few men in this world have had the incredible impact Vicente had on the lives of so many people,” his son Danilo Fernández, known as “Yano Yagua,” wrote in a post on social media.

Born in Havana on March 21, 1952, Fernández initially loved martial arts. He worked as a bodyguard in the Cuban police before forming his own mixed martial arts team in the 1970s. He continued doing that after breaking out of the country and moving to Miami to pursue a career in professional wrestling.

At one point, he was injured on an undercover beat-down, putting a bullet in his chest and inspiring the phrase “militares moches” – or macho killers.

“A lot of what he did in wrestling was to make it sound macho,” said legendary wrestler Barry “Bodog” Bondarenko. “I’m not saying I liked the macho side of him, but there was a lot of how it looked. And that kind of made him a great character.”

When he was 19, the Cuban man was chased by a pair of men who tried to rob him of his vintage Pontiac. He survived the run-in, then jumped into a matching American model and sped off. Cuban authorities apprehended him. When he turned himself in to serve time, he was only permitted to dress in a certain style, which is known as bruja – the blingy shorts with little bottoms. He joked that he ended up in jail in “blue jeans, jockey shorts and a soccer jersey.”

“Vicente was very happy,” said Luís Orozco, a friend who’s been in touch with his family since he died last month. “He really didn’t have many problems.”

For some, it helped distinguish him from other tough Latin wrestlers. They liked his deceptive skill as a fighter, said Bondarenko. Others felt his real-life wrestling persona drained the fun out of the business.

“They think he was stupid to pose like this,” Orozco said. “I don’t think he cared.”

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