While it might seem like Dr. Wagner Jr. is currently dedicating most of his time to being a fashionable hot dad on social media, the man is not just a legend, but a true institution in the colorful and surreal world of Lucha Libre.
Lucha is about family. A lot of legendary wrestlers come from a long and extensive lineage of grapplers. Wagner Jr. is not an exception, and to understand him you need to understand his legacy.
The original Dr. Wagner, real name Manuel González, started his wrestling career in 1961 under the name Centella Estrella (Black Lighting). He only worked under that name for less than a year when a promoter suggested he changed his name to something a bit more colorful. Medico Asesino (Killer Doctor) was a very popular wrestler in North Mexico and Texas, and he had just passed away. His passing left a huge hole in the scene. So, the promoter offered Manuel a slot on the top of the card. All he had to do was wrestle as the son of Medico Asesino. He declined
He liked the Doctor part, but just wasn’t going to take advantage of someone else’s legacy. So, Doctor Wagner was born.
Wagner had three sons, two of them would go on to become professional wrestler. But the firstborn was the one that got the legendary name. However, there’s debate whether he wanted it or not.
He could have just become Wagner Jr. from the beginning, but he wanted to start his career under his own name. So, he became “El Invasor” (Invader). He was having moderate success under that name. However, in trying to escape the legacy of his father he ended up doing exactly what he did. He worked under his own name for under a year, and then became a Doctor.
The year was 1986 and he the Wagner family was going to make their debut to the world. Father and son would team for the first time, in what was supposed to be an epic run as a tag team. That’s what they planned, fate had a different idea.
While driving to the show, Dr. Wagner Sr. had a car accident that left him confined to a wheelchair. It was a miracle he survived, but he was never going to be between the ropes again and Wagner Jr. was going to have to make a name for himself, alone.
Had I been in the shoes of Wagner Jr. I would have packed my bags, gone home and try to get as far from the wrestling business as possible. Yet, it seems like this tragedy only made Wagner Jr. stronger. His father was not able to continue his legacy, so he needed to build and legacy and a half now. And he did just that.
His father was a heel (or “rudo” as we call them on this side of the border). He was an evil doctor after all. So, he antagonized the fans, bended the rules, and was downright mean. Wagner Jr. tried to do the same, but he was just such a good wrestler, and such a charismatic figure the fans wouldn’t let him.
The biggest feud of the early days of his career was against El Canek. Like most lucha feuds it was supposed to end in a Mask vs Mask with Wagner as the heel. A week before the match, his father died. This wouldn’t have changed anything for a lesser wrestler. But he was Dr. Wagner Jr. The day of the match he was showered with cheers and compassion. People wanted to cheer him on, and he had to turn face. He didn’t want to, CMLL didn’t want to, but the fans did.
Was this a one time thing? No, it happened twice.
Few years later he was working as a heel in a feud against Atlantis and the crowd turned on Atlantis. He was just that kind of guy, years of amazing in-ring work and memorable feuds made him always a fan favorite, regardless of what role he played in storyline.
Of all his feuds and stories he told in the ring, my favorite was the one that made people organize a march and block several key streets in Mexico City. He felt like he was being mistreated by his bosses because they wouldn’t let him take on LA Park. So, he organized a march. Not just for him, but for anyone that felt they were being mistreated by unfair management. Around 250 people showed up and they managed to impact about a million people with their grievance. It takes balls to create an angle that’s going to obstruct the daily activities of people in the fifth largest city in the world. And Wagner made it work.
Then, last year, the unthinkable. Dr. Wagner Jr. lost his mask in a match against Psycho Clown. 31 years he wore that mask, and now it had to go. Losing your mask in lucha is a sign of dishonor. In most cases, people cheer the guy that won the mask. But in Wagner’s case, it was different as he took of the hood he had worn for more than three decades, the entire arena starting clapping. Mask or not mask, he was a legend and the people of Arena México were not going to let him forget that.
When this happened, I figured he was a veteran putting a younger guy over on his way out. That Wagner was going to slow down and start working towards retirement.
That was very naïve of me. I mean, this is Dr. Wagner Jr. we’re talking about. On January 26, 2018 the won AAA’s Mega Championship for the third time. And his legend continues
Plus, now that he lost the mask he’s not only Mega Champion. He’s also your girlfriend’s favorite luchador.