An hour before the doors open for Mucha Lucha Atlanta 11, there’s a line outside the doors that snakes through the lobby of the strip mall where the show is being held. It’s a sunny Sunday in March, but that hasn’t stopped more than 1,200 people from making their way to the Grand Ballroom in Norcross, Georgia for the event.
Inside, Ricardo Ordaz Jr. is bouncing from one side of the ballroom to the other. One wrestler has forgotten his entrance music. There’s a problem with some of the VIP tickets. Some of the talent wants to talk about how their match has been booked. He needs to make sure the company filming the show has everything they need. He’s constantly in motion.
Over the next three hours or so, the crowd will be entertained by a combination of some of the best lucha libre talent Mexico has to offer and a number of top American indie wrestling stars. Ordaz might see three minutes of a match here or there, but a whole match, start to finish? No chance.
“I’m a promoter,” said Ordaz. “I guess wrestling is in my blood.”
While his friends who grew up in Juarez, Mexico with him were looking to local boy wonder Eddie Guerrero as their favorite lucha, Ordaz didn’t even have to tune in to TV to see his. His father, Ricardo Ordaz Sr., worked for 16 years in the world of lucha libre – 12 as a wrestler, and another four as a referee. He now has a crucial role with MLA, both inside and outside of rhe ring.
“He’s actually the referee. He gets a lot of heat. He’s a heel referee. He does it really well. He has his own theme song when he comes out to,” said Ordaz. “He wrestled for 16 years, so he still wants to be part of it. That’s great. He’s my dad. He helps me before the show. He goes out there and sets up the ring, sets up everything for the venue.”
Along with his father, Ordaz relies on an army of friends and family to pull of each show. They’re everywhere, decked out in red MLA shirts with “STAFF” written on the back. It’s still not enough.
“I’ll be honest with you, the staff that I had that day was not enough, we had like 1300 fans. I didn’t think it was going to be that big,” said Ordaz.
While the Ordaz family spent their early years in Juarez, they eventually moved to, of all places, Omaha, Nebraska. Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of lucha libre action in the cornhusker state, but that didn’t stop his dad from trying to help his son become the next second generation Mexican wrestling star.
“My dad set up a pad to train in our basement. Just imagine, my dad was 33 years old and I was 13 years old, and he would grab me and wrestle me like I was an adult. It hurt, man,” joked Ordaz. “So one day I was like, ‘wrestling is not for me, you hurt me too much. I’m done. I don’t want to know anything about wrestling,’ and that was it.”
The family didn’t stay too long in Nebraska, and three years later they found themselves in Atlanta, Georgia. Years went by with Ordaz not giving wrestling much thought. He built a life in Atlanta and started a family. But at age 29, while walking through a local mall, Ordaz’s family history caught up to him, the way that destiny often does.
“One day we walked into a Hispanic shopping plaza and we saw this lucha show (flyer). They were going to have this lucha show and I tell my dad, ‘let’s go ahead and go to this show’,” said Ordaz. They made their way to the show and Ordaz was impressed by what he saw, not just the matches in the ring, but the number of butts in seats and just how into the show everybody was. “I see the crowd reacting and I told my dad, ‘you know what? This could be great’.”
Ordaz had friends in the wrestling business back home and his father was still in contact with many of the connections he had made during his career. Putting all of that together, and truly believing that the market wanted something different, Ordaz launched Mucha Lucha Atlanta in 2013 and set about putting his first show together.
“At first, I wanted something small, so we went to this venue that held like 700 fans and we blew it up, like, 1,300 fans or something. We had to close the doors,” said Ordaz. “My market was more Hispanics and Latinos because of the whole lucha thing. But I started seeing Atlanta really needed a big company that can bring in big name wrestlers, and there are some, but I don’t think they’re taking full advantage like they’re supposed to.”
The first event was a small success and while Ordaz didn’t make any money, he covered his expenses and suddenly had visions of seeing a profit in the next couple of shows. It didn’t happen though. The next three MLA shows had Ordaz rethinking whether or not he was cut out to be a promoter and if Atlanta really was ready to get behind pro wrestling.
“The first show was okay, I brought in so many big names that I didn’t make any money out of it,” said Ordaz. “I think MLA 2, MLA 3 and MLA 4 I lost money and I was so disappointed. I was like, ‘you know what? Wrestling is not for me. I wanna stop. I’m not going to do it anymore’.”
Even though he was frustrated and concerned that he could lose money again, he decided to continue and it was around that time that Lucha Underground really began to take off on TV. Seeing some of the top Mexican talent featured on TV each week, Ordaz decided to keep going and booked Lucha Underground stars Pentagon Jr. and Fenix for MLA 7. Things were suddenly looking up.
“It helped me a lot. When I started bringing in Pentagon, Fenix and Drago from Lucha Underground, that’s what helped me with the crossover,” said Ordaz, of what were bigger – and more importantly – more culturally diverse crowds. The hispanic crowd was still coming out, but so were American wrestling fans who grew up on the WWE and WCW product.
“So I started bringing in AR Fox, Mr. 450 – the American crowd knows him – and I’m seeing more reaction with the American crowd,” said Ordaz. While Lucha Underground helped bring the American audience to his shows, he also recognizes that he’s got to help fans who grew up watching only Lucha Libre, that wrestling is a global phenomenon and they’re going to like the American wrestlers just as much.
“What I’m trying to show and educate the Mexican crowd about is that it’s not just the luchadores, the ones with a mask and a cape. Wrestling is a worldwide sport,” said Ordaz. “It’s crazy how wrestling is. I’m trying to show them that it’s not just the lucha. You can match up a Japanese wrestler against an American wrestler and they can give you a helluva match.”
Recent MLA shows have included the likes of Darby Allin, Joey Lynch, Austin Theory and AR Fox, but also included the hispanic stars the MLA core audience comes for. Most of the ring announcements and non-wrestling entertainment was in Spanish, but that’s going to change soon. All part of the process of bringing in bigger and bigger crowds.
The next MLA show is June 25, another Sunday night. It’s not an ideal date, but Ordaz didn’t have much choice.
“I went to WrestleCon to talk to a couple of the wrestlers that I was going to bring in and I’m talking to Pentagon and Fenix and they’re like, ‘Brother, we don’t have a date. We’re booked until 2018’ and I was like ‘No, you have to give me a date. I don’t care what you’ve gotta do, but you’re going to give me a date’,” said Ordaz. After going over their schedule, the Lucha Brothers realized they had a weekend in late June that could be a possibility. After re-working a few things, the pair let Ordaz know they had one date. He took it and booked his venue for an event he’s dubbed MLA 12: Border Wars – a 12-man tournament.
“The whole tournament was based around their schedule,” said Ordaz. “It’s hard, just imagine, you’ve got Brian Cage, you’ve got Sammy Guevara … you’ve got Mr. 450, you’ve got AR Fox, you’ve got Pentagon Jr., you’ve got Rey Fenix, you’ve got Rey Horus. Just imagine having all of these guys, they’re all super busy. It was kinda hard for me to get a date.”
Along with bringing in top indie wrestlers from both sides of the border, Ordaz recognizes that other elements of his show need to change as well.
“I’m trying to bring in an English-speaking announcer, Melissa Santos. I got in touch with her,” said Ordaz. “I’m working on that because I definitely know that the American crowd needs and English-speaking ring announcer because they need to know what’s going on, they need to be part of the show.”
Ordaz worries that somebody might like the product in front of them, but being unable to follow any of the other stuff going out might alienate them and they’ll never become returning customers, regardless of who is on the card.
“I’m just crossing over to the whole American crowd and American fans. I know it’s going to happen because can not just have lucha shows,” said Ordaz. It’s paying off for sure. The most recent MLA show, in March, drew an estimated 1,300 fans to a venue in the suburbs just north of Atlanta proper. And just days after announcing a date – no talent yet, just the date – for MLA 12, front row tickets sold out in minutes.
“I think the American fans are the ones that are getting the front row tickets whenever they come out,” said Ordaz.
Things are clearly going well for Mucha Lucha Atlanta, but that doesn’t mean the work is worry-free. Like most independent wrestling companies, there’s not a lot of employees and Ordaz ends up wearing multiple hats.
“It does get pretty stressful, but whenever you see the result the day of the show, whenever those 1200 or 1300 fans, it feels really good. The day of the show, I’m running everywhere, I don’t even get to enjoy a match. I do get to see a couple of minutes,” said Ordaz, who also lines up sponsors, designs most of the art work for posters and flyers, and books the flights and hotel for each wrestler. “I love it. I think I was born for this and I think I’m doing a good job. I want to be humble about it because I know that’s what is going to open door for mr. I don’t know where MLA is going, I really see us going into a big venue one day.”
He’s already changed venues once. After MLA 1, Ordaz moved into the Grand Ballroom and has done the last 10 shows there, but as the promotion gets more and more traction in a market with a population of 5.7 million, he knows the opportunity is there to keep growing. He’s already started looking at bigger venues, some that can seat up to 3,000 fans.
“Right now, I don’t see it as (a way of) making money. I have my Monday-Friday job, so this is like a hobby for me. It’s growing into a business, but I don’t see it like that right now. I want to make sure we’re making money so we can keep bringing in bigger names and getting bigger crowds,” said Ordaz. “Mucha Lucha Atlanta is being recognized by a lot of fans. I went to WrestleCon and I had my hat, and people were stopping me and were like ‘that’s an MLA hat. We heard you guys got some good shows’.”
Having a solid reputation with wrestling fans is obviously important to growing the business, and that comes with treating more than just the fans right. There’s never been a better time to be an indie wrestler. With so many promoters willing to spend the money to bring in top tier talent, the wrestlers can choose to go where they’re treated well.
“They come in, you treat them good, however they’re supposed to be treated. You pay them and they go about their business,” said Ordaz. “Unfortunately sometimes, I hate to talk bad about promoters, but sometimes they don’t know how to do things and they just love wrestling and they do it because they’re passionate about it, but they don’t know how to do business and unfortunately, they end up not paying them or giving them a really bad a hotel or not booking the flight right.”
The wrestlers aren’t the only ones making the trek to Atlanta for shows. Fans have begun making road trips to MLA shows from nearby states, including Virginia, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama. He’s even got some fans who are driving almost 1,500 miles from El Paso, Texas.
“So that’s a 24-hour drive. That’s a day to drive up here. (She said), ‘we see you have great shows and stuff, I think it’s going to be a group of 15 of us. We’re just going to rent a van and we’re just going to drive up there for the show’,” said Ordaz. “Those are the things that I value a lot, because when people more than three hours, two hours for a show, that’s just shows me that I’m doing a good job.”
The feedback from fans who have come to MLA shows is part of the reason Ordaz keeps putting on shows. Knowing he’s building a small hobby into a thriving side hustle, and potentially even more, is one thing, but for having literally grown up in the world of lucha libre, seeing his promotion become a part of people’s lives is something he cherishes.
“I’ve had fans call me up or send me messages on Facebook, ‘hey Ricardo, my kids were super tired, they didn’t want to wake up for school in the morning, but once they got home they were so excited about the wrestling, they were putting their masks on, and there was wrestling all over the house or apartment and they just keep asking me, ‘when is the next show?’ Those are the things that I value a lot,” said Ricardo.
Running a successful independent wrestling promotion, or any small business for that matter, requires those in charge to connect with their customers. Ordaz knows this and rather than seeing each paying customer as an addition to his bottom line, he sees them as an extension of the very thing that introduced him to the world of lucha in the first place.
“I have this slogan at Mucha Lucha Atlanta; la familia no siempre es sangre, which means family isn’t always blood,” said Ordaz. “So all the fans, I let them know we’re a family. If I can do anything to help out, I’m willing to do it.”