A report from EFE.
Puerto Rican Olympic wrestler Jaime Espinal, who won a silver medal at the 2012 London Games, this week will fulfill his dream of participating in a World Wrestling Entertainment event.
“Since I began Olympic wrestling at age nine, I always wanted to do freestyle wrestling,” Espinal told EFE regarding his appearance on Thursday at the “Smackdown” match sponsored by the WWI at San Juan’s Jose M. Agrelot Colisseum.
There, before more than 18,000 spectators, the 32-year-old athlete, who recently became a father for the first time, will kick off the show by carrying the Puerto Rican flag, just as he did in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
In addition, Espinal will also be the official bellringer for the main match between Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal, in which the former will defend his WWE title.
Espinal said that the first time he participated in Olympic wrestling was at the Club Sparta in San Juan and he had always thought that it was just like freestyle wrestling, until he entered training facility and realized that there is no ring or ropes.
“I thought that I was there at first to learn. After three months I noticed that it was another sport,” said the athlete before a training session under Mike Mendoza at the Vikingo Power Gym in the capital, which is managed by legendary Salvadoran wrestler Salvador Perez, better known as “El Vikingo.”
Espinal continued training for Olympic wrestling at the Club Sparta along with other wrestlers, including Franklin Gomez – the 2011 world champion – learning all the acrobatic moves and even being part of a breakdancing team.
“My dream disappeared because I didn’t think it was real and I didn’t know anyone who did freestyle wrestling,” he said.
Nevertheless, while he was competing in London in 2012 a group of WWE staffers who were there to recruit new wrestlers saw him win the silver medal in the 84-kg category, thus becoming the first Puerto Rican to win a medal in Olympic wrestling.
After the competition, the recruiters invited Espinal to a tryout in the US.
“My head exploded when I realized that that would be my big chance. I was super-excited,” he said, showing off his breakdance moves along with his cheerleading routine.
He continued with his career as an Olympic wrestler, however, and once again competed at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, but although he did not win a medal, the WWE recruiters once again contacted him to find out if he had any interest in joining their organization, and he told them yes.
He then spent eight months preparing for his big chance, although he still has not struck a pay deal with the WWE and thus he does not know when he will make his debut in an actual match.
His contract stipulates that if he ultimately signs with the WWE, the firm has to give a test to his coach Mike Mendoza.
“That’s part of the agreement and of the commitment I have with him. It’s the least I can do for him. I’m putting my neck on the line, but it’s worth it,” said Espinal.