When Bad Bunny steps inside the ring at WrestleMania 37 this weekend, it will be the fulfillment of a dream he has wholeheartedly embraced, and fans have embraced him in return.
It’s no surprise that the performer of the hit song “Booker T,” named after the WWE Hall of Famer, found a way to be a part of the WWE’s biggest show of the year. What does come as a surprise is that WWE landed a talent of Bad Bunny’s social stature to participate at ‘Mania. Not only that, but he has also appeared on Raw all but one week since his musical performance at the Royal Rumble.
Not since Cyndi Lauper at the inaugural WrestleMania in 1985 has WWE booked someone of such cultural relevance outside of professional sports in this capacity. It took nearly 40 years for someone like Bad Bunny, a proud wrestling fan, to fall into the WWE’s lap.
Bad Bunny & DJ Luian: Wrestling Fans
The Grammy Award-winning reggaetonero is one of the linchpins of a movement pushing American popular music to accept Spanish-language music, but a lot like his presence in WWE, the movement was spearheaded by producer DJ Luian.
The Puerto-Rican producer, known for collaborating with other reggaeton/Latino trap heavyweights like Farruko and Ozuna, is partially responsible for the revolutionary — and familiarly traditional — sound of reggaeton music that is and has been dominating the airwaves in Latin America and the United States for some time now. Luian, also an avowed wrestling fan, can be spotted dropping comments on the Instagram posts of wrestlers and backstage at wrestling shows before the pandemic. He even got a chance to step inside the ring to help the legendary Rey Mysterio beat up King Corbin.
Luian’s influence as a producer can be heard in songs like the Bad Bunny and Drake track “Mia”, but his influence as a wrestling fan is present in the fact that Bad Bunny, who Luian took backstage during WrestleMania 33 in 2017, will be competing in a match this Saturday.
Luian “made it cool” to be a wrestling fan and opened the door for Bad Bunny to chase his dream.
Bad Bunny has professed his love for wrestling in many ways before jumping off the top rope, whacking Miz with a guitar, and landing one of the best-looking worked punches I’ve ever seen.
From wearing vintage wrestling T-shirts in interviews and making wrestling references in his songs to enlisting the likes of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Booker T, and Ric Flair for cameo roles in his music videos, Bad Bunny’s fandom is anything but subtle.
And how could he ever be subtle about it? Wrestling is so ingrained in Latinx and Hispanic culture that in 2018 it was declared ‘intangible cultural heritage‘ by Mexico City’s government, acknowledging wrestling’s, or Lucha Libre’s, cultural importance.
WWE is pushing to reach their Latinx/Hispanic fan base
It makes sense that WWE is exhausting its resources to make clear its newly-forged relationship with one of the biggest stars in music.
According to Cora Cervantes and Brandon Gomez of NBC News, Nielsen Media Research reported that “Hispanics are 42 percent more likely to have streamed WWE pro wrestling compared to non-Hispanics, who are 8 percent less likely to do so”. That’s an astounding number. Perhaps more astounding is this other excerpt from their report: “Latinos were 54 percent more likely to have purchased WWE merchandise in the past year compared to non-Hispanics.”
In a sense, Latinx and Hispanic people are likely to make up about half the people consuming the WWE product in this country. Thus it’s understandable why there’s a growing number of Mexican and Puerto-Rican performers on their roster. Just a few months ago, Rey Mysterio, his son Dominik, Andrade, Angel Garza, and Zelina Vega were all focal points on Raw. The episode of Raw after this year’s Rumble event featured Bad Bunny, his ‘Mania tag team partner Damian Priest (whose elevation from NXT to Raw can be connected to Bad Bunny), Lince Dorado, Gran Metalik, and Carlito.
In both instances, I noticed WWE’s endeavor to appeal to their Spanish-speaking fans. Bad Bunny’s recurring guest role on Raw is indicative of the belief that WWE is trying its best, sometimes awkwardly, to let this part of their audience know that they are listening.
He has become the quintessential crossover superstar, bringing aspects of wrestling to reggaeton, and vice-versa. The night after the Rumble, he arrived at the scene in a white Bugatti wearing a shirt with the cover art for reggaeton legend Tego Calderon’s El Enemy De Los Guasíbiri album.
Bad Bunny has endeared himself to fans with acts like paying homage to Tego on WWE TV and endeared himself to wrestling fans by being unapologetically boastful about his love for wrestling. As kids, we all loved imitating Triple H’s signature water spit (which is now a COVID nightmare), and Bad Bunny got to do it at a Miami Heat game last year and not get kicked out for it. He’s as cringeworthy as the rest of us.
In the time since he debuted on WWE TV, he has already won championship gold — albeit the 24/7 Championship, which is used as comedy fodder — and before relinquishing it to R-Truth on the March 15 edition of Raw, he took the belt to Saturday Night Live and draped it proudly over his knee during his performance of “Te Deseo Lo Mejor” off his latest album El Último Tour Del Mundo.
Bad Bunny wants this moment to feel special
Any time a wrestling promotion brings in a celebrity in hopes of boosting engagement, wrestling fans, myself included, are quick to gatekeep so the “right” celebs are being brought on. With Bad Bunny, fans don’t have to worry about him making a cheap one-off appearance.
The aforementioned Triple H, who is WWE’s EVP of Global Talent Strategy & Development, recently revealed to Michael Morales in an interview for Lucha Libre Online that Bad Bunny has been training at their Performance Center for the past three months and even gone so far as to move down to Orlando, Fla. to be near the facility and WWE’s ThunderDome venue.
Triple H said of Bad Bunny, “he’s earned my respect… It takes a lot to go through what we do, not everybody wants to do it, they want the moment, but they don’t necessarily want to do the work that requires you to get there.”
In a statement made before his performance at the Royal Rumble, Bad Bunny, whose real name is Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio, said “Performing at the Royal Rumble is a childhood dream come true… I have been a lifelong fan of WWE and I am excited to take the stage and entertain fans around the world.”
These sentimental words resemble those in the promo he delivered on the final Raw before WrestleMania.
Let’s take a moment to recognize the authenticity in the promo. He has never been one to shy away from making statements, whether they be verbal or visual. Bad Bunny exuded conviction, a firm belief that he made the right call by getting involved with the WWE, but demonstrated a slightly distraught tone in vocalizing his confusion about Miz targeting him. He capped it by letting his opponents know he’s not afraid because his Puerto-Rican heritage has prepared him for this moment.
With his promo on Monday and the enthusiasm he has shown in doing everything WWE has asked him to, it has become obvious that Bad Bunny is a professional wrestler trapped inside a musician’s body, and he is starting to break free.
Bad Bunny is at the peak of his powers right now. With that power, he has parlayed his wrestling dreams into a tag team match with his partner Damian Priest against The Miz and John Morrison on the first night of WrestleMania, and an effort has been made to ensure it’s something he and his fans can be proud of.