Lucha Undergrounds Ivelisse Velez is among the most talented and exciting female wrestlers in the world. A thirteen-year pro, Ivelisse continues to defy the odds and injury to show just how talented she is. This proud Puerto Rican talent continues to work each and every match in the hopes of getting better each time. Her effort is evident, and both in her matches outside the United States and the ones she has had as part of Lucha Underground, Ivelisse continues to showcase her athleticism week in and week out. One of the most remarkable in-ring qualities about Velez is that her incredible range of moves, including an array of strikes and punches can be attributed to her training in Mixed Martial Arts as well. Her exciting collection of high flying moves showcase what she is willing to do in the ring.
Her future is bright, as she has engaged in many storylines in different places that have helped to further her character. She is currently recovering from injury, but that doesn’t mean she is resting on her laurels. In this interview, she discusses how she has learned to adjust to her environment, regardless of where she is in the world. As a world traveled competitor, she has learned from those experiences and applies them to her craft.
Training at an early age, 14, in Puerto Rico, what would you say were some of the pros and cons of training so young?
I think clearly it’s a big advantage. It was able to learn a lot and gain a great deal of knowledge, being so young in comparison to those in their twenties. It creates a big gap that I think gave me an edge over others. Fans would see me, and I am young so you would not expect much, but I was already at a certain level and that gave me a certain advantage over other girls, better for me to advance in my career. For example, I’m still in my twenties, and I already have 13 years’ worth of experience, with so many different major companies. Those are the pros, and the cons are I missed out on a lot of things. It’s a hard business and I sacrificed a lot from a young age since I was 15.
I missed out on quite a lot of things. The simplest of things like going to a concert, for example. There are a lot of things that I sacrificed at a young age. The pros, it gave me the edge over my competition, and the cons being all the sacrifices that you have to make in order to progress. It’s tough deciding whether or not to start so young. I’ve always been such an ambitious person, from a young age that I don’t think I would have done it any other way. I love to work, and I am very ambitious for what I want. I do whatever it takes, and I started when I was 15. For me, the sooner I started the better off I thought I’d be, considering I had so many odds against me. To fulfill my goal and dreams, I think if I have to look at the pros and cons, I don’t think I would have changed a thing.
Being trained by such legendary wrestlers as Carlos Colon and Savio Vega had to give you some insight into what to anticipate in the business. What did they share with you at such a young age? What was the experience like?
I was more mentored by them, more so by Savio Vega. When I came to the US and FCW, I would say Norman Smiley was a big stand out for the trainers, and I learned a lot of things from him that I still use now. The most important thing I learned from him wasn’t even an in-ring wrestling thing, but it was actually, he would always tell me to smile. (laughs) Funny enough coming from Norman Smiley. I don’t really smile very much, and I can come off as kind of intense because I always look so focused and serious; a lot and people get intimidated or just don’t know how to read me. He would tell me to smile more. (laughs) So that would fall more into the politicking side. We need more smiles and this and that. He kind of helped me realize, not politicking on the side of being fake, but to look a little more welcoming. It sounds like a very small thing, but it’s really made a big difference. It never took away from my character, but more so backstage and in general.
How did the independent circuit in Chicago help you to where you are today? Or has it changed?
Honestly, the changes that I see are not necessarily how people perform. It’s just become a little more spotty, but it’s always been like that. Its what makes the indies different from major companies. What I see that has changed more is that they are giving women more of a spotlight. I suppose they are being inspired by major companies to give women some credit and respect and opportunity. I see that is a change that I didn’t see before, and that’s pretty cool.
What is the biggest challenge in competing in front of different crowds in different countries?
I’ve been to six countries, with number seven on the way in Australia. I never thought of that. In Mexico, it is a really hard one for me to figure out, which is ironic because I’m Hispanic and Puerto Rico is similar to Mexico. In Mexico, it is all about spots, but at the same time, it’s almost like you forget what is happening in the ring and you have to work the crowd and find the formula that is supposed to work. But the crowd is very animated, and I love that about them. Puerto Rican crowds are super animated as well. In Puerto Rico and Mexico, the fans are very passionate. They have these instruments that they use when the match is going on, to follow along with the action. It is like a trumpet that is the most popular one. It is unique, at least when I have been there. I invite you to check out a video somewhere to see, it’s pretty funny. The fans will get pretty crazy, and if you are a bad guy they will throw things towards you or spit at you.
As a fourteen-year pro, and still very young, what have been some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned about the business from when you were first involved until now?
The number one most difficult part of the business has always been the politicking side. I am a very, very honest person, and in any situation, political type of behavior to me is very hard to do. So, that has always been my biggest challenge to deal with. My in-ring stuff that is where I thrive. I come in and approach it with tunnel vision, and go head first into something and try to perfect it as much as I can, and all of that. But the other side, where I have to work with different people that are saying ‘Oh you shouldn’t say that because it’s not nice,’ or you are supposed to act or be a certain way so that people will listen to you that has always been a challenge. The ring stuff comes easier to me because I have always been an athlete and always been very dedicated, so to me, honestly, my greatest struggle has been dealing with the politicking aspect of things.
It changes from place to place, and every place has a different level of how important politics are. Clearly, in WWE at that time, I don’t know now, politicking was incredibly essential, and now I hear that it is better from colleagues that are there. At that time, I was not prepared for what was going on, not prepared to deal with the politics side of things. I have learned a lot about it, but it is still something that I struggle with. I suppose it’s because I’ve always been an athlete; work hard and try to be the best that you can, and I think you’ll be rewarded. It doesn’t work like that. That was my athlete mentality, and the expectation is completely different for an artist. We are artists, so to try to find that balance in that world is always a struggle and a challenge.
Tough Enough lends itself to several opportunities. How did the opportunity come about, and what led you to apply for a spot on the show?
When that came up, I was actually training in MMA in Chicago, and I was actually on my way to switching towards MMA as opposed to wrestling. I had been training in MMA for around 8 months at that time, and I was planning to debut for a company and a team and everything like that. Then, when that popped up, I thought it was an opportunity. I was thinking, okay. At that point, I was six years into my career, and I thought that would be a great opportunity. I wasn’t in the United States very long, as I came from Puerto Rico to here, and it was the first legitimate opportunity that presented itself. I was thinking, ‘Finally, I can get a chance to do something while here.’ It was the first big opportunity that popped up.
At that point, I was thinking ‘Okay what do I have to lose? I’m already planning on going on this other road (MMA), and if this opportunity is for me and if this is the chance, I want to take it.’ So, it was my last shot to give on this wrestling journey. I did it, and thankfully I did. Once that happened, now I have a big opportunity in front of me, I had just started training MMA so let me exploit this opportunity as much as I can. If something comes of it, then finally I can continue down this road and stick to the ultimate goal and continue on, and it happened. I said to myself ‘Well, I’ve already been training in MMA and I’ve competed successfully, made sacrifices to be where I am today.’ So, I decided to continue on with this.
As FCW transitioned to NXT, for fans that didn’t have the opportunity to see the Sofia Cortez character, how would you best describe her, and could you see the character going further?
Honestly, before I was released, I was actually going to film my package to introduce my character, I was actually going to be that MMA character that female persona. And that was cut short because Bill DeMott was doing whatever he needed to do to get me released. Sofia Cortez was as close as possible to what I am now, with their approval. At the time there was still a flourishing thought of the whole anti-diva thing, where I and Paige came together, that’s what I had in my mind. When she came to me, well I am thinking ‘Well great, she has the same thought process, and strength in numbers, let’s get-together and get the whole idea going.’ I was always, constantly, trying to think of ways to break that mold. I wanted to color my hair, I wanted to do everything possible to break that mold, and there were very few things they approved for me. They wanted me to tone down my persona when I would talk and say different things, which was hard for me. I wanted to break that whole mold. It was the closest I could get to what I am now. There is not an inch of me that makes you think diva when you look at me. I am a pure wrestler, a pure athlete. I was actually scheduled to do that MMA gimmick and it didn’t happen.
After departing the WWE NXT brand, you had a chance to spread your wings competing in promotions such as Shine and TNA. What did you walk away from that experience with?
At that time, it was hard for me to understand the whole politic thing, so when I was exploring opportunities with TNA and all of that, it was still a little bit of a struggle for me to understand what they mean by politicking. In my mind, go there, do the best job you can. Not go there, don’t bother anybody, be polite. I don’t know, apparently that’s not correct or whatever, but anyway. Another thing is I didn’t know anyone. It isn’t as though my uncle is from here or there or my mother is this or that. I am a complete alien. Politicking again has many different aspects to it. There is this aspect of do you know this person so they’ll put in a good word for you? Or politicking, and I am going to be straight up, you go to certain people so they say good things about you. Or you are super chatty with everyone and try to be popular so that people like you, so they say good things about you, etc.
To me, this feels like high school. It’s something that isn’t natural to me, it isn’t natural to do, so I had to learn it. The thing with TNA is, it’s the same thing, I would get ‘She is great in the ring,’ but apparently I didn’t have enough conversations, or I don’t know what. Know what I am saying? It sucks because unless you have a conversation with every single person that crosses your path you are somehow rude, or however, the hell they take it. Or, because I was so focused on giving the best performance, the other girl had the chance to chat up the right people so they feel compelled to help her. I am not up in other people’s business because I am focused on my work, so I get forgotten. If I am not there to outshine but to carry them or push them, still that doesn’t mean enough.
With Shine, that was the one place that I was appreciated for my work, rather than how many people I spoke to or who I spoke to. So that is why it worked out so great for me. I was finally able to show who I really was in the business, and that is where matches of the year came, and all of that stuff because I was finally allowed to have those opportunities. The product I was putting out there, and I will always be forever grateful for that, for me that is what it was all about and what means the most to me. I don’t care how much money I can make. For example, in Lucha Underground, they have me as a girlfriend, and I have spoken of how that interested me, to go out there and act and be in a love story and all this stuff. It isn’t what I have worked 13 years for. I have worked 13 years to have opportunities to show what I can do and contribute to women’s wrestling and create an awesome product.
One of the areas of wrestling a number of North American fans cannot seem to appreciate has been the trio’s concept, with teams consisting of both men and women. What has the reaction, the response you’ve received from the public about the in-ring work with both genders coming together?
I think that for myself, honestly, intergender wrestling is something that…even though I prefer to wrestle guys rather than girls, from a realistic standpoint if I was to do a TV match, a guy and a girl on TV, in my mind you would want it to be as realistic as possible. It is something that is very delicate. Every time I wrestle guys I try to make it as realistic as possible, the way that it makes the most sense. Clearly, from an artistic perspective, you can go out there and literally do anything you want. I could literally stand in the middle of the ring and fall on the floor from an art perspective, and act out a million different ways. However, when it comes to professional wrestling, we are supposed to make what we are doing look as real as possible. Realistically, if I was in there with a 200-pound guy in a fight, all it takes is for him to clock me once and I’m out.
Realistically speaking, if I was to do a match where I am against such and such opponent, I would have to make that match represent reality as much as possible, be as real as it can be, for the person watching to even remotely care or invest in what they looking at. Or else it’s ‘Ha ha ha, look at that, that’s funny.’ Or the opposite, ‘Look at this guy killing this woman’ instead of ‘Oh wow, look at this story.’ It becomes a story if I make it as realistic as possible. If I am up against a 200-pound guy, I am not going to try and overpower him. Even if I was a guy that was close to my size, he is still stronger than me, period. By genes, period. So, I would still have to go by that realistic aspect.
Being part of the inaugural Trios champions with Son of Havoc and Angelico must have come with a great deal of pride. What did the buildup to the match and the experience of holding the championships mean to you?
Honestly, I broke my ankle for that match, so I didn’t contribute as much as I’d have liked or wanted to. It means more to me, but the matchup before leading up to it was pretty cool. But, it’s something that was put together last second when they saw that the chemistry between us worked. Personally, that was the first time I was ever put in a team type of scenario. Most of my career I was a singles competitor, and that was the first time I was put on a team. It is very difficult to get everyone, six people, on the same page, but we made it work.
Lucha Underground not being one to rest on their laurels, they had you earn a shot at the Lucha Underground championship against Mil Muertes. How did the booking of the match, and the lead up to it, come about, and were you ultimately happy with your match up?
It was great. He is a fellow Puerto Rican, and coming from the same background we knew right away how to make this work, and that clicked easily. We were on the same page right away. There was no ego, we were on the same page right way, in the sense that it was obvious, it was a David and Goliath type scenario. I kept thinking of ways to project my David stance, and he was thinking, great, it’s cool. I suggested a couple of things to him and he was all for it. He was easily one of the easiest people I have worked with, ever. I was very appreciative of that because most of the time it isn’t like that when you are working with a guy. Especially with a guy that is a monster. I don’t know, it was rare, but I was very grateful for that. He was very understanding that I had just come back from breaking my ankle, so I was hesitant because of my ankle. He was very easy to work with.
With triumphs, you have had your share of challenges. What would you say to anyone that has had to face injury or an obstacle preventing them from moving forward, to get where they want to be in the ring or in life?
I would think it’s really down to how bad do you want it? It’s been the hardest time of my life, with the whole injury and all that, especially when I have been so dependent on my physical ability for so long. Like I said, I’ve been an athlete since I was 8 years old. It’s the hardest thing, but it’s just how bad do you want it? How can you stay focused on that possibility? How stuck can you stay on that possibility? You create your own reality with your thoughts. I literally have just, finally, been able to have my left leg aligned to where it was before I broke it twice. I can actually move it the way I used to before it was injured. It’s keeping yourself focused and not letting yourself get distracted. It is just a battle, having that patience and finding a way. You will get better. It’s just being tenacious.
With 2018 upon us, what are your professional goals for the coming year and beyond?
I just want to have opportunities to contribute to women’s wrestling, and credibility. It always seems like I was sidetracked a bit from that. That has never changed and has always been the way I have been. My dedication and ambition have always been focused on making changes. Making changes is better, and if I can contribute to women’s wrestling in any way, make it better or anything like that. If I decided to go into MMA than I could do that there, for example. Anything I do, I want to be able to achieve my goals and reach for the sky. The sky is the limit, break down barriers and contribute to the growth of women’s wrestling overall. I want to be able to contribute as much as I can, to create a great product for different people that has always been my goal.