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Meet the Men of East Harlem's Wrestling League

By Gustavo Solis | November 11, 2014 7:25am
 A new wrestling league is trying to develop a local audience in East Harlem.
Latino Wrestling League
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EAST HARLEM — For the last seven years Jose Ortiz has been keeping a secret.

Hardly any of his 500 Facebook fans know his real name, where he lives or what he does for a living. They simply know him as The Dominicano Diablo, one of the baddest wrestlers in the Latino Wrestling League.

“He’s a bad guy,” Ortiz said of his alter-ego. “He’s arrogant, he thinks he’s better than everyone else. If an old lady fell down on the street he would probably walk right over her.”

Diablo has tried out for WWE and even appeared as an extra once on the televised wrestling league. He has spent years developing his character's back story, but he doesn't like to mix wrestling with the real world.

"I like to keep things private, just say I'm a professional wrestler," he said.

On Saturday, he entered the ring in the gymnasium of the Taino Towers in El Barrio to a chorus of boos from a crowd of about 200 wrestling fans.

For his match, Diablo — dressed in red boots and a matching Speedo — teamed up with Dan De Man for a tag team bout against Jason Speed and Bronco International — a man with massive biceps and a blue luchador mask.


Diablo and Dan De Man insulted the crowd and got in shouting matches with elementary school students before making their way to the ring.

In keeping with their villainous roles, during the match they distracted the referee and double-teamed Jason Speed, who wore black shorts and a hockey jersey.

“I’d like to be one of the good guys," Diablo said. "It’s more difficult to be a good guy. It’s harder to get people to love you than to hate you.”

The crowd booed and chanted, “cheater, cheater,” as they continued fighting dirty. Once Speed was able to tag Bronco the momentum shifted. He delivered a powerful drop-kick to Diablo then lifted him up over his shoulders. As soon as Bronco was ready to toss Diablo, Dan De Man delivered an unforgiving low blow.

The bell rang and they were both disqualified.

The crowd that filled the gym to see wrestlers such as Crazy Ivan, Tommy Moose, the Legion of Anarchy, and Aramis La Paz was made up of young kids from the Guardian Angels and local families. 

A couple of older die-hard fans got so worked up that they tried to jump on the ring a couple of times.

It was the last Latino Wrestling League show in a four-night run at the East 123rd Street high-rise put together by a local favorite, Frankie Flow.

Flow grew up in East Harlem and started the league to bring wrestling into the neighborhood. He quarterbacks the performance, puts the ring together and also fights.

“These are hard-working families,” he said. “We just want to put on a good show.”

Before the show, as he goes over the rules and when each fighter will compete, he reminds them to be professional and avoid cursing.

Most semi-professional wrestling shows like this one take place in Pennsylvania and New Jersey because it costs less to do them outside of New York. Besides the higher rent, New York requires wrestling organizations to have a doctor near the ring, said Ortiz, who helps run the league.

The Latino Wrestling League is committed to bringing more to the matches to the neighborhood.

The matches are done more for love than money.

Each competitor gets paid depending on ticket sales. They need to make enough to pay the cost of renting the space and putting on the show. Once they do that, what's left gets distributed evenly to the wrestlers.

On an average night Yanko Valentino, who's a firefighter in Yonkers in his day job, said he and the other wrestlers will make between $20 and $60 — if they sell enough tickets.

“Some of the younger guys want to make it to WWE,” Valentino, whose nom de guerre is Aramis La Paz, said. “I do it for a hobby. I’m not 200 pounds, I’m not 6-2, those are the kind of guys they are looking for.”

He said he gets enough out of playing a positive character and fulfilling a childhood dream.

“He is a hero for peace,” Valentino said. “It’s part of my personality. I hate bullies. I hate people that try to take advantage of others.”