Is Alberto Del Rio WWE's newest Mexican hero?

Is Alberto Del Rio WWE's newest Mexican hero?

Alberto Del Rio vs. Big Show - Last Man Standing World Heavyweight Title Match: SmackDown, Jan. 11, 2013

Alberto Del Rio and Big Show clash during the main event of SmackDown for the World Heavyweight Championship in a Last Man Standing Match.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one: A cranky rich Mexican aristocrat with a heart of lead spends years and years antagonizing his peers and staring down his nose at those he considers beneath him. He spirals further and further from the righteous path, and just when it seems he can go no lower, fate intervenes and offers him unexpected chance at redemption. Seizing the opportunity, the  man rediscovers himself as a man of the people, and is reborn as a hero in the eyes of those who counted him an enemy. And then everyone chants Si! Si! Si!

That is the basic story of Alberto Del Rio, who until about a month ago was one of WWE’s most notorious scoundrels, an opulent aggressor who liked to break arms and take names, exploiting every dirty trick in his extensive playbook of skullduggery to achieve glory. After years of antagonizing the “peasants” that surrounded him, however, Del Rio found himself on the other side of the coin when he discovered his altruistic side and captured the World Heavyweight Championship from Big Show in a Last Man Standing Match on the Jan. 11 edition of SmackDown. The title victory, which was as sudden as it was hard-fought, humbled the formerly hubristic Del Rio to his knees in a fit of emotion, and he celebrated the win among the denizens of a WWE Universe who finally embraced him as one of their own.

“I don’t know what to say, because they start cheering for me, they decide to support me,” Del Rio told WWE.com of the sudden groundswell of support. “And to be honest, I don’t know why, but it feels great, it feels awesome. “So all I gotta say is thank you! Thanks for supporting me!”

And while Del Rio’s change of heart is Dickensian enough as it is, The Essence of Excellence’s championship victory also thrust a family legacy and national tradition on his shoulders that the former aristocrat is more than happy to bear. Suddenly he finds himself in the same position as icons like WWE Hall of Famer Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara — not to mention his own family — who competed not just for themselves but for their country as well.

Alberto Del Rio vs. Tensai: Raw, Jan 21, 2013

World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio goes one-on-one with Tensai and then addresses the WWE Universe about his Last Man Standing Match against Big Show at Royal Rumble.

“I come from wrestling royalty, and my uncle [WWE Hall of Famer] Mil Máscaras accomplished so many things for years and years around the world,” Del Rio said of the heritage he now honors. “My father [Dos Caras] did the same thing and for me to be part of that dynasty, coming into WWE and accomplishing everything — WWE Title, Royal Rumble, Money in the Bank and now the World Heavyweight Title — not only is my family behind me but also my entire country.”

“[Mexico] is in my skin,” continued Del Rio, who has paid homage to his lineage by donning red, white and green trunks and eschewing his brutal submission style for a more traditional Lucha moveset that includes the enziguiri and moonsault. “I have it on my back; I have a tattoo on my back that says ‘Made in Mexico.’ I’m proud to be Mexican.”

He’s perhaps most proud of Ricardo Rodriguez, the oft-beleaguered and much beloved aide who kick-started Del Rio’s benevolent streak (The Essence of Excellence first showed his soft side by rescuing Ricardo from 3MB at WWE TLC). Despite their initial master-servant dynamic, Del Rio says, Ricardo has grown to occupy a special place in both the champion’s heart and at his right hand. “We’ve been together for more than three years and he’s always been loyal to me,” Del Rio gushed. “He’s a real friend. I think he was my only friend when I was doing those bad things … he’s my brother, my compadre like we say in Mexico.”

Alberto Del Rio addresses Big Show: WWE App Exclusive

World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio with Ricardo Rodriguez addresses the Big Show, as well as the newly made Last Man Standing stipulation for their World Title Match at Royal Rumble. To get a first look at more exclusives like this, check out WWE

Changes of heart in WWE are often a slow burn; a gradual shift in principle that happens over a period of several months — think Daniel Bryan’s slow descent into egomania or The Miz’s steady transformation into a loudmouthed do-gooder — but they all seem to have a defining moment. For Del Rio, the full magnitude of his victory happened not in the wrestling ring, but in his native country when he took his first trip home after capturing the World Title.

“My dad was crying,” said Del Rio, who had planned a pilgrimage home to sort through some personal problems right before he received — and made good on — his unexpected title opportunity. “[My family] didn’t know [I’d won] because nobody was there, none of my friends, any member of my family were there that night. And when I came home with the title, it was just joy. Everybody was crying — everybody was happy because they know how hard I fought for this title.”

For those who don’t remember, by the way, he fought very, very hard for it. The title was the first World Championship Del Rio pursued upon arriving at WWE, falling short to both Edge and Christian in attempts to seize the title gold for himself in 2011. He spent most of 2012 trying to wrest the championship from Sheamus by hook or by crook, and those efforts proved similarly futile.

And while Del Rio’s challenges as champion are just beginning — he’ll defend his prize in a Last Man Standing rematch against Big Show at the Royal Rumble ( PREVIEW) — it appears winning the title the honest way has done its work. Now Del Rio is looking at the championship through the eyes of a changed man: The World Heavyweight Championship is no longer a bauble to be coveted or a mark of his power, but a sign of how very far The Essence of Excellence has come in WWE.

“It’s just a dream come true. That’s the first title I tried to win when I came to the United States and WWE. And finally it’s mine.”

It’s also a sign of something else one might not expect from an aristocrat: gratitude, humility in the face of his good fortune and a mark of how much Alberto Del Rio owes to the people who made it possible when he least expected it.

“I know I did horrible things in the past, but we all make mistakes and now I’m a different person,” the champion continued. “I want to give everything to the WWE Universe, I want to give everything to the Latino community because they started supporting me for no reason, and I’m always going to be thankful for that.”

Only one thing to really say to that, compadre:

Si! Si! Si! 

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