It’s understandable that Ivelisse Velez naturally portrays such a competitive fighter on Lucha Underground telecasts—she’s one in real life, too. The one-time WWE Tough Enough contestant is only 27 years old, but she’s been wrestling since 2002, almost exactly half of her life. Long before American women’s wrestling evolved into its modern standing of more assertive and dignified competition, and less excuses for mindless T&A, Ivelisse was picking up the nuances of the business in her home of Puerto Rico. She was almost a decade-long into her career by the time she’d made the cast of the 2011 season of Tough Enough, where she came in eighth place, withdrawing due to injury. WWE came calling anyway, and she spent spent nine months with Florida Championship Wrestling (later rebranded NXT) under the moniker Sofia Cortez before being released. It didn’t take long for Ivelisse to find her way back to the independent circuit, zealously dedicated to furthering herself in a business that has chased away so many.
Ivelisse has become a fixture on Lucha Underground programming. With a company emphasis on strong females that willingly mix it up with cutthroat alpha males, Ivelisse has proven a natural fit. Her primary story arc saw her belittling her luckless charge, the masked Son of Havoc (independent standout Matt Cross), during a lengthy losing streak. Eventually, the combustible duo was joined by South African daredevil Angelico, where the men find it onerous to keep up with her high standards and emboldened attitude. In a rare display in the world of wrestling, a female character is perpetually imbued with alpha treatment, never submissive.
With a physically daring and scintillating in-ring style, and the desire to continue pushing barriers in the wrestling world, Ivelisse takes pride in the role she plays, because it’s not too far from who she really is. With Son of Havoc and Angelico, she was one-third of Lucha Underground’s inaugural Trios Champions, notably working the tournament final with a broken bone in her ankle. There is much to be charmed by in Ivelisse’s work as Lucha Underground kicks off its second season on Wednesday, January 27 at 8 PM EST on the El Rey Network. As one of the breakout stars of season one, Ivelisse figures to make just as big a splash in the second go-around.
Justin Henry: You had gutted out most of Lucha Underground’s first season with a broken ankle. What was that kind of experience like?
Ivelisse Velez: “I didn’t even know that I had broken it, actually. I had actually broken it in practice before the Trios championship tournament final. I broke it that day, in the afternoon; I was practicing a move from the top rope, and I knew that something kinda cracked or whatever. Every time I moved my foot, I could feel it shift. I wasn’t sure what it was, and I didn’t want to accept that I was that badly hurt. It never would have crossed my mind that I actually had broken my bone; I had never experienced a broken bone before. But I wouldn’t accept it; I just said, “I’m going to wrap it up real tight.” I walked in and acted like I was fine until I had the perfect opportunity to make it look like I hurt myself off of a move. Afterward, they pretty much told me I had to go to the hospital. When they did the X-rays, they told me it was broken, and I started laughing, like, “There’s no way!” Because I had never experienced a broken bone, and everyone would say how painful it is. I was still walking, but they explained it wasn’t the weight-bearing bone, and that made more sense (laughs).”
JH: So when you feel that bone shifting and you had the Trios final match to work, you didn’t call any audibles then, and the match went as planned, but with a convenient spot for you to sell the injury?
IV: “Yeah! The doctor who’s at the arena at all times, he checked it and said, “It doesn’t look very good, but it’s up to you, you can go to the hospital or you can try to finish,” and I just said, “Yeah, I’m finishing.” I’m going to do what I have to do and I’ll go to the hospital after.”
JH: With Lucha Underground’s second season beginning January 27, what excites you the most about the show’s return?
IV: “It excites me most that I’m walking on both my feet, so I’m super-excited about that! (laughs) Just the possibilities of that alone is just endless. Not only with my physical capabilities, but mentally I’m even hungrier, and ready to unleash all of that pent-up frustration, heartbreak, and all of that into one big explosion. I can guarantee you that that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”
JH: I’ve heard that the Lucha Underground locker room boasts one of the more stronger cultures in the wrestling business. How would you compare it to the other locker rooms that you’ve been in?
IV: “It’s very, very true and very, very refreshing. It’s just a joy to be a part of it. The beauty of it is that it is different from other locker rooms, it really is. Thankfully, it stayed that way through the first season, and hopefully it continues to stay that way. Not many people believe it until they actually experience it.”
JH: After experiences in WWE developmental, and brief stays with TNA, was it surprising just how creative freedom has been allotted to the performers in Lucha?
IV: “Yes, that has also been very refreshing, and it’s the most I’ve gotten to experience it. Working with WWE, they were used to working with girls that knew nothing about wrestling, so it wasn’t really anything personal towards the girls themselves. But once girls came in that actually had experience wrestling, they had to adapt to that. With Lucha Underground, the fact that I can perform on TV and have creative control of what I’m doing is definitely a highlight.”
JH: There have been a number of matches where you and Sexy Star have been afforded higher amounts of offense against male performers. Was it much of a surprise that Lucha Underground portrays you and its other female performers as being boldly on par with the men?
IV: “It does surprise me, and it still does because it’s such a different concept. Even for us women, it’s something that we have to adjust ourselves to, to finally be put on that level. We have struggled and worked so hard to get it, and we finally get it, so it’s like we don’t know what to do ourselves! Technically, we’ll never really be at the same ‘level’ in terms of strength and all of that. As fighters in a realistic sense, we’ll never really be ‘equals’. But as long as each gender has the opportunity to shine in their own manner, that’s where we are able to be equal. That sort of equality is what’s most important.”
JH: Is it much different working a physical match with men compared to working with other women?
IV: “Actually, I started out wrestling men and trained with men, and I’m actually more comfortable with and prefer wrestling men. But not a lot of men are open to or used to the idea, so it really depends on who I’m working with, and how they view women within wrestling. With some, I have trouble getting my point across that I’m just as credible a fighter as them in terms of what I do in the ring, and with some it’s just easy. With men like that, it’s easy beause they don’t mind, and they have wrestled with women before. They get that I’m not the ‘common’ type of female wrestler. But I imagine it’s a different experience for everyone.”
JH: What’s been your proudest highlight from Lucha Underground’s first season?
IV: “Definitely capturing the Trios gold. Even though I had a physically-hindering injury, I set out to finish what I set out to do, and that in itself I’m proud of. Also, the fact that I was entrusted with being the first woman in Lucha Underground to hold gold, which obviously means something. As dark and as heartbreaking as the injury was, that was still my proudest moment.”
JH: In addition to your role with Lucha, what do you most take pride in from your wrestling career?
IV: “I take most pride in being one of the most dedicated performers in wrestling. From day one, I’d set out to achieve a level of credibility as a performer, regardless of my gender, and pretty much break down gender barriers when it comes to wrestling. That’s what I set out to do and I feel some accomplishment. I still have more to contribute to that and I look forward to it, but I’m most proud of what I’ve achieved thus far.”
JH: What’s the ultimate item on your wrestling bucket list?
IV: “It’s hard to say, there’s still so much I want to achieve. I want to wrestle in Japan. I had the best year of my career in 2014 with the help of Shine, having the longest Shine Championship reign. I came into 2015 with that momentum just to crash down with the injury, but I really look forward to my future, picking up where I left off and keep pushing into that direction, and to keep it going for as long as I can.”