Samuray del Sol’s living room appears ordinary on first glance: He has a Mac desktop, a television and Nintendo Wii (Netflix is on the screen), and a Virgen de Guadalupe hanging on the door. Two small dogs bark around the house as his fluffy orange cat slinks on the couches.
But then, in the corner, there’s a row of masked mannequin heads adorning a table in the corner.
Some of them – like a vivid silver and pink mask with green hair – were given to Samuray by his fellow luchadors in Mexico: Gifts from wrestlers called Trauma II, Yakuza, and Astro.
Most of the masks belong to Samuray and track his rise from a young Chicagoan hoping to make it in wrestling to a bonafide international star.
One of the masks is very simply made of thin spandex with an M designed to look like a bird on the front.
His first mask.
“I still have that same design on my underwear,” Samuray said. (He’s referring to his wrestling trunks.)
“It takes me back to when I first started,” Samuray said. “I used to be like this, like that. I’ve learned so much over the years.”
Samuray del Sol grew up in Chicago and attended Curie High School. He’s 26, and began wrestling when he was 19.
Samuray trained at Windy City Pro Wrestling, a local school no longer in existence, where the professionals were strict on him because he was a young guy.
“I did feel like quitting sometimes,” Samuray said.
But he stuck through the training and tried to make a name for himself in wrestling. He started wrestling on lucha libre shows at the Congress Theater and made connections with other wrestlers.
After a couple years, in spring 2011, he made it to Desastre Total Ultraviolento (Total Ultraviolent Disaster) in Mexico, a hardcore wrestling promotion, where he injured himself doing flips from the ring to the floor.
Samuray hit his head on the guardrail, which he knows could have killed him.
As it was, the injury left him with a brutal concussion and, his wife Abigail said, “post-concussion syndrome.”
“It literally felt like I was drunk every day,” Samuray said, describing the injury’s effects.
This injury came at a bad time for Samuray, and could’ve derailed his career. That summer, he got a big break and was booked to wrestle one of the independent wrestling scene’s greatest stars, El Generico, in Pittsburgh.
The two had an underwhelming match.
“When I had that match with him, it’s on YouTube and many people think I wasn’t good,” Samuray said. “It wasn’t that. I was just so dizzy at the time.”
The concussion had him thinking about retirement. He came very close to walking away from the business.
But Samuray had a couple bookings left for Expo Lucha, in Mexico, and decided to work the show.
When he returned to America, he worked as an extra for WWE when they came to Chicago.
Then he got booked by Asistencia Asesoría y Administración, which is one of the top two Mexican wrestling federations, to work in a tournament.
“I did my stuff, I did what I do, [and] a lot of people noticed,” Samuray said, pointing out that top Mexican stars like Dr. Wagner Jr. and La Parka gave him awesome feedback.
“It’s a real great honor coming from them,” Samuray said.
The top stars at AAA liked what they saw.
Samuray was training in Canada, with indepenendent pro wrestling star Teddy Hart, when he got a phone call from Konnan el Barbaro, a former top star himself who wields considerable power at AAA.
“We want you to be Octagon,” Konnan said.
Actually, they wanted him to be Octagon Jr., and team with Octagon. (Here’s a video of them together with La Parka.)
For those who don’t understand, Octagon was a huge wrestling star in the 1990s and continues to play an important role in AAA.
In Mexico, many stars inherit characters from family and friends. El Santo is the most famous wrestler in the country’s history, and his son – El Hijo del Santo – is an important figure because he shares the name. (El Hijo del Santo is also very talented.)
Getting asked to take on the role of Octagon Jr. was a huge honor and a big career move.
“That’s a huge deal, especially in Mexico, me not being blood related,” Samuray said. “It’s a real honor.”
While Samuray was establising himself in AAA, he also rose on the independent wrestling scene.
Every year, in Florida, there’s a tournament called the Jeff Peterson Memorial Cup. It’s a major event in the world of independent pro wrestling: Some of the industry’s top stars have won the competition, including Davey Richards, Chris Hero, Sami Callahan and AR Fox.
Chicago’s own Samuray del Sol won last year.
He also started working for Dragon Gate USA, a subsidiary of a Japanese company known for its fast-pace and Mexican/Japanese hybrid wrestling.
(Asked to describe his style in the ring, Samuray says he’s adaptable and can brawl, work technical, high fly or do whatever’s necessary to have the best match with an opponent.)
This weekend, he’s in California wrestling for Dragon Gate. In May, he’s flying to the United Kingdom for his first matches in Britain.
This March, he returns to AAA as Octagon Jr., where he will likely continue to impress the wrestling world with crazy dives like this one.
Still, he’s a humble young man who enjoys eating Captain Crunch berries on occasional cheat days from his diet.
One of the hardest parts, he said, of being a wrestler are leaving the family behind while traveling. Both he and his wife, Abigail, said it gets “lonely” when he’s on the road.
But she’s supportive of his dream, and he’s working hard to meet his next goals – though he won’t say what they are.
“When I set a goal, I don’t say anything. I like to set them but when I do accomplish them, I say them proudly,” Samuray said.
What he’d like his fellow Chicagoans – and anyone else out there – to take from his story is simple.
“If you set a goal and go for it, who knows?” Samuray said. “You might actually get it, you know?”