We Had a Wrestling Expert Critique Bad Bunny's Performance at WrestleMania

"From the jump, he looked like he'd been doing it for years."
Drew Schwartz
Brooklyn, US
Bad Bunny
Photo courtesy of WWE

A few hours into WrestleMania 37, the WWE’s biggest televised event of the year, someone clad head-to-toe in black rode into Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium on top of an 18-wheeler truck. As he approached the ring, his eyes obscured by dark sunglasses, an announcer introduced the mysterious figure: “From Vega Baja, Puerto Rico—Baaaaaad Buuuuuuuuunnny!” Thousands of wrestling fans screamed in ecstasy; fireworks went off. Within a few minutes, the rapper had joined up with his partner Damian Priest, known as “The Archer of Infamy,” and prepared to take on The Miz and John Morrison in a tag-team brawl. 

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As much as that might sound like a ketamine-induced fever dream, it really happened. Bad Bunny is a longtime wrestling fan, and after performing “Booker T” (named after a famous wrestler) at a major WWE event earlier this year, he was invited to fight at WrestleMania. He spent more than a month learning to pretend to kick two dudes’ asses, and to have his ass fake-kicked in turn; according to Priest, Bad Bunny trained with him “every week, multiple days a week.” His commitment seems to have paid off: By the end of his match on Saturday, Bad Bunny had sailed off the top ropes, hit the The Miz with a “tornado DDT,” and incapacitated John Morrison with something called a “Canadian Destroyer flipping piledriver.” He and Priest won the fight.

Curious about the quality of Bad Bunny’s wrestling debut—and completely incapable of judging how well he did ourselves—VICE spoke to David Bixenspan, a wrestling expert and journalist who’s written about the sport for years, and works as a researcher on VICE TV’s Dark Side of the Ring. He treated us to an informed, in-depth critique of Bad Bunny’s performance—which, apparently, was way better than it had any right to be.

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VICE: What did you think of Bad Bunny’s match, and how did he do?
David Bixenspan:
It went about as well as it could possibly go—both thanks to everyone else in the ring with him, but also just whatever training he went through, and [his] dedication. As far as someone who was not a professional athlete doing a celebrity wrestling match, I can't think of any better performance. Even if you include professional athletes, it's definitely still in the upper tier. But as far as actors, musicians, whatever, I can't think of anything better. Mr. T did fine in his original WrestleMania match, but he was an athlete: He was a very good high school wrestler, and a good high school football player. So at least he has a base as a competitive athlete, and it was expected of him to be athletic as a bodyguard. No one expected Bad Bunny to be flying around the ring the way he did.

Could you unpack what was so impressive about his performance?
In a way, the most impressive thing—because it's always the area where these first-timer celebrity types are the weakest—is just his basic pro-wrestling acting. [He] was so good in the ring selling: getting across that he's hurt, and putting over everyone else's moves as being effective. His facial expressions, his body language—all that was fantastic. Generally, it's the last thing that most wrestlers really pick up. I mean, you'll hear from wrestlers who talk about how it took them so long before they really got that side of wrestling. And from the jump, [Bad Bunny] looked like he'd been doing it for years.

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That said, physically, he looked great. He was smooth. He flew around the ring well. He didn't ever look out of place. His punches looked very good, too. Maybe they told him to not worry about it and just throw a punch—it's possible—but it didn't look like he was legitimately tagging them. So that's impressive, too. Because there are a lot of wrestlers who don't know how to throw a convincing pulled punch.

He just did a tremendous job. A ton of credit goes to both of his opponents too, because they were so selfless and understated in helping him look good. But it still doesn't take away from the fact that it's just an incredible performance for a first-timer.

Were there any particular maneuvers he did that are really difficult?
So like, when he does that flipping pile-driver thing on the floor, that is a move that obviously is mostly the work of the other person. 

But when he did the head-scissor thing where he spun around—I think that would be “satellite head scissors” in wrestling parlance—that's something that would be more physically impressive. That's a more difficult thing that you don't see as commonly, and to see him do it so gracefully [was impressive]. In general, everything he did looked good and smooth. 

Twice during the match, Bad Bunny jumped off the top rope into his opponents. Is that pretty difficult?
I would say the impressive part [about] that is the trust on his part, as someone who—outside of their rehearsals and training—has never done this before. That's the key part, especially because—to be completely honest—the Miz does not have the best history of catching people on dives. Now, [the Miz] also had Morrison there with him to help. But I would say the psychological side of that is actually more impressive than the physical part. Because that requires you to put so much trust in the other people. It's not going to be instinctual for him the way it would be for someone who's been wrestling for however long.

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“I didn't expect anything bad. But I certainly didn't expect it to be as great as it was.”

How hard would it be for the average person to do what Bad Bunny did?
It would definitely take a lot of effort and training and skill and physical ability. It is incredibly impressive that he pulled this off as well as he did. I can't think of a single thing that went wrong in that match. I mean, there were so many stories of him working his ass off training for the match that I didn't expect anything bad. But I certainly didn't expect it to be as great as it was.

How rigorously do you think Bad Bunny prepared for this?
He was in Orlando at their training facility, the WWE Performance Center. He was there for at least a few weeks, if not longer. And they've been hyping this up since January or February. So I’ve got to think he probably put a good two to three months of training into this, at least. 

That's kind of wild, considering he has a full-fledged career to deal with that has nothing to do with wrestling.
Yeah, exactly.

Why do you think Bad Bunny wanted to do this? Was he paid? 
A couple months ago, Paul Wight, who was Big Show in WWE, went on [pro wrestler] Chris Jericho’s podcast. He talked about how he had gotten in touch with Will Ferrell about Will Ferrell wanting to do a WrestleMania match with another celebrity. All [Ferrell] asked for was a donation to his preferred charity. Apparently, [the WWE] went back to Paul Wight and said: “Well, we don't really pay our celebrities.” So if you go with that, it seems like this is more [Bad Bunny] wanting to do it than anything else.

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That's really interesting. Putting an actual check aside, what else might Bad Bunny have gained from this? I wonder if some people who follow the WWE, but might not have known or cared about Bad Bunny before, have now become fans.
I think that is definitely the case. There was a ton of, “Wait, who's Bad Bunny?” online when he first showed up and this was first becoming a thing. So it definitely broadened his audience a bit. If nothing else, the appreciation for him showing out like that will probably make a few more people curious about his work.

For their part, why was the WWE so keen on having Bad Bunny at WrestleMania?
A few reasons. The most obvious one is that this WrestleMania was the first—and really, the first really big show—since the pay-per-views and all the other WWE Network content was moved over to Peacock in the U.S. So obviously, they're trying to build up subscribers for that. Viewership is down both from the pandemic and from a loss of viewers that they [the WWE] were already going through beforehand. A mainstream celebrity hook would help a lot.

I can also imagine people who never watch wrestling being like, “What? Bad Bunny is gonna fight some guys? I’m watching that.”
Exactly. Being on Peacock, too, means for WWE not just getting new subscribers for their corporate partner, but also getting people who are already subscribing to Peacock to sample them. For the most part, the average person is not just going to suddenly turn on a WWE show because they see it's among the options on Peacock. But wait: Bad Bunny’s gonna do a match? That's something that might get someone to watch.

Considering how well Bad Bunny did, do you think he's going to wind up wrestling again, and maybe make a habit of appearing in the WWE?
I think so. I'd be shocked if he was never back. If he was dedicated enough to do as well as he did, I’ve got to think he's gonna be back again.

Follow Drew Schwartz on Twitter.