Welcome to Gorilla Fighters, a feature where I profile some of the lesser-known entities of WWE and NXT. Not so much lesser-known as in terribly obscure or superstars who barely wrestle, but people that though we see them on TV and have become a little familiar with them, we really don’t know that much about. We pretty much know the life stories of guys like John Cena, Randy Orton, Kane, Undertaker, Triple H… they’ve been around for decades and have been profiled and had their stories told to us by JR, King, JBL, Michael Cole, and countless backstage interviewers. In this feature, I’ll try to research the same information about wrestlers that I find highly interesting and want to know more about, and I’ll definitely take suggestions on who to feature in these posts. I’ll also discuss each wrestler’s potential, where they are now, and where I hope they’ll end up.
Today I’ll profile one of the hottest up-and-coming heels on the SmackDown Live roster, El Ídolo, Andrade “Cien” Almas.
Who is Andrade “Cien” Almas?
Strap in folks, because he is more accomplished and renown worldwide than most of you know.
Manuel Alfonso Andrade Oropeza was born on November 3, 1989, in Gómez Palacio, Durango, Mexico, the son of Jose Andrade Salas, who is better known as the wrestler Brillante. He became part of the third generation of the Andrade family to compete in lucha libre. His grandfather, Jose Andrade, wrestled under the ring name “El Moro”. Due to the secretive nature of lucha libre, where the real names of masked wrestlers are often not revealed, we don’t know exactly how many members of his family are wrestlers, but we know at least four uncles and one cousin are professional wrestlers as well. Bottom line, he was destined for this, and wrestling is in his blood.
With his father, uncles and grandfather being involved in running a local lucha libre promotion and school in Durango, Andrade began training for a professional career from an early age. He made his professional wrestling debut on 3 October 2003, a month before his 14th birthday, but only after his father signing a waiver for the local boxing and wrestling commission to issue him a license. He began working under the ring name Brillante Jr. in honor of his father.
He wrestled as Brilliante Jr. from 2003-2007, During that period of time he got involved in a storyline rivalry with his uncle who wrestled as “Zafiro”, leading to his first ever Lucha de Apuestas, or bet match. By defeating Zafiro he won his first headline match, forcing Zafiro to have all his hair shaved off after the match per lucha libre traditions. A Lucha de Apuestas has two wrestlers each putting up something important, most commonly mask vs. mask or mask vs. hair. With the importance placed on masks in lucha libre, losing the mask to an opponent is seen as the ultimate insult, and can at times seriously hurt the career of the unmasked wrestler. Putting one’s mask on the line against a hated opponent is a tradition in lucha libre as a means to settle a heated feud between two or more wrestlers. Andrade has wrestled six Luchas de Apuestas in his career with a record of 5-1. His had two as Brilliante Jr., the first mentioned above against his uncle Zafiro, and his second a mask vs. mask Lucha de Apuestas vs. Camorra, in which he was also victorious.
During his time as Brillante Jr., Andrade also competed as the masked characters “Guerrero Azteca” (“Aztec Warrior”) and “Rey Azteca” (“Aztec King”) on occasion. In 2007 he signed with Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (“World Wrestling Council”; CMLL), and began training under CMLL head trainer El Satánico. He made his CMLL in ring debut on February 27, working as “Brillante” just like his father had. In June CMLL changed his name, rechristening him La Sombra (“The Shadow”). CMLL previously had other people work under the name “La Sombra” in the 1980s and 1990s; CMLL did not promote the most recent La Sombra as having any relation to the previous incarnations at all, although it was later subtly acknowledged relationship was acknowledged when La Sombra began wrestling in a black and silver version of his father’s mask.
La Sombra quickly moved up the ranks of CMLL in the months after his debut. The first sign of CMLL putting their faith in La Sombra came when the promoters him teamed up with CMLL’s main good guy (known as a técnico in Spanish) Místico for their annual Torneo Gran Alternativa (“Great Alternative Tournament”) where a rookie and a veteran team up. La Sombra and Místico defeated Heavy Metal and Super Nova in the first round, Dr. Wagner Jr. and Mascara Purpura in the semi-final and the team of Último Guerrero and Euforia in the finals to win the 2007 Tornero Gran Alternativa. The following month, La Sombra teamed up with El Sagrado and Volador Jr. to defeat Mr. Águila, Damián 666, and Halloween, collectively known as Los Perros del Mal (“The Bad Dogs”), to win the Mexican National Trios Championship. On November 27, 2007, La Sombra added the NWA World Welterweight Championship to his collection when he defeated Hajime Ohara to win the title; his victory made him the youngest wrestler to hold the championship, winning it at the age of 18.
Throughout 2008 La Sombra was busy defending both championships on several occasions. On January 16, 2009, La Sombra became a triple champion as he teamed up with Volador Jr. to defeat Averno and Mephisto, winning the CMLL World Tag Team Championship. La Sombra’s time as a triple champion lasted just over two weeks, until February 3, when Sangre Azteca, Black Warrior, and Dragón Rojo Jr., collectively known as Poder Mexica (“Mexican Power”) defeated La Sombra, Volador, and Sagrado to win the Mexican National Trios Championship. On May 27, 2009 La Sombra lost the NWA World Welterweight Championship to Mephisto.
On March 19, 2010, Andrade has his third Lucha de Apuestas, and his first as La Sombra. He defeated El Felino is a mask vs. mask match. On July 12, 2010, at the Promociones Gutiérrez 1st Anniversary Show La Sombra participated in a match where 10 men put their mask on the line in a match that featured five pareja incredibles (“Incredible Pairs”) teams, with the losing team being forced to wrestle each other with their mask on the line. La Sombra and Histeria were the first team to escape the match and retain their masks. He had his fourth Lucha de Apuestas later that year at the CMLL 77th Anniversary show, where he defeated Olímpico in a mask vs. mask match.
Later in 2010 La Sombra, was selected to be the CMLL representative for New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s (NJPW) Best of the Super Juniors XVII (BOSJ) tournament that took place from May 30 to June 16, 2010 in Japan. The tournament marked the first time that La Sombra toured Japan. On May 30, 2010 La Sombra wrestled his first match in the tournament, defeating Tiger Mask. On the final day of the tournament he defeated the junior heavyweight wrestling innovator, Jushin Thunder Liger. With just three wins in the tournament and a total of six points he did not advance to the semi-finals. In November 2010 La Sombra and Máscara Dorada took part in New Japan’s five-day-long Super J Tag League. After winning two out of their four matches in the group stage, La Sombra and Dorada finished third in their block, missing the finals of the tournament. La Sombra and Dorada returned to New Japan on January 4, 2011, at Wrestle Kingdom V in Tokyo Dome, where they defeated Jushin Thunder Liger and Héctor Garza in a tag team match, when Sombra pinned Liger. As a result of his victory he was granted a match for Liger’s CMLL World Middleweight Championship in the process. La Sombra received his match for the championship on January 22, 2011, at Fantastica Mania 2011, but lost to Liger.
In January 2013, La Sombra took part in the three-day Fantastica Mania 2013 event. During the second night of the tour, La Sombra unsuccessfully challenged Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. During the third and final night, La Sombra defeated Dragón Rojo Jr. to win the NWA World Historic Middleweight Championship. On May 31, 2013, La Sombra defeated Nakamura in a rematch in Mexico City to win the IWGP Intercontinental Champion, becoming the first Mexican to hold that championship. On July 20, he lost the IWGP Intercontinental Championship back to Nakamura during a tour of Japan.
All in all, by the time he was 23, he was a one-time CMLL Universal Champion, a one-time CMLL World Tag Team Champion, a one-time CMLL World Trios Champion, a one-time Mexican National Trios Champion, a one-time NWA World Welterweight Champion, a one-time NWA World Historic Middleweight Champion, a two-time NWA World Historic Welterweight Champion, a one-time LLA Azteca Champion, and a one-time IWGP Intercontinental Champion. He was also ranked #52 in PWI’s top 500 singles wrestlers of 2013. That year, at the CMLL 80th Anniversary Show, he remained undefeated in Luchas de Apuestas when he defeated Volador Jr. in a mask vs. mask match.
On September 18, 2015, La Sombra lost his perfect Luchas de Apuestas record, along with his mask and anonymity when he was defeated by by Atlantis in a mask vs. mask match at the CMLL 82nd Anniversary Show. Below is the full match, the unmasking comes just after the 24-minute mark.
La Sombra wrestled his final match in CMLL against his tag team partner Rush on November 13, 2015. Six days later, Andrade signed a developmental contract with WWE. He reported to the WWE Performance Center , focusing initially on improving his English language skills with the help of Sarah Stock, a WWE trainer who worked for CMLL for almost a decade. He made his WWE in-ring debut at an NXT house show in Tampa, Florida on 8 January 2016, wrestling as Manny Andrade and defeating Riddick Moss .Andrade made his NXT TakeOver debut at NXT TakeOver: Dallas on 1 April, where defeated Christopher Girard during a dark match.
The following month, Andrade was given the new ring name Andrade “Cien” Almas. At NXT TakeOver: The End on June 8, 2016, Almas made his NXT TV and PVV debut, defeating Tye Dillinger in a five-minute match. At NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II, Almas was defeated by the debuting Bobby Roode. On the 5 October episode of NXT, after losing to The Revival in the first round of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, Almas took out his frustrations by attacking his tag team partner Cedric Alexander and turning heel in the process. By defeating No Way Jose on the December 14, 2016 episode of NXT, Almas qualified for a fatal four-way match to determine a new number one contender to the NXT Championship, but was eliminated by Roderick Strong.
Around this time, Almas started being booked as lazy and as someone who cared more about partying that winning his matches. He started a long and frustrating losing streak against guys considered lesser wrestlers and did not win a televised match from April 5, 2017 through August 24, 2017. On the July 19, 2017 episode of NXT, Almas appeared with an unknown woman and attacked Cezar Bononi before threatening No Way Jose, though Almas ran away when Jose ran back into the ring. Almas returned on August 9 being accompanied by the woman who turned out to be his new manager Zelina Vega, and defeated No Way Jose. He defeated Johnny Gargano at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III with the help of Vega’s interference, starting a long feud between the two. At NXT TakeOver: War Games in November, Almas defeated Drew McIntyre to become the new NXT Champion.
On January 27, 2018, at NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia, Almas successfully defended the title against Johnny Gargano. Andrade’s match with Gargano at TakeOver: Philadelphia was highly acclaimed, earning five stars from the Dave Meltzer, making it the first match in NXT history to receive a five-star rating, as well as WWE’s sixth overall and the first one since John Cena vs. CM Punk at the 2011 Money in the Bank pay-per view. Not that anyone cares, just sayin’. On 28 January at Royal Rumble, Almas made his first main roster appearance entering as a surprise entrant at number 7 during the Royal Rumble Match, in which he eliminated Kofi Kingston before being eliminated by Randy Orton.
On the February episode of NXT, Almas retained the title against Gargano after interference from Tommaso Ciampa, forcing Gargano to leave NXT. At NXT TakeOver: New Orleans on April 7, Andrade lost the NXT Championship to Aleister Black, ending his reign at 140 days. On the 18 April episode of NXT, Almas accompanied Zelina Vega during her first televised match against Candice LeRae, in which she was defeated and this turned out to be Almas and Vega’s last appearances in NXT.
That’s a hell of a career even before joining the WWE main roster, and he’s still just 28 years old. It’s obvious that Andrade is ridiculously talented and versatile. When portraying La Sombra as a face, a young, high flying wrestler who used a lot of high flying lucha libre moves, especially dives off the top rope and occasionally out of the ring to the floor. At the time he often used a split-legged corkscrew senton dive of the top rope as a finisher.
When he transitioned from a face to a heel character in 2014 he developed a more individual personality, acting cockier and more laid back in the ring, acting unimpressed with his opponents by adopting a more arrogant, “tranquilo” attitude that we also saw in NXT. As a heel he began using the “Sombra driver” (sometimes referred to as the “Shadow driver”), a Schoolboy suplex, that illustrated his transition from high flyer to a more power based wrestler.
In NXT he began using the running double knee smash and Hammerlock DDT to put his opponents away.
Where is he now?
Almas and Vega were drafted to SmackDown on the April 17, 2018 Superstar Shake-Up show. He debuted as a heel against a local jobber then started a short feud with Sin Cara. He quickly moved on to feuds against top guys Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles.
How far will he go?
To the fucking moon. This guy is MONEY. He can be a face or heel. He’s a hell of a talker, which we don’t really see because of his limited English, but he has one of the best talkers in the business by his side in Zelina Vega. But without talking, just his body language and mannerisms show off loads of charisma. He’s shown he can wrestle with anybody and put on an eight-to-ten-gold-medal match. Yes, we use my ratings here, not fucking Meltzer’s. I suspect a United States Title run very soon, or Intercontinental if he goes to Raw, and a WWE Championship win within the next 18-24 months. He’s not going to be the next Rey Mysterio, he’s going to be the first Andrade “Cien” Almas.