'He Was My Hero': Son Remembers His Wrestler Father

Oct 5, 2018
Originally published on October 5, 2018 8:35 am

John Torres Jr. grew up watching his father, John Torres Sr. moonlight as a lucha libre wrestler.

Lucha libre is a style of professional wrestling that originated in Mexico. And love for the sport strengthened the bond between father and son.

Torres Sr. died in 2011 from complications with sarcoidosis — an inflammatory disease that usually affects the lungs, skin, or lymph nodes — at the age of 43. Torres, now 30, recently visited StoryCorps with his dad's best friend and fellow wrestler, Abraham Guzman, 49, to remember him.

"My dad, he would always tell me to put him in a chokehold, and he would easily break it," Torres said. "And I was always so impressed by that strength. He was my hero, man."

Torres Sr. began his wrestling career in the 1980s in the Bronx.

"I remember he had the white boots, the white mask with kind of like a red beak," Torres said.

"It was The Falcon," Guzman said.

"He was The Falcon, yes," Torres said. "And my dad was a neat freak. So he'd fold things a certain way. And everything was in this giant gym bag. And every day I would look at that bag and say, 'Man, there's stardom in that bag!' "

When he was young his dad would discourage him from wrestling, Torres said.

"He always said, 'You can be something better than that. Doctor, lawyer," Torres said.

Torres Sr. would frequently travel for his wrestling career. Torres Jr. remembers that growing up in New York City, his dad was gone a lot. "But the thing that always brought us back was wrestling," he says. "Over the phone we would talk about wrestling for like, hours."

"And I remember, he said 'I want to tag team with you one day.' And so, you started training me," he said to Guzman.

Torres trained almost every day, and after six months, he was set to get in the ring for the first time. "I told my dad. And he said 'I'll be there Saturday for your debut match.' "

But the Thursday before, Torres received a call from his cousin that would change his life.

"He's like, 'Did you hear?' and I was like 'No, what?' " Torres said. "And he's like, 'Your father.' And when he said 'my father' I already knew. And I said 'My dad died?' And he could barely say 'yeah' over the phone. I remember leaning against the wall, and just breaking down crying."

Instead of going to his debut that Saturday, Torres attended his father's funeral.

"That's when I decided that wrestling was my legacy," Torres said. "One of the things I think about [is] if he was still alive today, like how would he feel?"

He now spends most of his time outside of the ring, focusing on his career as a filmmaker documenting the lives of wrestlers in New York.

"I think he'd be proud — because I see a lot in you in him. Your certain wrestling moves, I'm like, I've seen that before," Guzman says. "And sometimes, when I talk to you I feel like I'm talking to your dad again. Even the laugh. People don't know it, but when you laugh, I hear him all the time!"

"I want to keep his name alive. And that's what I've been doing ever since," Torres said.

Produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar and Joshua Christensen.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday, when we hear from StoryCorps. And today's conversation comes from the Bronx where John Torres Jr. grew up watching his father, John Torres Sr., moonlight as a professional wrestler. His dad died in 2011, and John recently came to StoryCorps with his father's best friend and fellow wrestler Abraham Guzman to remember him.

JOHN TORRES JR.: My dad - he would always tell me to put him in a chokehold and he will easily break it. And I was always so impressed by that strength. He was my hero, man. I remember he had the white boots, the white mask with kind of like a red beak.

ABRAHAM GUZMAN: He was the Falcon.

TORRES JR.: He was the Falcon. Yes. And my dad was a neat freak. So he'd fold things a certain way, and everything was in this giant gym bag. And every day, I would look at that bag and say, man, there's stardom in that bag. But he would discourage me when I was young. He always said you could be something better than that - doctor, lawyer. And then our relationship collided. There were a lot of absences from him growing up. But the thing that always brought us back was wrestling. Over the phone, we will talk about wrestling for, like, hours. And I remember he said, I want to tag-team with you one day. And so you started training me.

GUZMAN: I learned that you wanted to start wrestling. So I said, well, let's see what I could do.

TORRES JR.: And I trained almost every day. I told my dad, and he said, I'll be there Saturday for your debut match. That Thursday, I get a phone call from my cousin. And he's like, did you hear? And I was like, no, what? And he's like, your father. And when he said my father, I already knew. And I said, my dad died? And he could barely say yeah over the phone. I remember leaning against the wall and just breaking down crying. And on the day of my debut, I was at the cemetery burying my dad. That's when I decided that wrestling was my legacy. One of the things I think about - if he was still alive today, like, how would he feel?

GUZMAN: I think he'd be proud because I see a lot in you and him. Your certain wrestling moves - I'm like, I've seen that before. And sometimes when I talk to you, I feel like I'm talking to your dad again - even the laugh.

TORRES JR.: (Laughter).

GUZMAN: People don't know it. But when you laugh, I hear him all the time.

TORRES JR.: You know, I want to keep his name alive. And that's what I've been doing ever since.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: That's John Torres Jr. and Abraham Guzman remembering John Torres Sr. Their interview will be archived along with hundreds of thousands of others at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.