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The Ecstasy of San Benito: Bad Bunny Reimagines What a WWE Superstar Can Be

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
In his native Puerto Rico, the multihyphenate entertainer played a larger-than-life role in the company’s most-attended Backlash show to date — and Boardroom was there to take it all in.

San Juan is revered for being a premier vacation destination in which one can satisfy a love of history while reserving ample time for beachside relaxation. While both make the Puerto Rican capital attractive enough for tourists, the first weekend in May brought a different demographic of visitors: WWE superfans.

While plenty of sports enthusiasts stateside were occupied with Formula 1’s Miami Grand Prix, big-ticket pay-per-views in boxing and the UFC, the 149th running of The Kentucky Derby, 18,500 of pro wrestling’s most fervent supporters found themselves at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot for back-to-back sold-out events featuring sports entertainment’s biggest names. Fans watched in awe during Friday Night’s SmackDown show as Liv Morgan and Raquel Rodriguez rescued Bianca Belair from a clash at the hands of Damage CTRL. Then, they were treated to commentary from Cody Rhodes reluctantly vowing to defeat Brock Lesner at the following evening’s premium live event, Backlash.

And though crowds provided a deafening roar for the weekend’s entirety, no one received a more thunderous welcome to the “Choli” than Bad Bunny.

The rapper and self-proclaimed wrestling buff was one of two marquee events during Saturday’s highly anticipated Backlash festivities. The 29-year-old entertainer caused quite an uproar when he and opponent Damian Priest tussled a day prior at the Backlash press conference. With both embracing the primetime spectacle as a homecoming of sorts, Bad Bunny and Priest’s weeks-long quarrel was finally put to the test in front of thousands in person and even more watching from the comfort of home. Walking out to his 2017 song “Chambea,” Bunny wheeled out to the ring a shopping cart loaded with an arsenal foreign objects, including kendo sticks, trash cans, and a bicycle chain.

The match started off inside the ring but quickly justified its “San Juan Street Fight” moniker as Bunny and Priest both taking turns trading blows, with Bunny earning the first ovation after pulling off an impressive tornado DDT from the top turnbuckle. Proving his love for entertaining isn’t just reserved for singing in sold-out arenas, the Adidas ambassador followed up with a cross-body drop to Priest.

Not to be outshone, Priest had his turn with the decorated musician, most notably slamming Bunny through a table by way of Broken Arrow.

After more than 20 minutes of back-and-forth action, including cameos from members of Priest’s squad The Judgement Day and Bunny allies including WWE Hall of Famer Rey Mysterio and former WWE Puerto Rican legends Savio Vega and Carlito, Bunny’s signature technique — the Bunny Destroyer — would be the deciding factor. Priest had no answer, and within seconds, Bunny’s expression went from fierce to relief as he was hoisted in the air by his Latino World Order associates in the middle of the ring.

The excitement of the victory could be felt through a television screen, but it was absolutely electric at the venue. To natives, Bad Bunny is not just an international superstar who redefined the Puerto Rican Dream. The man born Benito Martínez exemplifies passion, perseverance, and grit. Earlier in the week, he was rubbing elbows with fashion’s elite at the Met Gala; several days later, he’s back home, surrounded by those who streamed him first, reuniting wrestling with a territory that had not experienced a Backlash event since 2005.

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The Bad Bunny Effect

To its credit, WWE’s popularity was more than simply solid long before Bunny’s involvement. However, who would turn down a chance to earn the endorsement of Spotify’s most streamed artist? After all, “San Benito” as a solo musical talent has proved to be a resounding success thus far, routinely finding hinmself among the most-streamed, most in-demand artists worldwide, so don’t overthink it: Bunny as the unofficial face of wrestling is likely to produce a same result, particularly given how skilled he already is at the whole thing.

Revelers didn’t need to be in the vicinity to understand the impression Bunny has on his fellow Puerto Ricans, either. Take Saturday’s press conference as an example: A typical May heat wave would discourage the average person from standing outside the venue hoping to catch a glimpse of Bunny during the hour-long show. On the contrary, the estimated 200-person crowd surged into 2,000 loyal supporters happily braving the uncomfortable 95-degree weather.

Bunny’s love story with WWE isn’t a secret, nor is it a new development. The “La Jumpa” crooner made his first WWE appearance in 2021, even performing his single “Booker T” during the annual Royal Rumble event held on Jan. 31, 2021. After that, Bunny made regular appearances on the federation’s weekly television program, Monday Night Raw. A year later, Bunny returned to the Royal Rumble as a competitor, making it to the final five before losing to iconic performer and eventual champion Brock Lesner.

Nevertheless, Bunny’s infatuation with wrestling persisted, even landing a spot as a playable wrestler in WWE 2K23 video game as a pre-order incentive.

Now, he’s got a whole slate of new milestones to beam about ahead of his next appearance in the squared circle — one that’s sure to deliver yet another explosive pop.

The timing of Bunny’s involvement could not be convenient. After months of speculation, WWE’s acquisition by Endeavor became official in April; the holding company purchased 51% of the wrestling giant and merged the organization with the UFC to generate a new publicly traded sports and entertainment company worth an estimated $21 billion.

Apparel and collectibles giant Fanatics also wanted a piece of WWE pie, too. A year after partnering with the sports entertainment leader, Fanatics Commerce — the brand’s e-commerce, licensed merchandise, and physical retail operations division — officially assumed responsibilities for WWE’s on-site retail transactions on May 1. More than 300 live WWE events per year, including premium competitions like WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, and SummerSlam, will now feature an added punch of Fanatics memorabilia logistics and know-how.

And even as the Boricua buzz gave way to the work week, WWE announced in a Monday release that this edition was the highest-grossing and most-viewed Backlash in the promotion’s history. It also drew the largest audience ever at a WWE event held in Puerto Rico and the largest crowd in the history of the event.

So, amid all these plaudits to celebrate, who knows what’s next for Puerto Rico and their longstanding link with the wrestling business? Here and now, we are already highly confident in saying is just like his significance in music, Bad Bunny will continue to play a special role in WWE’s global operations moving forward — expect to see his tour of high-flying feats to reach the far corners of the world in due time.

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About The Author
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi is a Staff Writer at Boardroom. She began her career in sports journalism with bylines at SB Nation, USA Today, and most recently Yahoo. She received a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Truman State University, and when she's not watching old clips of Serena Williams' best matches, she is likely perfecting her signature chocolate chip cookie recipe or preparing a traditional Cameroonian meal.