Many pro wrestlers have unique backstories. The incredible, emotional and inspirational journey of Melissa “Thunder Rosa” Cervantes is possibly the most unique of them all.
She was born in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1986. It’s a country where lucha libre has helped turn average folk into wrestling royalty. High-flying masked superstars like Mil Máscaras, El Santo, Blue Demon, El Canek and Dos Caras thrilled domestic and international audiences. This success has continued with stars like Andrade El Idolo, Alberto Del Rio, Blue Demon Jr., El Hijo del Vikingo and the Lucha Brothers.
Female Mexican wrestlers have faced a more difficult road. Some – like Marcela, La Briosa, Princesa Blanca and Lady Apache – achieved international acclaim. Most struggled to be noticed.
Rosa’s journey was radically different from her predecessors.
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While in Grade 6, she and her sisters received Christmas gifts of visas to the United States. As she recounted in a March 9 interview with Nick Talbot of the San Antonio Express-News, “‘What is it, Dad? What is it, Dad?’” And he just looked at me and told me, ‘This is your first step.’”
And a difficult one, at that.
Her parents initially stayed in Tijuana, and she lived with her aunt and two cousins in National City, Calif. “I did not see my parents throughout the week. I only saw them on Saturday and Sunday when we would cross the border.”
Rosa worked two jobs at age 14 with limited English. Her parents finally came over and she attended community college, but money was scarce. They brought in her mother’s friend and daughter for additional income.
“I didn’t want to go back to Mexico,” Rosa told Talbot. “I knew there was nothing for me there. … I wanted to be the first in my family to graduate from college. I wanted to give that satisfaction to my parents that their sacrifice and the whole family’s sacrifice – my aunt, my dad, my mom, everyone – that it was to achieve something.”
She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in sociology. She worked at Thunder Road Adolescent Treatment and helped children overcome drugs, alcoholism and prostitution. It also inspired the name that made her famous.
Facing these grim realities would be difficult for anyone to endure. Her escape was pro wrestling. “I was really depressed, and independent wrestling was the thing for me that got me out of my funk,” Rosa told KVUE in 2021. “From the moment I went to the first show, I was hooked. … Being in front and being so intimate, that really got my attention.”
Rosa started training as a pro wrestler at age 27. That’s definitely on the late side but she was a quick study. Her face is half-painted in a dia de los muertos theme to honour those who passed before and accomplished their hopes and dreams. She founded the all-women Mission Pro Wrestling in her adopted hometown of San Antonio, Texas. She worked in Women of Wrestling, Lucha Underground and the National Wrestling Alliance, the latter putting her on the radar of many wrestling promotions.
The WWE noticed her. Not to be a wrestler, mind you.
“I still can’t believe that WWE wanted to make Thunder Rosa a referee,” author, podcaster and wrestling historian Brian R. Solomon recently told me. “That is an astonishing black mark against their ability to identify talent because, in spite of her lack of size, she is one of the most accomplished women wrestlers in the business today, and one of the most naturally over with fans, male or female.”
Solomon, who wrote the well-received Blood & Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling’s Original Sheik, is right. Rosa isn’t a traditional wrestler, but she’s become a tour de force in pro wrestling. She’s tough, quick, agile, intelligent and fiercely competitive. This sort of grit and determination wins over wrestling historians, pundits and fans every time.
Fortunately, Tony Khan and All Elite Wrestling saw her potential. He brought her in while she was NWA World Women’s Champion and eventually bought out her contract. She wrestled top AEW stars like Dr. Britt Baker, Serena Deep, Nyla Rose, Hikaru Shida, Jade Cargill and Mercedes Martinez. She became a hero to everyone from young girls to the Latino community – and called herself La Mera Mera, which loosely translates to “top dog” or “head honcho.”
On March 16, Rosa pinned Baker in a steel cage match to win the AEW Women’s World Championship. She became the first Mexican-born woman to win a world championship in a major U.S. promotion, and it occurred in front of her San Antonio fanbase. The emotion on her face couldn’t be contained, and the beauty of this moment resonated through every corner of the Freeman Coliseum.
What’s next for Rosa?
She’s held her title for nearly 100 days. She has a popular vlog where she eats tacos with wrestlers like Mick Foley, Mark Henry, Dustin Rhodes and Danhausen. Texas’s Bexar County declared March 16 as “Thunder Rosa Day” in appreciation of her historic win. But there’s more for her to accomplish.
“I want to be the Selena of professional wrestling,” Rosa told KVUE. “I just want to do it in a way where I know it’s going to transcend generation, transcend colour of skin, transcend everything else because that’s what’s going to help my community [and help] my people get the respect that we deserve. … This is exactly the vision that I have for my life and it’s becoming greater than I ever thought, greater than having a championship, greater than having all the money in the world.”
Considering the astonishing journey she’s been on, there’s no reason to believe Thunder Rosa will achieve anything less than what she sets out to accomplish.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.
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