With so much competition in Mexico, the ever-talented Delfino Espíndola Serrano struggled to stand out in his home country. A grand idea soon dawned on him: What if he could take the best aspects of wrestling, combine it with martial arts, and present it to a different audience? Here’s the story of how Delfino became a superstar called The Tempest on Latin America’s grandest stages outside of Mexico. Had it not been for a vision in a dream long after his passing, these stories on The Tempest would have been lost forever.
The Tempest – Finding Success in the Pastures of Beyond
Sometimes an athlete’s achievements or an artist’s crafts are appreciated to their fullest only after introduced to a different audience. The Ramones, for example, played in small venues throughout the U.S. for decades and struggled to make ends meet. They never reached true stardom until very late in their run with the appearance of grunge music and the resurgence of punk in the United States spearheaded by bands like Green Day, The Offspring, and Rancid.
In turn, each time The Ramones played in Europe, Japan, or South America, they were treated as music gods and filled stadiums. You would think the Beatles or Michael Jackson was in town.
Often, this is the case in wrestling too.
One can argue that Stan Hansen enjoyed vast more success in Japan than he ever achieved in the United States.
Abdullah The Butcher was a draw everywhere he went, but his wars against Carlos Colon throughout Puerto Rico and the Caribbean are part of the island’s wrestling lore and still talked about today. They were so violent that “The Blood Circuit” is often the nickname given to the territory.
Tiger Jeet Singh was unknown in his adopted home of Ontario, Canada. And while he did have success in various regions throughout the U.S., he is considered one of the premier monster heels who invaded Japan comparable to a Big Van Vader.
Who was Hiro Matsuda in Japan compared to his importance in the U.S.? Pushing Hulk Hogan’s unfortunate incident aside, the Florida territory thrived for many years by Matsuda ensuring that only the most capable and those who endured his grueling training methods became wrestlers for the Grahams.
Something similar happened to Delfino Espíndola Serrano, a talented Mexican luchador who reached glorious heights he only previously dreamed of, but only after leaving his country behind.
“You and I have a lot to do.” The Tempest Appears in a Dream
Douglas Valdez, an avid wrestling fan and wrestling mask collector, was vital in my research about The Tempest.
His Salvadoran uncle told him that they had a version of El Santo, describing him as "having El Santo’s style and look combined with Bruce Lee." This description birthed Douglas’s interest in learning about The Tempest.
To his dismay, he could only gather a small amount of information about this enigmatic wrestler who captured the hearts of Central and South American fans.
Valdez claims that he’d been trying to contact Delfino’s widow for a while without any response, but then one night, Delfino appeared to him in a dream as The Tempest and entrusted him to tell his story and keep his legacy alive.
"You and I have a lot to do," Douglas claims The Tempest told him in his vision. "It is now time to tell my story."
A perplexed Douglas didn’t understand why he’d been picked by The Tempest and still does not have an answer. He further claims that The Tempest congratulated him on recreating his mask and gave him a thumbs up even though it isn’t an exact replica. Douglas also says that The Tempest asked him to contact his widow and show her the recreated mask’s picture.
"But she doesn’t answer her phone," Douglas replied in dismay.
"She will now," answered The Tempest with unwavering assurance. "Just show her a picture of the mask, and she’ll answer."
Delfino’s widow had been battling deep depression for years and was in an emotional heap and distressed when he finally got through to her. Tears streamed down her eyes because Douglas had interrupted her: she was moments away from hanging herself. If it hadn’t been for Douglas’ email with The Tempest’s mask included as an attachment, she asserts that she would’ve ended her life.
Douglas now speaks with her often but sometimes wants to throw in the towel because of the burden he feels of continuously searching for more info on Delfino Espíndola Serrano. But the reassuring voice of The Tempest in his dreams urges him to persevere. I am ever grateful that he did.
From A Painful Childhood To Wrestling Superstar
Born in Puebla, Mexico, on December 25th, 1939, Delfino Espíndola Serrano had a tough childhood and was routinely beaten by his parents. Desperate to escape this abuse, Delfino fled and jumped in the back of a farmer’s truck filled with tangerines until reaching Acapulco and joining the local circus named Atayde. There he was charged with feeding the elephants and learned to become an acrobat and tight rope walker. These athletic skills would soon come in handy when he’d later incorporate them with wrestling to create an exciting and unique style.
After joining the military as a paratrooper and then becoming a champion cliff diver, he was discovered on the Acapulco beach and enticed to try a hand at wrestling. Delfino asked if the money was good. When this person admitted that there was a good chance at making a nice coin in the grunt and groans game, Delfino, feeling he had nothing to lose, replied, “sign me up,” and set off to become a wrestler.
The people who trained Delfino in Puebla and later Acapulco were Raul “El Gorilla” Osorio, El Gavilan, Polo Juarez, and Jack O’Brien. This last trainer’s real name was Marcelo Andreani, who became Mexico’s first-ever National Lightweight Champion in 1934.
His fateful debut as the heel Ray Espíndola occurred on September 2nd, 1957, at the Acapulco Coliseum because veteran Braulio Mendoza’s tag partner no-showed. Delfino eagerly filled his spot. They faced the team of Humberto Garza and Rafael Salamanca and lost.
He soon became a técnico (babyface) and in 1959, he worked under the name "El Patito" Espíndola. In 1960, he began sporting a rather plain white mask and going by the name Ulises (spelled Ulysses in English and based on the Greek hero and 1954 Kirk Douglas film). Here the feud with local Alcapulcan wrestler Chanoc (Abelardo Rondín Benitez) ensued.
Years down the road, Chanoc would follow Delfino to other countries to continue this fiery rivalry. But in Acapulco, Chanoc got the best of Delfino, who lost his mask to him in a Lucha de Apuestas (betting match). He later also lost his hair to him twice.
Delfino wouldn’t wear a mask again until becoming The Tempest more than six years later.
As Ulises, he developed one of the oddest-looking wrestling holds of all time called La Penélope, which I’ve never seen used. I’m not even sure it’s a submission move. It looks more like a display of flexibility to service the crowd and makes little sense. Penelope is a character from the Odyssey in which she’s married to the king of Ithaca, Odysseus (Ulysses in Roman mythology).
Taking a Chance Outside of Mexico
Sensing that opportunities for him to climb the ladder were drying up, in 1963, Delfino ventured outside of Mexico. Yes, he had success in arenas chicas (smaller venues), but he craved being a star on a larger platform. If he had to leave Mexico to achieve this, then so be it.
Arriving in Guatemala but now with a Greek/Roman style-outfit, he continued with the Ulises character and readied himself to forge a new career path in Central and South America.
In 1963, he entered Guatemala at the request of the promoter and businessman Oswaldo Johnson. He searched for Mexican talent to add to his roster, hoping to attract more people to his wrestling cards. Here, Delfino entered a vacant Welterweight Championship tournament where fellow Mexican wrestlers Pokarito Ramirez and Paulino Mar participated. He would lose in the finals to Guatemalan superstar Mascara Roja via a painful submission maneuver.
He returned to Mexico in 1964, aiming to wrest away the Mexican National Lightweight Championship from Chanoc, who’d beaten Juanito Díaz for the title.
Now indignant, Díaz wanted to help Delfino defeat Chanoc, so he took him under his wing. Ulises successfully exerted his revenge on Chanoc at Arena Mexico after losing his mask and twice his hair to him on previous occasions. After defending the belt about five times, including against Dick Angelo (José Luis Ortiz Mejía), Chanoc, unfortunately, regained the Mexican National Lightweight Championship and seemed to have the last laugh that year.
That same year, Delfino returned to Guatemala, and of course, Chanoc followed him to continue their four-year feud. This heated rivalry drew exceptional crowds.
In 1965 in Panama, Despino astounded the fans by making television appearances where he’d crack coconuts with his biceps, garnering the nickname El rompecocos (the coconut crusher). He’d use the Ulises gimmick until 1966.
But his career was only picking up speed, and significant changes in his character were on the horizon. Soon he’d become an idol to the people.
Becoming The Tempest And Never Looking Back
In Guatemala, the icon El Santo had frenzied fans brimming with high expectations for his 1965 appearance in the Central American country. There was nobody more popular in the Lucha Libre world than the silver masked superstar, and Delfino envisioned a grand opportunity.
Because Delfino was known as a skillful wrestler and a good draw, El Santo asked him to be his partner against Gory Casanova and Braulio Mendoza (former Sombra Verde) in a sold-out Gimnasio Nacional. The story was that after seven years, El Santo would finally get revenge on the exotico (male wrestler who acts effeminate and whose sexuality in the ring is ambiguous) Gory Casanova.
Delfino continued with the Ulises character but would soon make a pitch to El Santo that would forever alter his career path.
Of course, Delfino knew about El Santo. Still, when seeing the commotion he stirred amongst the fans, and the emotional connection felt towards him, he pitched El Santo the idea of wrestling using a mask and image similar to his.
The story goes that El Santo asked him to draw what he had in mind, and he approved Delfino’s mask design which is comparable to his, but not an exact copy where he’d be infringing on El Santo’s character. According to Douglas Valdez, Delfino would then begin calling himself The Tempest, based on the Pontiac Tempest automobile.
His Arrival In El Salvador
In 1967, Despino arrived in El Salvador, but no longer as Ulises, but instead with his newly designed mask and persona as a tribute to El Santo, but with modifications that subtlely distinguished him from the Mexican icon.
The first mask he used as The Tempest was white on white and had two symbols embroidered on the sides that resembled a bow and arrow, tying him to when he used to wrestle without a mask as Ulises. Later, he tweaked it by adding silver to the embroidery and a crest on the front resembling a silver flame or leaf. This white and silver mask became the look he is most noted for and used most often.
Delfino was already a superb technical wrestler, but his ring style soon became that of an almost suicidal high-flyer.
He wowed the crowd with magnificent wrestling and exciting aerial moves like topes and planchas, combining everything with flying kicks and topping it all off with a martial arts flair. With his stellar chiseled body and now brimming with confidence, The Tempest got over immediately with the Salvadoran fans who’d never experienced anything like him.
His uniqueness resonated with them, to the point where they’d defend their idol when he’d get in trouble in the ring. Men aspired to be him, and kids imitated everything he did. The women became transfixed by his feats and swooned at the sight of the luchador. Delfino had seen success in previous years and other countries, but he’d struck gold with The Tempest character.
He became the people’s hero, conquering all rudos (heels) brought upon him. Now Delfino was a sought-after main attraction and the talk of the town. Adults now in their sixties, their eyes light up when The Tempest is brought up — even 35 years after his last appearance. Living in El Salvador, I can attest to this myself. Grown men are transported back to their childhoods at the mention of his name. Even though most are still unsure of his nationality, his greatness is beyond question.
The Rayman, who is the current senior referee of Arena Gladiadores in El Salvador and one of The Tempest’s proteges, had this to say about his teacher: "I wanted to get into wrestling after I saw The Tempest. He was like a real live superhero in the ring, an idol to the people. He had charisma, presence, wrestling ability, and everything a successful wrestler needed. Fans gifted him cars and motorcycles!"
From a newspaper excerpt from 1967: "Never before have we seen at la Arena Metropolitana such an elastic, spectacular and effective luchador like the South American champion who debuted last Saturday."
His greatest rival in El Salvador was El Bucanero, and he often teamed with Tony Jackson (Oscar Antonio). A couple of years later, El Bucanero injured The Tempest’s neck with an illegal piledriver which made headlines throughout the media.
Later, to the fans’ delight, infamous Salvadoran rudo Al Copetes challenged The Tempest.
The Argentinean Coloso Colosetti also took his shot at the beloved luchador with El Gran Davis as Mano Blanca and El Diablo Rojo not far behind.
In 1969, he met up once again with El Santo, but this time in Bolivia, in the icon’s only ever appearance in the South American country.
Throughout the seventies and early eighties, The Tempest became a hot commodity and in very high demand. He left Mexico with a dream to become a top star, and he achieved this on Latin America’s grandest stages.
Colombia, where he wrestled as El Tapatío, was arguably the most prestigious country he worked in.
When we contacted “El Tigre Colombiano" Bill Martinez, still Colombia’s most well-known and respected wrestler and trainer, he said this about The Tempest: “The Tempest wrestling as El Tapatío became known as an excellent star in my country of Colombia. He was an exceptional técnico.”
El Salvador, Guatemala, and Panamá are where he also achieved great success. The strategy of not staying in one place for too long served him well in keeping his character fresh and always a must-see attraction. He also made appearances in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Mexico (as the heel Columbus and later in his career as Ventarrón).
The Death and Legacy of The Tempest
Delfino Espíndola Serrano rose to prominence outside of Mexico and became an international superstar luchador. He seemed to have everything he wanted: fame, fortune, happiness, and lots of women. But this ultimately took a toll on his health.
Delfino battled alcoholism, was a heavy smoker, and later developed heart problems and diabetes. Seemingly with everything he wanted, Delfino hit rock bottom when José Manuel, his son from his second marriage, tragically died.
In all, he’d married four times. A devastated Delfino changed his outlook on life. He threw away all his gear and left wrestling forever in 1986. He then died of a stroke on August 27th, 2011.
The Tempest is remembered fondly in many Latin American countries. With his innovative style, he captured the hearts and minds of many fans who still to this day clamor his name when reminiscing about enjoying Lucha Libre at their local arenas or on television. It was a time when larger-than-life heroes of the squared circle truly existed and in death have become legends, never to be forgotten but instead celebrated by all.
Former students of The Tempest include The Rayman, Torrente, Cobra Azul, Cobra Roja, Vendaval, Tezozomoc and El Médico de Puebla.
Douglas Valdez, our primary contact for this piece, wants to give a special thanks to the people who provided him information on “The Tempest” Delfino Espíndola Serrano: "El Tigre Colombiano" Bill Martínez, Rafael Godoy (Colombia), Christian Cymet and José Teddy Baños (Mexico), Ernesto "The Rayman" Godoy (El Salvador), and Perseo Historiador (Guatemala).
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