Andrade “Cien” Almas is NXT Champion, but there was a time he almost left WWE entirely.
Reigning NXT Champion Andrade “Cien” Almas has come a long way from his earliest days in WWE’s developmental system. There were times when he was this close to giving up on what many wrestlers would consider the ultimate dream job, but there was one man who convinced Almas to be patient and to keep up the fight as he struggled to gain relevance in NXT, and it’s someone you might not expect, given his many controversial statements about his former employer – Alberto Del Rio.
In an interview with Mexican publication La Aficion, Almas talked about his rough beginnings in NXT, where, as he described it, he was having a hard time dealing with the criticism and the “lack of opportunities” to move up the card. Almas was also dealing with the homesickness that many a foreign wrestler goes through while wrestling in the WWE, as he missed his friends, family, and the Mexican wrestling scene in general, but he nonetheless tried to convince himself that he needed to leave his home country in order to become a bigger star in the world of wrestling.
While Almas almost gave up and returned back home, it was Del Rio’s advice that kept him going, as his countryman, a veteran of the business who had two stints with the WWE, told him that it wouldn’t be in his best interests to quit and that he needed to "keep fighting for what [he] wanted."
Almas’ comments can be corroborated by Del Rio’s own account of the story, which he gave in August 2016 to Mas Lucha (h/t WrestleFix), shortly before he left the WWE. According to Del Rio, he stressed to Almas, who was then feeling disillusioned and wanting to return to Mexico, the importance of adjusting to WWE’s style of working, learning how to speak English, and getting into better shape if he wants to succeed in the company.
Best known in Mexico as La Sombra, Almas signed a contract with the WWE in November 2015 and made his developmental debut at NXT TakeOver: The End, in June the following year. His WWE career only took off in earnest last year, when Zelina Vega debuted as his new valet. He became NXT Champion in November 2017, defeating Drew McIntyre for the title, and has been doing very well so far for himself in 2018, with Dave Meltzer giving his title defense against Johnny Gargano at TakeOver: Philadelphia a five-star rating, as well as appearing at the Royal Rumble the following night and lasting almost 30 minutes in the men’s Rumble match.
Who would have guessed that Alberto Del Rio, whose open disdain for the WWE has made him notorious since leaving the company a second time in 2016, essentially ensured that the WWE Universe would get to see Cien Almas' rise to future main roster stardom, instead of seeing him return home as a high-profile flop? He truly gave the youngster some good advice, as it's almost a given that Almas will be called up to the main roster at some point this year, probably as soon as the Raw or SmackDown after WrestleMania