coronavirus

‘He Died a Star': City Heights Family Loses Luchador Father to COVID-19

Professional wrestler, Martin Rodriguez, 53, known as "Espantito" fought his last battle with the coronavirus.

NBC Universal, Inc.

NBC 7’s Melissa Adan spoke to the beloved lucha libre’s daughter, who said her father “died a star.”

Martin Rodriguez, 53, a professional wrestler known as “Espantito” or “The Terror,” was known for entertaining crowds with his humor and stunts. The father of two was well-recognized in the ring and a beloved City Heights neighbor, but his last battle was one with COVID-19.

“He was a luchador for lucha libre,” said his daughter, Barbara Rodriguez.

Barbara said her father began wrestling at the age of 18. For decades his stunts would capture audiences around the world. He was part of Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide in Mexico and freelanced across other leagues in the United States and Canada.

“He would say, 'I want to die in the ring,'” Barbara said.

Once the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, Martin’s wrestling career went on hiatus because events were cancelled. Luckily, he had his landscaping business to fall back on.

For several months the family of four was doing well, but then Martin tested positive for COVID-19 in September.

“He started having trouble breathing and that’s when we realized he should go to ER,” Barbara said.

Martin was taken to Sharp Memorial Hospital. Barbara said her dad went in with pneumonia.

“It was really fast-acting on his body because he was diabetic, so we wanted to prevent this from happening, so we thought if we could call these shots early, let’s take him in early,” she said.

After several days of being hospitalized, Martin's condition worsened and he was placed on a ventilator. On Oct, 12, at 53 years old, the beloved fighter took his last breath.

“I’m missing everything about him. I’m missing his jokes and the way he makes people laugh, the way he’s so spontaneous,” said Barbara. “Just everything about him.”

Martin was a fighter to the end. His daughter said his legacy will live with her forever, and she'll never forget what he taught her: that anything you set your mind to is possible.

“He came in as an undocumented teenager with no job, no future, but he died a star,” she said. “With school, family and as a nationalized citizen, so it’s possible.”

The family has set up a fundraiser for Martin as they plan his funeral.