McALLEN — After kicks, punches, slams and much cheering during a Sunday night wrestling match at Cine El Rey, the wrestler known as Imagen 2 went to his dressing room to change.
Little did he know about the chaos that would soon ensue.
With a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter circling overhead, FBI agents, state troopers and a heavily armed SWAT team surrounded Cine El Rey. Authorities closed 17th Street, the heart of downtown McAllen’s entertainment district, and urged bystanders to leave — warning they could be caught in the crossfire.
The FBI and other law enforcement agencies had been told Roman “Comandante Simple” Leal, a feared Gulf Cartel leader who has been known to wrestle under the name Imagen, was at Cine El Rey, said several U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Lawmen burst into the theater, searched for Leal and ordered everyone to leave. But the wrestler known as Imagen 2 — perhaps targeted in a case of mistaken identity — had already changed into his street clothes and walked out of the building along with the rest of the crowd.
Other wrestlers were not so lucky, said Ruby Gonzalez, a wrestling promoter who employs Imagen 2 and other wrestlers on a regular basis.
“They were changing but they (the authorities) said they had barricaded themselves and went in after them,” Gonzalez said. “They didn’t let them change. When they arrested them, one didn’t have a shirt and even one was taken in his underwear.”
The wrestlers were released early Monday morning, Gonzalez said.
What prompted the April 7 raid remains unclear.
Initially, FBI spokesman Erik Vasys said agents conducted the downtown McAllen raid to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which was seeking someone on an unspecified immigration violation. McAllen police arrested six people, according to the FBI spokesman, who could face state charges.
Both statements proved incorrect.
An ICE spokeswoman said her agency wasn’t involved, and police Chief Victor Rodriguez said the men were detained by the FBI — not McAllen police. They haven’t been charged with any crime.
While the FBI still hasn’t released information about the raid, Vasys confirmed the intended target wasn’t at Cine El Rey that night.
A WRESTLING TRADITION
“I am not nor have I ever been involved in any criminal activity,” said the man who wrestles under the name Imagen 2, who asked to be identified only by the initials R.C. “I know there’s that other person that also uses the name Imagen, but I have no relation or affiliation to him. I have been wrestling under the name Imagen 2 for 20 years.”
A check with two wrestling promoters turned up at least five wrestlers who use a variation of the name Imagen actively wrestling in the Rio Grande Valley and northern Tamaulipas. The names include Imagen, Imagen 2, Imagen 3, Imagen de Oro, Multi-Imagen and others.
R.C. began his wrestling career at age 13 on Dec. 23, 1993, in Reynosa, when he decided to follow the footsteps of his late brother, who wrestled as Imagen, and his father, La Paloma, who wrestled in the 1950s and ’60s.
“I am a truck driver,” he said. “I work an honest job and I wrestle because it is my passion. If I was something else I would be providing my family with the best of the best, but I am not a man of means — I am a working man.”
With a Gulf Cartel leader wrestling under a similar name, R.C. has been the target of many rumors claiming he’s connected to organized crime. R.C. said the rumors aren’t true.
“I have thought about changing my stage name,” he said. “But why me? I have been wrestling for 20 years under this name. It is a family tradition. Why do I have to change it because another person uses a name like it?”
Imagen 2 is a stellar performer and great with children, Gonzalez said.
“If I had any suspicion about him being something else I wouldn’t work with him,” she said. “Wrestling is about providing families with safe, fun entertainment — not about what happened that day.”
While Cine El Rey officials have not spoken publicly since the raid, they continue to hold wrestling matches, with the next event taking place Friday.
Officials with Salinas Promotions, the wrestling company that hosted the event at Cine El Rey on the night of the raid, were not available for comment. They provided a written statement expressing their outrage at the raid.
“How would you feel if your mother, brother or son were placed in a potential line of fire to apprehend an individual that was not there,” the written statement reads. “Obviously this was carried out hastily and with bad information leaving the public and this company with more questions than answers. We ask the public to not be swayed by this isolated incident and to continue to enjoy our events.”
Ildefonso Ortiz covers courts and law enforcement for The Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4437 or on Twitter, @IldefonsoOrtiz.