A Conversation With Vampiro
Ian Hodgkinson — better known as Vampiro, the lucha libre legend and former star in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) — has a new documentary called Nail in the Coffin: The Fall & Rise of Vampiro. Having grown up watching Vampiro in WCW, I jumped at the chance to interview Ian to learn more about his thoughts on the documentary, his career in wrestling, and more.
Congratulations on the documentary! It’s excellent and a lot of people have expressed interest in seeing it.
Thanks! What do you like about it?
Like any good documentary, it’s important to show vulnerability and conflict. Your documentary did a wonderful job of making sure these two elements were part of the narrative. By highlighting the human issues you went through, it made it relatable.
Thank you. We worked hard on this movie.Many people wanted me to ask you how you’re feeling. You shared publicly that you’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, so people want to know — how’s your day-to-day life been and your mental health?
About four years ago I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Since then, I’ve completely turned my life around. I’m 130 pounds lighter, and I’m doing all kinds of therapy. I’m doing awesome! I couldn’t be happier, and I couldn’t be healthier.
That’s really wonderful to hear. In the documentary, one of the biggest struggles you had was being able to spend time with your daughter because of having to travel back and forth to Mexico for work. Has the pandemic given you more time to spend with your daughter, and how has that been?
Yeah, we were together in Canada for the first four months of this and it was great! I got to spend a lot of time with her and other family. But fourth months was enough (laughs). Anything more than that and we’d want to kill each other. (laughs)
The first time I saw you wrestle was in WCW, and you’re best known for your feud with Sting. Tell me about the “human torch” match. How did that come about, and what was that like?
We would have these creative meetings and they’d come up with all of these weird ideas for me, even though the fans viewed me a totally different way. That was one of them. I was just glad to have the opportunity to work with Sting. He was a big star. I’ve heard different opinions about Sting. Some people say that he didn’t like me. Other people say that he did like me. I don’t know, and I don’t really care. I respect him and I appreciate the help he gave me. We spent about half-a-year preparing for that match. It was for a pay-per-view, and then the match wound up being only five minutes long. (laughs). And it was scary as a motherfucker! I almost had a heart attack climbing up that thing because I’m scared of heights. I was petrified climbing that. There was no support or safety net. I was just hanging from the ceiling. I was happy when it was over.
I’m afraid of heights too, so I can totally understand. Speaking of WCW, you talk in the documentary about enjoying working with The Misfits. What was that experience like?
I was a fan of their work. It was easy for me because I grew up as a fan of The Misfits. It’s always exciting to work with your heroes. I looked at that as an opportunity to get punk rock on television. It was a real FU to society on my part. It was cool.
A moment ago you talked about WCW and the creative process. Why do you think you didn’t get a bigger push. Clearly, you resonated with the fans. So, what was the issue?
I have no idea. I’d rather answer this way because it’s a big part of my past but it means absolutely nothing to me today. I was a character on a TV show. I was fortunate. I had a great career. I was in one of the big wrestling companies and I was on TV every week. I had a great push. I had a great time. I can’t complain. I refuse to play the political game. I was very fortunate to have what I had and it led me to where I am now. I have no idea, dude.
That’s a smart, grateful way to look at it. Makes perfect sense. One of the most interesting elements of the documentary was your relationship with Jeff Jarrett. How would you characterize your relationship with Jeff and how he has affected your career in the U.S. or in Mexico?
I’ll say this. When Jeff got sick, I was one of the first people who called him and offered him support. I consider him a friend. We’ve spent 30 years together. Did he hold me down in the wrestling business? At the end of the day, who really cares? We’ve got our health, we’ve got our families. Bigger and better things have happened since then. Did he affect my career? I don’t know. I’ve had a pretty cool career. Did he affect what happened to me on TV at that time? Probably. Am I upset about it? Fuck, no. I’m just happy to be here. I just did a badass movie, so I can’t complain about something that happened years ago.
When WCW went out of business and was bought out by Vince McMahon, some guys came over to WWE and other didn’t. You didn’t receive an offer to join WWE. Did this bother you?
I wanted to go. I’d go now! If I got a phone call from WWE to be an announcer or something — are you kidding me? — I’d take it. I didn’t go to WWE because the bottom line is they didn’t want me. (laughs) So, it doesn’t matter how much I want to go. If they wanted me, I would have been there. It’s that simple. I guess they didn’t see value in me at that time. That’s it, so I moved on.
Many wrestlers get into the business to become famous, but in the documentary it’s clear that you place a high value on your private life. How do you go about balancing being a celebrity with being a father?
That’s part of the mental health problem that I have and all the anxiety. A lot of my PTSD comes from not being able to balance those two things. When you’re on the road for 300 days a year, how can you expect your loved ones to stay the same? Those people at home, they grow and eventually they change. So, it’s extremely scary, especially coming home with so many concussions. It was difficult, and it’s taken me until now to address it. That’s why I’m so excited to be healthy.
I never wanted to be famous. I don’t believe in fame. I wanted to be impactful, and I think I dislike that stage in my life for that reason. I became famous because of how I looked, not what I had to say. I guess I wasn’t comfortable with that.
What do you think about the internet wrestling culture that made your “play my music” segment in Mexico a meme? Do you see them as toxic or just having fun?
I think it’s phenomenal. All of these young kids have a voice. Unfortunately, you can see how many of them aren’t being used for good. There’s an enormous need to be heard, which is why mental health is so important right now. A lot of parents from my generation come from broken homes, so their education on these issues isn’t that great — and now they’re parents. So, this young generation is screaming to be heard. I think it’s amazing to put your voice out there and stand up for what you believe in, but make sure you have something to say. I also think it’s important to listen to others before you respond. Until we listen to others, we’re going to continue moving in a downward spiral.
When you were talking about getting healthy, it reminded me of Diamond Dallas Page helping Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Scott Hall turn their lives around. You and DDP were both in WCW. What are your thoughts on him?
I’ve known DDP for years. I was Vampiro in Mexico when he was knocking on the doors trying to get into the business. I think anybody who does anything to better their lives or help somebody else find positivity, god bless them. Is it my thing? Absolutely not. Do I agree with it? I’d rather not comment on it because he’s helped a lot of people and he’s helped himself, and I think that’s incredible.
Like The Undertaker, wrestling keeps bringing you back for one more match. If you could write your storybook ending in wrestling, what would it be?
I just started that. My swan song is what’s coming next. Look at my life now. That guy in the movie doesn’t exist anymore. In that movie I’m talking about not being able to let go of wrestling. Look what’s going on now. I’m being interviewed by you, Epic is pushing my movie and it’s going to be in theaters and video-on-demand. I mean, what is there to complain about? You know what I’m saying? So many cool things are happening right now. So, why am I going to go back to something like wrestling? I stopped wrestling 14 years ago, maybe. I don’t miss it as much as I thought I did. It was a horrible addiction I couldn’t let go of because of my insecurities within the real world. As you can see having watched the movie and by doing this interview, I overcame those insecurities about being myself and relying on being Vampiro to be accepted. What’s my swan song match? That means so little to me. I’ve got an impactful character, and I’ve got my documentary right now. Now I’ve got a new career because I’ve got my health and my life back. I can’t write that script. I’ve never been this fortunate or this happy. I’m not sitting around hoping for that one last match. If I did it, I’d be doing it for ego and I’d hurt and embarrass myself. I just can’t do that.
That’s a very wise way to view it, and I’m happy for you. Earlier you mentioned wrestling in Mexico. Clearly, Mexico has had a massive influence on your career. What does Mexico and Mexican wrestling mean to you?
I have an unlimited supply of gratitude for the wrestling industry in Mexico, not so much the promoters and the companies. Definitely the fans who gave me the opportunity. That’s why, no matter where I go, Vampiro is from Mexico City. That character was born and bred in Mexico City. I don’t take that lightly. I love Mexico! I love the food. I spent 39 years of my life there. I miss it. I don’t miss the corruption, the politics, the violence, or the fear. But I love Mexico. I love it to death. I hold it in very high regard, man. A lot of pretty fuckin’ girls too.
Who influenced your style in the ring and on the microphone?
Iggy Pop and Evel Knievel.
I’m a huge KISS fan. Were you there when KISS appeared for that one-off musical appearance in WCW? If so, what was that like? Did you get to meet the band?
(laughs) Yeah, I was there. I think I’ll answer that by saying this. God bless them for who they are in the rock and roll world for what they’ve done and who they’ve influenced. I think meeting them was one of the bigger disappointments I’ve had in my life. I didn’t expect them to be that arrogant, but it is what it is. I’m just fortunate that I was able to be a part of it. It’s another memory, right? It’s a great thing. And if anybody is a KISS fan and they watched that and got something out of it, then that’s what matters.
What was it like working on Lucha Underground?
It was amazing because it was a fundamental part of my movie — showing me have to go back and forth to Mexico for work, and demonstrating my mental health and what I had to overcome. The experience was awesome. The fans were the greatest. The wrestling was crazy. But the importance to my movie is huge.
What are your thoughts on your time in TNA Wrestling? I know it was brief.
You just said it. It was brief. (laughs) That’s about it.
The theme of your film and this interview has been how you’re in the best place in your life right now and how the future is bright. Knowing this, what’s next for you? Are there certain goals you’re looking to accomplish once the pandemic is over?
Dude, I’ve got a podcast coming up. I’m doing another movie right now. I’m in-production for a TV series, and I’m in pre-production for another TV series. I’ve also got a live tour coming up. And I’ve got my TV show on El Rey. I’m busy, dude. It goes back to what I was saying. When I was sick and I was getting better, I’m not a dummy. I can recognize when someone is passionate and has desire and work with that. When the director made the decision to shoot the movie the way he did, I took that as an opportunity for me to fix myself knowing that people are going to see that and it’s going to lead to a good place afterward. Having this opportunity to get my shit together and get my life back is the reason why I’m where I am today. Things are off the fuckin’ charts, dude. I’m really busy and really happy.