It has been a great year for lucha libre in the ring and a devastating year when it comes to lucha libre deaths. Sadly we must add another one to the list. Arturo Diaz Mendoza, best known to the wrestling world as Villano III, died today at the age of 66.
One of the greatest luchadores of all time, Arturo was born March 23, 1952, the third oldest son of lucha libre legend Ray Mendoza. Though his father insisted he and his four brothers stay away from lucha libre, Mendoza eventually relented and trained all his sons, who each took the name Villano. Arturo debuted in September of 1970 under the name Rokambole, but eventually was given the Villano name after proving himself worthy to his father and older brothers Villano I and II. Success was slow for his first few years, but he greatly benefited upon the formation of the Universal Wrestling Association in 1975. Formed to compete directly with CMLL (then EMLL), the UWA turned Villano III into a household name, and he became known as one of the top stars of the promotion alongside Dos Caras, El Canek, Dr. Wagner Sr. and his own father. He was best known for his impeccable technical wrestling ability, teaming with his four brothers (who would become known as the legendary Los Villanos) and compiling one of the most successful Lucha de Apuesta records of all time, with wins over the likes of El Signo, El Texano, Perro Aguayo Sr. and future North American star Chris Benoit (then the Pegasus Kid).
Villano III remained with UWA (while also working shows with CMLL and AAA during that time) until it folded in 1994. He then joined AAA, where he won the Trios Championships with his brothers Villano IV and V twice before departing for Promo Azteca in 1997. After Azteca folded, the then 46 year old Villano III returned to CMLL to wind down his career. It was there he would begin the greatest feud of his career with Atlantis, the multi-year feud would culminate at the 2000 Homenaje a Dos Leyendas show in March, where Atlantis unmasked Villano in the main event. Voted Match of the Year for 2000 by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter readers, it is to this day considered one of the greatest matches in lucha libre history (in my opinion it is the greatest) and Villano’s emotional post match promo and unmasking (done by his father) has become iconic.
Villano III would continue to wrestle unmasked afterwards, but age and health problems slowed him down and by 2006 he was only wrestling a handful of matches a year. His last notable match was at Triplemania XXIII where he, Villano IV and Villano V took on Los Psychos Circus in a match many felt exploited Villano III and his failing health. His last major appearance was last year at Homenaje a Dos Leyendas, where he was CMLL’s guest of honor. At both the press conference and event itself, it was noted how moved Villano III was to be honored by CMLL, especially at the show where his greatest match took place.
Villano III is survived by his brothers, Villano IV and Villano V, his nephews Kaving, Kortiz and Villano V Jr. and his two sons, El Hijo del Villano III and current AAA star Villano III Jr., among other family and friends. On behalf of Lucha Central, I offer my condolences to the Villano family at this difficult time. Goodbye Villano III. You will be missed.