The average wrestler is about 6’6″ and 250 lbs. Rey Mysterio, Jr. is 5’6″ and 165 lbs. Rey Mysterio, Jr. is not the average wrestler.

Mysterio brings his unique style to the UCSB Events Center on Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Smackdown! Tour of Defiance. A recent arrival on the World Wrestling Entertainment (neZ Federation) scene, Mysterio built a name for himself both internationally and on Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling as a lightning-fast, extremely acrobatic wrestler. He trained as a luchador; “Lucha Libre” is the term for Mexican-style wrestling. The term translates as “Free Hold,” although a more appropriate English term would be, “Are You Fucking Nuts?” Mysterio broke onto the stateside scene with his various aerial moves, and, for a while at least, entirely debunked the myth of wrestling.

Mysterio has a quiet, gravelly voice. He speaks carefully. He isn’t known for doing spots. He doesn’t need to. “There’s only one person that can do what I do,” he said, “and that’s me.”

See, professional wrestling in the U.S. goes like this: big, strong men do violent things to one another. In the case of Mysterio, a small, strong man does violent things to bigger men with awe-inspiring grace and agility. But even if you don’t remember him whipping out hurricanranas, scissor throws, and missile drop-kicks with the same ease a ten-year-old girl plays hopscotch, you’ve seen his mask around.

It’s blue, green or red, with gold-embroidered flaps that come down under his chin like a Spartan helmet. It’s not as elaborate as a lot of fellow luchadors’ headgear, but for Anglophone wrestling fans, it is the Mexican wrestling mask. Whereas The Rock may have his People’s Eyebrow, and Hulk Hogan his shirt-tearing routine, Mysterio’s mask is definition enough.

“[It is] my persona in the ring,” he said. “I identify myself a lot with my whole outfit.”

Indeed, the most lackluster stage of his career was when WCW had him de-masked – an event of significant disgrace to a luchador – and attempted to turn him to thug life as a member of the Filthy Animals. Although his teammates, including fellow WWE refugee Billy Kidman and Mexican superstars Konan and Juventud Guerrera were among WCW’s most promising talents, Mysterio isn’t much about being “Un Vato Loco for-evah.” He’s about being a wrestler.

“My mom’s brother was [famed Mexican wrestler] Rey Mysterio, Sr.,” he said. “I grew up around that lifestyle … I’ve been training since I was eight and wrestling since I was fifteen; I’m 28 right now.”

WCW, widely known for mistreating their talent, folded last year, allowing Mysterio to don the mask once again.

“When they first took off my mask? I felt like I was stuck in a position where I couldn’t do nothing,” he said. “The way they were putting it to me, my future was going to turn out better without the mask in professional wrestling. Part of me was like, ‘Okay, I gotta move on so this is what I gotta do right now,’ and the other part of me was like, ‘Damn, but I’ve been wearing my mask for nine years.'”

After WCW folded -amid a number of reports of their writers pushing angles that the talent wasn’t so happy about – Mysterio dropped out of sight.

“I didn’t get picked up by WWE right away,” he said. “I waited a turn because I was still under contract to WCW. But all that time, I had a chance to recuperate my body, just working out in the gym and [perfecting] my moves and my style in the ring.”

He made his return to the airwaves recently, capping his comeback by confronting the quite-a-bit-larger Kurt Angle at SummerSlam. And he’s back in the mask.

“Just recently I’ve started using [the mask] again,” he said. “More of the Lucha Libre style breaks out for me. I don’t know, it might sound kind of corny, but it’s as if it brings out a vibe when I’m in the ring.”

WWE, for all the criticisms leveled against it, has always been known for its good work environment. Mysterio is just the latest of a number of former WCW stars to have jumped ship, beginning back when WCW was still an active league.

“[At WWE] they treat you like a superstar,” Mysterio said.

“Everybody, whether you’re at the beginning of the card or the end of the card, we’re all equal. … And that makes you feel like you’re worth something.”

Worth something? Try vital. Mysterio has done more to encourage lighter, faster, more aerial wrestlers on U.S. television than anyone before or since. And he’s got hours clocked to show for it.

“I got two babies,” he said. “When I come home from being four days on the road, I got two and a half days at home, so I spend most of my [free] time with them. … My kids, my little boy, I don’t think he understands right now. Most of his feelings are excitement; if I lose he’ll tear up, and if I win he’ll be really happy. My wife gets scared a lot with my moves, with the type of wrestling I do, but she’s just very cautious.”

Indeed, the one drawback to Mysterio’s style, reliant as it is on jumping and legwork, is that he’s been known to go down injured.

“I had two major knee surgeries – ACLs,” he said. “Knowing that I had a good match and I can walk backstage comfortably knowing that I didn’t get hurt and everything went great and the crowd was wonderful and they had a good time, that makes me feel 100 percent better.”

Crowd response is important to Rey; you could even say it is the most important thing. For those who claim wrestling is not a sport, try getting thrown at the ground just so a group of strangers you’ll never meet can cheer at your pain.

“I’m learning every time I go out to a house show,” he said. “I learn how to be out there controlling myself and transmitting to people what I’ve got, and having them react to what I do.”

At UCSB, Rey will be participating in a tag-team match with Bob Holly against Chris Benoit and the Guerreros. The match will be “dark,” meaning untelevised.

“That’s the first time I’ll be tagging up with Holly, and we haven’t been [in Santa Barbara] in a long long, time, so [the crowd] should be getting a hell of a show. … When you don’t have the cameras, you loosen up a little bit, you don’t have that pressure of messing up,” Rey said. “You go out there and you have a good time, you rock the house, you make the people leave knowing they’ve seen a show they’re never going to forget.”

The show should abound with aerial work, with Matt Hardy and Billy Kidman – among other high-flying cruiserweights – on the bill. But would any of them have a job if it weren’t for Rey?

“I think if someone copies your moves and style,” Rey said, “it would have to be because they admire you. They like what you do in the ring … And a lot of people can be imitators, but there’s only one me.”

Tickets for Smackdown! Tour of Defiance are available at the UCSB Athletic Ticket Office, all Ticketmaster outlets, or online at . For more information, please call 893-2336.