Meet Fray Tormenta, the Mexican Priest Who Inspired the Movie ‘Nacho Libre’

When called to help the vulnerable, the bravest will put themselves in danger if needed. The story of a devoted priest who became a wrestler to support the orphans under his care made its way to the silver screen in 2006 with the movie Nacho Libre starring Jack Black.

It turns out, however, that the film was inspired by the very real tale of a Mexican priest called Sergio Gutiérrez Benítez, who is better known by the ring name he took: Fray Tormenta (“Friar Storm”). He moonlit in the wrestling scene to make some money and help children in need.

Scroll down to learn more about Sergio Gutiérrez Benítez, aka Fray Tormenta.

Who is Fray Tormenta, the inspiration behind Nacho Libre?

Sergio Gutiérrez Benítez was born in San Agustín Metzquititlán, a town in Central Mexico, in 1945. He had a complicated youth and began struggling with addiction when he was just 11 years old. “By the time I turned 18 I had already become a criminal and a thief. I was working to sustain my dosage. I did everything, I [even worked as] an actor and clown in a circus, but I spent everything on my doses and I needed more, so I started stealing,” he recalled.

One day, in search of redemption, Benítez went into a church and entered the confessional booth. The priest offered little help and instead shooed him off. Disappointed, he decided to enter rehab, join a seminary, and become the kind priest he couldn't find at his most desperate hour. His dedication even took him to further his studies in Rome and Spain and was eventually inducted into the Piarists Order.

Back in Mexico, Benítez dedicated his work to people struggling with addiction. But after one person died in his arms, he swore to always help the destitute, and it led him to create an orphanage. He later became a secular priest in the Diocese of Texcoco, just outside of Mexico City.


A Wrestling Career to Support an Orphanage


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Benítez set up his shelter in 1976 but realized it was going to be a pricey endeavor. He remembered a movie he had seen years earlier, titled El señor Tormenta (“Mister Storm”), in which a priest becomes a wrestler to support his orphanage. From there, he set his sights on winning “a million dollars, like Muhammad Ali.”

To achieve his goal, he trained every day at a gym for four hours in the early morning, finishing just in time for the 7 AM Mass. He sometimes showed up to the confessional booth with bruises and in pain. After a year of preparation, he made his debut, earning about $15 from his first combat.

Inspired by the movie, he picked the ring name “Fray Tormenta.” Gutiérrez said in an interview, “I thought: the character is going to be brought to life by the fact that people believe that he [actually] is a priest.” Safeguarding his identity by wearing a red and gold mask, he traveled from town to town.

Although it's common in Mexican wrestling for a fighter to have their identity revealed after “waging” their mask and losing in combat, Fray Tormenta's true name was revealed by accident. “Another famous wrestler, Huracán Ramírez, was to blame. One day he called me on the phone and told me: ‘Tormenta, we will fight on Saturday', and then I slipped out: ‘I can't, I have to officiate a wedding.' [He replied] ‘Are you really a priest?' I asked him to keep the secret but that Saturday he came to the wedding, and in a few days everyone knew.”

In the end, it turned out to be a good thing, as he was promoted and got to travel the world for exhibition matches.


Legacy of Fray Tormenta

Although he only planned to be a wrestler for a couple of years, he spent 23 years in the ring and retired in the year 2000. “From wrestling, I like that people turn you into an idol and you can use the fame to help them. I can't conceive wrestling just for money if it's not for a cause.”

After surviving a bad case of COVID-19 in 2020, Gutiérrez sold some of his masks to raise money for the orphanage. Despite being in his late 70s, he still officiates catholic masses. He occasionally does appearances at matches and is known for wearing his mask to church.

Gutiérrez is very proud of his orphanage, which he named “La Casa Hogar de los Cachorros de Fray Tormenta” or “Fray Tormenta's Puppies' Children's Home.” He has helped over 2,000 kids, some of who have become lawyers, doctors, accountants, and, of course, priests and wrestlers.

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Regina Sienra

Regina Sienra is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. Based in Mexico City, Mexico, she holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications with specialization in Journalism from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She has 10+ years’ experience in Digital Media, writing for outlets in both English and Spanish. Her love for the creative arts—especially music and film—drives her forward every day.
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