Seeing life story on stage 'surreal' moment for Olympian

"American Victory" made its world premiere March 2 to a receptive audience that included not only the playwright, Jose Zarate, and the director, Guillermo Reyes, but also the subject of the play. Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo watched the story of his life unfold on ASU MainStage’s intimate FAC 133 theatre space from a third row seat, surrounded by his friends and family. The experience, he said afterwards, was “nothing but surreal.”
“Wow, that guy had a tough life,” he quipped after the 80-minute performance by the ASU School of Theatre and Film in the Herberger Institute that earned the cast and crew a standing ovation from the crowd. Cejudo said he was “caught up by the story,” and sometimes forgot it was his life he was watching on the stage. Audience members throughout the evening glanced over at Cejudo, who was seemingly immersed with the on-stage high energy wrestling scenes and interactions with friends and family.  

Based on the book "American Victory" by Henry Cedjudo and Bill Plaschke, the story of Cejudo’s life unfolds like a Hollywood rag-to-riches tale. His parents were undocumented migrant workers, his father (played by ASU student Britain Bhattan) abandoned the family. The family's life was one of inescapable poverty as mom Nelly tried to keep Henry and his six siblings alive. Cejudo's boyhood dream of competing in the Olympics is realized. His improbable win in the 2008 summer Olympics against the world's top wrestlers is the stuff of legends.
Cejudo’s compelling story is portrayed by ASU School of Theatre and Film student Alberto Ley who plays the older Cejudo and community actor Mateo Perea who plays the younger Cejudo. “It was a challenge to stay truthful to him, to Henry, while still creating a character that was all my own,” says Ley who worked for more than six months to perfect the wrestling moves required for the role. At his side was David Prado, a member of the ASU wrestling team, who acted as Ley's coach. Cecilio Porras portrays Angel, Cejudo’s beloved older brother.
Cejudo’s hard-working mother is convincingly portrayed by ASU School of Theatre and Film student Kerin Martinez, while performances from a cast of talented ASU acting students and community actors round out the cast. The wrestling scenes are artfully choreographed by ASU School of Dance student Ashlee Jo Ramsey.

"American Victory" weaves a tale of poverty, hard work and dreams accomplished against all odds interwoven with laughter and accomplished wrestling. The play continues through March 16. For tickets, call 480-965-6447 or visit