One Of The World's Best 'Mortal Kombat' Players (Is A Latin Music Star)
Leo Rey is a popular Chilean singer best known for singing cumbia, a salsa-esque musical genre whose lyrics usually fall under two categories: 1) "Let's bang all night," and 2) "How could you bang someone else, devil woman?" But, among gamers worldwide, Rey is also known and feared as "Kung Leo," the nickname he uses in Mortal Kombat II tournaments and online matches. As of this writing, KUNG-LEO-BRIJIDO is at the top of the MKII leaderboard at Fightcade.com, with 1399 ranked matches played and over 316 hours of playtime. ("Brijido" means "badass" or "not to be f@#$%d with," if you hadn't guessed.)
Rey has two YouTube channels: one for music videos with up to 1 million views, and one where he flexes his nerd powers by posting videos of himself winning matches (even online ones) with his eyes closed or blindfolded:
Then there's this elaborate animation of Kung Leo fighting a palette-swapped clone of himself from somewhere in the Leo-verse, for some reason (note: this makes about the same amount of sense whether you know Spanish or not).
Rey also plays other fighting games, including some released this century, but MKII has a surprisingly deep significance in his life. He first fell in love with competitive gaming when his dad owned an amusement park as a kid. Unfortunately, growing up in that environment wasn't as fun as it sounds: Rey has said that his dad hit him with sticks and kept his leg chained to prevent him from playing with other kids. Finally, at 14, he had enough of that and ran away from home. It was while living in the streets that he was first exposed to Mortal Kombat and the character of Johnny Cage, a cool, sunglasses-wearing celebrity who is also a badass warrior. Little Leo saw Cage on the side of an arcade cabinet and said, "That's it, that's who I wanna be. But with horny lyrics and repetitive dance moves."
As a young man, Rey would earn money playing music in restaurants and then spend it all at the arcades, drowning his problems in seas of digital blood. Eventually, his music career took off (he even starred in a terrible reality show with his former band in 2009), and he stopped gaming -- until he bought a PS3 in the 2010s and his MKII addiction relapsed big time. Within a few years, he'd won three tournaments in Chile, ranked in the top three in a few more, and was slated to compete in four tourneys in the U.S. before 2020 came around and ruined that. That's when he got serious about the online competitive scene, which is how he ended up winning a Latin American MKII tournament in 2021 without losing a single round.
But his biggest achievement yet has to be the time he combined his two passions to release a "Mortal Kumbia" …
… that was acknowledged by MK creator Ed Boon -- to say "WTF," but still.
From a homeless arcade rat to an international superstar and multiple tournament winner -- that's seriously a more compelling story than any of the Mortal Kombat movies. That said, the '90s techno theme song is still 10,000 times better than his cumbia version. No competition there, sorry.
Maxwell Yezpitelok co-runs a Nintendo-centric YouTube channel, NintendoDuo.
Top image: Leo Rey