The Raul Jimenez effect: Wolves fans embrace Mexican wrestling, sell masks for charity

WOLVERHAMPTON, England -- Wolves fans Manny Singh Kang and Jason Guy didn't know much about lucha libre or Mexican wrestling masks before Raul Jimenez joined the club. But interest in the sport was piqued by the Mexican striker's celebration in the FA Cup semifinal against Watford, when he scored the opening goal and donned the mask created by his wrestler friend Sin Cara.

"Let's be honest: none of Wolverhampton was exactly an expert on lucha libre," said Singh Kang, talking to ESPN before a recent home game. "We were googling it like mad afterwards... we tried to become experts of Mexican culture."

(In a neat twist, Sin Cara announced on Twitter early Thursday morning that he'd be at Wolves' final home game of the season to see Jimenez in action.)

The famous mask celebration by the Mexican striker was the talk of the town in Wolverhampton. Singh Kang and Guy capitalized on it by spearheading a campaign to sell masks and raise money for local charities. It didn't take long for the community to respond: As of April 22, close to £600 (15,000 pesos, or $800) has been built up so far. The masks were bought for five pounds each and are being sold for 10, with all the proceeds split between the Birmingham Children's Hospital, Cure Leukemia, Dementia UK and Breast Cancer Now.

Even though Wolves would end up losing the FA Cup semifinal to Watford, prompting Hornets striker Troy Deeney to label Jimenez a "loser," the fans don't take those comments too seriously, instead focusing on the positive cause.

"We're doing it all for the charities," said Guy. "It's a bit of fun. Wolves fans are very good at that. We've embraced the Portuguese and now the same with our magic Mexican."

You don't need to scratch too much beyond the surface around the town to see Jimenez's impact and how the fans have taken to the 27-year-old from the state of Hidalgo. Youngster Noah sat with his father, Ally, outside Molineux ahead of Wolves' 3-1 victory over Arsenal on Wednesday, wearing a green Mexico shirt with "Raul" on the back.

"He says he supports Mexico over England," said Ally.

"Yeah!" replied Noah.

Inside the stadium there's a Mexican flag on the roof, supporters were singing his name as early as the second minute against Arsenal on April 24 and Raul shirts being were being sold at a brisk pace outside. The striker didn't take a couple of half-chances in the win but was given a rousing ovation when he exited the field with eight minutes to go. And the appreciation spawned from Jimenez's 12 Premier League goals and effort as Wolves have surged into seventh position in the table appears to be mutual. The Mexican hasn't been locked away from the fans in his new home and has instead been visiting local sites and getting to grips with the English Midlands.

"He's been to West Park, he's been to [West Midland] Safari Park, he's been to Drayton Manor, Warwick castle," said Singh Kang. "He loves this place. If you look at his Instagram stories, I don't think he's being told to go and feed camels at the safari park but he was there the other day."

"He's embraced what England is and obviously somebody coming in from a foreign place has you thinking, 'Will they integrate? Will they interact?' Raul has fully interacted with all the fans. He interacts, he signs things, he replies back to fans and most importantly he bangs [the goals] in."

In a city that has embraced it's multi-national team, Jimenez has become one of the most popular players.

"The good thing about Wolverhampton is that it's a very diverse city," said Guy. "Wolverhampton University is a language specialist university so we get students not only from all over the country, but all over the world coming here."

Even though he's 5,444 miles from Mexico City, it feels very much like Jimenez has found a home away from home.