Mountainair’s mayor was surprised with a wrestling-style belt this week by the town clerk, in a personalized thank you.

“It is the Mountainair Championship belt,” Mayor Peter Nieto said, adding that the surprise left him very emotional. “I did cry,” he said, adding, “Dennis [Fulfer] was talking about all this stuff that I had done. When you do it, you don’t think about it. … That’s when I actually sat back and thought of it—yeah, we did do that. When he pulled out the belt, it was holy moly, I was crying. It was really awesome.”

Nieto is well-known for his love of professional wrestling, which he said started when he was a kid, watching wrestling with his dad and brother. His father died just before he graduated from high school, and now wrestling keeps him connected to his dad, Nieto said.

Calling Nieto a “charismatic leader,” Fulfer said he’s excited to be part of the changes going on in Mountainair.

Fulfer ran for mayor in 2010, when Nieto ran for council. The two share a vision for the town that Fulfer called “a wholesale clean-out and reinvigoration of everything that exists in Mountainair.”

That has included everything from taking electronic payments for town utilities, to creation of a website and social media for the town, to promotion of local tourist attractions, garnering of grant funds for town businesses impacted by Covid, and a map for rural emergency services that could become a template for rural areas around the country, Fulfer said.

“The term that I keep using is renaissance,” Fulfer said.

“He’s my right-hand man, in reality we’re two peas in a pod,” Nieto said, adding, “I’ll call him with an idea, he’ll call me with an idea, and it blossoms from there.”

Nieto said his goal is that Mountainair become a “destination,” adding, “For so long, we saw the decline of Mountainair, and I thought we were going nowhere fast.”

Nieto said he “was that kid” who left Mountainair after graduating from high school to live in Albuquerque and Seattle. “Even though I said that I hated small-town living, it was actually who I was, what I did. … I consider Mountainair one of those perfect locations—you get to relax, you don’t have the high speed of the city, you can go outside and look at the stars at night. What does it matter if you can get a hamburger at one in the morning?”