One of the most influential people in wrestling? New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Rocky Romero.
As an eight-time IWGP junior tag team champion, the 35-year-old Los Angeles native is an important cog in the New Japan roster. But his greatest worth—more so than his in-ring abilities or managing capability, which he is doing now with Roppongi Vice 3K—is his role as a backstage liaison.
Romero is a talent scout, the point person for all of the foreign talent looking to acclimate into Japan when starting with NJPW, and he is helping with the company’s international expansion.
“We have a great, talented awesome staff in Los Angeles, and because I live in LA, I’m able to give some insight, especially after seeing New Japan when they tried to expand in the early 2000s,” said the humble Romero, whose first instinct is always to deflect praise. “I’ve been able to give an opinion here and there about the New Japan dojo, local promotion, and I assist Tiger Hattori and keep the communication open with Ring of Honor and RevPro in the U.K. We’re working with so many different people, and our talent is more spread out which takes more organizing with up to 30 flights all over the world.”
Romero wrestled at last week’s All In show, which also featured New Japan stars in frontmen Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks, as well as Kazuchika Okada and IWGP heavyweight champion Kenny Omega—who defeated, respectively, Pentagon and “The Villain” Marty Scurll.
“I’m glad that we were able to be part of it and make history,” said Romero. “Our talent was a major factor in the show, and New Japan wanted to be a part of it so much that they got the rights to put it on New Japan World.”
Omega is the face of New Japan’s expansion, and he believes Romero is an integral part in the company’s growth and success.
“When it comes to positions within a wrestling company, I frequently find that those with a history in the business usually develop a much more symbiotic relationship with the talent,” said Omega. “Rocky, not only having the storied history in New Japan but the experience of countless grueling tours with the company, allows for an understanding a non-wrestling talent, or even another wrestler from another promotion, couldn’t understand.
“He also has other talents—acting, film making, music—that make him a jack of all trades and useful in any situation. Whether it be as a wrestler, manager, liaison, or on commentary, he’s proven to be an invaluable asset to the company.”
Romero was part of All In during the incredibly compelling “Over The Budget” battle royale on WGN America during the pre-show, which saw Flip Gordon—who was wearing the trademark apparel of Chico El Luchador—victorious.
“Chico was a part of the ‘Being The Elite’ cast, so it was pretty cool that he could have such a prominent role at All In,” said Romero. “He let his ‘son,’ Flip, enter the battle royale, and it’s important that Chico’s legacy was enhanced in such a pivotal All In moment.”
Romero still refuses to admit that he is the man under the mask, but he is behind the creation of Chico El Luchador.
“People think like to that I am Chico, but I’m not,” said Romero. “The idea is everybody’s Chico—every single wrestler in the world has been influenced by a ‘Chico’ or Chico himself.”
The character was first written by Romero in a comedy script and transformed over time into a first-of-its-kind wrestling mockumentary.
“I felt like I needed to bring this story to the world,” said Romero. “Chico is based off reality, celebrating the ridiculousness of pro wrestling. This is being done with a certain amount of love, combining comedy with professional wrestling.
“There has been so much love and support from the wrestling community. I sent it to Finn Balor, who was laughing because he was trying to tell friends it was me under the mask. Chico has been influenced by certain situations from my own career, and that’s the fun part of it. You meet a ton of different people in professional wrestling, and the people within that world sometimes seem to forget where the real world ends and where the professional wrestling world begins.”
The second chapter of the legend of Chico was released a few weeks ago, and even includes a scene with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who puts over Chico as his all-time favorite wrestler.
“Chico takes pride in being the world’s most famous wrestler, the world’s most important wrestler, the wrestler who invented most of the moves you see today,” said Romero. “He doesn’t feel like he gets enough praise, but his story is finally coming to life.”
The wrestling community has been supportive of the comedy, and Romero promised there will be more Chico to come.
“Instantly, fans got it, and they were receptive to it,” said Romero. “Fans have made up their own stories and made up their own Chico memories, and now I just want to get it out to more people.”
Romero is showing off his versatility outside the ring, but his true passion—wrestling—still burns inside him.
“That’s something that will never leave me,” said Romero. “I strive to wrestle at the top level, and I want to wrestle in those big matches. Those are the ones that are so fulfilling, so there’s still that want, but if that isn’t where the company really needs me right now, then there is no reason to pursue it at this moment.”
Romero just finished an impressive final four showing at RevPro’s British J Cup in Manchester, one of the premiere junior heavyweight tournaments in the world.
“I trained really hard for this J-Cup,” said Romero, who was in the championship four-way of the 16-man tournament with Rich Swann, Kushida, and eventual winner El Phantasmo. “I don’t get the opportunity too often to wrestle singles matches in New Japan, so I was ready to take this opportunity and show that I am more than just a backstage hand or a commentator or a manager. I wanted to show I still have some fight left in the tank.”
No one knows better that there is no “I” in team than Romero, who is continually willing to excuse himself from the spotlight when NJPW needs to highlight other talent.
“Right now, they need me to help out in a backstage position,” said Romero. “They need me to help the younger talent shine, and that’s all about the longevity for our business. New Japan is so good at creating stars and putting the focus on younger talent, so it’s important for us to think long-term.”
New Japan should be grateful that it is Romero working for them instead of Chico.
“They’re definitely happy, because New Japan gets Rocky at a much better rate than they can get Chico,” said Romero. “There are few promoters in the world who can afford Chico, but we’re lucky enough to celebrate his legend.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.