Rocky Romero first learned about the harmony between music and wrestling from Antonio Inoki.
Inoki encouraged Romero to be aware of the melody of his in-ring work, wanting him to think of each match like a song. The wrestling legend was unaware that he was impacting one of wrestling’s most innovative talents and musicians.
“Inoki would always compare music to wrestling,” said Romero. “That was one of his big philosophies. He would talk about how a wrestling match is like a really good song; there’s an intro, a crescendo, you bring it down, then you bring it back up for the finale.”
Romero’s new album, “Sneaky Style,” dropped Monday, delivering a blend of wrestling-inspired hip hop.
The 5'7" Romero has exceeded every expectation placed upon him in wrestling, with the lone exception being the expectations he has for himself. The music on the “Sneaky Style” album–aptly named for the self-proclaimed “King of Sneaky Style”–captures Romero’s unrelenting spirit and positivity.
“I’m writing off my experiences, so it’s a really upbeat, inspirational album,” said Romero, who shares his story in “Persevere,” one of the deeper songs on the album. “I wasn’t supposed to make it this far. People thought it was silly when I said I wanted to be a pro wrestler. Even now, when people meet me, I still get asked, ‘Aren’t wrestlers supposed to be big?’ Well, they are, but I’m not. It’s been a consistent grind, but I’ve kept my head down and kept driving.”
Romero is 37-year-old John Rivera. He is the man behind the mask of wrestling’s Chico El Luchador, and a critical piece of New Japan Pro Wrestling. In addition to his work in the ring, Romero unofficially serves as a talent relations ambassador for the company, aiding with the transition of American wrestlers in Japan and doing the same for Japanese wrestlers in America.
He also manages Roppongi 3K’s Sho and Yo, a tag team on the precipice of their first-ever run with the IWGP heavyweight tag team titles. Romero’s undivided focus had been entirely on the team, slightly dimming his own look just to ensure they shined even brighter. Of course, Romero also still takes immense pride in his in-ring work, particularly in what he has accomplished thus far in 2019.
“Wrestling in this year’s Super Juniors tournament gave me a chance to be viewed as a serious wrestler again,” said Romero, whose match against El Phantasmo stands as one of the top matches this year in New Japan. “That was my first time ever main-eventing in Korakuen Hall, and it was such an insane moment. There were people in the crowd crying, and those were 27 minutes that felt like I was fighting for my life.
“I’ll always be a wrestler first, no matter what else I’m doing. Wrestling in a ring is still my number one passion. But the music means so much to me. It’s another tool in the belt for me as a wrestler, and I can make my own theme music or my team’s music.”
Already a former IWGP junior heavyweight champ, Romero would like to add to his title collection, especially as a heavyweight.
“Chasing some gold is what I’m going to do next,” said Romero. “I would like to do the Super Juniors again next year, but I really want to go after the RevPro title–the British Heavyweight Championship, which is held by Zack Sabre Jr.”
Romero’s start in wrestling took place in 2002 when New Japan opened its Los Angeles Dojo, which transformed into a personal gym for Inoki. Surrounded by a litany of future greats, including Daniel Bryan and Samoa Joe, Romero began to forge his own identity.
“When Inoki would come in train with us, mostly with old catch techniques, then he’d look at us and say, ‘Wrestle,’” said Romero. “He’d stop us a few minutes in, and he’d said, ‘Create something different. It’s got to be different than what everyone else is already doing in New Japan.’ He was trying to get us to be creative and bring something new to professional wrestling.”
Romero spent the next four years of his life at the LA Dojo, and the past 17 years have been dedicated to the pursuit of making an imprint in professional wrestling. He has established himself as a viable piece of the New Japan roster, pieced together a memorable run in the Best of the Super Juniors tourney, and just married his longtime girlfriend in February. An unforgettable year continues with an album featuring the most meaningful music he has ever created.
“Music makes me feel alive,” said Romero. “And the message of ‘Sneaky Style’ is clear—I just want to have fun and maybe inspire a couple people to just say, ‘Screw it, I’m going to do something positive for me that no one thinks I can do.’ This new album is a chance to show people how far I’ve come in music. I hope it inspires people, too. I’m really grateful to share it.
“Now I can share the music, and I can’t wait to hear the fan response, whether it be someone praising or hating it. It’s a lot like being in the ring and getting that response from the fans. To think someone took the time out of their busy schedule to listen to my music is crazy to me.”