The world of professional wrestling finds itself in a contradictory, unpredictable state.
Since early 2020, the wrestling industry, and the world, have been coping with the effects of the COVID-19. The wrestling scene was rife with temperature checks, lengthy quarantines, digital crowds, clap crowds, and shows without an audience at all. Meanwhile, cross-promotional partnerships would begin to gain prominence. All Elite Wrestling would start partnerships with New Japan Pro Wrestling and Impact Wrestling. New Japan would also team up with Impact again after nearly nine years. Many can rightfully claim to be responsible for this new curious world of in-ring integration. Kenny Omega, Don Callis, Tony Khan, Takami Ohbari, and many others have played their part.
My take is that Rocky Romero best exemplifies how far this crossover concept can go.
Currently an employee of New Japan Pro Wrestling, Romero’s accolades seemingly go on forever. He aspires to hold the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. He achieved this accomplishment 15 years ago as Black Tiger. This goal, which is difficult under normal circumstances due to talent like Hiromu, and El Phantasmo standing in his way, was hampered due to various travel restrictions and New Japan temporarily halting tours in 2020 because of COVID. This horrible set of circumstances has not stopped Rocky from staying active in the company, wrestling primarily for NJPW Strong and working as an English commentator. His contributions on the mic and for New Japan of America’s flagship show should not be understated, but we are scratching the surface of his journey.
Romero has wrestled in or interacted with wrestlers from every North American wrestling promotion of note since the start of the Pandemic. In 2020, Romero competed in tournaments for the United Wrestling Network’s World Championship, Ring of Honor’s Pure Championship, and Major League Wrestling’s Opera Cup. All three of these tournaments took place before AEW’s Winter is Coming special, the event that would spark speculation over crossovers between wrestling companies. Before 2020 ended, Romero would continue to wrestle for Ring of Honor. He would also appear on an Impact Wrestling produced TV special of the Talk n’ Shop podcast he co-hosts with Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson.
To put it into perspective, 25 years ago, appearing for two named promotions in the same year would be rare, and more than two would be near impossible. These days, as long as the wrestler is a freelancer or has a flexible contract, this practice is more commonplace. Currently, wrestlers have worked for some of these bigger promotions (New Japan/NJPW Strong, Impact, ROH, MLW, NWA, and, if possible, AEW) at once. At most, wrestlers have been able to two of those promotions in addition to named independent promotions (GCW, BLP, UWN, etc.). Rocky worked for these promotions amid a pandemic even before the first knock on the Forbidden Door.
Rocky Romero remained busy working for NJPW in 2021. He returned to Japan for the first time in almost a year. At Wrestle Kingdom 15, Romero competed in the New Japan Rambo (rumble) and served as part of the commentary team. He also participated in this year’s New Japan Cup USA on NJPW Strong. Like 2020 however, Romero would make his presence felt in 2021.
This year, Rocky competed in his first two matches for Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport, with his second match taking place at WrestleMania Weekend. The Game Changer Wrestling produced show takes place in rings with no ropes. Emphasis is placed on combat and submissions inspired by catch wrestling and mixed martial arts. Romero brought a more no-frills yet effective, shoot-style offense to these contests and adapted to the promotion seamlessly.
Rocky also returned to ROH and MLW to wrestle in singles matches. He acted as a surprise commentator for Ring of Honor’s 19th-anniversary show. In MLW, Romero would be invited to Filthy Island by Filthy Tom Lawlor. The event had Romero have his third no-ropes match this year in Hawaii. With even Romero questioning the quality of the outdoor set-up during his entrance, Filthy Island lived up to its name. In AEW, Romero debuted for the company with a match on Dark: Elevation. After his victory, Romero was reunited with his Chaos stablemate Chucky T and his Roppongi Vice tag team partner Trent.
For the most part, Romero’s 2021 appearances had already been a solid follow-up to his exploits the year prior. By working at AEW, one of the most popular, impactful, and successful promotions in the world today, his cross-promotional tour in light of current events is nothing short of amazing.
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Romero’s current run within these last two years can show wrestling companies and wrestling fans what is possible. Aside from NJPW Strong, Romero has wrestled or made appearances for five other prominent promotions in the US. What Romero did is what I had hoped would be happening on a larger scale. Seeing the partnerships that AEW, New Japan, and Impact have formed with each other and other companies have a great experience to see.
How great would it have been for Kenny Omega to take his Belt Collector gimmick to its full potential by going to NWA, ROH, or MLW? That was just one example of what could happen if these partnerships can expand, but it is easier said than done.
NWA has partnerships with AEW and UWN that seemed to cool off before things started to get interesting. ROH still works with New Japan with their talent appearing on NJPW Strong, but that partnership is not what it used to be. There were even rumors of WWE partnering with NJPW or MLW, but clearly, these partnerships with them would be exclusive.
Whatever happens, Rocky Romero not only gave me a glimpse of what could be. His first matches with JD Drake, Fred Yehi, and Gino Medina happened because he wrestled for various promotions. While you can count on Rocky to send his opponents down Nakasuzo Road, here’s hoping pro wrestling companies follow the road to more collaborations, crossovers, and partnerships in the future.