Romeo's road from heartbreak to Heart Throb
WWE fans know Romeo as the fun-loving, colorful, partying member of the Heart Throbs whose hunger for a good time is matched only by his hunger for a taste of World Tag Team Championship gold. Romeo is living the high-profile life of a WWE Superstar day in and day out, but many believed he would never make it to the "big time." The road Romeo traveled was a long and winding one, but one that actually originated very close to the WWE headquarters in Stamford, Conn.
Romeo went to Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. He was a student by day, but he was working towards his dream by night. Every night after his classes, Romeo attended wrestling school where he learned the basics of professional wrestling. But Romeo's dream of becoming a WWE Superstar began well before he started his training.
"I was always a big fan of professional wrestling growing up. I went to every show in my area including MSG, Westchester County Center, Continental, Nassau and Hartford," said Romeo. "Wrestling at the County Center has always and still is a big dream of mine because the arena is within 10 minutes of my house. I would go to every single wrestling show there, waiting before and after shows trying to meet the wrestlers. It was around the same time Shawn Michaels was achieving his boyhood dream at WrestleMania XII, and that really sparked me to go after wrestling."
Romeo's love for wrestling and WWE in particular continued to grow as the years passed by. Before long, his love and enthusiasm for wrestling turned into a goal and a dream. But Romeo's enthusiasm wasn't always matched by those he was close to.
"In high school I would always tell everyone I wanted to be a wrestler and whenever I signed a high school yearbook I always said something along the lines of ‘you're gonna see me on TV as a WWE wrestler one day,'" he said. "My high school baseball coach always discouraged me and told me I would never make it as a wrestler. I used that as motivational fuel to prove him wrong. There were a lot of people that told me I wouldn't have a chance of making it as a wrestler, nonetheless a WWE wrestler, and I used all those people as fuel."
So, more determined to achieve his dream than ever, Romeo continued to train throughout college and before long started wrestling on the independent scene. In fact, he took it one step further and promoted his own show in his hometown. It was a day that Romeo would never forget, and one that indirectly led him to where he is today.
"It was really cool. Jerry Lawler headlined the show and Brian Christopher (formerly Grand Master Sexay) was there as well, so it was a good show," he said. "I was running around like crazy that day. I ran it, I put it together, I advertised it. All of my friends and family were there. And that same day I got a call from World Wrestling Entertainment. I thought it was some type of joke."
It wasn't a joke. WWE did indeed call Romeo, but it wasn't for a job as a Superstar. About a month earlier, Romeo had given his resume to WWE, and the call he received was to interview for a position as an intern in WWE's Live Events department. It wasn't the big break Romeo had dreamed of, but it would be enough to get his foot in the door.
"We set up an interview and it happened to all work out," he said. "I went to the office, and my eyes were bugging out -- I couldn't believe I was walking into Titan Towers. I would always drive by and honk my horn on my way to independent shows. Now I was there. It worked out great. I graduated college in May 2002 and started interning right after."
Romeo wasn't a WWE Superstar yet, but his position as an intern for WWE gave him a rare behind-the-scenes look at WWE and the business of professional wrestling. Romeo never lost sight of what his real goal was, though. He said that his time in WWE as an intern gave him an edge on other WWE hopefuls because he was able to see how the business operated. It was also through his position as an intern that he met Dr. Tom Prichard, who worked in the Talent Relations department at the time.
"I always talked to him about my goals of becoming a WWE Superstar. I told him that I really wanted to go to the developmental system (OVW). I wanted to move there and train and wrestle every day," he said. "It was a big step and a big decision. I could have easily have gotten a full-time job in the office. And I was very comfortable where I was. I had to decide if I wanted to leave what I had and start all over again in OVW with no guarantees. Guys have done that and haven't been very successful. But Dr. Tom always told me that you'll only get out of it what you put into it."
For many this would seem like a very tough decision, but for Romeo it was a no-brainer. While he was still working in the office, there was a WWE tryout camp. So, he went to the week-long camp and impressed several of the trainers including Jim Cornette and Danny Davis. In fact, he impressed them enough to get an invitation to train at OVW.
Everything seemed to be going great for Romeo…but that was only on the surface. In all actuality, this was one of the most trying times of Romeo's life. He had just reinjured the same shoulder that he originally injured a few years ago.
He first dislocated his shoulder while he was on the independent scene in 2000. There was just a little tear in the shoulder, and he recovered through rehab. Then, a year to the day, in 2001, he dislocated the shoulder again.
"At this point, I didn't really understand how injuries worked. I figured it hurts now, but the pain would go away and I'd keep wrestling," he said. "I didn't understand that I tore a whole bunch of ligaments, cartilage and all that stuff. I didn't want surgery because I knew I'd be out a long time, so I rehabbed it. Then, in my first match back, I dislocated it again, so I knew I had to get the operation."
Romeo had the operation done in New York and began rehabbing once again. His first match back was during the same show he was promoting in front of his hometown. Everyone had said that he should give up his dream, but Romeo was determined to prove them all wrong, and this show was a way to do that. He was back on track.
But before he went to OVW, Romeo also had a chance to train at Dory Funk's school in Florida. This seemed like a golden opportunity to soak up some invaluable knowledge from a legend of the squared circle, but the experience sidetracked him once again as he dislocated his shoulder yet again.
"I didn't even know what to think," he said. "It was only a few months later that I had planned to move to OVW. Everyone told me that I should just give up. That discouraged me even more, but there was something inside of me that knew I could do it. A lot of guys compare it to a drug. Once it's inside of you, you're addicted to it. I knew I needed to be in WWE. I knew with my work ethic I could get there. I talked to a few surgeons and they didn't have much good news. Then I decided to fly myself to Birmingham, Ala. to see Dr. James Andrews because he's the man. But when I got there I found out his office doesn't accept my health insurance.
"It was either get it done by the best or go to someone else who accepts my insurance. I knew if I was going to do this, I had to go all out and do it right. I paid for the entire operation out of my pocket. It wiped out my entire life savings and more. After this operation I had $0 to my name. It was a tough decision, but I wanted this too bad."
Romeo said that he gained inspiration for his decision from how Triple H handled his devastating quad injury in 2001. He even decided to follow a rehab program that was just as strict as The Game's. He rehabbed in Alabama every day, twice a day, for seven or eight hours a day, for about three months. After returning home for about a month, Romeo returned to Alabama to rehab for another couple of months.
It finally looked like Romeo was ready to make the move to OVW and take the next step in achieving his dream of becoming a WWE Superstar. He started in the beginner's class in June 2004. At some points it got very discouraging for Romeo. He said it was very hard for him to move up the ladder. There are usually about 20-30 students under developmental contracts, while Romeo was there on his own. So, he had to try extra hard to stand out.
"I worked hard. I went to the beginner's classes in the morning, and then I would stay around and watch the contract class practice. I tried to pick up anything I could from watching them. That was where I wanted to be."
In order to support himself, Romeo landed a job as a waiter for a Tony Roma's restaurant. He was waiting tables, going to all the classes, watched the contract classes and still went to all the house shows during the weekend to get extra work. Before long all of the hard work paid off.
"Things just started snowballing. The trainers saw the potential in me and liked my look. Jim Cornette started using me on their TV shows as enhancement talent a bit and things were going great," he said.
This was around the same time that Tommy Dreamer began working with WWE's Talent Relations department. And it was Dreamer who Romeo credits as playing a very instrumental role in his success.
"In November 2004, the WWE office came to OVW to observe the students. By the grace of God, Tommy Dreamer liked me enough, even though I wasn't under contract. He told me he wanted me to perform in front of everyone. I was very happy with how things went and my confidence started to grow. I knew if I could perform under that pressure that things would keep going well. Tommy told me that things were starting to happen. They were opening a new territory and he said a lot of us would get signed to contracts if we kept working hard."
It was also around this time that Romeo began teaming with his current tag team partner Antonio. The two had known each other for years through the independent scene and knew they had a good chemistry with each other. Before they knew it, they were dancing to the ring with big feather boas, big red lips on their tights and a flamboyant manager. Within a few weeks, the fans really started to get behind the Heart Throbs. Every week they would dazzle the fans with a crazy entrance.
"One week we tried to upstage MNM's entrance and we had a parade. We had a pink carpet instead of a read one. We came out with a dancing banana for whatever reason. It was just something funny that the fans really took to. Around Easter time we came out with the Easter Bunny and handed Easter eggs to everyone. It was definitely a good time."
Then in February 2005, RAW came to Cincinnati, which was very close to OVW. A lot of the students went to the show. The card looked booked, and the Heart Throbs weren't being used. But then around 4:00, Antonio told Romeo that they had a match against The Hurricane & Rosey on International HEAT.
"We weren't originally on the show, but Tommy Dreamer wanted the office to see us in action. This was actually on Valentine's Day, which was very apropos for the Heart Throbs. Everyone backstage seemed apprehensive when they saw us with our boas and everything, but everyone was pleasantly surprised. I wasn't even signed to a contract yet at this time. Then, two days later, we went to the OVW TV taping and Danny Davis told me I had earned a contract. I was just overwhelmed and couldn't even believe it. It's hard enough to go down there without a contract and earn one, but to do it within a year was just overwhelming."
Romeo's dream was almost complete. Just because he had received a contract, Romeo wasn't going to stop there. He knew there was still work to do in order to fully achieve his dream.
With about three days off in April, Romeo decided to take a trip to Panama City, Fla. with a friend. Romeo said it was like the road trip from Hell. They got pulled over, got lost more times than they could count, and when they finally got down there it was like a ghost town. They finally found signs of civilization and found a spot on the beach. Then he got a phone call.
"Tommy Dreamer said that me and Antonio were debuting on RAW, live from Madison Square Garden this Monday. I didn't know what to do. Of all places, I was going to debut at MSG on RAW. I used to go to MSG every month and watch the shows there. The worst part was that I had just got to Florida. We ended up just staying the night and headed back."
And the rest is history. From being a fan, to being a wrestling student, to being an independent wrestler, to being a WWE intern, to being an OVW student, to being a WWE Superstar, Romeo has traveled an amazing, long road. Romeo and Antonio debuted that night against William Regal & Tajiri and haven't looked back ever since. Even though Romeo has achieved his boyhood dream, he's not done setting goals for himself.
"You can never be satisfied. I always set little goals for myself. First it was to do one independent show. Then it was to do one independent show a month. Then it was to move down to OVW. Then it was to get a contract. Then it was to get called up to WWE. Now the next goal is to become World Tag Team Champions. And when that goal is reached I'll set other goals."
Click here for photos from Romeo's pre-WWE days.