August 1, 2013
Forever Hooligans basking in championship glory
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
The dictionary defines a hooligan as "a ruffian or hoodlum," but given the success of the Forever Hooligans, Rocky Romero and Alex Koslov, it might just be time to add "champion" to that definition.
The two young wrestlers from Los Angeles currently reign as World tag team champions in Ring of Honor and as IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag champions in Japan.
In a free-flowing three-way conversation with SLAM! Wrestling on Tuesday night, Rocky Romero and Alex Koslov proudly talked about their accomplishments.
"I know we've gotten some press already in Japan over it. I saw New Japan was Tweeting about it as well," said Romero. "It's also good for Ring of Honor to get that kind of promotion in Japan as well, where they don't probably get as much. It brings and builds the Ring of Honor championships up a little."
Having been both a ROH tag team champion and a IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag champion before with other partners, Romero definitely has the experience for his claim.
It's not all glory, though, said Koslov, reminding that "with great responsibility comes great hassle."
He is hoping through ROH's national TV deal on Sinclair Broadcasting (also its owner) that the profile of the Forever Hooligans will be raised in North America.
"It gives us more visibility in the States for sure. Ring of Honor is one of the top promotions. A lot people around the world watch it. They sell tapes of Ring of Honor outside of arenas in Mexico for, like, 20 pesos. That's when you know you've made it," said Koslov. "It definitely gives us more visibilty in the States since we're more regularly in Japan now."
All the traveling and flights can be wearing.
"The security checkpoints at the airports, these guys, they want to have us pull our belts out," said Koslov. "They ask us what we're champions of, and I have to slap them across the face and tell them we're Ring of Honor champions and the IWGP tag team champions. The process becomes longer going through security. It's the cost of being the champion."
Romero concurs that the fame of being a big-name wrestler isn't quite there yet.
"Whenever I pull [the belt] out, the security checkpoint people, they start marking out. They're like, 'What are you the champ of?'" Romero said. "Every once in a while, they're wrestling fans, and it's, 'No way, no way!' I think I got asked for a picture one time when I was the ROH tag champ back in the day."
The career of Rocky Romero (John Rivera) started in 1997, learning his trade in Los Angeles, especially in the New Japan dojo in town. Names like Bryan Danielson (now Daniel Bryan), Ricky Reyes, and TJ Perkins were there at the time. After a first trip to Japan, Romero was sent to Mexico. "That was an eye-opener. That really changed my wrestling," said Romero, 30. "That was a huge, huge break." Besides making a name for himself as Rocky Romero, it was under a mask as Black Tiger IV that he caught a lot of attention, feuding with Tiger Mask IV over the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Alex Koslov, only a year younger than Romero, has been wrestling since 2003. Moldovan by birth (as Alex Sherman), he was raised in the Los Angeles area, and trained to be a pro wrestler with Jesse Hernandez, and, like Romero, got a break and was invited to train at the New Japan dojo in L.A. Again, like Romero, going to Mexico broadened his education.
As solo workers and as a team, they have learned and adopted along the way.
"What also makes us unique as a team and as individual wrestlers is the experiences internationally in all the major markets now, with the U.S., Japan, and Mexico. We're able to bring completely mixed styles of everything," said Romero. "It's cool because we bring different elements. Our matches are not your straight-up, typical Ring of Honor matches, it's more based out of pure wrestling or whatever it might be. We do do some comedy, some entertainment stuff, and we do do the hard-nosed wrestling as well. If you watch our matches, you get a little bit of everything. I think that's kind of special."
"Like Rocky said, a little comedy, a little of this, strong style, every kind of style combined, it separates us from a typical team. That's helped us gain momentum and get the accolades that we're getting, because we've tried to separate ourselves with what we can do," said Koslov. "What I found is you can take little things from whatever style and make them work in another market, just through trial and error. You can bring out better performances, bringing out different stuff and different styles. Having that experience really helps."
"We're actually a real team. We are two singles wrestlers, but we have a lot of chemistry and we have a lot of history going back to Mexico, the L.A. New Japan dojo before that, and then in Mexico, we teamed as De-Generation Mex with X-Pac," said Romero. "It was just natural when Davey [Richards] wasn't coming back to New Japan and we formed. It just made sense on all levels."
"A lot of people know the history, especially between me and Davey, being former Ring of Honor tag champs, and IWGP tag champs, which is kind of interesting," began Romero. "We'll be walking into the building double champions. I think it's going to be cool. I think it's a treat for the fans because of the history. The American Wolves have been so successful by themselves. Now we can say Forever Hooligans have been successful as a team in the last year. I think it's going to be a pretty awesome match. Definitely, the Toronto fans haven't seen us. They're going to be extra excited for the match, hopefully."
Koslov has never worked in Toronto, and Romero has only been to the Ontario capital once, when he was Black Tiger, taking on Ultimo Dragon on a UWA show.
The Forever Hooligans name is a result of their friendship. In Japan, Romero uses the theme song "Forever" and is nicknamed "Mr. Forever." Koslov is the Russian Hooligan. "I think we were drinking one night and trying to come up with names, and I was like, 'What about Forever Hooligans?' Alex was like, 'That's awesome,'" laughed Romero.
As quick with his wit as he is on his feet, Koslov was excited to hear that the bottom floor of the Mattamy Centre has a Loblaws grocery store. Security guards beware, he threatened, as the "hooligan" is ready to get to work. "That's why you said there's a grocery store in the arena, I'm really looking forward to it. I'll get a little of my hooligan in," joked Koslov.
"A little fun before the match, that's how we usually warm up," responded Romero.
Greg Oliver was able to share his rudimentary knowledge of Russian with Alex Koslov, which covers the essentials of please, thank you, and beer. He can be emailed at email@example.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @gregmep.