What exactly does someone do when they finally accomplish a career goal that took them more than five years to achieve? Well, if you’re Raquel Rodriguez, you take a few minutes to enjoy the moment and then you quickly put it behind you.
Why? Because the real work begins now.
Rodriguez made her main roster debut on the SmackDown after WrestleMania, culminating a journey through WWE developmental and both variations of NXT, that started back in 2016. That’s when she signed her contract and move away from her family to chase her dreams of making it big in WWE.
Long before she ever earned the moniker ‘Big Mami Cool’ or captured the NXT Women’s Championship, Victoria Gonzalez had years of work ahead of her at the WWE Performance Center. She had less than a handful of matches her first three years with the company. It wasn’t until February of 2020 when the newly named Raquel Gonzalez, would get her first chance at regular TV time.
The six-foot Texan made an immediate impact at NXT TakeOver: Portland when she interfered in a street fight between Dakota Kai and Tegan Nox. She would slam Nox into a table off the top rope, allowing Kai to pick up the win.
For the better part of two years Rodriguez and Kai would run roughshod over the NXT Women’s Division, winning the inaugural Dusty Rhodes Classic and becoming the first ever NXT Women’s Tag Team Champions in the process. But it was Gonzalez who found the singles success.
She defeated Io Shirai at NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver in April of 2021 to capture the NXT Women’s Championship. It was a victory that would drive a wedge between herself and Dakota Kai, and her former partner would play a major role in Gonzalez eventually dropping the Title to current Champion Mandy Rose.
While their friendship deteriorated on-screen, their bond only grew stronger backstage. Raquel has credited Kai in the past with really being the one to help her blossom as a performer in NXT. Which is why Gonzalez was thrilled to get to have one more moment of glory with Dakota Kai at Stand & Deliver this year, in her home state of Texas.
Before she would make her main roster debut, Gonzalez and Kai would reunite and go on to defeat Toxic Attraction to capture the NXT Women’s Tag Team Championships for a second time.
“It was just really cool to have that moment with Dakota again, because I love her so much. She’s such a beast when it comes to everything that she does. And she’s just so creative and amazing. And it was just really fun to have that moment with her. And whether it was for a couple hours like the first reign or three days like this past one, all I have to say is that we were the first ever and the first two-time ever.”
It was very confusing to the NXT faithful at the time, but Raquel and Dakota dropping the Championships back to Toxic Attraction on the very next Tuesday, suddenly made a ton of sense when fans tuned in to Friday Night SmackDown just a few days later.
A familiar face, with a new name showed up on the Blue Brand for the first time. Now named Raquel Rodriguez, the three time NXT Champion was introduced to the WWE Universe in a backstage interview segment with Kayla Braxton and Los Lotharios.
Naturally, many familiar with her work rolled their eyes at yet another established WWE talent having their name changed, but Raquel didn’t bat an eye. She told me this week on the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast, that she’s just fine with the switch.
“They just basically said, ‘Hey, you’re getting a name change and this is it.’ And I was like, ‘Cool, that’s fine.’ I really had no big arguments with it at all. It was just a simple little switch,” Rodriquez said. “It’s funny, I was just joking with Rhea (Ripley) last Friday because she was actually at SmackDown, and her initials are R-R. Rhea Ripley. And we’ve always joked about being a tag team, and we had our feud NXT. Well, now my initials are R-R, Raquel Rodriguez. So it kind of just feels like it was meant to be, so I’m okay with it. We’re starting to think of new tag names.”
While the WWE Women’s Division could certainly use an influx of new tag teams, and a pairing of Ripley and Rodriquez could and would most certainly dominate, that will have to wait for another day. Big Mami Cool and the Nightmare are on separate brands and separate paths at this moment.
Ripley appears to be re-establishing herself as a singles star on RAW, while Rodriguez tries to find her footing on SmackDown. Although, she did not rule out a reunion with Dakota on the main roster either.
Needless to say, the last few weeks have been a whirlwind for Rodriguez. While she says the call-up to the main roster didn’t completely blindside her, the timing of everything was just insane.
In the span of a little over week, she reunited with Dakota Kai, won the NXT Women’s Tag Team Titles, lost the Tag Titles and then made her debut on SmackDown. Not to mention this all went down while traveling to and from Dallas for NXT Stand & Deliver and some much needed time with her loved ones.
“I was just with my family all weekend. So, already I was very emotional, not only getting to perform in front of them, but being able to like hang out with my niece and I got to have a little slumber party with my niece. So, it was a whole weekend just full of lots of emotions and happy emotions and love. And I was on my way back and I get the call and they tell me about SmackDown. I’m like, ‘Oh my God, what do I do?’ And of course the first thing I do is I call my dad. I call my dad and my mom and I let them know.”
Raquel’s parents reacted the way you’d expect any proud parents to react after hearing their daughter achieved something she had worked so hard to accomplish - they broke out in tears of joy.
“They just immediately start crying because they, they totally understand. You know, it’s been five to six years for me, since I moved from Texas, the farthest away from my home state. And my family is so very, very close. Like, I talk to my dad every day. So he’s heard every struggle I’ve been going through. Every doubt I’ve ever had. My dad has heard me cry in the mornings. He’s heard me cry at night,” Raquel said fighting back tears. “Sorry, I’m getting emotional. I’m so emotional right now.”
Looking back, Rodriguez said she was proud of everything she accomplished in NXT. She’s carrying all of those memories and everything she learned with her to Friday nights, but knows there is plenty left to prove. And that’s exactly what she intends to do every, single week.
This is what I’ve been waiting for. It’s what I’ve worked for. This is what all the sacrifices are for. But I definitely took that moment (getting called-up) and I squashed it right away, because I was like, this doesn’t mean you made it. This doesn’t mean that it’s over. You know what I mean? Like this is where the work begins and this is where you really have to start hustling.”
Rodriguez has yet to make her in-ring debut on SmackDown, but one would have to assume that will be happening imminently. To those fans who are unfamiliar with just who Raquel Rodriguez is, she has a simple message for you. She is going to be the most badass woman on Friday Night SmackDown.
So make sure you tune in every week at 8/7pm CT on FOX.
You can check out my full conversation with Raquel Rodriguez in the video above and don’t miss out on the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast, available every Monday-Thursday on the YouTube Channel and wherever you get your podcasts.