La Feria News

Wrestling with success

Valley native Victoria Gonzalez’s trek from local high school athlete to WWE NXT Superstar

WWE NXT Superstar Victoria “Raquel” Gonzalez competes during a recent match. Photo: World Wrestling Entertainment

By MARK MOLINA
RSL

Before stepping out on the WWE NXT stage, Victoria “Raquel” Gonzalez usually finds herself near the Gorilla position, where members of production are seated behind the curtain and the scene is fast-moving and often hectic.

The Rio Grande Valley native doesn’t let it faze her as she finds a wall where she takes the time to stretch, keep the body loose and pray before making the switch from her fun, easy-going self to her rugged, tough on-screen persona.

“Faith is very important to me,” Gonzalez said. “I feel like I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my faith and having faith in God. So, I make sure to do that before I step out and then, as soon as that music hits, I know it’s time to go. I know it’s time to wipe off the smile and, all jokes aside, go out and do what Raquel does. That’s a bully and be this strong woman who’s there to take care of business.”

For Gonzalez, making the switch may not reflect who she is simply on the surface, as her normally bubbly personality of Victoria is a complete 180 from Raquel, who is one of the bigger women on the company’s roster and is an imposing figure who wears a mean scowl while pushing around her often-smaller opponents.

Still, at the core, both are strong Latinas as Gonzalez has infused her Hispanic roots and relationship with her father — who worked as an independent wrestler on and off for 15 years under the name “Speedy” and Rick “Desperado” Gonzalez — into her on-screen persona.

“Going into this, I never wanted to lose sight of my roots,” she said. “Being the Tejano just seemed obvious. Here I am born and raised, Texican and I am working my way out of Texas to become this WWE superstar. I wanted to make it where I was this big Tejano superstar. My dad, who went by the name of ‘Desperado,’ had his ring gear modeled after a mariachi. He stuck to his roots as well, so that’s why it was important to me to keep that same mixture in there.”

When Gonzalez got her big chance after nearly four years, she took the baton and ran –  roots and all. 

During a match between Teagan Nox and Dakota Kai back at February’s NXT Portland show, Gonzalez ran out to the ring, grabbed Nox and uttered the words “Me conoces? You know me?” before throwing her from the turnbuckle and on to a table.

Gonzalez aligned herself with Kai and was thrust into a main storyline, but most importantly, she had finally arrived as a character that would resonate with her and those back home in the RGV.

“Now as Raquel, I still have the opportunity to keep this same style and flavor, just a little more hardcore that’s more of a bodyguard,” she said. “I get to keep the black and I get to keep the leather. I am trying to incorporate little flavors of my Mexican heritage with little pieces of Selena in my gear or incorporate stuff that my dad would do as well.”

WORKING MAN
Wrestling runs in the Gonzalez family and before there was Raquel, her father Rick worked the Texas Independent scene in the late 80s and 90s.

Rick Gonzalez began training in the late 80s in San Antonio and worked southern independent territories before landing in the Western Wrestling Alliance in the early 90s where he crossed paths with the likes of Ivan Putski, Booker T, Stevie Ray, Dr. Death Steve Williams, the Guerreros and more while earning the name Speedy Gonzalez due to his fast working style.

“I helped some of those guys train because I was fast,” he said. “When they decided to bring me in they called me Speedy first and it kind of stuck for a long time. Everybody knew me by Speedy so we went with it.”

It wouldn’t be long before Speedy would slow it down around 1991 to be home with his wife, his oldest daughter Madelyn and his infant daughter Victoria.

While the road was fun to be on, Rick said it was far from glamorous, citing long hours and the extended time away from home.

Like most people who love a profession, he would not stay away long and returned in the mid-90s with a different look, forcing him to ditch the name Speedy and go by Rick “Desperado” Gonzalez.

“There was just a point where I decided to quit, focus on work and stay around the girls,” he said. “At the same time, I started lifting weights, I got bigger and thicker and I didn’t want to really wrestle. Then some people made me offers and I said I could go back. I was told I could not use “Speedy” and they suggested a Mexican character. All I could think of was the fact that I had long hair and I gave Desperado a try.”

The new gimmick took off and Rick kept a busy schedule, often working three shows per week before landing at the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy, now known as the Texas Wrestling Academy wrestling top names.

Photo: World Wrestling Entertainment

DADDY’S GIRL
As dominating as Victoria depicting Raquel can look in the ring during a match or simply standing toe-to-toe with some of the other women in NXT, she was the one looking up literally and metaphorically to her father Rick.

While Rick made it his mission to not only be around and do all the little things despite weekly work and shows on the weekends, Victoria made it hers to spend as much time with her dad and become independent in the process.

“My relationship with my dad has always been super tight; he’s been my best friend ever since I was little,” she said. “I also worked with my dad refurbishing houses. Because I wanted to spend time with my dad and I didn’t want to stay at home and I was constantly like ‘Hey dad, can I help cut some yards or can I lean up this, can I help you with this.’ He’s taught me a lot when it comes to being independent.”

While Victoria aimed to become a shadow to her father by volunteering to do manual labor, what she probably enjoyed the most was watching him work in the ring.

“We would travel. I loved watching him work and put on a show for everyone. When we were much younger, my father was wrestling while he was working from home or doing outside jobs. When he would wrestle, that was our family time. I remember my sister and I jumping into a car with my mom, Lucy, and driving all the way to Corpus Christi. We would be so excited to see my dad work in the ring and to see all his buddies work in the ring. It was just something I’ve always loved and that I always wanted to do.”

Victoria would not only be a spectator but would often tag along when her father trained in Edinburg or Corpus with Paul Galvan — another trainer who would help in her development along down the line — and even hung out at events, befriending workers and promoters alike.

“When (Victoria) was 4 or 5 and in the crowd, she would always like it, but as she got older like 6 or 7, my wife and my other daughter would drop us off at the arenas and she would go in there with me,” recalled Rick. “A lot of the wrestlers would know her as well as some promoters. That’s when I had an ‘Oh no’ feeling.”

RING DREAMS TO HARDWOOD TEAMS
As Victoria grew up watching Desperado and friends show out in the ring, her love for the business began to grow as she preferred the indie wrestling scene much more than seeing the host cities or shopping with her mother and sister.

Father Rick recalls her becoming like family to the talent and promoters alike.

“A lot of the promoters and promoters’ wives just took a liking to her,” he said. “She would stay with them until my wife would get back. At that point, I thought to myself like ‘Yeah, she might want to grow up and (become a wrestler).’ When she was in junior high, she began to mention (her interest) and I just kind of ignored it.”

Fortunately for Rick, as his daughters grew and his career — which consisted of mostly weekend shows — began to slow down, he began to coach basketball part-time thanks in part to his oldest daughter Madelyn.

Victoria, wanting to spend time with her father, also began to concentrate her interests there.

“I went and sat with my dad and watched him coach and I was like ‘Hey, I know you’re coaching boys, but I want to play, too,’” she recalled. “My parents never forced me into anything but I’m glad I asked that because basketball took over my life at that point. It became my new love even though we still did traveling with wrestling, but basketball became the focal point.”

As a young girl, Victoria was meant for the court, oftentimes towering over her peers and grabbing the attention of youth coaches.

Adapting and fitting in right away proved tough as she needed to not only adapt to being different than everyone else but prove that she was more than just size.

“I was 5-foot, 10 inches in middle school, but even when I entered fourth grade at La Feria, everybody thought I was in the wrong grade because I was that much taller than everyone else in my class,” she said. “It was the same thing in basketball. I was assigned to the Rio Hondo team and I had to drive from Harlingen to Rio Hondo to practice with the team and the girls were hesitant to accept me. 

“The coaches were excited to have a giant on the team but the girls will be girls,” she added. “There were questions like ‘Is she good?,’ ‘Has she played before or are we letting her in because she’s tall?’ It took a lot for me to not only be the tall girl but for me to prove that I had the athleticism to be a main player and a staple.”

Victoria proved she belonged and much more as she began to play basketball at school and on travel teams as she became an elite RGV basketball player over the next few years.

Her high school career would consist of playoff runs, a budding rivalry with West Oso High School, and would eventually culminate with history.

Victoria helped lead the 2009 Hidalgo Pirates to the UIL state girls basketball tournament, marking the first time and only time an RGV girls team had accomplished the feat.

The Lady Pirates fell in the state semifinals to Argyle 58-43, but that season would be a big one for the Hidalgo center as she would earn numerous awards, with the most notable being All-Valley Most Valuable Player and nod to the all-state team.

“I think (2009) really opened eyes for a lot of people,” Victoria said. “The Rio Grande Valley really wasn’t known for its basketball teams, but mostly for its soccer teams or baseball teams and even football teams. So being from a 3A team to make it all the way to the semifinals in a state as big as Texas, it was an honor and a goal. It also gave us on that team a lot of opportunities that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”

As for Rick, being involved in his youngest daughter’s basketball journey every step of the way — counting the number of games he missed on one hand over the course of her entire career — was a privilege and will be something he’ll always cherish.

“You know how some people say they need a son? Well, not me,” Rick said.  “I always said since the girls were little that they are going to do the same thing as the guys. If they’re going to make you happy, they’re going to make you happy doing one thing or another. To me, it was an honor because we spent a lot of time together and it’s something that can never be replaced.”

NOTE: This is part one of a two-part story. The second part to this article will appear here next week.

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