A view from a DKM: An interview with Chris Ronquillo, Part 1: Becoming Tony Brooklyn

Have you ever looked back on a particular day and realized you had no idea at the time the changes it would make in your life?  In the wrestling world, for me, that day was August 14, 2010.  I’ve already detailed how that was the day I first saw Kevin Douglas live and became a major fan but it was also the first time I would ever see a man that was going by the name, Tony Brooklyn.  Ken Taylor had brought in WOW Texas ring announcer, Chris Ronquillo, who uses the Tony Brooklyn stage name for wrestling, to be the ring announcer that night.

“Ken Taylor asked me to ring announce. I figured it was good chance to take notes, get to know him, [and] learn more about the NWA.”  Not that it was the best paying job as Ronquillo recalled “He didn’t pay much but promised me all of this big time exposure.  I didn’t care; my involvement in wrestling is driven from passion not the need for money.  My career outside of wrestling is good to me.”

Like many fans, Ronquillo became a fan at a young age.  “I think it was the late ‘60s or early 70’s, I know I wasn’t 10 years old yet” he recalls.  “Back then, there were only 4 or 5 channels on television…we’re talking pre-cable days.  I think it was a Sunday morning.  I flipped through the major networks and nothing caught my attention.  I switched to the local independent station and saw professional wrestling for the first time.  I remember it was a tag team match.  Two huge country looking guys wearing blue jeans were wrestling.  They were a tag team known as the Kentuckians.  The team consisted of Grizzly Smith (father of Jake Roberts, Sam Houston and Rockin’ Robin) and Luke Brown.

Cable TV would expand his wrestling experience as he grew.  “I watched [Mid-South’s] weekly television shows religiously.  The show was hosted by Boyd Pearce.  When cable came about, I became a big fan of Georgia Championship Wrestling on WTBS out of Atlanta.  It was a natural.  Whenever Bill Watts would need some help against a team or faction, he would call his good friend Dusty Rhodes to come to town and help.  Dusty was a regular on the Georgia show.  A lot of the Georgia guys came to Mid South and many of the Mid South guys ended up working in Georgia too.”

Similiar others that only saw wrestling on TV, the young Ronquillo would cheer the “fan favorites” and boo the “rule breakers”, but things changed once he was able to start going to shows.  “When I started attending live events in the mid 70’s, I immediately started to follow the villains.  I loved Ernie “Big Cat” Ladd!  His matches with Dusty Rhodes were classics.  Ernie would load his taped thumb with a foreign object and taunt the crowd as he used it on their hero.  I loved the way the crowd would react to him…God they hated him…and he celebrated it…which made them hate him even more.”  Watching the crowd’s passion would affect the way he viewed wrestlers and the sport.  “During a feud with Rhodes, I can remember police cars pulling in and loading Ernie up to escort him out of the building.  There was no way he was walking out of that building to a car in the parking lot.  Hundreds of fans would block the building exit and beat on the police cars as they tried to navigate through the crowd…it was crazy.”

With all this Ronquillo was still able to develop a relationship with his new idol, “When I conversed with Ernie in the locker room he came across as a gentle giant…he treated me well.  When I think of a wrestling “heel”…I think of Ernie.  When I think of a gentleman in wrestling…at least as far as I “knew” him…I think of Ernie as well.”

Ladd wasn’t the only heel that would grab his attention, “When the Freebirds came along, I naturally gravitated toward them.  When Michael PS Hayes came strutting through the dressing room door with his long ostentatious robes, with Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy walking with a purpose behind him, the fans knew they were supposed to hate them [and] of course I loved that. I’m a huge Flair fan as well; the Ric Flair of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s that is.  What kid didn’t do the “wooo” or Flair strut back then?  Heck, some grown men do it today.”
While still in school Ronquillo started developing his career path and used his passion for wrestling,  “I was a teenage freelance photographer and did a lot of freelance photography at the Mid South promotion from about 1977-1981.  I did some writing too.  I was really lucky; the Mid South promotion gave me locker room access.  I was able to get some good shots, stories and interviews.  I was just a teenage kid but they treated me really well.  I guess it helped that my pictures were good and that I could write fairly decently.  The promotion and some of the wrestlers took full advantage of that…which I loved.”

“I used to send my articles and photographs to everyone…national magazines like “The Wrestler”…the Mid South promotion…the local daily newspaper (The Times Picayune)…and the local weekly community paper (The West Bank Guide).  I had immediate success getting articles and photos published by the national magazines and Mid South Wrestling publications…but I couldn’t crack the local daily or weekly paper.  The weekly community paper would be delivered on Thursdays I think.  I would come home from school and flip through the pages on Thursdays hoping to find my article.  After submitting weekly articles for years I was close to giving up with the local papers.  Mid South used to have star studded “Extravaganza” events in the Superdome from time to time.  These shows would draw from 20-30 thousand people.  I remember saying I’ll submit this last article….and if they don’t print it…I’m going to stop.  Well….that one Thursday when I was flipping through the West Bank Guide (that was the weekly community paper)…there it was!  One of my articles had finally been printed by a main stream publication.  I was so excited.  I was certain it was the beginning of a long journalism career.”

Locker room access certainly had its perks as well. “On [the Freebirds] first night in New Orleans, I remember Gordy giving me hell at ringside.  When I went to the locker room area to shoot still shots, Gordy and I hit it off.  There was an area outside the door of the heel locker room where the heel wrestlers would sometimes hang out.  Some fans would forsake watching the matches and hang around the baby and heel locker areas (which were on different sides of the building) in hopes of getting pictures and autographs.  One day Terry, Michael Hayes and Killer Kahn were all hanging out and I can remember Terry saying something like “hey brother, here is some money, go to the concession stand and get us each a beer…you too little brother…if they ask you any questions, tell them it’s for me.”  Well…some of the fans picked up on that and connected some dots that didn’t exist.  Back then I had long wavy/curly hair, much like Gordy’s.  Some of those fans thought we were brothers…and that rumor quickly spread among the regulars.  When asked, I never said we were brothers, but I never denied it.  I kind of enjoyed it.  Michael was cool with me, but we didn’t talk much.  I enjoyed a good relationship with Terry though…he’s definitely high on my list.  Buddy Roberts came along later….I don’t remember ever talking with him.”

But the care free, freelance life of a teenager soon gave way to the responsibilities of adulthood. “Life took me in other directions in 1981 and I stopped attending and following wrestling.  I was busy working and raising two kids by the time I was 21 so wrestling would have to wait.  It wasn’t until 1993 that I found my way back to a live event.”

“I had the good fortune to sit dead center front row for the WCW Halloween Havoc 1993 event in New Orleans.  Flair and Rick Rude battled for the world heavyweight title.  The hard camera was pointed right at us.  Me, my oldest and only son at that time, a good friend and his daughter are all over the video.  I watch it from time to time, it’s fun…and embarrassing.  First, we looked like geeks.  Second, we were acting like fools…but having a blast.  Getting a “wooo” from Flair that night was probably my “mark out” moment.  I had been away from wrestling for about 10 years, and returned as a paying fan, it was a really fun night.  I had been away from wrestling for quite a while before attending that event but Ric got the fire burning again.”

Although he returned to be fan of wrestling in 1993 it wouldn’t be until 2005 that it would start becoming a major factor in his life. “In June of 2003 my employer relocated me from New Orleans to Houston.  I would always drive down Highway 290 and see a sign outside of a VFW Hall in Cypress that advertised live monthly pro wrestling.  I kept telling myself I need to go and check that out, but never did.  After my oldest son James moved to Houston in 2005 (due to Hurricane Katrina), we kicked around the idea of going.  We finally made the commitment to go a few months later.  We arrived early [and] the parking lot was half empty [so] we started acting silly, neither of us wanted to get out of the car.  There is something about walking up to the doors of that VFW, it seemed like a private place that we didn’t belong…the parking lot wasn’t full….we discussed just blowing it off and driving away.  Finally, my son said “I’ll go in”.  He came back seconds later and said “Dad, let’s go in.  It looks good…the ring is set up and I saw a guy wearing a suit.  Looks legit.”  The guy in the suit was then WOW ring announcer Jim Dickson.”

“The crowds were small, it was primarily a student event, but we had fun.  When the wrestling events became non smoking, I started taking my younger son Jordan.  My wife would be left behind, she didn’t want to come.  She started inviting her lady friends over on wrestling night each month.  Her friends would ask where me and the boys were and she’d say at the VFW for “Spaghetti Dinner Night”.  She didn’t want to tell them we were going to wrestling.  She hated wrestling!  We would come home and they would still be there.  They would always ask us how the spaghetti was.  To this day we still call event night “Spaghetti Dinner Night”.”

For five years Ronquillo regularly attended the events and then one day Jim Dickson was no longer there.  “I liked Jim, we had become somewhat friendly.  At the November 2009 event, a guy did the ring announcing [and] he was OK but he wasn’t Jim, you know how that works.  Being the guy to replace a popular guy isn’t easy.  The next month, one of the injured wrestlers was doing the ring announcing.  He’s a great guy but was obviously uncomfortable and not very good.  I felt bad for him and I realized how badly they needed a new announcer.  Replacing the guy who replaced the guy who replaced Jim was a good opportunity.   I came to the conclusion that if Jim wasn’t going to be there, I should ask them if I could get a shot.  For years, as a joke, I would tell my boys that I was going to be the next announcer.  I figured why not ask.  I have done public speaking most of my adult life, I’m comfortable in front of a crowd, [and] I knew I could do it well enough at that level to help the show.  I went home that night and sent an email to the promotion through their web page.  Shortly thereafter, I received an email from one of the wrestlers who was monitoring incoming email.  He asked if I could come in for an audition.  I do a lot of travel in my profession, and my schedule was jam packed.  There was no way I could go to the audition so I figured I missed my chance but that wasn’t the case.  They sent an email saying they would give me a live audition and let me announce at their January 2010 event.”

“I was in Brooklyn New York when I received that email.  I had spent a lifetime correcting people on the pronunciation of my birth given last name.”  For the record it is pronounced ‘Ron-kwil-oh’. “Then there are some people who skip my first name (Chris) all together and call me “Ron”.  I thought my name would be too hard to understand.  I wanted to use a simple name that people could understand and remember.  A name that wasn’t boring like mine.  I had been reading about Paul Boesch.  I really admired his accomplishments but most of all I respected his integrity and the way he treated people.  He is known for promoting wrestling in Houston, but was born in Brooklyn.  I was in Brooklyn; I idolize Mr. Boesch…THAT’S the name I should use in the ring…Brooklyn!  The first name that came to mind was “Joey”…but we already had a Joey on the talent roster…so I picked the first name of “Tony”.  Then I called Jim Dickson out of respect to ask for his blessing, which he graciously gave.  I returned their email accepting the audition spot, did the event, they liked what they saw, and they hired me to continue as their full time announcer.”

In addition to just doing the ring announcing he sought to help WOW wherever he could, “Business intrigues me.  No matter where I go or what I do, I always try to figure out the business model and how that company may be making or losing money.  Basically, that’s what I do for a living.  My background is sales, promotion, marketing and business.  Tugboat Taylor and Chaz Taylor had been running this promotion for years but they were receptive to some new ideas I offered.  Whether it was the result of good planning or just luck, the company began to grow.  I was putting a lot of work in to the company and approached them about some kind of partnership deal and they agreed.”

Though before approaching the Taylors, Ronquillo went to a person that some might consider an unusual for some advice.  “I am friendly with Darin Childs from ACW in Austin. When I thought of becoming a partner at the Houston promotion I went to visit Darin in Austin and spent an afternoon with him. He gave me a lot of good advice and support. He is one of the main reasons I’m involved in wrestling. We are the odd couple. He is a cool pierced and tattooed guy and I’m a straight laced coat and tie guy, but we are a lot alike when it comes to how we approach our business. There are a few reasons for that: We are both honest people, we believe in the concept of team and we are both people of commitment and hard work.  I have a lot of respect for Darin.”

“Chaz and I formed an LLC in February of 2011 with the idea of moving forward as partners in a new promotion.  Though he chose not to be part of the new promotion’s ownership group, Tug offered his experience and guidance to the new company which we graciously accepted.  At WOW we had been operating under NWA Southwest as an affiliate but wanted our own identity.  I petitioned the NWA to elevate us to “Associate Member” status which they agreed to do.  We picked the “NWA Houston” name and requested the right to create and book NWA Houston titles (shortly later they evolved in to NWA Lone Star titles).  The NWA approved our plan and we kicked off the NWA Houston promotion on April 8, 2011.  The promotion immediately caught fire…which resulted in standing room only crowds.  Our building holds about 400 people, that’s the fire code. When you add up wrestlers and staff as well as VFW regulars who frequent the bar portion of the building, that’s about 100 people.  So it’s fair to say that when the building is full, which is more often than not, we have 300 fans in attendance plus the 100 (wrestlers, staff, bar patrons) I mentioned.”

“I feel fortunate to have had the chance to partner and work with Chaz and Tug for most of the past two years.  Chaz and I reached a mutual agreement in December of 2012 whereby I would assume full ownership of the promotion.  Don’t read anything in to that, it’s a private business matter but in short it was a simple restructure that worked best for both of us.  Chaz is still around!  Tug is always welcome, and he knows that.  Not every partnership is perfect, but we worked pretty well together.  In a short period of time we took a small monthly event and turned it in to something special.  I think the key to the whole thing was getting everyone to buy in to the business plan.  First the Taylors bought in and helped shape the game plan. Then our wrestlers bought in, which translated to really good events.  Then came the fan buy in.  It’s amazing how quick it all happened.  We went from being one of many small promotions in Texas to one of it’s best and most attended very quickly.  NWA Houston has also become a place that our wrestlers enjoy coming.  Word gets around.  It’s a place that other wrestlers want to work too.  That’s one of the things I first noticed about Childs and ACW in Austin.  Maybe it was the most important thing.  Darin’s roster is strong and everyone likes wrestling for him.  I believe in a good business culture and team play, so I quickly adapted to that concept of doing things at our promotion.”

It was this enthusiasm and culture that Ronquillo and fellow Texas promoter, Bruce Tharpe, wanted to share with the NWA as a whole.  What happened when they tried will be the focus of part two of our interview.

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