Ace Romero, who is from Saco, gets ready to wrestle and a Limitless Wrestling show at the Westbrook Armory. Harry Aaron photo

 

Ace Romero bounced himself off the ropes on one side of the wrestling ring and Anthony Gaines did the same off the ropes on a perpendicular side.

The two men became projectiles on a collision course.

When their bodies met, Gaines went airborne, soaring over the top rope and farther than he or Romero anticipated.

“He went into entrance way,” Romero said. “But … if had went into the crowd, he probably would have fallen probably at least four rows deep. He ended up hitting a cameraman on the way down.”

A video clip of the collision, which happened last summer in New York during a show for the Empire State Wrestling promotion, quickly went viral. It was dubbed, “The Pounce.”

“We made major headlines,” Romero, 29, said.

“It was so rad to be able to turn on ESPN the next day and watch it,” said Randy Carver, owner of Limitless Wrestling.

The Pounce also played a role in Romero, a Maine native, earning a spot at one of the biggest professional wrestling shows in the United States this year: All Elite Wrestling’s first official event, called Double or Nothing, in Las Vegas on Saturday.

CHASING THE DREAM

Ace Romero (real name: Justin Romero) was born in Biddeford and grew up in Saco. He attended Thornton Academy, where he played football and lacrosse, and graduated in 2008.

Thornton football coach Kevin Kezal remembers Romero as an offensive lineman who played as a freshman and then came back to the team as a senior after two years away from the sport.

“He worked really hard and by midseason, we had a couple of injuries, and he ended up starting for us,” Kezal said. “He played guard. He had really changed his body. He was a really heavy kid growing up and by his senior year he was a pretty good player.”

Kezal said he’s followed Romero’s wrestling career.

“I’ve seen him online. He’s got a pretty good character,” Kezal said.

An English teacher at Thornton, Caryn Lasante-Ford, gave an assignment to Romero’s class to write about what career they wanted to have when they were older.

Romero knew what he wanted to be, a pro wrestler, but he was self-conscious about turning in his paper.

Maine native Ace Romero will wrestling at All Elite Wrestling’s first-ever event in Las Vegas on Saturday. Harry Aaron photo

“I was kind of embarrassed, almost, because all of my friends grew out of wrestling,” Romero said. “Everyone else was all, ‘I want to be a lawyer, I want to be a doctor, a fireman, whatever.’ I was like, ‘I want to be a professional wrestler.’”

Lasante-Ford, it turns out, is also a wrestling fan, so she was excited to read Romero’s paper.

A short time later, Romero wanted to attend a wrestling camp for beginners in Massachusetts, but his mom had to work so he didn’t have a ride.

Lasante-Ford, a former basketball player at the University of Maine at Farmington and member of the UMF Hall of Fame, stepped up to help Romero follow his dream.

“My English teacher, she actually picked me up at my house and she drove me down to Massachusetts for my first day of professional wrestling,” Romero said.

Lasante-Ford, now in her 19th year at Thornton, shares Romero’s story with her class each year.

“No matter how ridiculous you might think your dreams are, you owe yourself every opportunity to go after them, and Justin is absolute proof of working the grind and getting it done,” she said.

“I just talked to her the other night,” Romero said. “She was super-happy for Double or Nothing.”

Maine in the late-2000s and early-2010s wasn’t a great place for an aspiring wrestler, so Romero did his initial training in Massachusetts.

“My first time in the ring, I took to everything pretty naturally,” Romero said.

Massachusetts was just the start of what has become an 11-year wrestling career. Romero eventually moved on to train in Florida, Rhode Island and now Ohio.

“I always thought that to not get stuck (in Maine), I had to leave,” Romero said. “I just wanted to get as much knowledge and training as I could.”

PUTTING IN TIME

Life as an up-and-coming independent wrestler — someone not signed exclusively to a large national or international company — is a grind.

Training is a large financial and time commitment. Romero had to work full-time jobs 40 hours a week and then train for at least 20 hours.

“It’s just hard when you’re first coming up,” Romero said.

Ace Romero before a Limitless Wrestling match at the Westbrook Armory. Harry Aaron photo

In Florida, he worked the overnight shift at a gas station and then spent his afternoons training. A few times he ran out of money and had to return to Maine, get a job, save up and then return to Florida.

Romero has also worked as a cook. Since wrestling shows are usually on weekends, and weekends are the busiest times for restaurants, he lost a few jobs because of wrestling.

Chasing the dream has paid off, though. For the past couple years, Romero has been making enough money that wrestling is his only job.

“I’m not living a lavish lifestyle. I have the basic needs and stuff,” Romero said. “But it still gives me the opportunity to put 100 percent into wrestling, hoping for the bigger payoff.”

Romero usually wrestles shows Thursdays through Sundays. In between is training, recuperating and hustling to line up more shows.

LIMITLESS POTENTIAL

After traveling and training all over the East Coast, Romero’s big breakthrough came in Maine, thanks to Carver.

The two met several years ago at a wrestling show in Bangor in August 2013.

“I did not like him at first,” Carver said with a laugh.

They eventually bonded, though, as two relatively fresh faces trying to figure out the wrestling business.

When Carver founded Limitless Wrestling in 2015, he told Romero he wanted him to be one of the wrestlers he built the Maine-based promotion around.

“He was the first person to really put stock into me,” Romero said.

“He was a really good talent with a lot of potential,” Carver said. “It was at a time, too, when he was putting a lot of time back into himself as a pro wrestler.”

Carver was able to lure high-profile independent wrestlers to Maine for Limitless shows, and put them in matches with Romero. It became clear that he could hang.

“Especially being a virtual no-name wrestler (who) had no kind of buzz, anything like that … them wrestling me helped my stock rise,” Romero said. “And being able to have good matches with guys who are perceived as being some of the best in the world, which they were, it raised my stock.”

Romero’s stature in the indie wrestling scene began to increase. He became one of those high-profile wrestlers sought after by other promotions  — so much so that his travel, whether driving or flying, soon became part of his booking cost.

‘ATHLETIC BIG GUY’

Romero has the ability to stand out before matches even start.

For decades, the prototypical professional wrestler was tall with massive muscles. Size doesn’t matter as much these days. Athleticism is more valued than looking like a superhero.

Ace Romero grew up in Saco before embarking on a professional wrestling career that has taking him all over the country. Harry Aaron photo

Romero, though, is a big dude. But going against the norm helps him stick out.

“In general, it almost works to my benefit because people don’t expect me to do the things that I do,” Romero said. “And the other thing is more often than not, I’m always going to look different from everybody else on the card. So just by that alone I’m going to stand out.”

Also, it’s important to note, Romero’s size belies his athleticism.

“He’s not just a big guy, he’s an athletic big guy,” Carver said. “If it’s your first time seeing him, you can definitely judge a book by its cover and think, ‘OK, I know exactly what I’m going to get out of this guy.’ And then he’s going to blow you out of the water within three minutes with everything that he’s doing because it’s not standard with a guy who’s his size.”

Last year, Romero got a huge break when he signed a contract with national promotion Major League Wrestling (MLW).

It’s not an exclusive deal, so he still travels around the country for independent shows. For instance, he’s still a regular at Limitless Wrestling shows, which are usually at the Westbrook Armory or The Portland Club.

“It’s pretty cool because my family gets to come to the show and watch me, and I get to see them. You know, I don’t see them much,” Romero said. “So it’s pretty cool to come back and perform in front of them and perform in front of an awesome crowd, 500 people packed in an armory.”

His deal with MLW also makes him available to sign on for All Elite Wrestling’s debut show this Saturday.

AMONG THE ELITE

If Limitless Wrestling was Romero’s first breakthrough, then sending Anthony Gaines flying into a cameraman was his second.

“That really helped me,” Romero said.

The independent wrestling scene has exploded the past three or four years. Through the internet, fans in one part of the United States are aware of what’s happening in an independent promotion in another part.

And when something cool happens that is caught on video, wrestling fans throughout the country watch and share the clip.

That’s what happened with Romero’s “pounce” of Gaines.

All Elite Wrestling was officially started in January by some of the highest of the high-profile independent wrestlers, Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, with the financial backing Tony and Shad Kahn, the owners of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Rhodes is the son of legendary wrestler Dusty Rhodes. He left WWE in 2016 and embarked on a successful independent career (which included a show in Limitless Wrestling). He saw the clip of The Pounce, which put Romero on Rhodes’ radar, and Romero said that helped him earn a spot in the Casino Battle Royal at Double or Nothing. (The YouTube video announcing Romero’s inclusion begins with Rhodes watching the clip of The Pounce.)

As he was packing and getting ready to travel to Las Vegas earlier this week, Romero said he couldn’t help but look back on his 11 years of wrestling.

“It’s pretty crazy to me,” he said. “I’m from Maine, and up until recently the Maine wrestling scene wasn’t that great. A lot of people who started wrestling in Maine, kind of never got out. It’s pretty hard and pretty rare for someone to get out of Maine and kind of make a name for themselves elsewhere.

“So I feel pretty lucky, I feel pretty blessed, and I’m just excited to be part of the event.”

Ace Romero, a Maine native, has made a name for himself on the independent wrestling circuit. Harry Aaron photo

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