Raquel Rodriguez recently made her WWE SmackDown debut, and fans of the Blue Brand will soon get to see what the powerhouse is capable of in the ring, something NXT fans are quite familiar with. The future looks bright for Rodriguez, and she brought her NXT run to a close with another Women’s Tag Team Championship win and a reunion with Dakota Kai. Now we’re waiting to see what’s next for her on SmackDown, and ComicBook.com recently had the chance to talk to Rodriguez all about moving to SmackDown, her emotional goodbye to NXT, her recent name change, and yes, even some Encanto.
It’s only been a few weeks on SmackDown, and Rodriguez is getting more settled and accustomed to the idea of being on the Blue Brand every week. “It is. It definitely is. I’m getting more and more used to knowing that I’m going to fly out every Thursday and be in a different town every Friday night for SmackDown and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Rodriguez said. “I’m so excited for all these new cities and these new tours and to be in front of all these new people. And so I just… It’s really hard to contain my energy when I start thinking about it.”
Rodriguez actually took part in a dark match before SmackDown a while ago, which many took as an indicator that she might be moving there soon. That didn’t happen right away though, and when she did find out she was heading to SmackDown, she still kept it close to the vest.
“It definitely came together later on. I don’t like to put myself into a position where I want to try and plan where I think I’m going to go or what’s going to be my next move,” Rodriguez said. “For me when it happens, it happens, and so even when I was told about my debut for Friday Night SmackDown, I was still very quiet and I kind of kept to myself about it because it was something that I didn’t want to share until it actually happened. And that’s when I’m more at ease with putting out my business for everyone and talking to everyone about it and not having to be like, ‘oh well, we’ll see, won’t we?’ It’s, that’s not me.”
Moving from NXT to SmackDown has been a pretty seamless adjustment so far, and Rodriguez credits her time in NXT for the seamless transition. “I feel like it moves pretty… It’s a TV show and it’s a live TV show and I feel like that’s what NXT does is they prepare us for everything that is live,” Rodriguez said. “Everything that is going to happen on RAW and on SmackDown, and so making the move up there and going live with promos or doing pre-tapes is something that I feel comfortable with and I’ve already known from NXT.”
“And I’ve always felt welcomed as well, just because a lot of the people that are on RAW and SmackDown, I’ve grown with at NXT as well. So I have my friendships, I have my crew there and even people that I haven’t talked to as much, I feel very comfortable going up to them and asking them questions or asking them for feedback and getting their insight on anything. So it’s been really smooth. I honestly have no complaints,” Rodriguez said.
It was a welcome sight to see WWE acknowledge Raquel’s time in NXT in her introduction to SmackDown, but it did come with one surprise, that being that Raquel Gonzalez was now Raquel Rodriguez. WWE has made quite a few name changes to Superstars in the past few weeks, but Rodriguez took it all in stride and is quite delighted with one facet of the new name.
“I didn’t know what the change was going to be but I was open to any changes that were going to happen because I’ve seen from the past call ups and other people who have been on RAW and SmackDown from NXT, how things have changed for them or those who have kind of stayed the same. But honestly, it’s not something that I was phased by too much. It’s a last name, it’s Rodriguez and I joked with Rhea because she was there last Friday, that now both of us have the same initials, we’re both R and R. And for her too, she was like ‘Whoa, yeah. We are.’ So it was kind of like a, yeah now we can really play off of this R and R thing. So it was a fun little change for me, I think.”
If that gets us an R&R reunion, it’s hard to see anyone being upset by that change. We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out, but looking back at Raquel’s time in NXT, we had to talk a bit about her time tagging with Cora Jade, one of NXT 2.0’s biggest young stars. While it wasn’t planned, Rodriguez really enjoyed the experience, and it ended up helping her at a time when she was feeling a little stuck.
“I didn’t really plan on tagging with Cora, that kind of just fell into my lap, but it was really a fun experience because Cora kind of helped me at a time where I felt a little bit stuck,” Rodriguez said. “I was kind of doing this on my own thing and I had been with Dakota for so long, and so getting to Tag Team with someone who was a lot younger, a lot newer to NXT and who just has this zest for life. Cora, there’s something about her that she’s always so lively and willing to joke around and she’s just a good vibe to be around and a good person to just kind of sit with and chit chat.”
“And so being with her and being her Tag Team partner really put me in a bigger sister position, which I’m a baby sister so I don’t know what being a bigger sister is about. But it put me and it forced me to be in that position and I wouldn’t have it any other way because it helped me grow a little bit more. And I feel like it helped me become a little bit more mature for getting ready for this call up which honestly, I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know when a change was going to happen, but I feel like being in that position has given me a little bit more of an edge when it’s come to being on SmackDown now.”
After some time at odds, Rodriguez had the chance to not only reunite with her friend Kai but also reclaim their NXT Women’s Tag Team Titles, which they were the first in NXT to hold after their creation. Rodriguez and Kai had always talked about possibly reuniting, but neither knew it was going to happen at this time and culminate with an unforgettable win at Stand & Deliver.
“No. Honestly, no. And we… I mean, we definitely talked about getting back together and putting the band back together, whatever. We just didn’t know when and where it would fit or when it would happen,” Rodriguez said. “And so for it to kind of happen before Stand & Deliver in Texas was almost like, ‘Oh.’ Because my family and me being from Texas, it was like… And I’ve said this before, my first Coliseum debut was in Portland, Oregon when I came and I helped Dakota win over Tegan Nox in a street fight. And that was the first time I’d ever been in a coliseum and performed in front of that many people.”
“And then immediately after we went into COVID and lockdown. So my second time ever performing in the Coliseum and in front of that many people was at Stand & Deliver in Dallas, Texas, and it was definitely a full-circle moment for me because not only did I get to perform in front of my family and friends and mi Raza, but I got to do it with one of my best friends ever and that’s Dakota Kai. And someone who I’ve learned from and worked with and grown with. And it was a really, really cool moment that I just like, I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life. It was first ever Tag Team Champions and first ever two time Tag Team Champions,” Rodriguez said.
The actual last match of Raquel’s NXT career would be the following Tuesday against Toxic Attraction, but both matches stand out for her in different ways. “Yeah. I guess in a sense, but I kind of see it more as the one I had at Stand & Deliver in front of all my family and friends. I think that was more of a goodbye match. I think now that I look back on it and know that those were going to be my last two matches, but I will say that the match on Tuesday at NXT when we dropped the titles, it was more emotional for me,” Rodriguez said.
“And I think it was emotional because at the end of the match when Dakota and Wendy came with me, I kind of took a second to look around and look at the audience and look at the arena, at the Performance Center. And I was like wow, this is all I’ve known for the past couple of years. This is all I’ve done for the past couple of years. This is all about to change for me. It’s almost like leaving your home in a sense, and so that’s what it felt like for me in that moment. I think real tears came out at that time. So it was a very emotional day for sure.”
Now, looking ahead to what’s coming down the road on SmackDown, Rodriguez already has a few Superstars she wants to jump into the ring with on her list, including names like Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair, and she is itching to get in the ring for the first on the Blue Brand.
“Oh, I am itching to get in the ring with everyone. I’m not going to lie to you. I was hoping get in the ring the first week on because yes, let’s do this. You know what I mean? It’s kind of that anticipation that you just… It’s killing you every week. I’ve always said this. I always wanted to work with Sasha Banks and with Natalya and with Charlotte Flair,” Rodriguez said. “But I would love to get back in the ring with Shayna Baszler because we had a few matches when she was at NXT on our Coconut Loops. I would love to work with Aliyah a little bit more, I never got to do too much with her while she was in NXT but that’s someone that I’ve always kind of looked to for a positive influence as well, because she’s such a positive beacon of light. But the possibilities are endless. And now that I’ve been getting to know Naomi a little bit more too, I would love to work with Naomi. Watching her and Rhea tear down the house last Friday. I was like yes, this is what it’s about. This.”
Rodriguez has been a part of several Tag Teams of late, but if that’s what is in the cards for SmackDown, she is more than up for it, though would have no problems being a solo act for a while either. “I’m staying open-minded to whatever the course might lead for me. If I’m meant to be solo for a little bit, that’s cool. If I’m meant to go into a Tag Team, I’m totally open to that too. And I think being partnered with Cora, who is someone else that wasn’t Dakota kind of helped me with that as well. But yeah, I mean either way works for me. I’m just excited to get back in the ring and start working with all these opponents who have so many accolades already behind themselves.”
“So it’s going to be a new experience. I feel like with NXT, as soon as I partnered up with Dakota I was just kind of thrown into the fire with all these big names. You know Io Shirai, Candice LeRae, Mia Yim, Tegan Nox. They were all already the top women at NXT and I was just kind of thrown into that circle. And so this kind of feels similar and I feel confident enough to know that I can kind of hold my own with all these women who have years more experience than me,” Rodriguez said.
Now, Rodriguez has already cosplayed as She-Hulk, and we even pitched a Lauri-Ell one that she would absolutely own if it ever happens last time we talked, but she recently has had another string of comparisons come in thanks to her Niece, her sister, and the fans, comparing her to the amazing Luisa Madrigal from Disney’s Encanto.
“Yes, it is. It’s not just my niece. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that and make pictures of me and stuff on the internet and I’m like… When I first watched the movie, I was like, okay, I see it. But it was my sister. I was on FaceTime with my sister and we FaceTime all the time when with my niece. And now that she’s becoming a little bit more vocal because she’s three, my sister was like, ‘okay, what’s mommy’s real name?” And she’s like okay, Maddie. And she goes ‘what’s auntie’s real name?’ Luisa. No, that’s not my real name! I’ll take it though, I’ll take it,” Rodriguez said. “And even for Easter she had a yellow dress and she was like, I’m t?a Pepa today and you be Luisa. I was like whenever you want to, I will.”
You can catch Raquel on SmackDown tonight when it airs at 7 PM CST on FOX, and you can check out all of our SmackDown coverage right here every Friday night!
Who should Raquel’s first match be against on SmackDown? Let us know your picks in the comments and as always you can talk all things wrestling with me on Twitter @MattAguilarCB!