Pro wrestling likes to remind the world that it's an idiosyncratic, odd entertainment product in a number of ways — one of which being through how its on-screen talents often talk to the media. Take WWE wrestler Cesaro, and how his conversation with CTNow went. On television, the Switzerland native is a tall, quiet star-in-the-making who has inexplicably been through some weird character tweaks since debuting in 2011. After spending time yodeling and using his real-life knowledge of five languages to draw the ire of WWE crowds, he aligned with Jack Swagger, a fellow wrestler, and Zeb Colter, a well-mustachioed, illegal-immigrant-hating riff on Tea Party paranoids who served as the duo's mouthpiece and handler. When done with Colter and Swagger, Cesaro began employing the services of the scheming, brilliant manager Paul Heyman. In the ring, Cesaro is an agile, lean, insanely powerful force of destruction.
Away from the WWE ring, he's the 33-year-old Claudio Castagnoli, a well-seasoned wrestling veteran who did a lot of time on the independent circuit before hitting the big time. He is renowned for being a good-natured fellow, loves coffee and once wrangled a sponsorship deal with HeadBlade, a company that makes head-shaving products. During his interview with CTNow before WWE comes to Hartford's XL Center on Monday to film a live episode of WWE Raw, Cesaro seamlessly bounced back and forth between his real opinions/life story, and those of his current on-screen character. While reading, keep a grain of salt handy just in case.
CTNow: The first thing I wanted to ask about was 2006, back when you had a contract with WWE or an offer on the table, and the deal never worked out. Could you tell me about the circumstances of that period? Where would your career be today if that had worked out?
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Cesaro: Oh, that is a very good question. I don't really have an answer for that, to be honest, because I had a contract and then I got [released] before I could ever report to the OVW developmental system. What really happened, nobody seems to know, so it's kind of a big mystery. To me, it all worked out though because where I am today is because of circumstances and whatever happened in my past. I'm thankful for all the roadblocks or the detours that took me to get here because in the long run, it worked out great. After that didn't work out in 2006, I went to Japan. I went to Mexico. I continued to travel the world and learn and finally got to WWE in 2011. To me, it's the hard way to do it, but I did it the right way.
CTNow: Did you have any issues making the transition from the independent wrestling/developmental system styles towards the big-stage WWE system?
Cesaro: There's always a transition if you go to a new territory or a new company or a new country or wherever because there's different styles and different crowds that you perform in front of. Of course, it always takes a little bit of time to find your groove. That [transitioning happened] when I came to the United States from Europe, and when I went to Japan for the first time, and when you come to FCW, NXT and WWE. It takes a little bit of time to find yourself. There's a couple of guys that have just found that over the recent years really, really well and you see them climbing, clawing their way to the top. That's why it is such a great time [in WWE] right now, and there's a new generation emerging.
CTNow: I wanted to talk a bit about your WWE career in terms of some of the early things you did. For example, the yodeling you did for a spell. How did you get that and what did you think of it?
Cesaro: Well, I did so many things already. I've been in WWE for two years now and carried two different flags. I yodeled. I had Aksana by my side. I had quite a few different things, and it's all part of the journey to me. But through all of this, I proved to every single WWE fan and competitor that when it comes to in-ring performance, there's nobody else that can do what I do and the crowd realizes that.
CTNow: Did you like the yodeling?
Cesaro: You know, I don't mind listening to some yodel music. I don't think I'm particularly good at it, but that's the point, I guess.
CTNow: In my head, I still call you by your former WWE name of Antonio Cesaro. With one part of your name eliminated, you're just Cesaro. The same thing happened to WWE wrestlers Alexander Rusev (now Rusev) and Big E Langston (now Big E). What's happening to all these names?
Cesaro: I think it's just part of the branding and it's easier for people to remember. For me, it's cool because Cesaro sounds like a first name as well. It's just people [were] using it as a last name, but for people who are seeing me for the first time, it sounds like a cool first name, and I'm a cool person, so it worked.
CTNow: There's a contingent of Cesaro fans who hold up Cesaro Section signs at live events. How'd you initially feel when seeing those signs, especially considering that their slogan is a play on Cesarean section?
Cesaro: [Laughs] I didn't even think of that. I thought it was pretty cool. It's something that happened organically, and it started to make its way around the country and around the world now. I think the best things are the ones that happen organically and take a while because nothing really happens overnight if you think about it. People say, 'Daniel Bryan's success happened overnight.' No, it didn't. It took long, long, long years of very hard work. To me, that's just proof that the fans care, and they can make a difference. Of course it's flattering.
CTNow: Are there any elements, moves or mannerisms left over from your earlier days that you really want to bring back for the current Cesaro character?
Cesaro: Not really. Wrestling is about evolving, and you always want to evolve and develop yourself. To me, that is very important, so what you see now is essentially a mix of whatever I did in the past. What the future holds, we all have to wait and see, but I think it's holding great things. I don't want to give away too much, but that's what's important. All those things are essentially what I am today.
CTNow: What are some future storylines or matches you're still waiting on or hope to have?
Cesaro: Well, I was really happy recently when I joined Paul Heyman because he's somebody I always wanted to work closer with because he's brilliant. If you paired the most gifted performer in the ring with the most gifted person on the microphone, that's a win-win situation right here.
I've been lucky enough to be in the ring with almost everybody that's full-time here with WWE and I would say I held myself very, very good against any person. For example, my last match with John Cena, it's still kind of nagging because I'm fairly certain I should have won that one. I proved to Randy Orton I can beat him. I haven't wrestled him too many times, but that was cool.
CTNow: Who are your biggest inspirations when it comes to wrestling?