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?
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?
Cesaro: When I started, I was obviously looking up to guys I grew up with [watching] on TV, so Steiner Brothers, Bret Hart, Ric Flair — those guys. It is very inspiring seeing those guys today. I'm at Full Sail [University in Florida, where the WWE developmental show NXT is filmed] today actually, and I just talked to Bret Hart. I talked to Ric Flair. I had a chance to talk to the Ultimate Warrior at the Hall of Fame. Guys like Billy Gunn (who is still in phenomenal shape), Road Dogg, Pat Patterson, William Regal, Fit Finlay (who is still in great shape; I always pick his brain) — there's so many people around that you can ask [for advice]. I love professional wrestling, I love WWE, so you always want to get better, and there are so many resources to get better on so many different levels.
CTNow: What would you say is the weirdest thing you have ever seen backstage or on the road in your wrestling career — something away from the ring?
Cesaro: There are so many things that are weird, but so many weird things happen, they just kind of blend in. [Pauses] Okay, I want to pick one that happened to myself when Teddy Long was oiling my chest for one of my first backstage segments. I think it was SmackDown. It was something pretty weird.
CTNow: Did you and Teddy know each other before this?
Cesaro: No, not really. I was throwing it in his face that I took Aksana away from him, which probably made it even weirder at that point.
CTNow: You had something interesting as an independent wrestler that I have never heard somebody else in a similar position have, and that's a sponsorship deal — namely, the one with HeadBlade. How did that come together, and what eventually happened to that?
Cesaro: You know, I stopped shaving my head. [Laughs] That's what happened to that. I used that blade. I was a big fan of it. I wrote them an e-mail and it just went from there. I started promoting their product and they sent me some good stuff. I went to their warehouse and I met the guy who runs it and who invented it. It is a very cool story and it was on par with what I was doing at the time. While I was trying to get into WWE, they were trying to get into bigger retailers, so it was a very good partnership.
CTNow: There's been talk about a couple of impending new arrivals to WWE — namely, Kenta and Prince Devitt, two wrestlers who are major names in Japan. What do you think about them potentially coming over, and is there anybody from the indies or from Japan that you really want to come over to see in WWE?
Cesaro: Well, see, if that happens, that'd be great. It would be great for WWE. That's what happening right now, and that's the interesting thing: There's some fresh, fresh people coming into WWE, and there's some fresh people moving up the ranks so that means fresh match-ups. That means new match-ups, and that's what's exciting. That means new styles. That means different characters. That's what's going on right now, and it's happening right in front of you. It's a very exciting time, and like I said before, it's very exciting for me because I don't think there's anybody better than myself when it comes to inside the squared circle.
CTNow: Anybody you want to see come that's not there yet?
Cesaro: I'm not going to name any names.
Cesaro: [Laughs] I'll put it this way: Whoever makes it to the top of NXT and then makes his way to WWE, that's who I want to take on. The NXT TV show that you can see on the WWE Network is where you can see the future stars today. It's very competitive. It's hungry guys fighting for the one or two spots that are given in a year or so. It's very hard to get that spot to get to the WWE roster. Whoever makes it, that's who I want to face in the ring, and that's whoever deserves to make it up.
CTNow: Lastly, I wanted to ask about road trip stories: Do you have any good road trip stories, or stories about who you have hung out with while in WWE?
Cesaro: Oof, there's a bunch. We hit a owl once. That was on the Austrian Autobahn. That was when I just started. We had to call the wildlife ranger to remove it; we were not allowed to touch it. Other than that, when I was traveling with Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter, they were playing country music and educating me to American country — older-type country that Zeb listens to. That was fun for me. Now with Paul Heyman, we talk a lot of wrestling, and it's great.
WWE RAW comes to the XL Center, One Civic Center Plaza, Hartford, June 30, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 to $98. Information: xlcenter.comCopyright © 2015, CT Now