amore

Enzo Amore, along with tag-team partner Big Cass, has become one of the most entertaining acts in WWE. (WWE Photo)

“My name is Enzo Amore, and I am a certified G (gangster), and a bona fide stud, and you can’t teach that. Bada Boom!!!”

While Enzo Amore might not be the biggest guy on the WWE roster, he’ll be the first to tell you he’s got one of the biggest mouths.

And he’s taking it all the way to the bank.

The 5-10, 200-pound Amore and his near seven-foot tall partner, Big Cass, have taken the WWE tag-team division by storm since arriving on Monday Night Raw the day after Wrestlemania. And, as their catch phrase goes, you can’t teach that.

The 29-year-old Amore, whose real name is Eric Arndt, is a true blue Jersey boy — he begins all conversations with “How you doin’?” — who has been turning heads with his colorful ring apparel and banter. “I rep it like a barbell, baby,” he boasts of his Northern roots. The self-proclaimed “Smacktalker Skywalker,” “Jordan of Jargon” and “Muscles Marinara” has been in the business less than five years, but has been one of the featured performers on the Raw brand since landing on the main roster seven months ago.

“I don’t think anybody could have expected that,” Amore says of the tremendous fan reaction. He had spent his first four years in the business honing his skills in WWE’s NXT brand before he and Big Cass — short for Colin Cassady — were called up to the main roster. He had hoped that their success in NXT would carry over to the big show.

“As fans of this business who have watched Monday Night Raw after Wrestlemania year after year, we knew that crowd would be very similar to the European crowd that gave us such a warm embrace at NXT TakeOver (three months earlier in London). A lot of those Europeans were at the meet and greet at WWE’s Wrestlemania Axxess out there in Dallas. We had an idea that some of the people in the crowd might know the words to the intros. But we couldn’t have expected it to be the way it was. It was a moment. We got an opportunity of a lifetime out there.”

And he’s making the most of it, delivering classic lines each week on WWE’s flagship show while sporting a flair for fashion.

While some wrestling personas are outsized versions of the men playing the part, the likeable Amore says he actually tones his ring character down.

“Most people say when they get on screen, the most successful acts are people who are just themselves and turn the volume up. But in my situation, I gotta turn the volume down,” he laughs.

Chance encounter

While he never wrestled at the amateur level, Amore was a standout in several others sports at his high school in Waldwick, N.J.

“I was a ball guy. I played basketball, baseball, football. I excelled in football the most. I played running back, wide receiver, safety, kick returner, punt returner. Small school, but it offered me the opportunity to do it all.”

His high school exploits provided Amore the opportunity to play at the next level at Division III school Salisbury University in Maryland where he lettered and started every season.

“It was D3 and I played some safety and outside linebacker there. A couple interceptions, a couple sacks. I had a fun time there,” says Amore, who holds a degree in journalism.

Between college and his start in the wrestling business, Amore worked as a disc jockey for the New York Jets, moved pianos and served as a manager at a Hooters restaurant. It wasn’t exactly a blueprint for a future career in WWE.

Fast forward a decade, and Enzo Amore is living his dream. And it’s all because a chance meeting with Triple H (WWE chief operating officer Paul Levesque), through their mutual personal trainer, Joe DeFranco, got Amore’s foot in the door and led to an eventual WWE contract.

A longtime fan of pro wrestling, Amore was well aware of Triple H, and even more so his partner Shawn Michaels.

“I lived, ate, breathed, slept Shawn Michaels,” says Amore. “I wouldn’t call it pro wrestling back in the day when I was a kid. I just called it Shawn Michaels.”

It might have been destiny, says Amore, that he and Triple H trained at the same New Jersey gym. Having limited funds at the time, Amore utilized his smarts to gain a membership there.

“Joe DeFranco is a world-renowned strength coach. At the time I couldn’t afford to train there. But a lot of big-time, premier athletes, whether it be the pros, college or high school, trained there. I went ahead and got his symbol tattooed on the side of my leg for a free lifetime membership there when I was 17.”

Amore says that might have been the greatest move he ever made. He would later make a YouTube video of himself wrestling, boxing, lifting and running, along with a Jersey-tinted promo. DeFranco showed Triple H the audition tape, and the next thing Amore knew he was trying out at NXT (then Florida Championship Wrestling) where he was handed a microphone and told, “Go, kid.”

“I cut a promo for Dusty Rhodes, and the rest is history.”

Amore, who had no previous ring experience, signed a contract and made his debut in 2013.

Master on mic

Amore, who will appear on WWE’s Live Holiday Tour show Nov. 27 at the North Charleston Coliseum, comes by his gift of gab and talent for cutting promos honestly. He cites a family of DJs, including his father who worked weddings, graduations and other events.

“My microphone skills were developed at a young age watching my dad on the microphone. My dad DJ’ed bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, things of that nature. I have tattooed on my hand the silver throwback mics from back in the day. My father used to have one of those when he’d lead people at the YMCA doing the cha-cha slide.”

The combination of a loud, cocky, slightly undersized Jersey Shore product with a towering juggernaut from the Bronx thus far has worked well in front of WWE audiences. Together, says Amore, they’re “the realest guys in the room.”

“We know how to work a crowd,” Enzo boasts. “Me and Cass (Bill Morrissey) are having the time of our lives. As much as it’s natural, it’s more organic than anything because the crowd allows us that opportunity.”

For Amore, his act is just an extension from his school days.

“A classroom setting for me was an audience. I lived for the pop. I spent most of my days in school being a class clown. I never shut up. By the time I was in middle school, I had myself a personal aide.”

Tag-team chemistry

Amore and Cass first met as 15-year-olds playing pick-up basketball in Manhattan. The two ended up being teammates and immediately bonded. Neither, however, had any idea that they would end up together trying to make it in the world’s biggest sports entertainment company a decade later.

“Me and Cass both hooped when we were youngsters. When I met him, he was not nearly as big as he is now. As a matter of fact, I think I was about the same size. He had quite a growth spurt in his latter years. We had the opportunity to reconnect in Florida Championship Wrestling when I was signed to WWE. It’s been a rap ever since.”

The two wrestled there for nearly three years before finally moving up to the main WWE roster this April.

“The chemistry kind of started off as Yankees fans, and rooting for the New York Knicks and the Jets and the Giants. We just had that camaraderie right off the bat where we both were enthused by pro sports. We rooted for the same teams so we ended up watching games together and just became good buddies. We went to a Yankees-Tampa Bay Devils Ray game and just hit it off.”

The eccentric tandem made their main roster debut in WWE on the April 4 episode of Monday Night Raw where they quickly won over the crowd with their rapid-fire trash talk.

Heavily tattooed with a pencil-thin-goatee and decked out in his preferred cheetah print, Amore is a whirling dervish in the ring. As the catch phrase king’s name suggests, he’s like that outside of it as well.

“My name is an acronym for EA — EA All Day. It’s a persona that I developed over the years in sports as a caricature of myself. On the field, in practice, in the weight room, I was just a character and a personality. If you remember watching The Miz at the time when he was on ‘Real World,’ he was a character known as The Miz. He always wanted to get into sports entertainment as did I. In a very similar likeness, I was EA All Day. So that acronym EA is where Enzo Amore came from.”

Unlike many other performers whose interviews are largely scripted by the WWE’s creative team, Amore is given greater freedom and latitude.

“WWE allows me to be the person that I am and take creative liberties and be able to sit down with our team of writers and come up with material. A lot of time what I do on the microphone is ad-lib.”

And his back-and-forth banter with his partner comes quite naturally.

“Cass and I have such a history together whether it be traveling up and down the road or doing promos for Dusty Rhodes. He kind of knows where my head is at, and I know where his is at,” says Amore, who has a notebook that he estimates is well over 1,000 pages of written promo material.

Concussion scare

Enzo received a major scare just a month into his run during WWE’s Payback pay-per-view in May. He was knocked unconscious during a tag-team match when he was awkwardly thrown out of the ring. While sliding out of the ring, Amore’s neck snapped against the middle rope and whip-lashed hard into the mat. Amore immediately went motionless and fell to the mat. The referee signaled for the match to end immediately and called for paramedics to tend to Amore.

Amore was out of action for several weeks before returning to WWE Raw.

“What are you talking about?” Amore jokingly asks when talking about the concussion. “I’ve taken some blows to the belfries in my day, but I never thought in a million years that anybody could knock me out. But it turns out I knocked myself out, so I’ll take credit for that. The ring might have had something to do with it, the rope a little bit. I‘d like to think of it as if anybody took me out, it was me.”

It was by God’s saving grace, he says, that he never had any post-concussion symptoms or ill side-effects of the concussion.

It’s a dangerous profession but one he signed up for.

Major influences

Amore credits Triple H and the late Dusty Rhodes with helping him navigate through NXT and into WWE.

“They are the two people that gave me my first opportunity. Those two guys, from the day I got signed as a 5-10, 200-pound guy, helped me. I was fighting an uphill battle when I first got signed, especially having never been in a wrestling ring before. I learned quickly that you can be great at wrestling or terrible at it, or you can be different. Dusty taught me how to be different, and how the people accept you for being different. There are so many different people in the crowd, and you just want to give them something real that they can relate to.”

Their entrances and in-ring promos consistently garner some of the biggest pops on WWE shows.

“Me and Big Cass are just being ourselves out there. That bodes well for us. We’ve stood the test of time here, whether it be in NXT and now on the WWE main roster.”

Triple H, he says, gave the team the opportunity of a lifetime.

“I would say Triple H is the biggest influence on my career. He’s almost like a father figure. If I slip up or there’s a problem, he lets me know.”

So far it’s been a great ride for two guys who grew up watching wrestling shows.

“I think the people you have to fear most in life are the people who dream with their eyes wide open,” says Amore. “You have a dream, but you can sleep on it. I had a dream, and that dream kind of became a reality when I started taking steps toward it. You don’t even realize what you’re achieving as you’re achieving it.

“In our business it’s hard to look at anything in retrospect and look at your accomplishments because you’re so busy thinking about the next week. What we do is 52 weeks a year. There’s Monday Night Raw, and there’s a pay-per-view the day before. We just got off a European tour that was two weeks and doing shows every night for thousands of people. I never thought I’d have that experience. They have been some of the most humbling experiences of my lifetime.”

Fancy footwork

And while he has a way with words when the mic is in his hand, Enzo sports the best sneaker game in WWE. His affinity for the Jordan Retro models has led to a partnership with Champs Sports.

“WWE collaborated with Champ Sports, the retailer for all apparel whether it be sports-affiliated, Adidas, Puma, Nike, Reebok, New Balance,” says Amore. “More particularly, in Enzo’s case, Jordan apparel,” says Amore, who ditched conventional wrestling boots after breaking his leg while training several years ago.

Since joining Raw, the one-man fashion show has worn a different pair of Jordans every week. His color-coordinated ring attire is based on the Jordans on his feet.

“I’ve had an affinity for Michael Jordan. He’s probably the greatest athlete in my generation. I just like the thought of the competitiveness he brought to the arena and on the court. I’d like to bring that competitiveness to the ring whether it be on the microphone or in the squared circle itself. I idolized him as a child, and I like to think as a fashionista every single week is an opportunity and a platform on national television for millions of people to put on a fashion show.”

“I take over Champ Sports’ Snapchat every Monday,” he adds. “We get to see a different pair of Jordans every single week. I’ve never worn the same Jordans twice. It keeps people on their toes ... like a small man at a urinal.”

WWE Holiday Tour

A number of titles will be on the line when WWE brings its Holiday Tour to the North Charleston Coliseum on Nov. 27.

Kevin Owens will defend his Universal heavyweight title against Seth Rollins in the main event. Roman Reigns will put his U.S. heavyweight championship on the line against Rusev; Charlotte defends her WWE women’s crown against Sasha Banks; and New Day defend their WWE Raw tag-team title in a four-way match with Enzo Amore and Big Cass, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, and Sheamus and Cesaro.

Among others scheduled to appear are Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn and Bayley.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at bymikemooneyham@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.