John Cena once made the bold statement that Antonio Cesaro had the makings of a champion. From all accounts, the 15-time world titleholder was sincere with the lofty praise, not uttering those words as part of a storyline or merely advancing a program between the two.
Three years later and with Cesaro nearing the end of his current WWE contract, there are unsubstantiated reports that the “Swiss Superman” could be on the way out. If so, it would be a significant blow to the WWE talent roster and to a legion of fans who have gotten behind a performer many believe should have held WWE's biggest prize by now.
Cesaro's strong ring work has earned him high praise from co-workers and insiders as well as fans. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin once asked Vince McMahon on his podcast why he wasn't pushing someone as talented as Cesaro, and the WWE owner answered that Cesaro hadn't been able to connect with the WWE Universe.
“He doesn't quite have the charisma, he doesn't have quite the verbal skills,” said McMahon, who likes to use the elusive “brass ring” term as a motivational tool for WWE performers.
Cesaro later incorporated McMahon's lack of confidence into a storyline. “Challenge accepted,” he responded.
It would seem that the 36-year-old Cesaro has done more than enough to have warranted a major push that would put him well within reach of that imaginary ring. His ability to stand out from the pack and consistently put on quality matches makes him a valuable commodity for any organization.
While he has yet to receive that mega-push from the creative department, Cesaro has one of WWE's most vocal group of fans, known as the “Cesaro Section,” a phenomenon that has spread to arenas around the world.
The multilingual Cesaro, whose real name is Claudio Castagnoli, has been wowing fans for the past decade. While it's true that he has become well known to the masses on an international scale for only the past half decade, he's been mastering his craft in the pro ranks for more than 15 years. Pound for pound, the 6-5, 235-pound Cesaro is regarded as the strongest man in WWE.
But Cesaro has been relegated to mid-card status for most of his WWE run despite delivering one strong performance after another. And with WWE recently expanding its brand rosters, there's no logical explanation for Cesaro not having a more prominent position.
In recent weeks Cesaro has been involved in a best-of-seven series with Sheamus, who has seen his stock drop over the past couple of years. With his contract coming up for renewal, the outcome of the series could determine his future in WWE.
Prior to joining WWE, Cesaro (then known as Claudio Castagnoli) was part of a top tag team with longtime friend Chris Hero called The Kings of Wrestling. Their first run saw them win the Chikara Tag World Grand Prix in 2006. They later won and kept the Ring of Honor tag title longer than anyone in company history, wearing the belts from April 3, 2010, to April 1, 2011.
For the past five years, Cesaro has put on quality matches in WWE, becoming one of the most versatile performers on the roster. In addition, he has the “look” of a champion, something that McMahon considers a major plus. Yet his opportunities have been limited.
Cesaro recently voiced his displeasure with being selected late in the WWE draft and criticized the company for having Raw focus more on the dynamic between Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley than the wrestlers.
“I think Raw going forward needs to be about the superstars,” he said. “It needs to be about the performers in the ring and not about how Stephanie and Mick Foley coexist. They need to be there to mediate and make the best show, but that does not need to be the focus. The focus should be on the superstars who got drafted.”
Some of Cesaro's early detractors, including Foley, have changed course over the past year. After watching his high-profile series with Cena in 2015, Foley became a believer.
“I used to think that Cesaro was a guy who would have made a great world champion in a bygone era — a champion in the mold of a Lou Thesz, a Harley Race, a Jack Brisco, a Dory Funk Jr. But after seeing Cesaro in action these past few weeks, I've changed my mind. Cesaro would make a great world champion in any era, including the present WWE era,” said Foley.
WWE Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross, a highly respected judge of talent, made it a point to lend his voice to Cesaro's growing number of supporters.
“Cesaro showed, again, that he's ready for main events on a regular basis with no start and stop involved. Turn Cesaro loose. I'd love to see Cesaro vs (Brock) Lesnar some day.”
With his Swiss background, the innovative Cesaro incorporates a distinctive no-nonsense, European style into his ring repertoire.
“I was trained to be more technical in Europe because that's the audience,” Cesaro said in an interview last year. “They enjoy a more technical style. To me it's very important to be different. My style is different from everybody else's because I've traveled so much and wrestled in so many places. I took something from everywhere I went, and I think that WWE's most accomplished superstars have also done that in the past. They've been able to focus and call upon everything they've been through.”
And the fact that he speaks five different languages makes him even more attractive to a worldwide audience and a marketable commodity for WWE. It also helps him adapt to his surroundings while traveling the globe.
“Growing up in Switzerland, you learn German pretty much from day one in school. You learn French and Italian as well. I took English as an extra language because I figured that was the language of the world. When I go to different countries, I want to know how to at least say hello and thank you. Language is a great hobby.”
Several notable names, most of whom were relegated to mid-card status, have left WWE in recent months. Among them are Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, Ryback, Wade Barrett and Alberto Del Rio, who was released on Friday.
WWE fans are hoping that Cesaro doesn't join that list.
Eric Tovey, one of the greatest midget wrestlers of all time, passed away Friday at the age of 87.
The four-foot-four Englishman, who battled a variety of health problems in recent years, including dementia, died in his longtime home base of St. Joseph, Mo., where he served as a booker and trained a stable of midget performers as well as wrestlers such as Butch Reed, Col. DeBeers and Mike George.
Tovey ran away from home at the age of 14 and joined the circus as an acrobatic midget clown. He later broke into the wrestling business where he would become one of the best-known performers in the midget wrestling division, joining other stars of that era such as Little Beaver and Sky Low Low.
Two sons, Robert (aka “Beautiful Bobby” Dean) and Chris (“Little Kato” Chris Dube), followed Tovey into the wrestling business.
The 47-year mat veteran wound down his career in the late '80s as the territories died out, but enjoyed a stint in WCW as the manager of The Royal Family (Rip Morgan and Jack Victory). He also accompanied “King” Harley Race for a time in the WWF.