WWE is set to crown a new King of the Ring, and there is no better fit for wrestling royalty than Cesaro.
“I’ve already been ‘The King of Wrestling’ and ‘The King of Swing,’” said Cesaro. “Now I plan to become the King of the Ring.”
Cesaro is 38-year-old Claudio Castagnoli, who grew up in Lucerne, Switzerland. He fell in love with the larger-than-life qualities of pro wrestling when he watched The "King of the Ring" pay-per-view in June of 1993, which started after midnight due to Switzerland being six hours ahead of east coast standard time.
“I loved watching Bret Hart,” said Cesaro, who was 12 years old when he watched Hart win "King of the Ring" by defeating Razor Ramon, Mr. Perfect, and Bam Bam Bigelow. “The King of the Ring should represent wrestling all over the world, and like Bret, truly be the king in that ring. That’s me.”
Cesaro opens this year’s "King of the Ring" tournament with a match on Monday Night Raw against Samoa Joe, with the winner facing whoever advances in the bout between Ricochet and Drew McIntyre.
When Cesaro unleashes his trademark versatility against Joe on Raw, wrestling purists will see more stylistic similarities to “The King of Hearts” Owen Hart rather than his older brother Bret.
“I agree that I’m more like Owen Hart, but I work real hard to have a serious in-ring style like Bret, though Owen was also serious in the ring,” said Cesaro. “My sharpshooter is a tribute to my former tag-team partner Tyson Kidd [who is married to Natalya Neidhart, a niece of Owen and Bret], and I do the sharpshooter like Owen Hart did.
“Bret Hart did it with his left leg, and that’s the way Natalya does it, but I do it with my right leg, like Owen Hart. It’s a little fun insider thing from my super-nerd perspective, and that’s why I like to think I am more like Owen Hart.”
There are some wrestlers in the business, superstars included, who work their standard match no matter the circumstances. Cesaro, however, is not one of them, preferring to highlight the strengths of his opponents.
“I always want to make the best of every single situation I have,” said Cesaro. “To me, that’s being versatile in the ring. Styles make matchups, and Samoa Joe is an interesting style matchup for me–as is whoever wins Drew McIntyre-Ricochet. The best way to prove how good you are is to adapt to any style and complement any style, and that’s what I try to do no matter who I’m facing.”
If given the opportunity–which includes matches, promo time, and consistent prime television spots on Raw–Cesaro can be as successful as AJ Styles, who many view as the gold standard of wrestling. His electric in-ring sequences consistently provide the most exciting, captivating moments on WWE television, as he is able to travel through the air as well as batter opponents in a variety of ways on the mat.
Plus, Cesaro has a trademark move in the Cesaro Swing, and he plans on giving a special ride to the 282-pound Samoa Joe.
“I’ll take Samoa Joe for a ride on the Cesaro Swing with no hesitation whatsoever,” said Cesaro. “I swung the Great Khali, and I threw the Big Show over the top rope at the first-ever "Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal." I’m pretty well equipped for this because of training–these aren’t disco muscles
“I’m looking at Samoa Joe as a big challenge. People have seen what I’ve done to better guys. I train in a way for my move set to work on any guy, from my finisher to European uppercuts to any other move. That’s my key to success.”
Cesaro’s run in the WWE has been, in a peculiar sense, a maddening blend of beauty.
The number of times his singles career started and stalled are too many to recall. He was picking up steam with Dutch Mantel as his manager in 2014, but was placed with Paul Heyman in a move that just wasn’t given enough time to succeed. Cesaro is best known in WWE for his memorable tag team runs with Tyson Kidd, Jack Swagger, and, most recently, Sheamus, and he has worn the tag titles on six different occasions. He is also used as the hand to put over and enhance emerging stars, which he just did with Aleister Black.
“The split from Sheamus left me in an empty void,” admitted Cesaro, whose run with Sheamus in The Bar exceeded all expectations. “Becoming King of the Ring will help me keep climbing, and that’s what I want to do.”
Cesaro should not be viewed as merely a tag-team specialist, nor solely as one of the best technicians in all of wrestling. He is a unique presence in the colorful world of pro wrestling, and began the process of emigrating from Switzerland to the United States after winning a green card in April of 2004.
“I represent a lot of people that have a dream and want to follow it,” said Cesaro. “I had the chance to do that. That’s why I never lose faith and I never lose hope. I won a green card and I’m living the American Dream, representing all the people that have a dream and are doing all they can to follow it.”
Cesaro moved from Meggen, Lucerne, Switzerland to Reading, Pa., on Sept., 12, 2004, carrying only a briefcase, a backpack and an unrelenting dream. He stood out wherever he wrestled, including stints with Chikara, Ring of Honor, wXw in Germany, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, before moving to Florida in 2011 upon signing with WWE.
“I’ve been working my way up from the bottom,” said Cesaro. “I can count on two hands how many days I’ve seen my family for a full day since I’ve moved to the United States, and I haven’t spent a Christmas at home in the last 15 years, but you’ll never hear me complain about it. I’m going to continue to sacrifice and work hard because that’s how you turn into a success. You take a leap of faith and bet on yourself, and that’s what I’m doing.”
A spot on the card as King Cesaro would add some character to one of WWE’s more serious performers. Given the chance to highlight his personality with his talent in the ring is a step that Cesaro believes is absolutely necessary in order for him to become world champion.
“I plan on having a crowning ceremony with a crown, robe, and a scepter,” said Cesaro. “That’s my next step to the world championship.
“Becoming world champion, that’s my goal every single day. That’s what I’m working toward. I’m working so hard and I don’t want to let anyone down.”
Cesaro enjoyed one run with a singles title when he was United States champion in 2012. With the number of belts in the company, it is remarkable to think that seven years have passed since Cesaro last wore singles gold.
“I can only control what I can,” said Cesaro. “Any time I step in the ring, I try to put on a spectacle. That’s why there is nothing like seeing me live. Me and Ricochet put on one of my favorite matches of the year in Japan that no one will likely see outside of that crowd there, and I had some really fun matches with Braun Strowman recently on live events, as well. I’m controlling what I can control as hard as I can.
“You’ll see more of that on Raw. Me and Samoa Joe, we haven’t had many interactions inside that ring. I don’t even think we’ve had a singles match, to be honest, which is very, very rare for me. I respect Joe, especially how he worked so hard and so long to get where he’s at. He never compromised his style, he went his own way, and that’s very impressive. It’s awesome to finally step in the ring with him, and it’s even better to do that with him on Monday Night Raw.”
The wrestling landscape is ready to intensify this fall. Already a competitive, cutthroat industry, companies will be searching for the next breakout star. WWE is fortunate to have exactly that on their roster in Cesaro, who is hungry for the chance to prove he can carry a company on the road, spike a rating on television, and show the masses that there is no singular talent better equipped at delivering engaging matches.
“I speak five different languages, but the most important language isn’t even one of those five,” said Cesaro. “The most essential language I speak is wrestling. To me, wrestling has always been about in-ring ability. What I do in the ring, anyone from around the world can understand that. So the "King of the Ring" is a perfect fit and the right start for me to show the world what I can do.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.