Cesaro is charting out his WrestleMania moment.
In customary fashion for one of pro wrestling’s most disciplined stars, he is meticulously laying the groundwork, preparing for the chance to win the universal championship at WWE’s signature event in 2022.
“The universal title match is currently spoken for, but this will start the road to next year’s WrestleMania for me,” says Cesaro (40-year-old Claudio Castagnoli). “I want a singles match this ’Mania, and I would love for it to be against Seth Rollins.”
Cesaro and Rollins started building their new program two weeks ago on SmackDown. It is a matchup with a lot of potential, and a decisive victory in a match at WrestleMania 37 would certainly give a significant boost of momentum for Cesaro in his pursuit of the world title.
“Seth is a tremendous talent, and he is so extremely versatile,” Cesaro says. “Good guy, bad guy, he always finds a way to evolve, and he’s super smooth in the ring. He’s always pushing us to get better, and I think he incredible at what he does.”
Unlike Rollins, who has had stretches when he dominated the main-event scene, Cesaro has instead breathed life into the earlier parts of the card. Now 40, the star from Switzerland has never been more precise in the ring. His timing, strength and ability to craft a story in the ring are all unparalleled, and he is striving for a long-awaited shot at a world title. But for someone who is entering his ninth year on the roster, there is legitimate doubt that Vince McMahon will ever fully grasp the talent Cesaro possesses.
When asked why this current push will be different from previous near-falls, runs that started hot then sizzled out, Cesaro responded with optimism. This is a man who used to write “desire, dedication and hard work” on his wrist tape during his indie career—words that still guide his every move.
“You have to work in a relationship,” Cesaro says. “It is no different in wrestling. And why believe this time will be different? You have to.”
Whether this hope leads to reality inside a WWE ring is to be determined. Ever the romantic, Cesaro shared that these ebbs and flows are natural facets of an unrelenting love affair with professional wrestling.
“I’ll never lose hope,” he says. “Yes, it’s difficult, but that just makes me want to work harder. Over time, you feel that pain when you don’t achieve what you want. This isn’t about overnight results. There have been times of frustration, where I questioned if I could keep going, but you keep trying and find a way. When you love something, you stay true to it. That is how I feel about wrestling.”
For Cesaro, a singles run atop WWE is a critical piece of his career still missing. He had a run with the United States title in 2012, which, remarkably, is his only time with a singles title in the company. His WWE fame has been primarily attained through his work in the tag-team ranks, where he has teamed with multiple partners and given each team a new style and flair. A seven-time tag champion, Cesaro has had must-see matches and moments while partnering with Tyson Kidd—a run cut short when Kidd suffered a devastating career-ending spinal cord injury—as well as Jack Swagger, Sheamus and, most recently, Shinsuke Nakamura.
One of the best tag-team wrestlers of all-time in WWE, Cesaro evolved, grew and found new challenges with each partner. Every time he was placed in a new tag team, he showcased a different strength. When he teamed with Kidd, he was the strongman and heavyweight. With Swagger, he was the high-flying, technical guy. His role shifted with Sheamus, then again with Nakamura, but he continued to succeed by adapting and committing to the relationship, as well as finding new ways to seize the crowd’s interest.
“You see his fighting spirit when he’s in the ring,” Nakamura says. “I have a lot of respect for Cesaro. He has power, speed, experience, he knows how to focus on his opponent. He can do everything.”
Cesaro and Nakamura were SmackDown tag-team champions together last year, which marked Nakamura’s first tag title run since 2005, when he partnered with the legendary Hiroshi Tanahashi in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
“Tanahashi and Cesaro, they are much different partners,” Nakamura says. “Cesaro, the way he fought and the way I fought, we had perfect timing. Some people say Cesaro is underrated, but I believe in his ability. He uses real emotion. That’s why he is so believable.”
Cesaro’s work has long been championed by the talent in WWE. He is a performer who is often used to highlight the work of an emerging star, and while that is a vastly important supporting role, he remains steadfast in his belief that he can bring even more value to the company as the star. Sheamus stressed that Cesaro needs only an opportunity with the belt to prove his worth.
“Cesaro is the most underrated guy, ever, in WWE,” Sheamus says. “He’ll make a great champion, and it’s only a matter of time before it happens. When it does, no one will dispute it, because they’ll know it’s well overdue.”
Sheamus and Cesaro were both in a rut when their careers merged in 2016. They squared off in a best-of-seven series, then were completely rejuvenated during their time together as the Bar.
“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I’d still be in WWE,” Sheamus says. “I’d just finished with League of Nations, which didn’t work, and I didn’t know where I was going. Cesaro had just come back from a shoulder injury, and he didn’t know where he was going. Then they put us in the best of seven. By the time we’d wrestled twice, it felt like people were already over it. But we tried to do something different with our fights, and it won the crowd over.”
The chance to work closely together gave Sheamus an even richer respect and admiration for Cesaro.
“We knew each other before we teamed together in the Bar, and we were always cordial to one another, but now we’re brothers,” Sheamus says. “He helped me improve my ring work and relax a whole lot more in the ring. I wouldn’t be where I am right now without him.”
Cesaro’s elite skill level is undeniable, and his precision helps enhance his opponents, regardless of their size or style. But to be a complete performer, especially in WWE, one must cut compelling promos. One weakness Cesaro believes has lingered is his work on the microphone.
There have been only rare occasions when promos appeared to be Cesaro’s strength, but perhaps that had more to do with the script than the performer. When given the chance to speak freely, like he did after the 2016 draft—or like he did just recently during this exquisite monologue on Talking Smack—Cesaro has proved that mic work is far more of a help than a hindrance.
“I haven’t spoken that much, but the more I talk, the more people will understand me,” said Cesaro. “That is a missing piece I’ve been working on for a long time. But actions still speak longer than words. That Talking Smack promo meant so much because I’ve been putting in the work for the past nine years. So as this finally comes together, I’m going to enjoy the journey. When the day comes when I am champion, it will mean even so much more.”
The window for a world title pursuit appears to have been extended. The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer reported earlier this month Cesaro had either signed or verbally agreed to a new WWE contract, prolonging his run with the company. Cesaro declined to comment specifically when asked by Sports Illustrated about his current contract status.
“I’m not going to confirm or deny anything,” Cesaro says. “To me, there needs to be a certain amount of mystery in wrestling. A lot of that magic gets lost, so I’ll let people talk. What is important to me is my work in the ring.”
Winning a world title is the objective for Cesaro, and his plan is to continue putting the work into his promos and matches. The idea that he deserves a run with the title, he noted, is a concept foreign to the way he operates.
“It’s not up to me to decide what I deserve,” he says. “In wrestling, that’s up to the fans. I’ll keep working hard to reach my goals. This isn’t just about me. I represent all of Switzerland, all of Germany, all of Italy and all of the international world. Wrestling is a universal language spoken all over the world. I am so proud to be an international representative and do this to the fullest for all the international fans.
“I came from a country that’s not known for wrestling. I’m bringing an international flavor, showing that anything is possible. I am living my dream, and I bring that kind of realism, passion, and love to WWE. I hope to inspire people to go out and follow what they love.”
If afforded the opportunity to be the face of the company, Cesaro would bring a whole new meaning on the title of world champion.
“I want to represent the industry I love,” he says. “I want to be the champion that defends his title every week. I feel like Drew McIntyre did a tremendous job with that during a difficult year. He was a fighting champion, and he was a great inspiration. I will also make it special.
“I will bring that title all over the world, to places that haven’t had a Network special yet. I would bring the universal championship to Mexico, England, India, Japan and across Europe. I would love for that to be my legacy. That’s what I want to do, and that will be my defining run.”