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Claudio Castagnoli, fka Cesaro, Makes AEW Debut

Former WWE star Cesaro (now going by his real name Claudio Castagnoli) has arrived in AEW, making his surprise debut at Forbidden Door on Sunday night.

The 41-year-old Castagnoli debuted for AEW by defeating NJPW’s Zack Sabre Jr. at the Forbidden Door pay-per-view. Castagnoli was Bryan Danielson’s “hand-picked” replacement for the match after Danielson had to pull out of Forbidden Door due to an undisclosed injury.

Danielson announced last week that he wasn’t cleared to compete at Forbidden Door, but he promised that he had found the one person he trusted to take his place against Sabre.

Castagnoli is the newest member of AEW’s Blackpool Combat Club faction, joining Danielson, Jon Moxley, Wheeler Yuta, and manager William Regal. Castagnoli, Moxley, and Yuta will team up with Eddie Kingston, Santana, and Ortiz to face the Jericho Appreciation Society in a Blood & Guts steel cage match on Dynamite this Wednesday.

It was revealed in February that Castagnoli had “quietly exited WWE'' after the two sides were unable to come to terms on a contract extension. Castagnoli reportedly wasn’t looking to leave WWE at the time, but he didn’t like the offer he was given to re-sign with the company.

Castagnoli had been with WWE since 2011. His final match for the promotion was a loss to Baron Corbin on the February 11 edition of SmackDown.

Despite being considered one of the most talented in-ring wrestlers in WWE, Castagnoli never became a world champion during his time with the promotion. He was a multi-time WWE tag team champion and a one-time U.S. champion.

Castagnoli was voted “Most Underrated” in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards for four consecutive years from 2013-2016.

Castagnoli, who is originally from Switzerland, was a star on the independent wrestling scene and competed internationally before his WWE career began.

Sunday’s Forbidden Door event was the first time AEW and New Japan Pro-Wrestling have ever worked together to co-promote a joint PPV.