With Old School RAW coming to Baltimore on Monday, I got a chance to talk to a WWE Superstar that is constantly referred to as “old school," Antonio Cesaro.
We had a chance to talk about his past year, his affiliation with the Real Americans, his rise through the independent circuit, his time recently at WWE's developmental organization, NXT, as well as his thoughts on Old School RAW.
Q: How would you characterize your 2013 in the WWE?
A: Well, I started the year as the United States champion, and now I am not the United States champion. But I'd say I'm part of the most entertaining group in the WWE, and the best tag team right now, the Real Americans.
Q: Before being in the WWE, you had known as being a tag team superstar with the Kings of Wrestling in Ring of Honor and other places. The Real Americans has been your first chance to show that in the WWE. Is tag wrestling something that you prefer?
A: You know, I prefer singles, but I like tag team as well, and obviously it's something I've done very well in the past. So it's something, to me, that I look at myself as a great all-arounder. And to do that, you need to be able to adapt to both tag team and singles. So, do I have a preference? Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but that's what makes a great wrestler a great wrestler, and it just proves that I'm very versatile. And that just shows when you watch both myself and Jack Swagger in the ring.
Q: How do you view your run so far with the Real Americans? Do you view it as a success so far?
A: If it ends with us becoming the tag team champions, and I have a strong feeling that it will, then I will view it as a success. Right now, let's just wait and see.
Q: You recently brought the Giant Swing to the WWE. I know you used to do it before you joined the company, but whose idea was it to start doing it again?
A: It was all my idea. I have a lot of maneuvers in my back pocket, so to speak. And to me, the thing is to always surprise the audience so they're always seeing something new, and not just get stuck in the same rut. That's been the key to me having success over the last 13 years. And that's the success to having success in wrestling. I think that's what makes me very unique, that you really don't know what to expect. I'm not just cookie-cutter. You always see something different.
Q: Were you surprised at all by how the audience immediately started cheering it and chanting along with you as you did the move?
A: In a way, it did surprise me, but in a certain way, it's a good thing, because the audience appreciates it, and they see what a feat of strength it is and how difficult it is. If the audience likes and appreciates a move, it gives the wrestlers in a ring a little bit of extra energy, and you can always use that.
Q: Video of you doing the giant swing has surfaced on non-wrestling sites and gained a reaction. Is it almost more satisfying to get air from people who aren't wrestling fans?
A: Yeah, definitely. It was very cool when Deadspin picked it up, and very cool when it was on The Soup as well. Regular people who aren't big wrestling fans will see it and they are immediately hooked because it is such a feat of strength. When many people think of wrestling, they think of an elbow drop, or a body slam. But if they're even stronger, they think of spinning someone in a circle, because that's what superheroes do or what comic book characters do. To actually be able to do that in real life, that's pretty sweet.
Q: You're part of a group, along with wrestlers like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins, amongst others, that have the independent wrestler label attached to you. Do you like that label, or would you rather be viewed as just another WWE superstar?
A: I am very proud of my heritage and where I came from. I had to work extremely hard and long to get where I'm at. I don't think it's a label. I was told I have to work 10 years to get a doctorate. Well, I have worked all that time to become a doctor in professional wrestling. So to speak, I have a PhD in professional wrestling. I'm extremely proud that I did it my way.
Q: Do you feel like you guys have that extra camaraderie since you've traveled similar paths?
A: We've been on the road with each other for a long time. I've been with guys like CM Punk, Seth Rollins and Daniel Bryan for almost 10 years now. It's definitely a bond because we all know where we came from. We know we performed in front of 20 or 30 people in some old, rusty building, and now we're performing on the biggest stage. There's definitely a pride in that. There's definitely a bond in it as well.
Q: Do you believe that the success of all the superstars who have come up through independent organizations could start more of a trend for WWE to hire more guys who have come up that way?
A: The business is always moving in weird ways, though its ups and downs. There's always people from all different walks of life that find their way to this business. This business is all about respect. If you earn the respect, then you'll get respected. Guys like we've been talking about, CM Punk, Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, they've earned my respect for what they've done and where they came from. There's other people coming in who still have to earn their respect from the wrestling world, from their fans, and from their peers. Of course it's possible, there are different talent pools and that's what makes the talent pool so diverse, and what makes the product so exciting.
Q: You spend a lot of time down at NXT [the WWE developmental organization], seemingly a lot more time than many of the other main roster superstars. Is there a reason you spend so much time there?
A: I'm living in Florida right now. NXT is a great show, and a great opportunity for the guys there to get noticed. To me, it's a great chance to see what the new talent is and step in the ring with them. There aren't a lot of veterans out there anymore on the independents that can get in the ring with the younger guys and show them what it's all about and challenge the young guys and make them step up their game. I enjoy doing that at NXT. It's also a chance for me to get to step into the ring with guys like William Regal or settle an old score with Sami Zayn. It's fun for me, and if I have a day off, I'd rather spend the day wrestling than having the day off.
Q: Do you almost view it as a responsibility for someone who has had as much time in the ring as you have to show some of the younger guys the ropes?
A: It's not necessarily a responsibility. I think it's about leading by example, and for me that's about working really hard. That means if you have a chance to step in the ring, you step in the ring every single time you can. If there's a show within two hours driving distance from where I live, I'll try to get out there, and show them what they have to compete with.
Q: You mentioned settling a score with Sami Zayn [the former El Generico in Ring of Honor and other independent organizations]. The 2 out of 3 falls match you had with him on NXT is something that a lot of wrestling fans have raved about. Can you talk a little bit about that match?
A: I've wrestled Sami Zayn all over the world. Some guys come in here with an attitude that they know it all and that they're extremely good and they can cut it. Maybe Sami Zayn was one of those people. And it was fun to step in the ring with him and show him that no, you have to compete at an entirely different level here. He came close, and I think that will help him be much better and he'll work even harder now, and it helped me get much better. It was great to see the fans appreciate that, and I thought we gave the fans something special that night.
Q: Your old partner Kassius Ohno [formerly Chris Hero] was recently released from the company. Are you disappointed at all that he's no longer with the organization?
A: It certainly was disappointing. When we signed with this company, we both knew what we were getting into. We both made each other a promise that we would work as hard as possible, whether it's as a team or singles competitors. I know he'll wind up on his feet, and he probably already is, and he'll continue wrestling all over the world.
Q: Old School RAW is coming up in Baltimore next week. Are you excited for the show?
A: I'm really looking forward to Old School RAW. It's my favorite RAW of the year. I am extremely excited. Like I said before, the wrestling business is all about respect. I consider myself old school, as in the way I was brought into wrestling, and the way I made it to the WWE, it was similar to the old territory system. To see all those guys who did it that way before me, it's tremendous. I love Old School RAW, and I'm excited for Monday in Baltimore.
Q: Is there any one guy you are most looking forward to seeing there?
A: Well, I guess we'll have to wait and see who's going to be there. That's part of the fun, that you don't really know who is coming back. It's always a surprise and it brings back a lot of memories.
Q: Finally, what should we expect from Antonio Cesaro in 2014?
A: Even bigger and better things than you saw in 2013. That's what I try to do every day, to get better, and that's what I'm going to do in 2014.