Santino Marella learned quickly that when someone in WWE asks if you can do something, you say yes.
The former WWE Superstar (real name Anthony Carelli) was a recent guest on Renee Paquette's Oral Sessions Podcast and spoke about his Monday Night Raw debut in April 2007. The story, as he tells it, begins with a phone call he received while driving to an OVW house show.
"One day, I'm driving to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, for an OVW house show and I get this call and Vince had this idea for someone to come out of the audience in Italy because Raw was in Milan," Carelli began. "He's like, 'Is there anybody in developmental that is Italian, from Italian heritage, that can speak Italian, right?' Because, you know, Anthony Carelli. So my phone goes off. My Nokia. It's Bucci going, 'Boris, your background's Italian right?' I go, 'Yeah.' He goes can you speak Italian?' Okay."
Not well versed in Italian, Carelli says it was Dusty Rhodes who told him to never say no when asked to do something. This is how he learnt that lesson:
"So, a month earlier, Dusty Rhodes calls this guy fearless Jack Bull, who -- It was a hilarious gimmick of a past him prime, alcoholic, Evel Knievel. It was a really funny gimmick. Jack Bull thinks somebody's ribbing him doing a Dusty impersonation. So he goes, 'Hello, Jack Bull, this is Dusty Rhodes. Can you ride a motorcycle?' He goes, 'No.' Okay, he goes, 'Can you learn how to ride a motorcycle?' He goes, 'Nope.' That was the end of the conversation. Then he looks at his phone and sees 2-0-3 and [gasps] goes, 'That was Dusty Rhodes.' So because Cody was in OVW at the time, Dusty came down to see the group of talent that was there. The story got brought up and said, 'If they ever call you and ask you if you can do anything, the answer is yes. Then you better learn to go ride a goddamn motorcycle tomorrow.'"
Convincing WWE's writers that he could speak the language proved easier than expected. All it took was regurgitating a couple of lines from an 'Italian for Tourists' cassette to prove that he was the right man for the job.
"So they called me and were like, 'Can you speak Italian?' I'm like, 'Yes.' I have a tourist Italian cassette. I used to play it in rush hour traffic just non-stop. I would flip sides and play it. It would be like, 'I want a hotel. How much for the room? I would like to buy some cheese.' It was basic Italian. I just remembered, I regurgitated a couple of lines off the tape. I was on speakerphone, there was a group of writers. I said, 'voglio un mezzo chilo di Formaggio,' which means I want to buy a half kilo of cheese. I guess it was enough to convince them that -- It sounded pretty good, I could kind of hear them say. I could hear them looking at each other being like, 'It sounded like Italian, I don't know,'" he shared.
Plans changed quickly once Carelli arrived in Milan, learning from Arn Anderson that he would be winning the Intercontinental Championship from Umaga. Once the show started, though, he was worried that Vince McMahon wouldn't be able to see him in the crowd because of fans rushing the barricade.
"They said, 'Okay, that's great. You're going to fly out tomorrow to Italy,' which at this point I've never been to Italy. 'You might, fingers crossed, debut on Monday Night Raw as this Italian guy.' I'm just like, 'Wow, what?' That's what happened. I went to the book store and bought like an 8-DVD on Italian and the entire flight I'm just like drinking coffee, just trying to absorb as much Italian as I can. Then I get there and it's like, 'Yeah, -- As soon as I get there the production meeting is coming out the door. Arn Anderson comes out of the door, he has the papers and he goes, 'Well, you're having a good day, kid. You're winning the IC strap.' He walks away. I'm like, 'What the hell did he just say? IC strap. That means Intercontinental Championship. What's going on here?' Then Johnny Ace was there, he goes, 'Hey, Vince wants to talk to you.' I go meet Vince and he tells me this idea of this guy coming out of the audience and then we go meet Umaga and Bobby Lashley, who recognized me from OVW. Nice to see a friendly face.
The show kind of started and they brought me out to my seat, and it was like the first segment, or maybe a couple of segments in, anyways, when Vince's music hits they rush the barricade to guard and I'm like, 'Should I have done that? Because I'm 6/7 people back. He's not going to see me. Once he starts talking they kind of filter back to their seats and then he introduces Umaga and they run again. I go, 'Oh my God, I missed it again. He's not going to see me. I'm sitting eight people back now.' Then they all slowly filter back to their seats. Security tells them to go back to their seats. Then he issues the open challenge, I jump and he saw me, so it worked out."
Santino was a fixture on WWE television for nearly a decade. Carelli was released by the company in May 2016. He has gone on to compete for various independent promotions, including at Josh Barnett's Bloodsport 2.
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