Santino Marella had a lengthy run as a comedy character in WWE, but according to him, he got noticed because of a Russian MMA fighter gimmick that was given to him by Paul Heyman.
Marella, whose real name is Anthony Carelli, recalled his days in the WWE developmental system at Ohio Valley Wrestling on a recent episode of Colt Cabana's Art of Wrestling podcast. According to Marella, Heyman strategically gave Carelli the name of Boris Alexiev because Heyman knew that Vince McMahon was a fan of Olympic powerlifter Vasily Alekseyev.
"When I was Boris Kolov, after Rip Rogers gave me the name Boris, now that's just my nickname. Like, 'Boris? What the hell? I've got to work with that?' All of a sudden, in the middle of the night, I go, 'my coach was Dan Kolov. I could be Boris Kolov.' And I think there wasn't that combination of Boris' and Kolovs yet," Marella said. "When I became Boris Alexiev, Paul Heyman gave me that last name because there was a famous Russian powerlifter, Alexiev, and Vince was a big fan, so he wanted to have the association. And if Vince hears 'Alexiev,' he'll have a positive image in his mind, which was brilliant on Paul's [part]. I love him."
A four-time title holder in WWE, Marella retired as an active wrestler in 2014 because of a neck injury. His tenure in WWE ended earlier this year when his contract expired.
Marella is staying busy. He runs Battle Arts Academy, a training school for both wrestling and MMA, and last week, he joined the team on Aftermath TV, a Canadian show that airs after Smackdown.