Tony Nese joined WWE in 2016, taking part in the Cruiserweight Classic and eventually earning a contract with the company.
Before the Cruiserweight Classic came to fruition, Nese was part of a WWE tryout, where his prospects of joining the company looked very grim based on a conversation he had at the tryout.
"At the beginning, I did a tryout at NXT and through the tryout, I got told about the Cruiserweight Classic," Nese recalled on the Wrestling Perspective podcast. "It was a funny conversation as they were like, 'Hey, listen, we really enjoy your work and your look. You're probably never going to work for this company, but we are doing a tournament and trying to use cruiserweights from around the world. Your name is in the hat for that.' I was like, 'I don't know if I should be happy about that.' They pretty much told me I wasn't going to get a job there. I had two days left in my tryout and I'm thinking, 'I'm not getting a job here.' I was still going to bust my ass. I asked them, 'The cruiserweight thing sounds great, but why would you say I won't work here?' The answer was 'you're short and white. That's not what we're looking for right now.' It was pretty much, 'You're not six-foot-something and don't have an interesting background to reach other countries.' It made sense. Believe it or not, I like that they straight up said 'this is why' rather than someone dancing around. I hate that. Just tell me."
Though it didn't look like Nese would be hired by WWE, a spot in the Cruiserweight Classic seemed like a good bet. However, Nese was not one of the first names on the list to be called.
"I started hearing about guys getting an email about the tournament and I wasn't getting an email. I was at an EVOLVE show and I ran into William Regal. I had approached Regal and said, 'You guys mentioned the Cruiserweight Classic' and he said, 'I understand. They pick the top 15 and there's a bottom 15. We didn't want to waste you in the bottom 15.' To me, that's a nice way of saying 'we don't want to use you.' I had a match and after the match, we go to Regal and he's critiquing the other guy. I say, 'Was there anything on my end?' 'No,' and he walked away. Eventually, later on in the night, he pulls me aside and is like, 'Do you care where you'd be in the tournament?' 'Of course, I don't care.' 'I think you need to get in front of the right eyes.' A week later, I got the call to be in the tournament," he recalled.
Nese defeated Anthony Bennett in the first round of the tournament but lost to Brian Kendrick in the second round. While many wrestlers were signed coming out of the tournament, and even during the tournament, Nese had to wait before he put pen to paper.
"We end up doing the Cruiserweight Classic and during the tournament, you kept seeing guys go into offices, coming out, and being like, 'I got a contract,'" said Nese. "It was pretty much everybody except for me, [Ariya] Daivari, [Mustafa] Ali, and [Drew] Gulak. We heard rumblings that Raw was getting cruiserweights. They announced it and I was happy for my friends. It was the Friday before and I got a text asking if I was available. I fly in on Monday, do a match against TJP, I spoke with Hunter [Triple H] and he said they were just bringing in Cruiserweights, but told me to keep my Mondays open. For three or four months, I just kept being booked on Friday to be at Raw on Monday. Same thing for Gulak and Davari. We kept getting booked but weren't signed. I kept working Indie dates and doing my shoot job. They said they had too many people in NXT, but still wanted to us to keep Monday open. Finally, on Halloween, I got offered my contract."
Nese would find success in WWE as one of the pillars of 205 Live and winning the Cruiserweight Championship on the kick-off show of WrestleMania 35.
He was released by the company on June 25.
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