First published on 5 Jul 2012. Updated on 5 Sep 2012.
He's the Canadian-Italian MMA fighter who made the switch to the big leagues with the WWE – and brought with him a killer finishing move known as the Cobra. This August, two-time Intercontinental Champion and current United States Champion Santino Marella (his birth certificate reads 'Anthony Carelli') comes to Australia for the WWE Raw World Tour. We caught up with 'the Milan Miracle' ahead of the trip and dared ask a few questions.
Been training hard for your Aussie tour?
I lift weights for about half an hour a day, then maybe more cardio. I’ve been really enjoying running, lately. For many years I did weights and I was becoming unable to run because my knees were hurting. But I cut out the artificial sweetener – those little low calorie sweeteners – and since I cut those out my knees no longer hurt and I am able to run again.
Sounds pretty gruelling – constantly on the road and constantly working out! Did you want to be a wrestler back when you were a kid?
As child I remember always wanting to be introduced. You know, someone saying "Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Santino Marella!" I would stand on my chair and I would have my aunt make an introduction for me to the family. And in high school they used to call me 'Centre Stage'.
Who were the wrestlers you admired when you were growing up?
I was definitely a Hulkamaniac. I remember seeing Hulk Hogan and thinking to myself, this guy is a superhero, these guys are really the people that we need to fight evil and to fight for us. His words – you know, "Say a prayer, eat your vitamins" – these are things that you taught to the child; he's giving you life lessons.
You were a judo and MMA fighter in Japan before moving into pro wrestling. What made you decide to make the switch?
Being in sports entertainment seems more like a career: you work every week, it’s a job. Sometimes when you’re an amateur athlete, it doesn’t pay the bills so well even though you really love it so much. You can be maybe in the national team for swimming or tennis and if you’re not a big star you won’t make so much money; you do it because you love it. But you know I have a family – I have a daughter – so it was time to start making money for the family.
You had quite a big entrance into the WWE, you know Vince McMahon himself chose your name, you won your first match; how was it to make that kind of big splash into the WWE?
I use lots of analogies, but imagine you’re a baseball player with the first team in the minor league, then all of a sudden you get called up to the Yankees, and they want you to be a star. Next Monday you’ve got to pitch in the Yankee Stadium. You know you have to be ready, this is what you train for and when your goal comes to your front door step, people usually freeze up. But why would you freeze up when you’ve achieved your goal? I was ready for that first match. I listened to the Eminem song ‘Lose Yourself’ to psyche me up.
Where did you come up with your finishing move, the Cobra?
I was in a neighbourhood restaurant after a competition in Japan and we are all celebrating having some beers and some barbecued meat and someone showed me this move called the Cobra. I laughed at it at the time and I didn’t really think anything about it. Then five years later I was having a match and when I punched my opponent he fell to the floor and by the time he got up I put my arm out and did the Cobra. The audience liked it, so I did it the next match and the next match. Then John Cena came to me and said, "If I were you I would keep this manoeuvre." That's how it was born.
How does it work? The guys seem stunned afterward.
It's meant for the pressure point in the neck. The difficult part about the Cobra is that it’s a very small target, but you have to know where to hit. You temporarily stun the person for three seconds but if you don’t pin them immediately they won’t tap out because it’s only for three seconds.
Finally, do have copies of your own figurines?
I have just a couple, you know just a couple. I just put them at the front entrance of my house so if a chick sees it then she’s pretty impressed.
Does it work?