Celebrated English novelist Graham Greene once wrote: “In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo de Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”
How does it relate to wresting? With all due respect to Greene, who, with this quote, is using Switzerland as an example of poor artistic productivity due to an overly peaceful existence, he ain’t ever seen Claudio Castagnoli in the ring.
The 6-foot-5, 232-pound self-proclaimed global journeyman of pro wrestling made a stop on his world tour in Buffalo at last week’s Ballpark Brawl. Castagnoli has been the subject of many conversations among wrestling fans and operators for the past few years, as he developed a reputation working with companies such as Ring of Honor and CHIKARA to the point that he was invited down south to tryout for the WWE.
Although his development deal with the pre-eminent company in 2006 did not result in a contract (and for the record, Castagnoli didn’t want to say anything about the training experience beyond the fact that it was hard work but a lot of fun), Castagnoli is just happy to be doing what he has wanted to do since he was a kid.
“In Europe, there aren’t many full-time wrestlers, and definitely not in Switzerland,” he told SLAM! Wrestling. “When I was a little kid I liked to watch wrestling on TV, but I only started wrestling when I was twenty.”
Castagnoli relates his relatively late start to the lack pro wrestling industry in his native country. In fact, becoming a pro wrestler seemed more than just unlikely. “It was like a dream to do it, but I got the chance to move to the U.S. and there was no hesitation.”
If strike one against Castagnoli was his age, strike two was landing in a new country without any contacts to lean on. He learned quickly that making a name for oneself on the independent circuit required hard travel above all else. Rather than be beaten down by the grueling schedule, Castagnoli took advantage of the opportunity to learn from the varied styles and disciplines throughout the world, notably Europe in his early days.
“I started to travel through Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Netherlands, England, then I went to the U.S. a couple of times to train with Dave Taylor,” he recalled. “I’m like a journeyman trying to learn everywhere I can. I think my style is influenced by many different people, and I enjoy wrestling different people from different countries, facing a different challenge.”
That includes, he stressed, the Ring of Honor fans. And despite obvious rhetorical value of saying good things about the company he works for, Castagnoli feels that the company exemplifies exactly the “good wrestling” he speaks of. “I think all the people there give it their all,” he said. “It’s more about the sport and the athletic competition than it is about entertainment. Every show you can see it getting bigger, and it’s a constant push forward.” Plus, for the journeyman, it represents, along with CHIKARA, something even more meaningful to Castagnoli. “I consider CHIKARA and ROH to be a home base, which is nice to have.”This mosaic of methods eventually became part of Castagnoli’s appeal to promoters, as was recognized by Chris Hill at Ballpark Brawl VIII, who set up Castagnoli versus Delirious in a European Rules Match. Does this, however, affect Castagnoli’s appeal to U.S. fans — the biggest market available? He shakes his head. “A lot of people say that crowds are different throughout the world, but I think crowds everywhere just want to see good wrestling.”
This simple, grounded mindset has also help Castagnoli accept the ups of his roller-coaster ride through the past few years as well as the downs. With WWE making advances, independent companies anointing him as a mainstay of their rosters, and fans starting to talk about him on message boards, it still all comes down to a basic truth for Castagnoli. “I don’t want to say I live in my own little world but I try to do just my thing,” he said. “If people like it, that’s good. I’m glad people like my wrestling, but I’m not looking for it.”
The truth is, he may not have to — it seems people are looking for him.