TORONTO – WWE RAW Superstar Santino Marella sat down with SLAM! Wrestling yesterday for an in-depth interview that touched on a number of topics, including a rare glimpse into the man behind the character, and his personal observations regarding its direction.

With the dust from the recent draft now settled, is La Vita still E Bella for Santino?

For Marella, whose real name is Anthony Carelli, and in Toronto on a promotional stop primarily for promotional interviews with TV stations The Score and the Fight Network, the answer is an unequivocal yes.

“I’m happy I stayed with RAW,” he motioned to SLAM! Wrestling. “There’s no difference between the calibre of talent on the shows, but RAW is looked at as the flagship, Vince’s baby and things like that, so being there, and being chosen to be there, it’s a good indicator that they want me around, so I’m happy with that. I lost Carlito; I lost Maria, so we’ll be starting from scratch in terms of who we’re kind of running with on the show. It’s kind of a fresh start.”

Carelli, out of character for most of the conversation, indicated that the writing team plans to make Santino a more active player on the RAW landscape.

“I think I may have a new on-screen girlfriend coming up. I’m not sure exactly when or how. But the person they chose is in developmental, and she’s very sexy, you’ll want to hate her. She’d be a really good match. I’m just happy I get to kiss her once in a while,” he laughed.

Pressed for more details, Carelli elaborated a bit further.

“Just in case, she’s not the right person, I don’t want to tell you her name,” he explained. “She’s actually Canadian. I’ll leave it at that.”

He confirmed the early Internet rumors of the stable for Italia’s finest were accurate.

Santino in front of The Score Studios. Photo by Kenai Andrews

“There’s some talk I might get a stable going,” Santino reflected. “I’d do a little bit of managing, and fighting. I debuted a little older, I’m 34, already been here a year, so I can’t wrestle forever. I did judo for 25 years, so my body is not as fresh as it was before. But I’d like to do some managing down the road, still want to wrestle, I want to do everything to be honest, be involved in everything every step of the way, even management and creative. I want the ball basically.”

When asked why the focus has been primarily been on the character’s entertainment value, and not so much the character’s ability to wrestle, Carelli hinted that the lack of TV time played an influential role.

“It kind of doesn’t make sense for Santino to come out and kick everyone’s ass. That’s not what people want to see,” he reasoned. “I mean, could I? Yeah. It’s just the evolution of Santino. Sometimes you can’t force pieces of the puzzle to fit together. They have to fit naturally. I like house shows, because we get to wrestle at least. We can go out there and put in 10 to 15 minutes as opposed to sometimes on TV, when we’re reduced to three to four minutes.”

Carelli revealed that his Santino’s Casa promo segments are fun to do, even if he’s not totally sure how many people are exactly watching the show.

“It’s a weekly show. I never really got the numbers. I know it’s pretty good because fans will tell me they like it and a pretty high percentage of fans tell me they like the show, so I wonder in terms of exact numbers, but it’s pretty fun. It’s a good atmosphere. Steve Lombardi (the Brooklyn Brawler) and Joey Styles, they’re back there and involved in producing it. At first, it was pretty scripted and now it’s like they give me point forms to hit on and I just go up and talk about it a certain way. It’s fun. I’m not a jerk — but Santino is — so I get to satisfy that little inner desire to be a jerk I guess,” he said, flashing a Santino-sized grin.

Meeting Carelli can be a shocker for those expecting an amplified version of Santino.

“I guess one of the big things is when I meet people when I’m Anthony; first thing they say is ‘Oh! Your accent is not there,’ and that kind of stuff, which is cool, it means they’re believing,” he said. “But I don’t think people have any misconceptions of me as Anthony. Oh actually, I guess sometimes when people meet me they expect this loud boisterous obnoxious person and when I’m not on TV, I’m pretty quiet I guess. That’s what I’ve heard; that’s the only feedback I’ve got, people that’ve met me and met friends.

“I guess my need for attention has been satisfied now that I’m on TV,” he said laughing once again.

Most fans are now aware of Carelli’s background in mixed martial arts (MMA). He still follows it actively and his eyes lit up discussing his passion for the sport.

“At home, I watch WEC Wreckage all the time on TV. I love watching fighting, I love watching athletes in general,” Carelli said. “I’m looking forward to watching the Olympic Games. Growing up as an athlete my whole life, when I watch a competition, I know that the years of training that it comes down to this moment. That’s concentrated intensity, you know? The expression I use (is) ‘you can’t reap what you don’t sow.’ All of these athletes have been planting seeds of training and training, and the time when they get to reap those efforts.”

Carelli is also proud of current Canadian UFC icon Georges St. Pierre and the skills that he brings to the MMA table.

“He’s a good guy,” said Santino. “Actually, I met Georges St. Pierre recently for the first time; we actually have the same wrestling coach. My wrestling coach in university was Victor Zoberman with the national team in Montréal. After I left a year or so later is when Georges trained with my coach to improve his wrestling and he did a great job, he’s an awesome wrestler. I told him, he’s the current evolution of MMA; he’s at the forefront of the leading edge of the evolution of the athletes. And he’s making Canadians proud; a classy individual both inside and outside of the octagon. He’s a good guy; I like him. He’s a really nice guy. I was happy to meet him and see that he was as nice a guy as I thought he would be.

“I heard that fight in Montreal was just incredible; I get goose bumps just thinking about it because the acoustics – it went crazy in there. I know that the reams of people that emptied out and went into the bars and the energy that trickled down to the whole city, it must have been awesome.”

And Carelli does not discount the possibility of taking his best shot – or two at the most – in a future MMA ring.

”I’d like to do a couple of fights to be honest,” said Marella. “But as so far as representing the WWE in the UFC, I think it’d be pretty interesting for people to see like Brock Lesnar for example, but a current wrestler to go fight would be pretty interesting. I’d go do a couple fights and I think I’d do ok. Have to train though, pretty serious. I’d dabble into it for the one-time thing, two-time thing.”

Carelli is also a soccer fan and when reminded his favorite Azzurri were knocked out by Spain in the Euro 2008 tournament, he waxed poetically to the positive.

“I was at the airport when Italy lost in the football shootout,” he remembered. “Disappointing, but at least that puts me at the top of the most exciting things going on in Italy list.”

Accordingly, he was non-committal on who the new 2008 Euro Champion would be.

“I don’t know, man. Russia looks good, Spain looks good, Germany looks good. Turkey looked good, but I don’t know,” said Marella. “Either way, it’s going to be someone that deserved it. We recently came back from the road in Spain and the fans went crazy for us. I can only imagine how crazy they’re gonna go if they win the Euro Cup. I mean they were lined up, barricades, they were loud, it was awesome. Our shows in Spain were awesome. And we’re visitors, imagine the hometown, it would be an absolute spectacle to see.”

Switching gears back to wrestling, Carelli acknowledged there were some grumblings on the roster from the workers on the lower end of the pay scale regarding the recent Million Dollar Giveaway.

“I understand why. It’s a little bit of a downtime, summertime and viewership, and stuff like that. The way they designed it originally, on paper, in theory it was good to get a lot of viewers. And it worked; obviously a lot of people watched it. I think it took away from the program a little bit, I think, in terms of the amount of time it took to give out the money. They could have done two by $500,000, or one by $1 million, or even one by $100,000 might be good, they didn’t need to give way that much money. Some of the guys who aren’t on TV all the time, and are on the house shows and the road all the time aren’t making that much. It would have been nice if the money came to the guys who are actually working kind of things. But understandable, I guess it’s done,” he shrugged.

Who would he like to work with now in particular?

“I wouldn’t mind doing something with Cody and Ted DiBiase Jr. I don’t know if I’ll be tagging anymore. One on one, I’d like to wrestle Finlay, Chavo. I just like some of the pure wrestlers. I like have someone bring out the wrestler in Santino,” Carelli said after some thought. “I’m a fan of everyone’s work to be honest.”

Working with boyhood idol Rowdy Roddy Piper was a dream come true.

“My brother and I loved Piper as a kid because his facial expressions were so believable. He grew up in Winnipeg, but also grew up in Toronto a lot. He was telling me he used to play the bagpipes way outside the East end Y (YMCA) to raise money just to live. I think it was 25 cents a day stay in the Y at the time. And that’s just cool, working with Piper. He’s old school, man,” he laughed. “When he punched me, he punched me in the face. That’s pretty much it. And he’ll tell you, ‘I’m going to punch you in the face. When it’s your turn, you can punch me in the face.’ And I’m like ‘alright’. So when the time came, I just grit my teeth, and he just punched me in the face. So it was pretty cool though.

“Again it was just the whole idea of putting me with these legends is just cool as hell. I’m happy to be put with them. They’re acknowledging my ability to run with the big dogs so that’s kind of cool.”

Now that he is established in the WWE, Carelli is looking at giving back by planning a series motivational lectures at various schools, including Phillip Pocock Secondary School in Mississauga, where he won back to back 77 kg ROPSSAA (Region of Peel Secondary School Athletic Association) wrestling titles in 1992 and 1993.

“Back to back man, I won them both of my senior years,” he hollered at the memory. “I have friends that teach at my old high school. I play football with them when I get back, and I want to speak to youth in general; but start off in my high school. To the kids these days, and some of the messages I want to send are just somehow it became cool to not really put an effort, and kids are slacking, not everybody; but the whole ‘pull your pants up’ and stuff, and ‘take yourself seriously,’ and ‘do your homework.’ Somewhere along the line, it started back in the day with James Dean and cigarettes, and the greasers. There’s nothing wrong with achieving, it’s pretty cool to me.

”I met this girl. She’s a lawyer during the day and a DJ at nighttime. She’s bragging about the DJ part and I’m like ‘Man, brag about the lawyer part, that’s awesome.’ But anyways, I hope she doesn’t read this. She’s probably the only lawyer-DJ combo, but she’s cool.”

Marella also pushed the idea of making kids shoot for their dreams.

”Someone forgot to tell the kids that they can actually become something special if they try,” the former Intercontinental champ said. “I don’t know, putting an effort is not cool, people are afraid of trying and failing, or not trying at all whatever it is, but I’m definitely going to send a message to rise up to the occasion and accomplish something and be proud of yourself. That’s priceless.”

Which leads us to his latest tattoo and the Santino Marella name.

“I got one a couple of weeks ago here (pointing at his left forearm),” noted Marella. “It says ‘Rise and Shine,’ which kind of goes along with the campaign I want to have for the kids, which is get up and, you know, shine, man. Do whatever you want.”

It’s not everyday Vince McMahon christens your name with Marella, either.

“He (Vince) came up with Marella,” said Santino. “One of the writers came up with Santino based on The Godfather character Sonny. That’s what I recently found out. But yeah, it’s after Gorilla Monsoon, referee Joey Marella, and the Marella family. Two people that are super revered by everyone that knows them. And when they talk about them, you can see that they’re reminiscing of some good times, and they’re really good-hearted people, so it’s definitely an honor and helps me want to do well to pay homage to the name.”

It all begins with a fresh start.