Many who step into the squared circle go with the mindset of getting championship gold. Others are maintaining the family history of professional wrestling. This is also true of “The Legacy” AJ Cazana, one-half of The Country Gentlemen alongside “Adorable” Anthony Andrews in the National Wrestling Alliance. recently caught up with the 6-foot-3, 297-pound Legacy as he was traveling between towns to a wrestling match and had a chance to speak with the third-generation wrestler. “Actually, my great grandfather [wrestled]; you could call me the fourth generation,” Cazana noted. “My great-grandmother never wrestled. She sold the tickets, so I don’t know if you count that. My great-grandfather’s name was John Cazana and he started wrestling in 1933.”

Cazana elaborated on his great-grandparents’ history in the Knoxville area, as he has a strong Greek lineage. “He immigrated when he was young. When they got over to the States like he met my great-grandmother. I guess they kind of at some point found the Greek Orthodox church in Knoxville.”  John Cazana and his wife were involved with the Saint George Greek Orthodox Church on Kingston Pike in the Knoxville area.  “So, like the Greeks were really big in developing West Knoxville,” he said. “A lot of Greek-owned businesses and restaurants and all that good stuff out there, and then of course the churches.”

John Cazana got into wrestling at a young age, and with the help of his brother, George Cazana, who promoted in the Knoxville area, started the World Wide of Sports program which fell under the umbrella of the National Wrestling Alliance around the 1950s.  Wrestling skipped a generation, and that is where Joe Cazana, AJ’s father, took up the mantle after his grandfather’s passing and carried on the legacy starting in 1986.

There are memories of seeing wrestling matches with his dad, Joe Cazana. “I used to watch my dad all the time. I never got to see him when he was like, I guess  ‘big time’ with like WCW, WWF, or the NWA,” he said. “But I remember seeing him because there was a little promotion in Knoxville, [and] they had some kind of partnership with the WWE at some point. But I remember sitting in the crowd with Mr. Fuji and being really close with him because he also somehow, I guess, found his way to Knoxville, Tennessee, at some point. That’s my favorite memories — just sitting, watching my dad get hit over the head with a trash can and Mr. Fuji is having to grab five-year-old me from going and saving my Daddy.”

But there weren’t a lot of opportunities for the young Andrew Joseph Cazana to see his dad wrestle. “I was about six or seven. At that point, he was already kind of slowing down because I guess he wanted to do the family thing, so I appreciate him doing that, you know?”

So why pursue wrestling? “I wish I could tell you that I had the intention early to be a professional,” Cazana said, “But honestly, I had no intention at all of being in it. I just wanted to play football; that’s all I wanted to do. I got to the University of Tennessee and had an injury that kept that career real short.”

His dad got him back into the family business five years ago, and the elder Cazana was running his own Joe Cazana Promotions after taking over the Wide World of Wrestling name his grandfather started. “He tried to have his final retirement match at my little brother’s high school for the football team fundraiser.  Jim Cornette was there. The Rock ’n’ Roll Express was there. He just got me and my little brother involved in a quick show opening angle with the guy who was wrestling that night. I think I gave him a hip toss and being in the ring like that day in front of those people; the crowd, the reactions, was the closest thing that I had to running through the ‘T’ [at the University of Tennessee football stadium] in front of 100,000 people.”

It was around that time that Cazana really started looking at getting trained in the business, and the school that opened in the Knoxville area was JPWA (Jacobs Prichard Wrestling Academy), and he was trained by none other than Dr. Tom Prichard.  “You’ve got great trainers,” Cazana said, “but it’s having Dr. Prichard that close to home was a blessing in itself. I saw that JPWA was starting to enroll in a class.”

And then COVID-19 happened.

“Our class actually got pushed back two months. I was ready to go and then we got pushed back,” Cazana recalled. But he was philosophical about that time. “If you wanna do something, you gotta go all in. That’s the whole thing with professional wrestling. You can’t half-ass something, you gotta ‘whole-ass,’ you know what I mean?”

It’s that same mentality that got him to the NWA. “It’s just like with any job,” he said. “You gotta pay your dues, network, make connections.”

AJ Cazana. NWA photo

One of those connections was Jeremiah Plunkett. “Plunky is one of the greatest people on this earth, as far as just genuinely good people. He is a hell of a worker. I never officially met him. I reached out to him randomly, and asked him, like, ‘Hey man, I just want to help out, I just want to be there. I just want to be around. What can I do?’ And he put me in contact with the right people and actually went into security, ring crew, and extras.”

The head of the ring crew, Mark Rolland, noticed Cazana right away. “He said, ‘They wanna do a security spot, but you’re a little too big and they’re gonna like your looks so we’ll just have you go work security over there.’ It’s like, ‘Okay I can do that,’” he recalled.  “So I just worked security, helped the ring crew, and worked hard enough to get invited back.”

“I just worked my tail end off as far as like doing recruiting, carrying stuff, trying to help out where I can,” Cazana said. “Eventually we went back to Oak Grove, and Mark said, ‘Hey we need a guy; we got “Magic” Jake Dumas, and we’re trying to get this new gimmick out there and we need someone for him to work.’ Mark was nice enough to be like, ‘Well you got Cazana over here. He’s Prichard-trained, his family is in the business, and his dad wrestled for the National Wrestling Alliance.’ And that’s all she wrote. You know, I can’t thank Mark or Plunkett enough for just putting me in the right direction.”

“Country Gentleman” AJ Cazana. NWA photo by Edward-Daniel Simons Jr.

Cazana’s star has been rising in the NWA in singles action and tag-teaming with his “cousin” Andrews. “I wish we could have come up with something better on the spot than ‘The Country Gentlemen,’ but you know, it’s starting to stick,” he said. “It does seem to be catching fire from what I’ve been able to see here.”

As for his goals in professional wrestling in general, it’s very simple. “The goal is to have a WWE contract if I’m gonna be completely honest. I want that life-changing money, I wanna be able to pay off my mom’s bills and buy her a house, and all that stuff so she doesn’t ever have to work a day in her life again.”

As for the short term, he’s got his eyes on championship gold. “There’s no title, in my opinion, that is more prestigious than the Ten Pounds of Gold. If I can hold the same title Harley Race held, that’s something!”

When Cazana doesn’t wait tables part-time at JT Hannah’s in Pigeon Forge, TN, he keeps busy in the NWA.  For now, he and Andrews will be targeting the US Tag Team titles held by The Fixers (Jay Bradley & Wrecking Ball Legursky) at the live NWA Powerrr show this Tuesday, January 31st on the NWA channel on YouTube, and Cazana had this to say in preparation for the title fight: “For all of you ‘Fixers Rule’… if you all are down with tyranny and the patriarchy of kingdomships, we [America] fought that off once and I ain’t scared to fight it off again.”

TOP PHOTO: AJ Cazana sporting his “The Legacy” jacket. NWA photo