On episode 325 of The Art Of Wrestling With Colt Cabana, Anthony Carelli, better known by his ring name Santino Marella, talked about his WWE persona as well as his infamous bodybuilding contest against former WWE Superstar Cody Rhodes.
According to Carelli, he adopted an MMA-inspired gimmick in OVW and then-booker Paul Heyman gave him the 'Alexiev' surname for his character because WWE Chairman Vince McMahon is a big fan of Olympian Vasily Alekseyev and thought the name would endear Carelli to McMahon.
"When I was Boris Kolov, after Rip Rogers gave me the name Boris, now that's just my nickname. Like, 'Boris? What the hell? I've got to work with that?' All of a sudden, in the middle of the night, I go, 'my coach was Dan Kolov. I could be Boris Kolov.' And I think there wasn't that combination of Boris' and Kolovs yet." Carelli added, "and when I became Boris Alexiev, Paul Heyman gave me that last name because there was a famous Russian powerlifter, Alexiev, and Vince was a big fan, so he wanted to have the association. And if Vince hears 'Alexiev,' he'll have a positive image in his mind, which was brilliant on Paul's [part]. I love him."
On the subject of getting the Santino Marella character, Carelli said that Nova asked him if he spoke Italian and he took the advice of professional wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes, which was essentially to say 'yes' up front and figure it out later. In this instance, it worked out for Carelli, who won the WWE Intercontinental Championship on the night he debuted on WWE Monday Night RAW back in April of 2007.
"One day, I get a call from Nova and he's like, 'can you speak Italian?' and I remember Dusty Rhodes told me, the answer is 'yes' and then you'd better go learn how to speak Italian. And I said, 'yeah, of course, sure, my dad's from Italy' and they said, 'say something.' And I remember, I used to work out of town and I would put in this cassette, Basic Italian Phrases, so I just repeated a couple of things from the tape with a decent accent, and I could just picture them going around the room saying, 'it sounds like Italian.' And then they go, 'great, we're going to call you.' They sent me my passport and I flew the next day and I get to Italy on a Sunday and I'm kind of just chilling and walking around Milan."
Carelli claimed that he asked Nova what would become of his Boris Alexiev character and Nova told Carelli to forget Boris because the Santino character is an idea from McMahon himself.
"I remember talking to Nova. He goes, 'this character or whatever,' I don't know if he said 'Santino,' no, he said, 'Italian character.' And I'm like, 'what's going to happen to Boris?' And he's like, 'forget Boris! This is a Vince idea.' [Carelli replied] 'But I'm loyal to him. He got me hired! Yeah, that gimmick," Carelli recalled. "When I come to OVW, I'm doing battle arts stuff, which is why I'm standing out like a sore thumb because everyone's doing tackle, drop down, get it again. And I'm doing Germans, and Saito suplexes, all this crazy stuff, armlocks, so it got me hired and it's like, 'thank you for getting me hired. Now I have to forget you.'"
When the babyface presentation of Santino did not catch on with fans after a few months, the decision was made to turn 'The Milan Miracle' heel. Apparently, had Santino not worked out as a heel, he may have been repackaged again or released by WWE altogether.
"Santino was like a little babyface, whatever, and it didn't really catch so, [in] three, four months, I turned heel, later finding out if that didn't catch, it would've been a repackage or arrivederci." Carelli continued, "and for some reason, me speaking in an Italian accent and being a heel amused the right person. And there you go. Enjoy yourself."
As for the bodybuilding contest against Rhodes, Carelli indicated that he took the competition very seriously. The pose down was agreed upon in November 2008 and took place the following April, at the afterparty of WrestleMania 25.
"I took that serious. I was in good shape then. Cody Rhodes. The legendary 'Musclemania'. When we first got into the argument, not argument, but we're jaw-jacking back and forth. He was calling me fat because I had a little love handles for many years. I said, 'yeah, I can do this. If I lose this, I'll have a better physique than you.' Like, it's better suited for bodybuilding with my dimensions. And he was appalled, like, just appalled because he was in good shape at the time. And he's still in good shape, but so we made this contest in November, on the European tour in November, and we're having some drinks and we're being encouraged by the guys. We pick a date, the WrestleMania afterparty. In November, we made that date and we had to stick to it." Carelli remembered, "so we got into it. It was a bodybuilding contest, one-on-one. At first I was like 230-something [pounds], so I started cleaning up my diet and come January 1, I was 223. And on stage, I was 203. I just got [competitive], because it was a competition, s--t's on."
Additionally, Carelli suggested that portraying Santina at the time probably helped him defeat the formerly moustachioed grandson of a plumber in the flex off.
"That was the year I was Santina, so that actually kind of helped because I was trying to be a girl, so being smaller was good." Carelli said, "but I got a posing coach, got like the tights, I got into it. I won. Yeah, I won. I think Triple H [was scoring] and the crowd actually cheered at the end. It was at the afterparty on stage with the worst lighting, being a bodybuilder."
Click here to check out the show. If you use any of the quotes that appear in this article, please credit The Art Of Wrestling with an H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Source: The Art Of Wrestling