Like Edge before him and Paige after him, Santino Marella had to end his in-ring career earlier than expected due to a neck injury. Marella last wrestled for WWE in early 2014 before undergoing his third neck surgery and ending his career.
He talked about that moment when he was told his career was over when he joined Lilian Garcia's podcast.
"I knew it was coming. I saw specialists years ago that said you don't need surgery yet. I had heard it at University; it had affected my judo career as well. The whole career I was protecting it and physio and traction and stretching it out while on the road. The flare ups got worse and they got closer together almost it got to the point where it was like, okay," said Marella.
"Also, one time I was warming up for a match and I fell asleep in the car for a second but my neck was stiff, and I was warming up but I couldn't move it at all. If I moved it a centimeter, it was like a nerve shot. I told a doctor that I couldn't move my neck at all so that was it. It was at a live event. They pulled my match from the card. I couldn't move at all, it was weird, like an electric shot.
"They had me do the surgery and the expectation was that I was going to come back from it and then there was like a freak accident where a couple of screws from the titanium plate came out and they were loose in there and one turned. This is three months after the surgery where they had to cut in and take out the titanium and the screws so that one I think really messed it up the worst and if we didn't have to go back in, I was hoping it was going to be okay. But after that it never got well enough to go back in there."
Marella spent about a year-and-a-half filling various roles for WWE after his in-ring retirement including as SmackDown's guest GM and hosting shows on the WWE Network. But eventually WWE stopped using him and released him in May 2016.
"I was in charge of that realization where it's been a couple of years and I thought I was getting better and then I kind of tripped. I put my hand down and it just didn't feel good at all," stated Marella. "I ended up calling the WWE where I told them that I am waiting just like they are if this is going to get better but it's not getting better and it's been two years, so I told them that I don't think I can wrestle anymore.
"Then we were talking about a non-wrestling role like a General Manager or something like that and that was the plan. All the time during your injury that you have, they can add that on to your contract. So, I was off for like two years and my contract would have been expired by that time but I figured, okay, I have two years because I was off for two years and that is what they told me. And then one day they called and said that they weren't going to exercise their option to extend it so my contract will be up next month. It was crazy."
While Marella was initially in shock after having been employed by WWE for 11 years, he then realized that he now had the opportunity to turn the page on wrestling and seek out new endeavors. He did just that by becoming an on-air analyst for Sportsnet which is in his hometown of Toronto.
"It felt like I snuck out of this time warp, like, I'm me again. I'm Anthony again. It was nice to be back. It was very interesting. I was ready for it and prepared. The gym was up and running. It was a pretty smooth transition where I got a job on Sportsnet almost immediately for The Aftermath in Canada, working on my national presence in Canada because a lot of Canadians didn't know I was Canadian. They're used to Santino from Italy. It was actually a really good transition," revealed Marella.
Even though Marella's wrestling days are over, his daughter's are just beginning. His daughter Bianca made her pro wrestling debut in Canada last year and Marella talked about watching his daughter in the ring.
"I think when she is having her time there, I want it to be private. Like, I kind of want to be in the booth watching and having fun like a dad instead of a character, but it's definitely going to be fun," said Marella. "My son is nine months old and hopefully if she's still there in 10 years he will remember that his sister was there wrestling. She saw me and he gets to see her.
"It's the sacrifice. You put so much into it that people don't get; yeah it's fun, but it's hard, especially when you're married and have a family."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Chasing Glory w/ Lilian Garcia with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Peter Bahi contributed to this article.