Claudio Castagnoli / Antonio Cesaro
|Antonio Cesaro and Aksana during WWE Smackdown at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Ontario, on Tuesday, September 11, 2011. Photo by Minas Panagiotakis, www.photography514.com
Claudio Castagnoli, also known as Antonio Cesaro during his work for the WWE, is widely known as the first Swiss-born wrestler to make a major impact in both the independent as well as the bigger wrestling scene. Double C is known for playing his European gimmick to a tee, going so far as to implicate European names and moves into his arsenal, namely various variations of the European uppercut or finishers like the Ricola bomb and Alpamare waterslide further remind the audience of his heritage. He is also fluent in five languages, counting his Swiss dialect. Due to his stay in the character-oriented promotion Chikara, Claudio has also played various different roles throughout his career and while most of them were connected to his cultural background, he also wrestled under gimmicks like "Very Mysterious Ice Cream" and "Tenshi Takami". He was also a staple in Ring of Honor for a long time, leading to him being among the top ten most matches in Ring of Honor history, even beating out Ring of Honor superstars like Bryan Danielson and Kevin Steen. But next to his success as a single star, it also has to be noted that the "Swiss sensation" is well known for being part of the "Kings of Wrestling" (mostly alongside Chris Hero) as well as several teams comprised of European connections like the "Bruderschaft des Kreuzes" or "Swiss Money Holding". His collaboration with the aforementioned Hero lead to the longest reign in ROH tag team title history with 363 days.
Growing up in Switzerland, Claudio began his early training under the tutelage of SigMasta Rappo against whom he also debuted in late 2000 for the German promotion wXw under the name "Double C". His debut match was already a title bout for the SWF Swiss title and though he came up short he would claim the then-vacant and renamed championship in June of the following year. During his reign, Castagnoli eventually teamed up with Ares to form Swi$$ Money Holding, a team of two Swiss bankers, who also premièred the wXw tag team titles, buying them after they debuted in July of 2001, only to lose them in their first defense that same night. They would go on to win the belts two more times for a combined reign of almost 400 days in the next two years. In July of 2003, the team was invited to the US to work for numerous independent companies such as Chikara, IWA Mid-South and CCW among others. Upon their return they would go on to claim multiple tag titles in various German and Swiss promotions while Double C reclaimed the SWF Powerhouse title and became the first Swiss wXw world heavyweight champion.
In 2004, Claudio was granted permanent residency in the US and therefor moved to the new world to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. The Swiss sensation performed for various promotions throughout the country but soon found a home in Chikara, ROH and CZW wherein he teamed up with Arik Cannon to win the 2005 tag world Grand Prix after which they formed the "Kings of Wrestling" alongside Chris Hero. After losing team member Cannon due to him leaving the company, the group began their run in winning Chikara's tag team titles, namely "Chikara Campeonatos de Parejas" as well as Ring of Honor's and CZW's respective belts in less than a year span and at one point even held all three championships simultaneously. The pair was forced to drop all three titles in November 2006 after news broke that Castagnoli had signed a WWE developmental deal. Hero turned on his partner in Chikara and left him in Ring of Honor in favor of Larry McSweeney's "Sweet and Sour Inc." which lead to the end of the tag team even though Claudio's stint in World Wrestling Entertainment was short-lived and he returned to the indie scene in early 2007 with close to no off-time from the independent circuit.
Castagnoli returned to Chikara and Ring of Honor while also having occasional matches for FIP, but never returned to CZW. Though he held their tag team titles before his absence and sided with the company during the 2006 ROH invasion, Double C would never appear in the promotion again. Instead, he returned to his former home Chikara as "Very Mysterious Ice Cream", but was unmasked at the same event. He went on to feud with his former partner Chris Hero in several promotions at once, being forced to team with his nemesis on occasion but mostly fighting against the Sweet and Sour Inc. stable. During his singles run, he was able to secure multiple, though unsuccessful title shots and eventually turned heel through beating down fan favorite Bryan Danielson after being eliminated from a contenders match by the aforementioned wrestler. In turning, Claudio embraced his European heritage to an even further extend and joined Prince Nana's posse, the "Embassy". Castagnoli also turned in Chikara, starting a long-lasting feud with Eddie Kingston as part of the "Bruderschaft des Kreuzes" alongside former partner Ares among others. Double C became the first two-time tag champion in the promotion and made an unsuccessful run for the Grand Championship at the end of his run with the company.
Though he would be denied in his claim in Chikara, the Swiss sensation managed to win the then-vacant PWG world championship in late 2010 to further cement his legacy as a singles wrestler. At the same time, Claudio reunited with his former on-and-off rival and partner Chris Hero to reintroduce the "Kings of Wrestling" in ROH. Managed by Shane Hagadorn, the infamous couple was soon able to gain success, winning the Ring of Honor tag team belts off of the Briscoes and breaking their reign record during their streak in 2010 and 2011 in the process. After their 363-day run, they lost the titles to the "world's greatest tag team" in Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin and were unable to reclaim the championship in several followup matches against the duo before both Castagnoli and Hero were invited for a tryout match in the WWE and subsequently signed. Claudio moved to the promotion's farm league in September of 2011 while medical reasons delayed Chris' invitation until February of the following year.
With his name changed to Antonio Cesaro he quickly involved himself in a feud against Richie Steamboat for the aforementioned's FCW-15 title. Unsuccessful in his pursuit, he simultaneously made his television debut for Smackdown, defeating Tyson Kidd in his first tryout match. His character emphasized his multilingual background and he was quickly pushed against then-reigning US-champion Santino Marella. After capturing said belt at SummerSlam, making him the first Swiss and first mainland European to ever hold the US title in WWE history, and after Finlay and Sheamus, the third European overall to hold the belt.
Cesaro went on to defend his championship on Raw, Smackdown, Superstars, NXT and several Pay-Per-Views, feuding with R-Truth and The Miz in the process before ultimately succumbing to Kofi Kingston in April of 2013. During his run, Antonio took part in his first ever Royal Rumble and was able to participate in matches against main-event talent like John Cena and Randy Orton, though ultimately in losing efforts. After losing the United States title, Cesaro began a short feud with newcomer and former independent star Sami Zayn while also siding with Zeb Colter alongside Jack Swagger to form the "Real Americans" on tv. Cesaro, as an immigrant was invited into the group because of his respect to the country and legal entry into the US. The pair went on to fight several tag matches and appeared together in the 2013 Money in the Bank PPV, Swagger even willing to sacrifice the win in favor of his new partner. The duo was unsuccessful in the match however and subsequently concentrated on tag team matches in the WWE's already stacked division.
Jan. 7, 2014: Cesaro a big part of WWE tag team revival
Dec. 14, 2012: Antonio Cesaro: 'I'm a doctor of wrestling'
Sep. 3, 2007: Journeyman Castagnoli finds a home
-- Frederik Heinen
ANTONIO CESARO / CLAUDIO CASTAGNOLI STORIES