Anthony Carelli (aka Santino Marella) recently spoke with Wrestlezone’s Bill Pritchard ahead of his fight at Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport II this past weekend. Carelli spoke about his career leading up to getting the Santino gimmick, which included his run as ‘Boris Alexiev’ in (then) WWE’s developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling. He noted how the gimmick came as a result of his legitimate combat sports background and how he wanted to stand out. Carelli says the gimmick was also helped by feedback from Paul Heyman and Vince McMahon, and he took advantage of the opportunity while he had the chance to work the gimmick.
“It’s interesting because, when somebody comes from somewhere else, they’re automatically elevated a little bit. I came from Japan, that was the only connection we had, and I had to make stuff happen relatively quickly. So I went there, and because I was, former Canadian judo champion, that helped elevate me in Japan, but I still had to pay my dues and worked my way to everybody in the dojo, started getting some matches there, and everything was going very well. But I overstayed one of my tourist visas, because we were trying to get a work visa, but it was taking longer than I thought, so I overstayed one of my tourist visas, and I was kind of banned from Japan for a year. Then I went to OVW, and because I just had a stint in Japan it kind of elevated me there a little bit.
My whole understanding of professional wrestling is, you want to be different. So if everyone is doing lock up, headlock, tackle—I’m not going to do that, I’m going to be different. I’m going to give you a sidekick, a judo throw, and it completely worked. Every time the producers from WWE would come and have a look at one of the developmental talents, I would stand out because I was doing something different. So the character, Rip Rogers just gave me the nickname Boris, and my original coach was Don Kolov up here in Toronto. So I put the two together, so originally I was Boris Kolov and my best friend is Croatian. So I would be speaking Croatian, but then the fans in Louisville didn’t know the difference, so it was quite the believable character.
And then Paul Heyman was actually the one who gave me the ‘Alexiev’ second name. Because Vince McMahon was a big fan of the Russian powerlifter [Vasily] Alekseyev. So just to have that name association, that’s the character that started on OVW TV, and that’s the character that ultimately got me signed. Then when they called me and they said, ‘You may debut as this Italian guy,’ they kind of tested my Italian, it was good enough to convince the people that I was Italian. And that was it. I felt bad, I felt like I was betraying Boris, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. You gotta take advantage of the opportunities as they come, because they might not come again.”