The ‘Milan Miracle,’ Santino Marella made his WWE debut on April 16th 2007 emerging from the crowd to win the Intercontinental Championship from Umaga.
While Marella, real name Anthony Carelli, made a whirlwind arrival on RAW, he was from an overnight success. Marella began wrestling in 2002, before joining WWE’s developmental brand OVW in 2005.
By the time he arrived in Milan for his debut, the Ontario, Canada native was 33 years old, a fact not lost on those around him in the WWE locker room.
Appearing on Oral Sessions with Renee Paquette, Marella recalled a conversation with Edge the night of his debut, which resulted in the Hall of Famer calling him old.
“When I debuted, I was 33-years-old,”
“I remember I was in the locker room, and Edge was there. He’s my age, right. He’s 33.
“He’s like, ‘How old are you, man?’ I’m like, ‘I’m 33.’ He’s like, ‘You’re already old.’ I said, ‘Well, sorry, I got a little distracted. I kind of detoured, you know?’”
Marella then turned his attention to his journey from relative obscurity to Intercontinental Championship glory. After eventually earning a contract with OVW, Marella recalled training sessions where he was being watched by Paul Heyman and earning good reports from Hall of Famer Arn Anderson.
Prior to appearing on RAW, Marella who had been performing as Boris Alexiev, said that he got a phone call asking if he could speak Italian.
“One day, I was driving up to Elizabethtown, Kentucky for an OVW house show, and I get this call. Vince had this idea for someone to come out of the audience in Italy – cause Raw was in Milan. He’s like, ‘Is there anybody from developmental that’s Italian or from Italian heritage that can speak Italian?’ So, my phone goes off, and Boche asks, ‘Boris, you’re background is Italian, right?’ I go, ‘yeah.’ He goes, ‘Can you speak Italian?’ Marella began on how his Raw debut in Italy came along. “A month earlier, Dusty Rhodes told us, ‘If they [WWE management] ever call you and ask you to do anything, the answer is yes. Then, you better go learn it.’ So, when they asked me if I could speak Italian, I’m like, ‘yes!’
The former Intercontinental Champion said that he managed to deliver a couple of lines of Italian over the phone, before being told he was going to be flown to Italy to make his debut.
“I had a tourist Italian [tape] set that I used to play non-stop. I regurgitated a couple of lines from the tape, and I was on speakerphone. There were a lot of writers [on the phone]. I said [in Italian] ‘I want to buy a half kilo of cheese.’ I guess it was enough to convince them that it sounded pretty good. They were like, ‘That’s great! We’re going to fly you out tomorrow, to Italy. You might, fingers crossed, debut on Monday Night Raw as this Italian guy.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, what?’ I went to Borders, the bookstore, and bought an eight DVD pack of Italian, and on the entire flight, I was trying to absorb as much as I could.”
Marella added that it was only when he arrived in Milan that he was told he was wining the Intercontinental Title.
“As soon as I walk into the door, the production meeting is coming out, and Arn Anderson comes out of the door, and he has papers, you know, [and he’s like], ‘You’re having a good day, kid. You’re getting the IC strap,’ and walks away. I’m like, ‘what did he just say?’ Marella asked with hesitation in his voice. Then, Johnny Ace was there and said, ‘Hey, Vince wants to talk to ya,’ and I go meet Vince. Then, they brought me out to my seat.
“It was the first segment, or maybe a couple of segments in, anyway his [Vince] music hits and they [the fans] rush the barricade. I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, should I have done that?’ Cause I’m 6-7 people back. I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, he isn’t going to see me.’ And then, once he starts talking, they [the fans] filter back to their seats, and then he introduces Umaga. They [the fans] run again, and I go, ‘oh, God, I missed it again!’ I’m eight people back now; he isn’t going to see me. Security tells them [the fans] to go back to their seats. And then, he issues the Open Challenge. I push myself to the front, and then he saw me. It worked out. We did it!”
Santino Marella stayed with WWE until 2016 after transitioning to a more comedic character. He ended his time with the company as a two time Intercontinental Champion, as well as a Tag Team and United States Champion.
Since leaving WWE, Marella’s daughter Bianca Carelli had her own WWE try-out. During an interview with Chris Van Vliet, the would-be second generation star said it was a lack of in-ring experience which held her back.
H/t to Wrestling Inc for the transcription.