RECAP AND REVIEW: Prime Time with Sean Mooney with Santino Marella on what got him hooked on wrestling, the sitcom character he based his gimmick after, the wrestlers he trained to be like, making Vince McMahon laugh, bringing realism to Battle Arts

Prime Time with Sean Mooney: Santino Marella

Release Date: October 31st, 2018

Run time: 1:15:38


Sean welcomes Anthony Carella aka Santino Marella to the show.

Watching wrestling as a kid

  • Santino used to watch the WWF in the ’80s and ’90s.
  • The first match he saw was a cage match between Jimmy Snuka and Don Muraco that got bloody. The WWF put censored across the screen which drew him to wrestling. When Hogan came along, that’s when Santio got hooked.
  • Back then the wrestlers were larger than life.
  • During one of Santino’s judo classes, the WWF was doing a show at the same building. Davey Boy, Ricky Steamboat, the Iron Sheik and King Kong Bundy was there. Everyone was iconic.
  • At that time there was no digital media and only 24 channels. Everyone would know who the wrestlers were as opposed to now where it’s diluted
  • Santino liked Billy Jack Haynes and Hercules Hernandez who had matches at WrestleMania but not the main event. You also had Greg Valentine and Tito Santana, who had a story. Everyone back then had a rivalry that seems to live on. Plus they had cartoons and music videos.
  • Santino doesn’t think that can be replaced because kayfabe is gone. Now people watch for entertainment as opposed to emotional investment

Growing up

  • Santino was into baseball and judo. He begged his mom to put him in martial arts and she chose Judo.
  • Up to his teen years he was doing both but had to choose one. He chose judo because he didn’t feel he was developing in baseball (which was actually due to an eye condition he didn’t know he had at the time).
  • He did Judo through high school and university. He was on the Canadian national team and competed internationally. He also had a child in university and realized he needed to start making money to support his family.
  • While wrestling in university he discovered the data of one of his teammates was in the WWF named Don Kolloff. Once he found that out, he realized he found his destiny.

Getting into the Business and Japan

  • He started pro wrestling training late at 28.
  • Judo helped him with wrestling because he was comfortable with falling (bumping) from Judo training. It takes some time to build up that comfort.
  • Santino was a bit of a Judo prodigy. He was one of the youngest black belts in Canadian history. He thinks he didn’t realize his full potential in Judo because he had a child early. Becoming a father changed his course.
  • He started training pro wrestling in 2002 and had his first match in 2003.
  • He realized wrestling in Ontario wasn’t going to work and he needed to get more eyes on him.
  • He had a connection with the school Battle Arts in Japan and went there to continue training.
  • In Japan, they would train like fighters. While there he did some pro wrestling and pankration.
  • He had an altercation with one of the other trainees in the dressing room which led to his first an only MMA fight.


  • By accident he overstayed his work Visa and was banned from going to Japan for a year. This led Santino to OVW. He didn’t get invited rather he paid to go and learn. Coming from Japan have him some credibility in OVW
  • Back then there were developmental territories in Tennessee, OVW and Deep South. OVW and Deep South shut down and became FCW.
  • He started in the beginners class then graduated to intermediate which is where he met Rip Rogers who gave him the vast majority of his skill set.
  • He then graduated to the advance class which was his game plan. The advance class was where the developmental talent was. If there were 25 in that class, 22 would have developmental contracts and three were guys that were just in the class. Santino would have been one of the three.
  • Agents would be sent down to watch the advanced class and the office watched OVW television.
  • Santino had a chance to work in front of Dean Malenko. At the time he was working more of a submission based style, which was different than his later WWE character.
  • Paul Heyman watched Santino one day and wanted to debut Santino on OVW TV.
  • Rip gave Santino the nickname Boris and his wrestling coach was Don Koloff. Santino was originally going to call himself Boris Koloff but Heyman called him Boris Alekseyev. Alekseyev was a weightlifting champion who Vince was a fan of, Paul thought this name might get him noticed by Vince.
  • Santino had an OK Russian accent and would talk some Croatian during his promos as this character.
  • Growing up in Mississauga all his friends were first generation Canadians so he was surrounded by various nationalities. That’s where he learned how to talk with accents and where he got ‘sunamagun’ from.
  • While in OVW he had a few opportunities to work on the main roaster. He once did a dark match with Jamie Noble.

Getting Signed

  • In 2004 Santino went to Japan. In 2005 he was at OVW. In 2006 get got signed.
  • In 2007, he got a call from the office asking if he could speak Italian. He had learned some Italian from a tourist cassette and even though he couldn’t speak it, he could regurgitate what he learned. He regurgitated to the writers and they said they were going to fly him out as an Italian guy. Thankfully he knew the Italian accent and didn’t have to speak it much.
  • They flew him to Italy where he debuted on a Monday Night RAW. The Crowd was behind him
  • He used his dad’s hometown as his hometown.
  • In 2018 Santino finally made it to Italy and had learned enough Italian by then to do a few interviews in Italian.

Working in the WWE and inspiration for the character

  • He was given an opportunity because of talent. He had won a few matches and beating Chris Masters and Shelton Benjamin.
  • He had the makings of a babyface but the fans might have felt he was being force fed so they started booing him and they turned him heel to see what would happen.
  • As soon as they turned him heel, he tickled Vince’s funny bone which basically meant job security.
  • He used ’80s sitcoms as inspiration for his character. He was a comedy fan and would watch Johnny Carson and David Letterman. The Santino character was based a lot off Archie Bunker.
  • He developed his comedic timing from hanging out with all his friends who were always joking around. They were basically smart a**es they all grew up together through high school and university.

Fans reaction to the Santino character

  • Fans would tell Santino that he was the reason they started watching wrestling again.
  • Or he would be someone’s wife’s favorite character.
  • Or he would be someone’s grandmother’s favorite or the wrestler’s wives favorite.
  • He was willing to make a fool of himself which people appreciated and that’s when he knew he was onto something.
  • People would even send him pictures of being dressed up as Santino for Halloween.

How Santino views his spot

  • There was a subculture of people being dissatisfied with their spots on the roster.
  • Santino was different because when he locked down that niche he didn’t have a lot of competition as a comedic wrestler.
  • Lance storm said Santino may not be a main event but he would have job security and longevity. Slow and steady wins the race. Plus it was fun.
  • As he progressed, the writers had more faith in him. At first they would write stuff for him. Then they would give him bullet points. Then they would let him do promos his way.
  • He wrote an ’80s type sitcom and presented it to Vince. Vince was impressed and said they were going to do it but due to circumstances it didn’t work out. He still wants to do this someday.
  • Santino definitely trained to be like a Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero. The Santino character wasn’t what he intended to be but it was an absolute blessing and so much fun.

The appeal of the Santino character

  • When he won the IC title the first few times he would win in a comical way.
  • Comedy characters can’t be a tough guy because it doesn’t work for that type of character. But they can have those types of moments. He thinks if his neck wasn’t hurt he may have won the WWE title for a short run.
  • Coming so close all those times is the romance behind the Santino character. Fans wanted him to do a little better but never got that satisfaction and were left with wanting a little more.
  • Santino can work in the ring well. There are youtube videos of the Boris Alekseyev character that people thought were cool but you couldn’t use that character for 10 years.

The Fastest Elimination and Donald Trump

  • Santino holds the record for the fastest elimination for Royal Rumble.
  • When they told him he was going to be eliminated quickly he asked if he could try to break the record.
  • They agreed and then he had to figure out how to do it and nailed it.
  • The WWE has tried to break it but haven’t been able to yet.
  • In this instance, he turned lemons into lemonade.
  • Santino was also fired by Donald Trump once.


  • The Santino was a male chauvinist character Vince found to be funny.
  • At the time Santino was teamed up with Beth Phoenix who was the dominant one in the relationship so Santino dressed up like a woman to win a women’s battle royal.
  • It was only supposed to be a one time thing but Vince thought it was hilarious and it ended up lasting for three years. In his 10 year career that’s something people remember.
  • He had no hesitation doing the role. The first time he was getting makeup, Pussycat Doll lead singer Nicole Scherzinger thought he was a cross dresser.

Battle Arts and Wrestling Styles

  • In 2004 MMA was growing and fans are more educated and know what real grappling and fighting looks like
  • As a coach he feels he teaches his students where he thinks the industry is going to be
  • He tells students they have to cross train and embrace every aspect of being a wrestler.
  • Battle Arts is wrestling school and MMA. If someone is training pro wrestling for two days, he’ll get them to do Muay Thai and BJJ on other days. This helps expedite the coordination and footwork you need to be a high level wrestler.
  • If you want to be an indie wrestler or do this as a bucket list that’s one thing but if you want to be at the highest level you have to train like an athlete.
  • He wants to bring some realism to Battle Arts, such as win-loss records and top 10 rankings. He wants people to suspend every last ounce of disbelief and get them emotionally invested.
  • This hopefully gets a massive reaction at the end which is the only reaction you should be concerned with and not try to pop people with dives.
  • Santino says one guy he trained with paralyzed himself and eventually passed away.
  • There’s different genres now like lucha, hardcore, strong style and classic style. Every show should have a little bit of each and people should be able to work with others.
  • It’s an interesting time because of digital platforms. There’s a resurgence of independent territories and if they go viral they can be watched by a large number of people all over the world.

An appearance from Santino The Character

  • Santino says he’s only 5’ 10” and he may not measure up to a lot of other wrestlers sizes.
  • He says people say he had a hall of fame career but times will tell.

Show wrap

Sean thanks Santino for being on the podcast. Catch him @milanmiracle on twitter, @themilanmiracle on Instagram and check out his website for more details on his school.

Rating 9/10

Once again, this podcast hit one out of the park. Sean is an excellent interviewer and Santino was an excellent interview. He’s smart, funny and has a good views on the business. I wasn’t a huge fan of the character when he first came out but as it progressed I started liking him a lot. It was a fun character and he did some really funny stuff and had, as he says, those moments. Plus, he was around for 10 years. You have to have talent to be around for that long. If you have limited time to listen to stuff, this pod is one I’d put near the top of your playlist.

About Joe:

Joe is a long time wrestling fan from Toronto. He is a co-host on the Pull Apart Podcast with Jeff Rush and Caitlin Lavelle as well as a contributor to One of his life goals is to be a guest host on one of Wade Keller’s post show podcasts.  He doesn’t consider himself any sort of expert, he just likes wrestling. Check him out on twitter and instagram @ja113.

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