Cesaro on Elimination Chamber loss, "Talking Smack" promo and tag team wrestling
By Ryan Satin
FOX Sports Analyst
If anyone in WWE started 2021 off on the right foot, it has been SmackDown Superstar Cesaro.
The veteran wrestler split from his tag team partner of over a year in January and quickly started to gain momentum in singles competition with wins over former World Champions like Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler.
He also earned a spot in the SmackDown Elimination Chamber (which took place over the weekend) and cut a passionate promo on Talking Smack the week before which caught the attention of fans and non-wrestling fans alike.
In case you didn’t see it, here’s what I’m talking about:
While "The Swiss Cyborg" may not have won the Elimination Chamber match on Sunday to earn a Universal title shot against Roman Reigns, what he did gain was renewed hope from his fanbase that after nearly ten years in WWE his best is still yet to come.
This week Cesaro joined me via Zoom to chat about his recent momentum, being surprised about the sudden split from Shinsuke Nakamura, having chemistry with so many different tag team partners, speaking from the heart on Talking Smack and more.
Read the full transcript below.
RS: I want to start this conversation off by going back a few weeks ago to mid-January where things really started to ramp up for you on Smackdown. After teaming with Shinsuke Nakamura for over a year, the two of you, without explanation, began to go your separate ways on TV after Nakamura won that Gauntlet Match.
Was the sudden split and singles pushes for the both of you something that caught you by surprise?
CESARO: Yes. Short answer, right?
I always thought me and Shinsuke were an awesome team, but as good as we were as a team, there are many singles goals that we have as singles competitors, too.
When Shinsuke did so well in that gauntlet, I thought that was awesome, you know? It gave him the chance to shine and he got his old theme music back which is awesome! It made me so happy. So, I was very happy for him. I’m still hoping he’s going to win the Intercontinental Championship.
We’re still friends, we still talk, we still have coffee together. So, yeah. Hell yeah. Both of us are doing well, so things are great, right?
RS: How did you feel overall about the work you and Shinsuke did as a team? Because you guys had some awesome matches together, even though you were kinda just thrown together at the time, and ended up making the team work really well.
CESARO: I had a lot of fun teaming with Shinsuke, even in the beginning when it was me, Shin and Sami. Last year has been so crazy and I think a lot of the stuff that me and Shinsuke did as a team would probably have been looked at in a different light if there would have been a live crowd.
But, also, I feel like with all the things we all had to deal with, and without their being a live crowd, we had some very entertaining stuff with the Champion’s Lounge and the various fun backstages that we had. I was thinking back at the beginning of the year when we were in Vancouver and it was me and Sami in the concert, and Elias, and the crowd was just going absolutely berserk.
I was just like, "Man, how much I wish we could be part of a crowd like that." So, I feel like we had a lot of awesome moments that may have gotten overshadowed by the bigger picture.
I had a great time teaming with Shinsuke.
We had great chemistry and being a fan of his for a long time, just having, essentially, the closest seat to his work is awesome.
RS: When I was interviewing Sami Zayn last week he talked about how he felt some of the stuff you guys had been doing on live events before COVID was some of the best stuff that he had been doing in his career at the time. He said he was really loving it. Did you feel the same way?
CESARO: 100%. It was a lot of fun because we – Shin, him and I – we had a lot of fun on live events because he is such a good antagonist and, you know, we always riled up the crowd really well.
We worked with a bunch of different babyfaces. So, I thought our act as a trio was so much fun because all three of us are so completely different and unique in our own way, but when you bring it together it just kind of works … and it was awesome. We had so much fun.
Even in, like, backstages and stuff we did on TV. The one Champion’s Lounge where he comes in and was upset he wasn’t invited, and we kick him out, just the chemistry there, you can just see it. We just had fun playing off each other and on live events that came across really big. So, I had a lot of fun as well. Yeah. Nothing but good memories in that.
RS: It amazes me how good you are at building chemistry with a new partner as quickly as you do. I feel like you’ve done it so many times throughout your WWE career where it’s kind of like, "Oh, okay. This is a new team for Cesaro," and then, after a few months, you’re like, "God, this team rules."
It happened with you and Tyson Kidd, with you and Sheamus, it happened with you and Jack Swagger. I just think it’s cool that you’re able to find chemistry with people so easily. I don’t think that’s something every wrestler has.
CESARO: Oh, thank you. I love the team aspect of it. I loved my singles run, and that’s what I’m focusing on right now, but teamwork, it’s like you get somebody to play off of.
Some of my favorite movies growing up were buddy comedies or buddy action movies. We all love them. It’s because the interactions between those two characters, right? That’s what makes it special.
I feel every time you’re in a tag team some people think like, "Oh, I don’t want to be in a tag team. I want to do this."
But, it’s like, no, you get a chance to actually show way more personality because you have constantly somebody that you can run something off on or you can come up with a fun new catchphrase. Whatever it is that you want to do, it’s instantly you have double the validation. You can’t just cheer on yourself. You’ll look like an idiot. It just looks stupid, right? But, like, you can have your buddy say, "Oh, that was funny," you know what I mean?
So, there’s different possibilities, you know? I feel like I always try to play to people’s strengths and then that just organically creates growth and that helps me elevate whatever I’m trying, or get better at that. So, I feel like that’s just something very fun.
RS: During a recent interview I did with Kevin Owens, he talked about how he feels like there are some higher ups in WWE who start to take it for granted when a performer is always putting on good matches, and that, sometimes, you then have to have a few special performances that are a bit above that to make people take notice again.
Do you agree with that?
Because I feel like you’re very much one of those people who is so good in the ring that people almost start to take it for granted.
CESARO: Yes. Again, to the thing before. If you say it, it’s one way. But, if I go, "Oh, I’m so good people take it for granted," it sounds weird.
I just feel, in general, in WWE, there’s so many good performers and there’s so many good matches, being on television on any given night that those matches would have been main events, you know what I mean?
In another day and age, or another time on another show, that you almost forget how good those matches are.
You just watch a match from Monday Night RAW, like the New Day against—for example, it just popped into my head because we’re talking tag teams—RETRIBUTION. That match was awesome. You know what I mean? And it was just, "Oh, yeah, that was a match on RAW." There’s like Sheamus and Jeff Hardy, right? And that match was awesome as well, and it’s just like, "Oh, yeah. That’s what we do at RAW."
Then on Smackdown we have those crazy matches. "Yeah, yeah. It’s me and Bryan. Okay, cool." You have so many Superstars that are coming into their own, or came into their own, that are here now in WWE and so many up and coming superstars that are hungry, that want to prove something, that it’s kind of hard to stand out because everybody is performing at such a high level.
And, yes, people may start taking it for granted, but that’s with everything, right? Once the quality rises you just have to find a way to be better and that’s the awesome challenge.
Because you cannot just stay coasting. No, you have to step it up every single time and that’s kind of what I love … because it challenges you to be more creative, to get better, to perform better, to come up with something new. So, I think it’s something that happens everywhere in life.
RS: Yeah, absolutely. Even musicians. They’ll put out a great album and then they have to top it and they’re like, "But, I just put out twelve songs that are gonna last forever. What do you mean?!?" So, yeah, I get what you’re saying.
CESARO: Exactly. So, it is a challenge, especially for us on a weekly basis, and I understand completely the sentiment that Kevin had, and I do agree with it, but I also think it’s definitely a challenge for all of us and I like new challenges.
RS: I know you and Daniel Bryan have worked together for a long time, but from an outsider perspective, he seems to be a performer who is very focused on helping as many of his peers level up as possible right now. What did it mean for you to get those two recent wins against him on Smackdown to start gaining some singles momentum again?
CESARO: I’ve known Daniel for so long, since … yeah, almost fifteen, sixteen years or more, and it’s always a privilege and it’s always so much fun, most importantly, to step in there with Bryan because you never know what to expect. It’s one of those things where you’re like, "Okay, how can we top what we did last time?" We never were like, "Oh, okay. We have this great idea, but let’s hold onto this in case."
No, we don’t know when the next time is that we’ll wrestle. We don’t know when the next time we get that much time. So, let’s just go out and do it all.
To gain some momentum against somebody like him, who has done the things he has done and had possibly, in my mind, one of, if not the greatest, WrestleMania moments at WrestleMania 30 of all time, that’s incredibly special. He, like you said, does his best to help elevate and make other people better. Which is something that I would like to think I pride myself on, to just make everybody step up their game and be as good as they can.
RS: In the midst of this recent push that you’ve been getting, you went on Talking Smack and you cut one of the best promos of your career. Was that all just from the heart and how you were feeling at the time? Because it really motivated people. Even non-wrestling fans were super motivated by the stuff you were saying.
CESARO: Oh, good. Because I wanted to talk to everybody.
In my head, and that was not pre-meditated, it was like, "Okay, you’re going to go on Talking Smack." It was one of those nights where we had a six man tag match before the chamber, so it was just a lot of stuff going on. So, I didn’t have time to think.
It was just like, "Okay, you’re going to go on Talking Smack, and then we’re going to do this, and you have the last word. So, make it good." I was like, "…… alright." Again, I was like, "Ahhh!" I didn’t even have time to think and then I was like, "Okay, I kind of have an idea what I want to say." Because I really was thinking about how I am extremely grateful for everybody that has supported me and I also feel that I found the perfect words to say how I feel.
Because I appreciate everybody out there, when I watch the news or when I look online, people who just work and they do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Not because somebody gives them a pat on the back or they get some reward for it. They do it day after day because that’s how their fiber is made, that’s how they are.
I do appreciate it and every time I get asked, "Who is your inspiration? Who is your role model?" It’s like, I can’t just pick a person. It can be literally anybody, you know what I mean? People who just work day in and day out and they do hard physical work, or labor or whatever, that’s who I admire and that’s why I want to work hard every day and I think I work hard every day to get better.
When I get in the ring I want to be the absolute best so that when they see me they’ll be like, "Oh, man, he puts in the work."
I just found the perfect words and I was very happy and I was humbled by the feedback I got. Like you said, because it was just from people like, "Man, I feel so motivated. That really helped me. Thank you," or it was from different fields, people who don’t even watch wrestling, and I’m like, "That’s really cool."
Because something I really miss over the last year was our fans, and the interactions with them, because you can just get in the rabbit hole of day in, day out, same thing, day in, day out especially when you’re on the road, or when we work, and the interactions with the fans always made that so special. Now we kind of lost that.
Then I found a different way to communicate with them and it just made me very happy. So, that’s a very long winded answer to that.
RS: I love hearing all that because it motivated me, too, dude. Like, honestly, it’s cool to hear it was off the cuff and how you were feeling because after I tweeted that video, I saw so many people quote tweet it saying, "This inspired me to go run through a wall and I don’t even watch wrestling."
CESARO: Nice. That’s awesome.
RS: A lot of people said it. So, yeah, your mission was definitely accomplished there. In that promo, you mentioned how you hope that hard work pays off. Do you think 2021 is gonna be the year that you finally get a World title shot?
CESARO: I hope so. You know, and again, there’s a lot of people tweeting me going, "Oh, you deserve this, you deserve that." I’m like, "Well, I feel like when I," how do I say this correctly, "when I get it, I’ll deserve it," you know what I mean? Because, I’m sure you know when you talk to many people, everybody is the victim in their own story kind of. I don’t know if I said that right.
RS: That’s right.
CESARO: I feel like now it’s almost the norm to look at the, "Oh, poor me. I have it so hard." And I just took a look around and, even on Talking Smack, I’m like "I don’t. I’m here."
I live a really, really great life thanks to wrestling, thanks to WWE, and that’s why I was like, I love wrestling. I really do. Because it gave me all this platform and everything and I would like to pay that forward and motivate people and show them that, "Okay, you just work hard and you will get there."
RS: Well, the one thing I keep thinking about while we’re discussing this is that shirt. You’re wearing it now. You’re taunting me with it now. You’ve worn two of them based on that promo. I keep checking WWE Shop every day and it’s still not up there. What’s the deal? Are they going to put that shirt up for sale or what?
CESARO: I don’t know, Because I made those myself based off the promo because it got such a big response. I spoke from the heart, it spoke to a lot of fans, and I had one of my friends who helps me with all the designs. I was like, "This is the crazy stuff that goes on in my brain," and I drew a little thing, and he made it look awesome.
I was like, "Okay, cool." I put it on a shirt, I put it out there and I got a lot of responses. So, hopefully, we’ll get it in the shop soon.
But, yeah, I’m very happy and I want to be that kind of constant in people’s lives where they're like, "Okay, I just want to switch my brain off, watch wrestling, and have a good time." And they know, "Okay, there’s Cesaro. I know we’re going to get an awesome match"
I want to be there to represent everybody out there that works hard and, coming back to that title shot, I think when I get it, it will be very special and I would love it to be in front of a crowd again, you know? Because I feel like my fans, the WWE Universe, my Cesaro Section, they want to be there.
I want them to be part of it because I feel so many people were texting me, tweeting me, and they were like, "Don’t give up." Don’t worry, I’ll never give up. I’m too stubborn to.
I want them to be there because I feel like that will be a very special moment for all of us and I feel like that’s what we live for in wrestling and in life is to create cool moments with our friends and I think that will be one.
I had a privilege to have a lot of them in WWE already, even if they’re maybe not what people wanted. "Oh, but World Champion." Yeah, but we created some awesome memories together.
RS: Hell yeah. Of course.
CESARO: Let’s keep that going, you know?
RS: Well, you know, in that same vein of keeping it going and how you said in your promo that working in WWE was always your dream. There were recent reports stating you had signed a new contract with WWE. Is that accurate? Can you confirm if that’s true at all?
CESARO: Well … I could. I certainly could confirm or deny that.
What I love about this whole thing is there’s always some mystery to everything, right? And I feel like that air of mystery needs to stay with a lot of things because that’s what makes it magic, and that’s what makes it special. So, you know, who knows?
RS: Fair enough. Obviously you were pretty bummed after the Elimination Chamber since you didn’t get the title shot you were looking for.
[Cesaro plays sad trombone sound effect from soundboard]
RS: I was waiting for you to use the sound effects board this interview. That was the perfect time to use it.
CESARO: Thank you. Thank you.
RS: I know you’re probably bummed, but how did you feel about your work in the match from an in-ring stand point?
CESARO: Well, again, obviously I was bummed about losing, but I started the Chamber with Daniel Bryan and again, me and him had these couple of matches on Smackdown and then we got to be together in the Chamber and starting it together.
Man, like I said, every time I step into the ring with Daniel Bryan, it’s just so much fun. Then you have these extra components with Sami Zayn, who I’ve been in the ring with before and we have very good chemistry and that was the first time in a long time we’ve been in the ring against each other again.
And then Kevin Owens, Corbin, who, back when he came up from NXT to WWE, we had a run of live event matches that nobody ever saw. The people there, but nobody will ever see it and they were awesome. We had a lot of fun. So, it was kind of a callback to that.
Then, of course, Jey Uso, who recently had an awesome character development and a resurgence in his career as well.
I’ve worked him in so many matches before, like me and Tyson worked him, I think me and Swagger worked him, me and Sheamus worked him and I’m pretty sure me and Shinsuke worked him and his brother as well. Now I’m working him again and it’s singles and it’s just fresh, or at least to me it feels fresh, but the chemistry’s still there.
So, I had a lot of fun. It was also a long match that I could sink my teeth in. I was on a different podcast yesterday and I said every time you see me in the ring, I feel like, for the fans, you see the purest me. Because that’s just me, in there, having fun. No strings attached.
That’s what I do, I do what I love, and I just do whatever I want. So, I have a great time. From that perspective, I had lots of bumps and bruises because it is the Chamber. But, looking back, I was like, "Okay. That was fun."
RS: Lastly, I end all my interviews with three questions about the finishing move of the person I’m talking to. For you, that would be the Neutralizer. First, tell me what’s the best Neutralizer you ever delivered?
CESARO: I’ve done a bunch of fun ones. There’s like different ones. I did a bunch of fun ones with, for example, guys like Kofi where I did them out of nowhere, or I flipped them into it or something.
But, then I did the Neutralizer on The Great Khali or Big Show. That was just to a ginormous guy and it’s almost impossible to hit him with a move, and that’s why I’m happy I have a finishing move I can hit on anybody.
There’s another WWE superstar—
[Sound effect: "AND HIS NAME IS JOHN CENA, BAH-DAH-DAH-DAH"]
CESARO: —that I had some fun variations when I wrestled him ... and I got to hit the button, so, yeah.
RS: Second, who takes the Neutralizer the best?
CESARO: Oh, wow. That’s a good question.
I designed my moveset so that it’s very even, you know what I mean? I can hit it on everybody and it looks awesome.
So, I think that’s a question for the WWE Universe out there, all the fans. You tell me which Neutralizer you liked the most and who takes it the best and I’ll try to top it next time I get in the ring. I think that’s a fair deal because I always feel like I need new challenges.
Now, with the fans not being there live, just tweet me or something and let me what you want me to do and I’ll see if I can incorporate it in my next match!
RS: That’s easy enough. And lastly, what’s one Neutralizer you wish you could have back for whatever reason? Maybe it didn’t go off well or you wish you could do it again.
CESARO: I don’t know if I hit it on Roman, but if I could then I certainly would because that would mean I’m the Universal Champion, if you know what I’m saying? I don’t think I got to hit it on him, though.
Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know that there’s any Neutralizer that I would take back, because it usually leads to a victory. So, I’d be silly to say like, "Oh, I didn’t like that. I want that back."
RS: Alright, well, thank you so much for giving me the time day. I really appreciate it. I’m a huge fan of yours, so it was great getting to pick your brain for a little bit and I can’t wait to see what your "Road to WrestleMania" looks like as the weeks progress.
CESARO: Thanks, man. I’m extremely excited.
I always feel this is a special time going towards WrestleMania.
Everybody can feel the butterflies. To me, it’s usually the day after WrestleMania that I’m already focused on next year’s. So, I’m extremely excited. I’m excited about the report that maybe there’s gonna be fans at WrestleMania too, so fingers crossed.
And, yeah, thanks for having me. It was a lot of fun and I’ll let you know when the t-shirts come out finally.
Watch Cesaro every week on Friday Night SmackDown LIVE on FOX at 8pm Eastern.