Anthony Carelli won the WWE Intercontinental Title in his debut with the company as the performer Santino Marella in a match that became known as the Milan Miracle. Now he’s hoping for one more miracle—one that will allow him to return to the ring or face the possibility of retirement.
The Canadian, whose character plays the role of an Italian National, is nursing a neck injury that he thought was going to end his career after eight years in the WWE. In fact, he announced that on July 6 at a WWE show in Toronto.
His character entertained audiences with physical comedy, in particular with the sock puppet that became known as the Cobra. But the Cobra has been placed in hiding for now, pending the ability of his master to overcome the biggest challenge of his career.
“There’s multiple things wrong with my neck,” Carelli told me this week.
It began with something called stenosis, which is an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal, and evolved into arthritis. He required two procedures called rhizotomies, which are designed to relieve pain around the facet joints.
“I had some success with that, but the stenosis has increased to the point where it has to be fixed,” he said. “I’m not cleared for physical contact due to the severity of my stenosis, but apparently with a double fusion you actually can return to the ring with four to six months of recovery time.”
So that means there’s a possibility wrestling fans have not seen the last of Santino, an unknown who was selected from the audience in Milan, Italy in April, 2007 to challenge the giant Intercontinental Champion Umaga. After taking a pounding from Umaga, Marella was able to pin the champion, who was knocked out by rival Bobby Lashley. He then picked up Marella, placed him over Umaga and held him down for the three count. It was billed as the upset of the century, hence becoming known as The Milan Miracle. The next day, the WWE officially introduced Santino, who evolved into a crowd favourite with his broken English, pratfalls and unibrow.
“I’m looking forward to getting my surgery within a month and then I will have a four- to six-month recovery in which I will actually attempt to come back in the ring and wrestle again and make one of the greatest, most memorable comebacks of all time,” he said.
“It will be a long comeback, plus I’m going to be 41 years old. I’m just hoping the surgery and the rehab goes perfect and you’ll see me back in the ring sooner than later.
“I want to come back because of some unfinished business. I believe being the Milan Miracle I have one miracle left. There’s one belt that I haven’t captured—the WWE Championship—and it’s going to require that miracle to do it. On the right day at the right time I can definitely experience capturing that championship. There’s still some good wrestling left in this guy, so that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
If he can’t wrestle again, he’ll look to transition to another role in the company and extend his career as an aspiring feature film actor.
Earlier this year, he acted in the movie, Jingle All The Way 2, scheduled to be released this fall. The film, a co-venture of WWE Studios and 20th Century Fox, stars Larry The Cable Guy and Carelli, who plays his sidekick Claude.
“It was amazing doing it,” he said. “Going from the WWE, you’re definitely overprepared. We were able to do things with short notice and on one take. They were really happy with my work ethic when I got there. I enjoyed every aspect of it. I was asking questions on a daily basis to the lighting guys, the camera guys. It was fun. I wasn’t Santino, so to step out of my comfort zone took me a day or two. I saw a little clip of myself as Claude and it’s interesting. If I was to describe Claude, I would say he’s Barney Rubble to Larry The Cable Guy’s Fred Flintstone. He’s the voice of reason, he’s very loyal, they’ve been best friends since they were small kids.”
Carelli is also keeping busy with the multi-purpose athletics facility, Battle Arts Academy, he opened in his home town of Mississauga, Ontario, in September, 2013. The academy includes training for aspiring wrestlers and has featured monthly cards. The next one is August 24 and is called Summer Heat. Among the performers will be former WWE superstar MVP.
“It’s our biggest show to date by far,” Carelli said.
The card will follow this Sunday’s SummerSlam, which is one of the WWE’s major pay-per-views. In 2008, Santino defeated Kofi Kingston to claim the Intercontinental belt for the second time.
“SummerSlam is a few months after Wrestlemania, and for us it’s kind of like the halfway point of the season because it’s the second biggest event of the year,” Carelli said. “I won’t be there. I’m taking care of the neck. But I’ll be there next year.”
Maybe as a wrestler. All he needs is a miracle.Back To Top
Perry Lefko is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author living in Mississauga. He has worked in the media for more than 30 years, including the Toronto Sun and Sportsnet.ca, and is a regular contributor for Goodlife Mississauga Magazine and Goodlife Brampton Magazine. He has also hosted radio and Internet TV shows. And he has had seven books published, including two that were national bestsellers: Sandra Schmirler, The Queen of Curling; and Bret Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.