Well, AEW and NJPW’s Forbidden Door is almost upon us, and although the match card has been fully revealed – probably – there’s at least one surprise that will be closely guarded until the entrance music hits in a packed United Center Arena in Chicago: Who is Bryan Danielson’s replacement for the match against Zack Sabre Jr.?
While there has been plenty of guessing and speculation, one very prominent name in the running has been none other than Claudio Castagnoli, once known as Cesaro in WWE. While the running SmackDown storyline of Max Dupri searching Europe for a “Maximum Male Model” – Cesaro often emphasizes his European heritage when wrestling – and declaring he found one seemed to point to a Cesaro return, his lack of an actual appearance on SmackDown truly opens the door to the possibility of the “King of Swing” to be All Elite on Sunday.
So, in case the prediction comes true and Claudio Castagnoli makes his triumphant return against Zack Sabre Jr. in the ring at Forbidden Door, let’s learn a little more about this highly-regarded wrestler.
— WWE (@WWE) June 25, 2022
Claudio Castagnoli could use AEW to go from underrated to appreciated.
Castagnoli has been wrestling for over 21 years, beginning in Europe before being discovered by eventual long-time tag partner Chris Hero as well as Mike Quackenbush, leading him to be trained by Hero and eventually moving to the United States full-time, as you can learn about from his very charming archived website. From there, he worked around the world for various promotions, including Ring of Honor, CZW, PWG, and Pro Wrestling NOAH, and Chikara, where he eventually became the head trainer of their school, and teamed up/feuded with plenty of stars that AEW fans should be familiar with (more on them later).
After over a decade of tearing it up on the indies, Castagnoli finally joined WWE in 2011, working his way up from FCW to the main roster as “Cesaro”. Yes, Cesaro had his moments and achievements, winning the United States Championship within his first year of being signed, winning tag team gold seven times between the Raw and Smackdown brands, and got his Wrestlemania moment when he won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal with a Wrestlemania III-tributing bodyslam on the Big Show.
However, Cesaro’s legacy in WWE is much more for what he did not do – or rather what he was not allowed to do. Cesaro was constantly seen as underrated and underbooked while under the direction of Vince McMahon; a top-tier talent that everyone recognized as such except perhaps Vince himself.
I mean, he was named “Most Underrated” by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter four years in a row, showing just how much the fans were venting their frustration about his booking.
In perhaps one of his most baffling experiences in WWE, Cesaro was placed into the controversial group “The Real Americans,” which only further fueled fan and critical outcry to book him better. But alas, while things did get better for him than “Real Americans,” Cesaro’s time in WWE ended with an absolute whimper, as his contract expired in February.
Now, this situation does feel rather familiar: An ex-WWE Superstar who was either poorly utilized or unable to work the style they want leaves the company and is able to unleash their full potential, with AEW often being the conduit. And hey, some of the best wrestlers today followed that exact path to great success, so why not Castagnoli?
Well, not only does Castagnoli have the capacity to showcase his hard-hitting European style in AEW, but even if it is due to injury, the specific opportunity of debuting at Forbidden Door is near-perfect for the star.
The news of Bryan Danielson not being medically cleared was a sad segment of Dynamite, but his promise of a replacement who will leave AEW’s audience “astounded” had a lot of weight to it, and Castagnoli absolutely has the technical ability to fill those shoes. Since Castagnoli is so consistently underrated, what better way to make a statement on his true ability than for him to go toe-to-toe with one of the best technical wrestlers in the world, with the blessing of one of the other best technical wrestlers in the world?
Danielson also has had plenty of experience with Castagnoli, not just in WWE, but also in the indies, where they fought in ROH, Chikara, and even formed Team Uppercut together, so there is a nice history there that can be drawn from.
But, do you know who else has a long – though far more contentious – history with Castagnoli? That would be Eddie Kingston.
Kingston and Castagnoli go way back, with their earliest recorded match being back in 2004 and the two working in matches right up until a few months before Castagnoli joined WWE. It is also very well known that Kingston and Castagnoli have beef with each other, with Kingston most recently declaring that he does want to see his former foe join AEW, but only to fight him and work out the “serious stuff” between them.
Well, in another example of excellent timing caused by tragedy, Bryan Danielson’s replacement at Forbidden Door will also work Blood and Guts alongside Kingston.
In what is already promising to be a gory grudge match with extreme heat, adding that extra component of Kingston having to work with someone he despises is just icing on the cake. It would also feed into the tensions that already exist between Kingston and Danielson, which gives this angle even more long-term storytelling potential.
The Blackpool Combat Club, despite its small size and relative newness, is one of the most interesting factions in wrestling today, and Castagnoli would absolutely fit right in as a new member and give the group even more momentum, and it would be nice for Claudio/Cesaro fans to see their underrated superstar finally get the stage he deserves in AEW. That certainly sounds better for him than Max Dupri’s Maximum Male Models.