Enzo & Big Cass share smack talk-fueled journey to being WWE's hottest tag team
Heading into SummerSlam, the "realest guys in the room" reflect on their rise to the top of WWE
Even within the colorful ecosystem of WWE, Enzo Amore is an eyeful.
His entrance jackets are adorned with leopard print. There's a deliberately positioned poop emoji on some of his wrestling gear. The gold chains around his neck sometimes approach B.A. Baracus levels of gaud. His beard and his hair are opposite colors with a meticulously styled leopard-pattern dye job on the sides of his head. It really ties the whole look together.
"I woke up like this, bro," Enzo told CBS Sports with a laugh.
Enzo and his tag team partner, the nearly 7-foot-tall Big Cass, have been an immediate hit on WWE's main roster ever since graduating from the NXT developmental brand in April. The live crowd loved their debut segment on Monday Night Raw the night after WrestleMania 32. They've been a highlight of the show ever since.
"It hasn't felt like real life," Enzo said. "I'm literally just waiting to wake up. I mean, you dream to do these things, and then they become reality. You just gotta try to humble yourself through the process and try to take it all in."
"All those years of hard work, all the blow-up drills we did, all the promo classes, everything we had to do to get there, it was all worth it," Cass added.
At this early stage of his career, Enzo is already one of WWE's most charismatic performers. Big Cass has come a long way in that department, too, but his is a different kind of charisma. While Enzo dances, runs in backward circles and makes a spectacle of himself, Cass alternates between wise-cracking giant and angry monster.
In NXT, wrestlers might study footage of WWE legends to improve their own skills. If there are shades of Kevin Nash showing up in Big Cass' performances, that's probably by design.
"I get that comparison a lot," Cass said. "I watch a lot of Kevin Nash's matches. I use a lot of his stuff. I definitely use a lot of his mannerisms. Kevin Nash had a swagger about him. A lot of those things that I watch kind of rub off on me."
Cass is what keeps the team out of the danger of becoming a full-blown comedy act, while Enzo brings his formidable trash-talk ability to the table. That's a critical differentiator on a three-hour weekly TV show where nearly every performer is required to talk smack. Somehow, it's different when Enzo does it.
The crowd chants along as Enzo introduces the tag team as he and Big Cass walk to the ring.
My name is Enzo Amore. And I am a certified G and a bonafide stud. And you can't -- teach -- that. And this right here? This is Big Cass. And he's seven-foot tall. And you can't -- teach -- that. Bada-boom, realest guys in the room. How you doin'?!
It then quiets and hangs on every word he says once he enters the squared circle.
Enzo and Cass have more catch phrases right now than a lot of guys will have in their entire careers. They're working hard to ensure they're a unique act that's easy to recognize and, hopefully, easy for WWE to monetize. Whatever happens, it'll be a team effort.
"He might say something that makes me laugh or vice versa," Enzo said. "The next thing you know, you'll see one of us whipping out our phone and writing it down."
Since their NXT days, Enzo and Cass have paid particular attention to dominating on the microphone. At NXT, they were coached in the art of cutting promos by one of the all-time greats, the late "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes.
"I remember being told 'You're wasting material, you're doing too much!'" Enzo recalled. "But week in, week out, I went up on that stage in front of Dusty Rhodes, and when I was done speaking, he would look at me and just give me a nod. Dusty called it how he saw it, man. If he thought you were terrible, he was gonna tell you. If he thought it was great, he might give you a little pat on the back, but more than likely he was just gonna look at you and nod."
One of the team's signature routines started in NXT and has since become an audience participation staple at WWE events.
"Me and Enzo were doing promos together in Dusty Rhodes' promo class in 2013," Cass said. "We were going over a promo in my apartment, which is what we used to do the day before promo class. Enzo said 'S-A-W-F-T, sawft.' I thought it was funny, so we did it in the promo [class]."
One night, Enzo and Cass shared the ring with John Cena during an untelevised "dark" segment. S-A-W-F-T made its debut in front of that live audience. The fans ate it up.
"As we left Full Sail [University, the home venue for NXT events] that evening, there's fans that go to the show that always gather where we exit to get to our vehicles," Cass said. "They wait there for autographs and pictures and stuff. As we were leaving the building people were shouting 'S-A-W-F-T, SAWFT' in unison. That's when we realized we had something."
Enzo is constantly working on new material and vows to never run out of one-liners. Sometimes even an injury setback becomes an opportunity to replenish his backlog of zingers.
"I wrote basically a novel of material while I was injured," Enzo said. "We hear a lot of that in any given instance where I have a microphone in my hand. You know, when you're injured, it never stops. You just gotta find ways to keep it moving. Stay invested in yourself. Stay invested in the company and the investment that they made in you."
WWE's investment in Enzo Amore began in 2012 when the former Salisbury college football player (real name Eric Arndt) lucked into a mutual acquaintance, personal trainer Joe DeFranco, with WWE superstar-slash-executive Paul "Triple H" Levesque.
"I got lucky, basically," Enzo said. "I stepped in some doo-doo."
Growing up in Waldwick, New Jersey, Arndt was a lifelong wrestling fan. When Arndt became aware of DeFranco's connection to Triple H, he started making videos of himself training and cutting pro-wrestling promos.
"I gave [DeFranco] a link to a YouTube video and said, 'If you could, please show this to Triple H.' Triple H saw it and he gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to go down to Tampa and try my best to become a WWE superstar."
In his audition video, Arndt speaks directly into the camera and throws bombs at the cast of MTV's "Jersey Shore." He refers to himself as the "realest guy in the room." It's Enzo Amore in prototype form, and it's evidence that he's not entirely a WWE creation. In fact, sometimes it's difficult to get Enzo to acknowledge he's playing a role at all.
"I have no idea who Eric is, but Enzo Amore has been walking around since elementary school, doing the things that he's doing now on television," he said. "I was not the type of kid that could sit in a regular classroom setting. My teachers had a tough time with me, but I think they had a fun time with me as well."
When Enzo got signed to WWE's developmental program in 2012, Big Cass was already there. Cass (real name Bill Morrissey, then working under the name Colin Cassady) saw Enzo's tryout and remembered that he'd met this guy before -- when they were teenagers playing pick-up basketball in Brooklyn, New York.
"It was before I hit my growth spurt. Enzo was actually taller than me at this point," Cass said. "I was about 5-foot-7, 5-foot-8 when I was a freshman and a sophomore in high school."
Growing to 6-foot-9, the Queens native ended up playing center for the NYU basketball team and going to school for pre-med with the plan of becoming a doctor. But for Cass -- who, like Enzo, was a WWE fan since childhood -- the allure of wrestling was too strong.
"After I graduated, I just thought that med school wasn't for me," he said. "That wasn't the direction I wanted to go."
Instead, he signed up at a wrestling school run by WWE Hall of Famer Johnny Rodz. As you might imagine, his family was skeptical at first about his dramatic shift in career plans.
"It definitely wasn't the easiest thing to tell them, but they got on board," Cass recalled.
Cass worked his way up to a WWE deal. Before long, his old acquaintance from the Brooklyn streetball scene would show up there, too. They reconnected right away.
"Our friendship came back," Cass said. "We were clicking on all cylinders, and finally we did a promo together and Dusty Rhodes loved it. Dusty Rhodes pushed for us to be a tag team from that day. He had us do promos together every week."
It took a few years, but Enzo and Cass' chemistry as a team got them to the big dance, despite the occasional, expected bump in the road.
"Me and him are like brothers. Almost thrown down on several occasions," Enzo said with a laugh. "But luckily, usually we have somebody talking me off the ledge at some point. It wouldn't be a wise decision to mess with Big Cass, even if you're Enzo Amore. He's the toughest guy that I know."
While Cass is the more serious of the two as the team's muscle, he admits it's a lost cause trying to keep a straight face during Enzo's funniest material. Mean-mugging becomes a futile endeavor.
"Sometimes I definitely crack up in the ring," Cass said. "If I tried to consciously go in there and keep a straight face, I'm sure it would be very difficult. I'm not gonna try. If he's gonna make me laugh, then I'll let the world see me laugh."
In NXT, Enzo and Cass had a third member of their crew. When they got called up to the main roster after WrestleMania, Carmella stayed behind in NXT's women's division. Carmella finally got called up in July, but not until after WWE split its roster. Enzo and Cass wound up on Raw. Carmella was assigned to Smackdown.
While the threesome is split up for now, Cass thinks there may be a reunion in their future.
"I'm sure that'll happen somewhere down the line," he said. "We're a tight-knit unit, so we still hang out together, all of us. She's on SmackDown now and she's representing herself. I think she's doing a phenomenal job."
On Aug. 21, Enzo and Cass will return to Brooklyn, where they first met while playing basketball as teens. This time, they're tag team competitors at WWE's SummerSlam. They've got a two-on-two throwdown scheduled with Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens. Plenty of friends and family will be in attendance, which will make their biggest match yet into a homecoming of sorts.
"It's definitely a blessing," Cass said. "It's absolutely incredible. We're being put in a very big spotlight at SummerSlam. And especially since SummerSlam's gonna be in our backyard in Brooklyn, New York, in front of our friends and family and people we grew up with. It's just an amazing ride we're on right now. I'm looking forward to it immensely."
"Chris Jericho, when I was a kid growing up I used to watch him and idolized him," Enzo added. "Now here we are, fast forward, it's 2016, we're going into SummerSlam and my idols have become my rivals."
As for Owens, Enzo recalls traveling with him in NXT and getting along with him just fine. But then, he slips back into promo mode.
"He's pretty much as soft as ice cream and as sweet as a Cinnabon," Enzo riffed. "It would probably be in his best interest to run the next time he sees me and Big Cass, and I don't mean run his mouth. He's pretty good at that, but he couldn't hold a candlestick to Smacktalker Skywalker."
Inevitably, people will speculate when Enzo and Cass might split up and pursue singles careers. Big Cass in particular turns heads due to his size. And while Enzo was recently sidelined with an injury, Cass proved he could hang on his own. Guys like him are traditionally strong candidates for a major WWE title push.
While that is definitely on Big Cass' radar, he's in no rush.
"I wanna be the guy that is the WWE world heavyweight champion or the WWE universal champion," he said. "I wanna be the guy that's main eventing WrestleMania year after year. That's always been my goal. That's still my goal. But for now, the ride that me and Enzo are on, the journey we've been on is just so, so good. So for right now, my focus is on a tag team. My focus is on the WWE tag team championship."
Perhaps more than anything else, Enzo and Cass succeed because they simply get it. They understand that being a top WWE star is about marketability. It's about projecting an image that translates as well on TV as it does in print, or on a line of merchandise.
"I've always found that what caught my eye as a child were the eccentric," Enzo said. "The Shawn Michaels [types] of the WWE, coming out to the ring with earrings and leather vests, chaps, leather hats and heart-shaped glasses and breakin' it down to his entrance music, you know? That always infatuated me. So to have a say, and be able to create a characterization of who you are as Enzo Amore -- the action figure that you become as Enzo Amore, the guy that's in the video game, the guy that kids dress up as on Halloween, to have that trademark leopard hair -- to me, it's just one of the funnest parts of what I do."
And if it comes naturally to be a little more strange, more colorful or more mouthy than the average WWE wrestler, all the better.
"You're always gonna have the traditional guys go out there in a pair of trunks and some wrestling boots, man," Enzo said. "But I don't know. It's what you wanna be and who you wanna be. Be you, because everybody else is taken."
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