Former NXT champion Tommaso Ciampa has put together an incredible career since returning to the company as part of what was once its developmental brand but is now a third brand with a live television show each week on USA Network. Many fans, however, forget Ciampa's first appearance on WWE TV, primarily because it was 14 years ago when he was just 20 years old.
Ciampa recently spoke with CBS Sports' State of Combat podcast about his July 14, 2005, WWE debut on SmackDown. An independent wrestler at the time, Ciampa was hired to play the part of a lawyer for Muhammad Hassan. He read a statement that Hassan was taking time away from SmackDown due to harassment from the fans after a controversial segment weeks prior.
Ciampa was eventually interrupted by The Undertaker, who hit him with a chokeslam and a tombstone piledriver to end the segment. It was a big learning experience for Ciampa, and he was given a very unique opportunity to spend one-on-one time with top executives in the company, including Vince McMahon and Stephanie McMahon.
"At that time I was living in Boston, Massachusetts," Ciampa told Brian Campbell on the State of Combat podcast. "I believe that show was in Worcester, so it wasn't far for me. I was training at Killer Kowalski's old place, and they were kind of the feeding ground. Any time WWE was in the Northeast area, that's who they'd call. They'd call them for extra talent. It was the weirdest call in the sense that usually, especially at that time size mattered quite a bit. They really wanted guys 6-foot-2 and above 220 [pounds]. That particular day, we got a call saying 'Hey, we need guys who are below 6 feet tall, who have darker features and who can speak.' That's never the call you get.
"Three of us showed up with the promoter, and I was the youngest of the three, but the decision maker said, 'Oh, you look the oldest.' It was what it was because they had to cast me as a lawyer. Not super believable now, I was only 20 at the time, I don't know if it was believable then. But that was a whirlwind of a day, because luckily for me, I've always been comfortable on the microphone. So, that part I didn't have nerves, specifically because I had a script I was going to be reading off a piece of paper because I was acting as a lawyer that day. I didn't even have to memorize the lines.
"But the day itself was crazy. Once I got picked, it was probably 4 p.m. at the time, and it was a pretty important angle for WWE because maybe a week or two prior, Muhammad Hassan and Davari did some stuff that upset executives at Fox or whatever it was ... maybe it was UPN at the time. Whatever it was, it was around something to do with the terrorists and it didn't sit right with people. So, this lawyer thing had to be an apology that came off sincere, but also in the wrestling world made sense where Undertaker could come out.
"So, I rehearsed that script in front of everybody. I did solo in front of Vince in his office, I did in-ring with Undertaker, Vince and Hunter was there. Looking back now, I see how big of a deal it was and just how crazy it was to have that one-on-one time with everybody as a kid on the independents. It was wild, everybody treated me incredibly well. I remember they didn't like the suit that I had on so they went and bought me a suit and let me keep it."
Ciampa said his experience with Stephanie McMahon, in particular, stands out to this day.
"One thing I will say that stood out to me, and I have no idea why this happened, but Stephanie McMahon that day decided to give me a personal tour of backstage and introduce me and welcome me to the WWE community," Ciampa said. "I think just trying to probably ease my nerves. It was a 20 minute or so time one-on-one with here. Just her showing me around, explaining things to me and treating me very much so like I was her peer. It's one of those things I've said to her now being where I'm at, it stuck with me my entire career."
NXT TakeOver: WarGames 3 airs Saturday at 7 p.m. ET live on the WWE Network.
Check out the rest of Ciampa's interview on the State of Combat with Brian Campbell podcast. Ciampa discusses what to expect at NXT TakeOver: WarGames 3, his injuries, why Johnny Gargano is the best in the world and what the future holds for him in NXT and WWE. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast for WWE episodes each week.