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When Big Cass steps through the curtain – often times alongside his tag team partner Enzo Amore – the energy is electric.
As he walks to the ring alongside the witty, outspoken Amore, Cass’s stature is the first thing that catches your eye before he’s introduced by his friend and partner.
“He’s over seven-foot-tall,” Amore, without fail, will say.
The crowd knows what’s coming next, as does Cass – and why wouldn’t he, it’s a moment he’s been working toward his entire life. A moment that kids who fall in love with professional wrestling dream about. A moment that wasn’t always planned, but destined, rather.
A moment that begins with an unlikely misspelling alongside thousands of fans, five letters and Cass’s calling card. “S-A-W-F-T.”
Ten years ago, William Morrissey was a sophomore at New York University, blending in on campus and with the hustle and bustle of his hometown – as best a 6-foot-8 basketball player could – and well on his way to becoming arguably the exact opposite of a WWE Superstar.
Morrissey, who was born and raised in Queens, New York, was a standout student at Archbishop Molloy High School before heading to NYU, one of the most prestigious schools in the Big Apple. Morrissey entered the pre-med program at the school and, after a late growth spurt in high school turned him into one of Molloy’s star players, walked onto the basketball team under coach Joe Nesci.
As Morrissey prepared for his MCAT exam, with his basketball career over and his ticket to medical school all but punched, there was this nagging feeling. Something wasn’t right, this wasn’t his true calling.
As it turned out, there was no medicine that could fix what was ailing Morrissey. There was only one cure for this itch, and it wasn’t one that NYU or any academic institution could provide.
Morrissey was giving up becoming a doctor to pursue his lifelong dream of joining the WWE.
“Obviously it took [my family] off guard for sure, they were all shocked,” Cass told Yahoo Sports. “But they were supportive because they knew I always deep down wanted to do it and I think they always knew deep down that I would do it. I always told myself that I was going to go to med school, become a doctor, but that wasn’t what I truly believed. I told everybody that but deep down I knew I was preparing my whole life to get to WWE.”
Morrissey would find his way to Johnny Rodz, a wrestling icon who has trained dozens of stars for more than 50 years, and happened to be right in Morrissey’s backyard. Rodz, a 1996 inductee into the WWE’s Hall of Fame, took the young star aboard, training him at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, and there, Big Cass was born.
From there, Morrissey would make his way to Florida, to a WWE “territory” – think of it like the minor leagues in baseball – to continue his pursuit. There, and subsequently at “NXT,” WWE’s branded developmental complex, Morrissey would reconnect with a former friend, Eric Arndt, and form a tag team, what the world now knows as Enzo and Cass.
“The journey to the WWE was extremely difficult,” Cass said. “Starting out at Johnny Rodz’s wrestling school, kind of finally getting a break and getting signed. A lot of difficulty I faced in NXT, going through the ranks, a lot of difficulty Enzo and I experienced trying to make it to WWE. I learned some valuable life lessons that will stick with me for the rest of my life.”
Nearly a year ago, all of Morrissey’s hard work had finally paid off. The night after WrestleMania 32, Enzo and Cass finally got the call. They were going to be on the main WWE roster.
Thanks to their charisma – “dialed up” for himself and “dialed down a little” for Enzo – the duo was an instant sensation.
The characters they had worked on during their time at “NXT” became some of the most “over” (read: popular) thanks to their bravado, wittiness and, of course, their catchphrases.
But this wasn’t some act. This was natural.
“The people you see on screen, those are organic characters and we like to feel that we represent New York and New Jersey and make them proud,” Cass confessed. “We feel like that’s who we’re representing.”
This breath of fresh air struck a chord with wrestling fans of all ages. Enzo and Cass were like a callback to what many consider to be the most recent “golden age” of professional wrestling.
“You imitate what you admire and guys like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, the New Age Outlaws, a lot of the guys in the Attitude Era are the ones we grew up watching and it was instilled in our minds at a very young age,” Cass said. “We definitely, without actually knowing it, we’re subconsciously using them as motivation for what we do today.”
In the months that followed, Cass would find himself alongside Enzo competing in the biggest matches on the biggest stage. The two would perform in front of a sellout crowd at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center – their backyard, and a few days later, Cass would find himself competing for the WWE Universal Title.
“When you’re in it and you’re doing it every day, on the flights, hitting the gym, in the building working, you’re going on TV and doing your promos, you’re doing your backstages, you’re doing promotional videos or commercials,” Cass said. “When you’re in the middle of it and it’s so hectic you really lose sight of where you’re actually at and how you got there.
“After SummerSlam I sat in my room and thought about my week. I got to take batting practice at Yankee Stadium, which to me is insane. Then going out in front of 16,000 of my fellow New Yorkers, New Jersey people were there too, a hometown crowd, they were out there hanging on every word, with us the entire way.”
Cass has had a year that rivals any other rookie superstar, whether it be A.J. Styles, who joined WWE several months before him and Amore, or Kurt Angle, who more than a decade ago kicked off a career that will culminate with his induction in the WWE Hall of Fame Friday night.
“I judge success by the way the people react when you come out through the curtain, how they react to the things you say, how they react positively when you win or negatively when you lose,” Cass said. “How they react whenever you’re in front of the camera or the audience. I feel like for our first year, Enzo and I did that really well and above the curve for what anybody expects from a rookie in their first year in the WWE.”
That first year comes to a close on Sunday, as Enzo and Cass will participate in their first WrestleMania, as part of a triple-threat ladder match for the Raw Tag Team Championship. The two, who fancy themselves as “the realest guys in the room” have not held a tag team title at any level while working together.
“It’s definitely very exciting, a little intriguing because I’ve never been there before,” Cass said. “It’s something that I’ve wanted to do my entire life, it’s what I’ve been dreaming about since I was younger, it’s finally here and I can’t believe how it’s sneaked up on me.
“Whether people believe it or not, [not having a championship] really does eat at us in everyday life. We do feel like we need some validation and we feel like we need a title to validate the journey we’ve been on.”
Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, we’re likely going to see Cass around for a long time. While Cass believes there’s still a lot of “mileage” left for him and Enzo, he knows there’s a greater goal lying ahead.
“I don’t think it’s always going to be me and Enzo as a tag team together, no,” Cass admitted. “I have one goal and one goal in mind and that’s to become Universal Champion. It’s to become a face of this company. I want to be a staple of this company. I think to go about doing that I’ll need to find myself going on a singles run somewhere down the line. That’s where I do see myself, it’s where I’m destined to be, at the top of this company.”
From med school to WrestleMania. Call it unbelievable, call it crazy, call it miraculous, but there’s one thing that’s certain:
You can’t teach that.
More WrestleMania 33 coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Meet Shinsuke Nakamura, the Ichiro of the WWE
• Handicapping WrestleMania 33: The 5 best bets to make
• Goldberg on return to WWE: ‘I’m absolutely miserable’
• Paul Heyman: Why the Monday after WrestleMania is so important