Exclusive Interview: Thomas Santell (formerly known as Antonio Thomas)
Thomas Santell, formerly known as Antonio “The Promise” Thomas, is a well traveled professional wrestler having competed for OVW, WWE, TNA and ROH during his career. Recently, I reached out to him to conduct an interview and he was kind enough to take part. Here’s getting to know Santell a little better for both old and newer fans of professional wrestling.
Santell started wrestling in January 2001 training with Killer Kowalski in Malden, MA. After less than three years of training, Santell found himself competing in dark matches in Manchester, New Hampshire and Providence, Rhode Island losing to John Walters and Sho Funaki, respectively. When it came to the signing process in WWE compared to today’s, it was a little different recalls Santell.
“The signing process was a little different. They didn’t have the large tryouts like the performance center does now, but rather they had more local talent doing dark matches and enhancement matches on TV. I was called to TV in New Hampshire and Rhode Island and, just like today, rolled around in the ring for a while in the afternoon. Arn Anderson was there with us and wanted to get me a dark match that night. After the dark match, when I was in the locker room, John Laurinaitis came to get me and brought me to an office with he and Jim Ross. They offered me a contract on the spot. It happened all so quickly! I think there’s more of a process now and with so many great talents outside of WWE, they reach out to guys now more. It still happens like it did for me, but obviously it’s different for everyone.”
Following the contract offer, Santell was sent to Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) to prepare himself for a possible WWE run in the future. Down in OVW, Jim Cornette ran television. “He’s a genius, hilarious and can spit one liners all day.” Santell says in regard to his first impression of Cornette.
In developmental, Jim Cornette came up with the tag team the Heartthrobs, which he told Santell he had wanted to do for twenty years and finally had the right guys to do it with. The Heartthrobs were Santell and his partner Romeo Roselli. The team would become quite popular amongst OVW fans. Why was that?
“It was just completely different from what anyone had seen, especially down there. The gimmick was so completely opposite of what I am as a person and wrestler, that we just decided to make it as outrageous and fun as possible and that caught on. It made people laugh.” Santell said.
Most wrestlers and even fans have stories about Cornette, and Santell has one regarding a time a banana peel was involved with the finish of a match in OVW. “I remember we did a spot at an OVW house show where I literally slipped on a banana peel to go into the finish. A few matches later, Cornette came up to the locker room to address the first half matches at intermission and was yelling, “Who ate a banana and why the hell is there a goddamn banana smushed all over the canvas?” Haha, he wasn’t mad but its was just funny.” Santell recalled.
Less than a year into competing for WWE, the Heartthrobs made their debut on WWE television on April 18th, 2005 at Madison Square Garden, the mecca of professional wrestling. The whole process of being called up was quick, and they had huge supporter in the “Innovator of Violence”.
Tommy Dreamer was a big supporter of the duo and called them the Friday before their RAW debut to let them know they were coming to the main roster. While it’s a big deal to get put on television so quickly, the duo would have been content with building their character in OVW a little while longer.
“At the time, we wanted to stay and grow as a team and learn the subtleties and nuances of tag team wrestling. Plus, we wanted to hone our personas. We didn’t know if the OVW schtick would work up there and we would’ve liked to had some dark matches and house shows to sort things out, possibly be ourselves. So yes, while you want to be on the main roster, you don’t want to go up too quickly which is what happened to us.” Santell said.
After ten months, the Heartthrobs found themselves off television and there may have been several reasons as to why the team didn’t have much success on the big stage. Santell has a few reasons in hindsight.
“We just never got off on the right footing and couldn’t do the actual OVW schtick that got us called up. If you cant go all the way with it, then you gotta go in a completely different direction, which we didn’t do. We were finding ourselves on live TV, and thats not a way to get over with anyone. I think we did get over with house show fans as we always got a great reaction because we had time. I think for tv, not being able to have a lot of promo time also hurt, as that was our strong point at the time. Looking back, we should have just ditched the semi OVW act and been ourselves instead.” Santell believes.
Often times, wrestlers don’t know when or how they didn’t succeed on WWE television while having success elsewhere. Santell isn’t one of those guys. It didn’t take long for Santell to know that something wasn’t right upon their WWE call up.
“The second week on television after we had debuted on Raw at Madison Square Garden and lost and then the next week we were on Sunday night Heat. I just had a feeling after our debut that it didn’t go as we had planned.” Santell recalls.
Despite the disappointing run on television, Santell did have a positive experience following a house show in Jackson, Tennessee on September 3rd, 2005. Santell shared his memory on his favorite moment from his WWE run.
“Yes, a tag match at a house show on a Sunday in Memphis vs. Chris Cage and the Miz. We were first and listened to the crowd. When we got the back Shawn Michaels, Edge, Dean Malenko (our agent) and a bunch of others raved about our match, shook our hands and had said how much we were starting to get it. That was the best feeling in the world!” Santell fondly remembers.
On February 10th, 2006, Santell and Romeo Roselli were released from their WWE contracts. Thomas and Roselli both remained busy competing all over the world. Thomas specifically found work with New England Championship Wrestling, MXW and Squared Circle Wrestling (2CW).
“I loved working for all of them but 2CW was my favorite. I loved the road trips and camaraderie with Slyk Wagner Brown, Eddie Edwards, and John Walters, and the crowds were die hard and second to none. They bled 2cw blue and orange. They had so many surprises and so many great talents and always put me with amazing workers. I wish they’d come back!” Santell said.
Santell and Romeo found themselves in TNA in 2007 working a program with the Voodoo Kin Mafia, BG James and Kip James (New Age Outlaws). They lost a match to VKM at Destination X 2007. Santell recalls the feedback and experience in TNA.
“The feedback for the match itself was good as we did the job we were brought in to do, which was put them over. I think people in the company wanted us to be the OVW Heart Throbs and we just weren’t having it. We were passed that and wanted to move on with a fresh start. Maybe thats why we weren’t brought back, who knows? We just wanted to be ourselves and start fresh.” Santell said.
Since then, Santell has remained busy on the independents and is highly regarded for his work in the New England area developing talents. Santell has a couple of suggestions for who are some guys who could soon breakout on the independent scene.
“I think Brad Hollister, a guy I trained, is ready to break out. He was western mass wrestling champ at heavyweight his senior season and finished second in the state with a torn ACL. He works regularly for Northeast Wrestling and recently was a standout at the last ROH seminar. He’s like another Jeff Cobb with his amateur ability and strength AND he can also fly around with an amazing amount of agility. King Khash out in Seattle is another. He’s Iranian and is a Buddy Wayne trainee. He’s already done numerous camps across the country and has worked with so many top talents. He’s light, easy to work with and totally gets it at only 21 years old.” Santell said.
In 2012 the Heartthrobs reformed for a match against 1-2-3 Kid and Marty Jannetty in CHIKARA. Santell talked about that experience.
“I loved it!” Santell exclaimed. “We actually did a lot of the OVW stuff, because if there was anywhere to actually bring that back it was there. At that point, we finally felt solid enough in our in-ring abilities that we were cool with doing the gimmick there and making fools out of ourselves. We actually worked a handful of matches together there including one with the Young Bucks. I worked there for a few years on a lot of the WRESTLING IS… shows as myself doing the gimmick which was FUN! I got to play a crazy character AND do some technical, hard hitting wrestling.”
Recently, Santell has presented himself with a new challenge in wrestling. He has started to detach himself from being known simply as “The Promise” and developed a new character. He explained the new character, Thomas Santell, and the vision he has for it.
“The vision changes for every match depending on who I’m working with, but it’s a takeoff on the George Mcfly Back to the Future character. It’s a work in progress and can be played many different ways, but most of all its FUN! It’s the first thing I’ve ever done where it just feels right and totally fits. I get to be myself in the ring, but don’t have to just be Antonio Thomas-good wrestler with boots and tights-but no notable character or persona. Now i have a definable persona and something nobody else is doing. The fans can all relate to it, regardless of how I play it, and they all remember me!” Santell explained.
When trying to accomplish something new there are often times challenges or hurdles you have to overcome. Had Santell stumbled across any such things thus far?
“Not really, just some promoters maybe wanting me to be myself but that hasn’t really happened. Everyone has embraced it. The challenge is on myself trying to think of different ways to tweak it depending on the match and the audience.” Santell said.
After having had such success being known as Antonio Thomas, what could have led him to want to change his identity in wrestling? “I was burned out after 14 years of wrestling and it just wasn’t fun for me, “ Santell explained. “It was fun just being Antonio “The Promise” Thomas. I hated it as I had no definable trait to the fans OR myself. I was doing a Big Time Wrestling show in Glens Falls, NY at the end of 2015 and the fans started chanting “George Mcfly” at me because of my hair. It continued on for another few shows and at the urging of my best friend and a few others, I just decided to go with it and have fun and try out. I did it first that December at an ECCW show in Vancouver and it got over HUGE. I’ve done it since.”
These days, you can watch Santell compete on a regular basis for Big Time Wrestling and has signed on to compete on their September 22nd and September 23rd shows in the Carolinas. Both shows will feature the in-ring return of Terry Funk teaming with the Rock N’ Roll Express to take on Jerry Lawler, Brian Christopher and Doug Gilbert.
Santell has high aspirations for the Thomas Santell character and looks to bring it to both a national and worldwide stage. He’s looking to bring the character to all the major independent promotions out there and accomplish everything he wasn’t able to do in his first run. “I feel like I have a second life or career re-birth with it.” Santell proclaimed.
Every wrestler has highs and lows. Santell was no different in that regard. “Highs have been being a WWE superstar, living and wrestling in japan for ALL-JAPAN, traveling the world and making a living and meeting so many great people doing something i love. The lows have been getting injured, getting released from WWE, being in a rut the few years before I came across the Santell character and being away from home and friends and family.” Santell revealed.
Santell has also gotten involved in the podcast having developed a podcast dedicated to fantasy sports and sports in general. He often times has fellow professional wrestlers on the podcast, I LEFT MY WALLET IN GREG POLANCO, including tag team partner Romeo Roselli.
Santell does have a message for all his fan, too. “Just thank you to all the fans who have responded so kindly and positively about Thomas Santell. Keep the kind words coming and please tell your local promotion or favorite company that you’d like to see me there!” Santell concluded.
Thank you to Mr. Santell for taking part in this article/interview. I recently saw his act at a BTW show in Syracuse and thought it was tremendous and different from “The Promise” act he had prior.
If you are an independent wrestler and you’d like to take part in a future interview for Wrestling Recaps, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to setup an interview.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about the career of Thomas Santell, formerly known as Antonio Thomas. I’ve included links to a few of his matches that can be found on YouTube.
Thanks for reading.