CHICAGO — A former WWE star debuted Sunday night at the United Center as the newest addition to the AEW roster.
In the short time prior to the announcement, the match was initially supposed to be between Zach Sabre, Jr. and Bryan Danielson. However, the match was partially tossed due to Danielson’s injuries.
The mystery opponent was mentioned last week as being the newest addition to the Blackpool Combat Club.
The crowd went insane once the music hit for Claudio Castagnoli, formerly known as Antonio Cesaro in WWE. Some would express worry that he wasn’t a big enough surprise, given the roster of free agents still available. It is still a great pick to add to the AEW roster.
Claudio went to the attack early, hitting a forearm and the Neutralizer. It could have potentially been done in the opening 30 seconds.
Sabre dropped to the floor as Castagnoli continued to hit a series of running forearms against the railing. Meanwhile, Jim Ross put Claudio over like a million bucks from the commentary desk.
Sabre tried to work on Castagnoli’s arm after he ran it into the ring barricade. Castagnoli hit a long-delayed vertical suplex. Sabre caught Claudio with a kneebar in the ropes and then against the leg apron.
Sabre would alternate between going after Claudio’s injured arm and the injured leg. He also snapped Claudio’s fingers. Sabre avoided a charge in the corner and twisted Castagnoli’s neck.
Sabre would work over the arm. Castagnoli came back with a pair of backbreakers and a charging European uppercut. Sabre took Claudio down with an armbar. He would then transition into a triangle choke.
Claudio powered up and tried to send Sabre out to the floor. However, both guys tumbled over the ropes and Sabre held onto the hold. So, Castagnoli picked him up again, walked Sabre up the stairs to the apron, and dumped him back into the ring.
Castagnoli would tease the Giant Swing, but Sabre countered into a guillotine. Castagnoli set up Sabre for a superplex. Sabre countered into a submission. Castagnoli countered with a European forearm, then hit a super gutwrench suplex.
Claudio went for the swing again, but Sabre got to the ropes. Castagnoli hit a forearm for a near fall. The crowd kept asking for the giant swing, and Claudio got it for five rotations before his arm gave out on him.
Claudio went for the sharpshooter, but Sabre countered into a heel hook. Castagnoli countered back into a sharpshooter, but Sabre escaped. Castagnoli hit a double stomp for a near fall.
Sabre taunted Castagnoli into giving him an uppercut. He then caught Claudio with a choke, then tied up Castagnoli with a submission. Sabre hit a series of kicks for the near fall.
Claudio hit the pop-up uppercut, then an arm-trap powerbomb to get the pinfall.
Impressive showing from the newest talent to join AEW, as well as the Blackpool Combat Club with the likes of Bryan Danielson and Jon Moxley.
Winner: Claudio Castagnoli via pinfall (18:28)
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Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network, wrestling editor and contributing writer for Ambush Sports, a contributing writer for My Sports Vote and Midwest Sports Network, and a former contributor to Bleacher Report and Overtime Heroics. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dog Buster.