Like many Americans, my heritage is a hodgepodge of many cultures. Everything about my mother is Irish, from her red hair to her pale skin, to her unhealthy tendency to bottle up all of her emotions. My dad, on the other hand, is very Italian; he’s incredibly hospitable, food-motivated, and admittedly pretty dramatic.
My family, in the words of my younger sister, Christina, is like a good dish of gnocchi; 50% pasta and 50% potatoes.
I tend to take more after my mother, but lately, one man in the wrestling world has inspired me to lean into my Italian side. That man is none other than NXT superstar Tony D’Angelo.
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Being from New Jersey, I’m no stranger to people like Tony D’Angelo. I feel like he’s held the door for me at a few Wawas before. Even his accent makes me feel as though I’m out to dinner in South Philly, experiencing one of those brief moments where I wonder, “is that what I sound like?”
There’s something so familiar about him, and when mixed with the exaggerated absurdity of professional wrestling, his act truly becomes a spectacle to behold.
After seeing the NXT superstar and Twitter phenom make his debut, I knew I had to get some input from the family. Here’s what they had to say.
The Family Weighs In
My mother, Italian by association, isn’t a wrestling fan as much as she is reluctantly tolerant of it. Still, I would’ve felt bad if I left her out of my research. We intently watched his debut match on NXT in silence and she told me afterward, “I didn’t like the bribery.”
It seemed to me like she thought Tony D’Angelo’s gimmick was rather stupid, but then again that’s how she seems to feel about pro wrestling as a whole.
My sisters had a mixed bag of reactions.
First I asked my oldest sister, Alex. With her was her fiancé, Brandon, an Italian American from New York. Alex said, “I love him. He’s living out his Italian Dream. It’s obviously a bit of a caricature but I think for wrestling personas there is a lot of fun in caricatures.”
Brandon then added, “he isn’t an over-the-top Italian stereotype, which is refreshing. Like, he doesn’t show up to matches with a pinstripe suit, a pizza, or a gun. I think it’s a lot of fun.”
My youngest sister, Christina, had a similar opinion. She’s also a lot like my mother in the sense that she thinks pro wrestling is a big, goofy, waste of time. I could see her restraining herself from rolling her eyes when I asked if I could show her a new wrestler.
She seemed at least a little amused by Tony D’Angelo’s gimmick. She said, “I guess it could be worse.”
“Why would— which writer— who—?”
My sister Gabi’s opinion is the one I value most when it comes to wrestling since she is a huge fan of the sport herself. She was made a fan by the more vibrant and comedic personalities in AEW, like Orange Cassidy, Jurassic Express, and Kris Statlander. Knowing this, I expected Gabi to be a big fan of Tony D’Angelo.
“Oh, god,” was Gabi’s first reaction to seeing Tony D’Angelo’s fedora and gold chain on the streets of Chicago in his first NXT promo.
She hung on to every word Tony said with a look of both confusion and fascination. The promo ended, and Gabi couldn’t decide which question to ask first.
“Why would— which writer— who—?”
She then threw her hands up and started to laugh. “I mean, wrestling using stereotypes isn’t new,” she said, “and out of all the stereotypes to use in a gimmick, I think ones against Italians are the most fun and the least harmful.”
I agreed, and we started to talk about more offensive caricatures in the sport’s past. Muhammad Hassan, the Muslim heel played by an Italian from New York, stood out among these names as one of the most egregious.
We both agreed that Tony D’Angelo’s gimmick is not all near the same realm of offensiveness as Muhammad Hassan. We can laugh at Italian stereotypes, knowing that we will never be the victims of a hate crime or racial prejudice for being who we are. Likewise, non-Italians making fun of Italian Americans doesn’t hold any sting since there are no real repercussions of it.
After our discussion, I showed Gabi Tony’s debut match so that she could have the full D’Angelo experience.
“I mean, he’s a good wrestler,” Gabi concluded. “If he was bad in the ring then I think it would be cringey, but since he actually knows what he’s doing it’s a pretty funny gimmick.”
“Would I say ‘basta’ if he was talking meat market to me?”
I also reached out to my roommate, Emma, to get her thoughts. Emma is from North Jersey, and she’s more in touch with her Italian heritage than I am; she refuses to show up to dinner parties without a bottle of wine, and her family partakes in the Seven Fishes tradition every Christmas Eve.
Emma thought about Tony D’Angelo’s character with more depth than I thought she would, considering that when I tell her about a wrestler her typical response is, “can you interview him and tell him you have a hot roommate?”
She told me, “I think that Tony plays on certain stereotypes that can be seen as offensive, but avoids offense by doing it in a manner where it is clearly satirical. I think he’s fun to watch and joke about, and he lets Italians make fun of themselves and their stereotypes in a safe and accepting environment.”
I agreed, and then asked Emma if she would like to take Tony out to dinner (the ultimate vibe check for New Jersey Italians. She replied, “I mean, would I say ‘basta’ if he was talking meat market to me? No.”
Lastly, I asked my father how he felt about NXT’s mafia man. My dad has been a fan of pro wrestling since he was a child. He tends to favor classic, subdued personalities, like WWE’s Drew McIntyre and NJPW’s Sanada. I had a suspicion he wasn’t going to be too fond of Tony, but I thought there was a chance he’d be amused.
After I showed him Tony’s debut match, he said, “I need a drink.”
We took some time to reflect on what we had just witnessed. My dad seemed lost for words. I asked him, if he could meet Tony D’Angelo, if he would like to get dinner with him and suggested one of the approximately fifty Italian restaurants in our neighborhood. I am, after all, from New Jersey.
My dad then laughed and then said he thinks Tony would be more of a Soprano’s Pizza kind of guy. I couldn’t agree more, though there are approximately 20 pizzerias named “Soprano’s Pizza” in South Jersey, so I wasn’t sure which one he was referring to.
All in all, I want to thank you, Tony D’Angelo. To me and my family, you’re the second most inspirational Italian American there is (behind Rocky Balboa, of course. I could never disrespect the patron saint of Philadelphia).
Is Tony D’Angelo a stereotypical caricature of an Italian American? Of course. But really, what’s the harm in making fun of Italian Americans in the year 2021? Tony D’Angelo isn’t hurting anyone. He’s just carrying on the family business! And boy, if he isn’t entertaining.
The tradition is in good hands.