Exclusive Q&A: “Future Star of NXT” Cezar Bononi is ready to put Brazil on his back
If you think being named the “Future Star of NXT” carries some serious pressure, try representing a country of 210 million people.
Fortunately, Cezar Bononi is up to the challenge of doing both.
Since moving from Brazil to join the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Fla. in 2015, the long-limbed slugger from São Paulo has steadily grown his profile in NXT. He even holds, lest it be forgotten, a victory over current NXT Champion Andrade “Cien” Almas. Perhaps the most telling milestone of Bononi’s young career, however, came during the 2017 NXT Year-End Awards. Bononi garnered enough fan votes to beat out the likes of Kairi Sane, Shayna Baszler and Street Profits, and win the inaugural Future Star of NXT Award.
Bononi spoke with WWE.com about his award victory, the challenges of leaving home to pursue his dream and the heavy obligation of representing young fans in Brazil.
WWE.COM: How did it feel to be recognized with the first Future Star of NXT Award?
CEZAR BONONI: Winning the award felt really good. I still have a lot of goals, but one was to be recognized with an award like that. I did not expect it to happen so fast, but it was great. I’ve got to say this: When I saw that I was one of the nominees, I knew that I could count on Brazilian fans. I knew already that I was going to win, because this is not just an award for me, it’s an award for my whole country. The fans in Brazil want so badly to be represented in WWE, just like I dreamt to be represented in WWE when I was a kid.
WWE.COM: You knew you could count on Brazilian fans to have your back, but some might have considered you a dark horse going into the vote, considering your competition in that category.
BONONI: I know how the Brazilian fans are. Seeing all the other nominees that are well known to the whole world, they have great careers. Winning the award just makes me want to keep working to get on the same level as them. Now that I’m the Future Star of NXT, I need to play at the same level as them.
WWE.COM: NXT fans have gotten to know you over the past year, but your wrestling experience dates to your days in Brazil. How did you first get into wrestling?
BONONI: I’ve been a wrestling fan since I was a kid. I used to watch in Brazil when I was 6, 7 years old. That was the first contact that I had with wrestling, which we called Telecatch in Brazil. Then, once I had access to WWE, I knew I wanted to be part of it. I looked for a wrestling school in Brazil and found one in 2004, 2005. I trained for a couple of years, then I changed my mind and started to play football. But I always kept the wrestling dream in my heart. Everything works out.
WWE.COM: Brazil isn’t one of the first places people think about when they consider flourishing wrestling scenes outside of the U.S. Was it hard to get noticed by WWE?
BONONI: Yeah, it was really hard. We still struggle with that a lot in Brazil. The Brazilians … they don’t all understand wrestling. I was playing football for the Brazilian national team at the time, and then I got a call from the teacher at the wrestling school. He told me WWE was looking for Brazilians and that I had the size, experience and athleticism they were looking for.
[WWE] invited me back to be part of a show that William Regal was to attend. Just to see Regal over there was a great experience. Then, he invited me for a tryout, andI went. I couldn’t believe I was in the WWE Performance Center! After that, I got the email saying I was approved. What a good feeling and an honor it was.
WWE.COM: What was the adjustment like, moving to the U.S. and beginning a new journey at the WWE PC?
BONONI: Even though I was so excited to finally be there, that was a hard time because everything changed in my life. The only thing that didn’t change was my wife. The money that I used, the language that I speak, my house, my car … everything changed and I had to start over. The work was different because I had never been a professional athlete in Brazil. I had to learn how to work with not only Americans, but with people from all over the globe because it’s so different from the culture in Brazil.
WWE.COM: Who have been some of your biggest influences at the WWE PC?
BONONI: My biggest influence is Matt Bloom, our head coach. He always cares about us. He’s the one that tells us what we have to do, what we shouldn’t do. He’s taught me not only about this business, but about life as well. He’s the one that I don’t want to disappoint, that I want to make proud.
WWE.COM: Has it been helpful for you to have two fellow Brazilians, Adrian Jaoude and Taynara Conti, join you along the way at the WWE PC?
BONONI: Yes, it is. I will say that Adrian Jaoude is just a beast, a phenomenal athlete that makes me want to compete and be better. And there’s nothing better than a good adversary. Not that he’s my actual adversary – he’s one of my best friends – but I want to be as good as him. I want to be better than him. I want to be better than everybody. Adrian is a tremendous athlete. He’s a very intelligent man, and he’s helped push me harder.
WWE.COM: There isn’t an extensive history of WWE Superstars from Brazil. That must create a sense of pride for you, but does it also add to the pressure to succeed?
BONONI: One thing that I learned is the higher [up] you [move], the more pressure there is to keep improving. That’s true when it comes to representing a whole country, and a big country at that, in Brazil. I was just like the fans in Brazil that have always wanted to be represented in WWE. Being able to represent them gives me a proud feeling, but it’s also easy because I understand exactly what they want. I know how they feel. Any time things get hard and I don’t know exactly what to do, I remind myself of the little kids in Brazil who feel the same way I felt when I was a teenager. That helps me keep on track.
I will always keep in mind all the people that feel represented by me ... I cannot let them down.
WWE.COM: Does being named the Future Star of NXT put a target on your back?
BONONI: Having a target on my back is all I ever wanted. That helps me to improve; it takes me out of my comfort zone. Now, I must do more. I must work harder than anybody because I am the Future Star of NXT. I have to show that this award is something that truly matters. I am ready to represent my country, to represent all South America, and I will someday put my name in the history books as the first Brazilian to hold a title in NXT. I want to remind everyone that Brazil is so good at sports and that whatever we want to do, we can do it better than anybody else.
WWE.COM: Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?
BONONI: I’m very proud to be here in NXT and to represent every one of them. What happened at the beginning of the year, when I got this award, was just the first step of a big, big career. I promise I will do my best, and I will always keep in mind my fans and all the people that feel represented by me. I will not forget my experience when I was a kid. I cannot leave them aside. I’ve got to represent them. I can’t let them down.