Tony Nese was still hustling on the independent wrestling scene when WrestleMania last came to town in 2013.
Nese, who at the time worked as the head trainer for the New York Wrestling Connection [NYWC] Academy in Deer Park, wrestled on five small shows in four days over WrestleMania week, hoping to be noticed by fans, and maybe even scouts from WWE.
"You're going to be opening eyes to other promoters and getting more work in the future," Nese, of Ridge, told Newsday at the time.
Six years later, WrestleMania is returning to Met Life Stadium in New Jersey, and Nese once again will be quite busy that weekend. But, this time, the stage will be much bigger.
Just two years after Nese signed with WWE, the company on Tuesday announced that the Suffolk County native will challenge for the cruiserweight championship in front of 80,000 fans in attendance at WrestleMania 35 next month.
For the Longwood High School graduate, the match will be the realization of a dream that began when he first started training in a rusted aluminum shed outside a Hicksville strip mall that was converted into a wrestling school. In a Newsday interview in 2016, shortly before signing with WWE, Nese, who is known as “The Premiere Athlete,” said performing at WrestleMania was his “ultimate goal.”
“This is the culmination of everything that I’ve done,” Nese said in an interview Tuesday. “It couldn’t have come at a better time. As soon as it was announced over a year ago that WrestleMania was going to be here at Met Life, I kept telling myself that I’ve got to do whatever I can to get there.”
Nese has been a featured player on the WWE Network program “205 Live,” which recently hosted an eight-man tournament to decide who would challenge for Buddy Murphy’s cruiserweight title at WrestleMania. Nese bested Kalisto and Drew Gulak in the first two rounds of the tournament, and then beat former champion Cedric Alexander in the final tournament match in Indianapolis on Tuesday night.
WWE on its web site noted that Nese “will have the chance to put his mettle to the ultimate test when he challenges . . . for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship in the shadow of New York City, just miles away from his home of Long Island, NY.”
NYWC owner Shane Wayne, who helped train Nese, said his former student’s story is one of “perseverance and hard work paying off.”
WrestleMania 35 takes place on Sunday, April 7 at Met Life Stadium and will be streamed on the WWE Network.