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'TINO SABBATELLI' TO WRESTLE IN PORTLAND



COURTESY: SABBY PISCITELLI - Ex-Oregon State safety Sabby Piscitelli is scheduled to be part of a World Wrestling Entertainment NXT card on Saturday, May 14 at Moda Center.During his time as a swashbuckling safety at Oregon State, Sabby Piscitelli was a physical specimen, with muscles in places where most people don’t have places.

Now, Piscitelli is putting that powerful physique to use as a professional wrestler.

Piscitelli will be part of a World Wrestling Entertainment NXT card Saturday, May 14 at Moda Center.

“I’m excited, I really am,” says Piscitelli, 32, who played for the Beavers from 2004-07 and was a first-team all-Pac-10 selection as a senior. “I have a special place in my heart for the state of Oregon. The fans were very supportive of my career. I’m excited to come out there and put on a show in a whole different industry.”

Sabby's opponent will be another name familiar to the state's sports fans -- 305-pound Tucker Knight, who as Levi Cooper was a North Marion High and Portland State wrestler who wound up his college career as an All-American at Arizona State.

WWE NXT began as a developmental program for young wrestlers, “but it’s become a big brand itself now,” says Piscitelli, a Boca Rotan, Fla., native living in Orlando. “It’s been getting a lot of hype and creating a lot of excitement in its own right.

“For a guy like me, coming from a football background, it’s been a chance to learn from great coaches, work out in great facilities and learn how to work in the ring.”

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: LEILA NAVIDI - Sabby Piscitelli (left), who lives in his native Florida, still has fond memories of his years with Oregon State football, breaking up passes on defense against the likes of USC and other opponents.A second-round draft choice by Tampa Bay in 2007, Piscitelli spent five years in the NFL. He was young enough that he hoped his football career wasn’t over.

“I thought that phone call was going to come,” he says. It didn’t.

In 2013, Piscitelli says he was approached by WWE executives. He signed a developmental contract the following year.

“It was an opportunity for me to take the next step in my life,” Piscitelli says, “an amazing opportunity. I’m honored to be part of it. I’m starting at the bottom and working my way to the top. I’m learning every day. The more I learn, the more hungry I get to be successful.”

Piscitelli’s stage name is Tino Sabbatelli — the “Italian Stallion” was already taken, evidently.

“They took my name and switched it around,” he says with a laugh. “Fits me perfectly.”

COURTESY: SABBY PISCITELLI - As a pro wrestler, Sabby Piscitelli known as Tino Sabbatelli.Piscitelli spent about a year training at the WWE school in Orlando. He has been wrestling on live shows for about six months, estimating he has been part of 30 to 40 cards.

How do his football skills translate to grappling?

“It’s different,” he says. “The biggest thing I have going for me is my athleticism, body control and physical build. Football is an explosive sport. (Wrestling) is more about taking your time and controlling your body.”

The 6-3 Piscitelli played football at 225 pounds, and now weighs between 235 and 240.

“Not as big as some of the guys, but not small by any means,” he says. “My character is based on athleticism, strength and speed.”

And that character — heel or face?

“Right now, I’m more of a heel, a bad guy,” he says, laughing again. “It’s definitely fun.”

Piscitelli has big goals with his new career.

“I’ve never done anything in my life to be mediocre,” he says. “I told the WWE (executives) I would never accept the challenge if I didn’t think I could become the best.”

COURTESY: SABBY PISCITELLI - Sabby Piscitelli spent about a year training at the WWE school in Orlando. He has been on an estimated 30 to 40 cards.WrestleMania 32 drew a huge crowd last month at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. WWE officials announced attendance as a record 101,763, though impartial pundits put it at closer to 93,000.

“It’s the Super Bowl of wrestling, one of the biggest sport events of the year,” Piscitelli says. “I believe in my heart I can headline WrestleMania one day.”

Piscitelli says his best friend remains Yvenson Bernard, his former OSU teammate now working as a discovery officer for Our Beaver Nation in Corvallis. Piscitelli visited Corvallis last fall and attended the OSU-Colorado game.

“I met Coach (Gary) Andersen,” Piscitelli says. “He has the program going in the right direction. I’m so thankful for my four years at Oregon State. I’m rooting for him. I’ll always be a Beaver.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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