Thursday, December 25, 2014

WWE superstar Damien Sandow: New-school wrestler with old-school sensibilites

WWE superstar Damien Sandow is a relatively new face to most professional wrestling fans.

WWE superstar Damien Sandow: New-school wrestler with old-school sensibilites

WWE Superstar Damien Sandow. (Photo courtesy of WWE)
WWE Superstar Damien Sandow. (Photo courtesy of WWE)

WWE superstar Damien Sandow is a relatively new face to most professional wrestling fans.

He became the intellectual savior of the unwashed masses only a couple of years ago and began to spread his message on WWE television a little more than a year ago.

Despite his relative newness, Sandow carries around some old-school wrestling sensibilities.

When talking to Sandow, you’re talking to Sandow. Whether in person or over the phone, you’re talking to Sandow. Not the man who was born Aaron Stevens.

He remains in character whether he’s on television, doing an interview or signing autographs, he is on all the time.

Him being on his game all the time isn’t something revolutionary. In fact, it is lost art rarely practiced by today’s professional wrestler. In short, he protects his character.

Sandow doing this harkens back to the territorial days — when babyfaces (good guys) wouldn’t dare be seen in public with a heel (bad guy) for fear of receiving their notice.

It went as far as babyfaces and heels having to stay in separate hotels. That’s how the promoters wanted it. They wanted everyone to know that there was no love loss between good guys and bad guys.

If the people saw either side in public together, it was feared the people would catch on and no longer be interested in what they were seeing.

When a good guy was out in public, he was encouraged to be friendly with everyone, especially the women. Even if the guy wasn’t the most pleasant person in real life, he had to put a smile on in public.

When a bad guy was out in public, he was encouraged to be just that, a bad guy. He wasn’t supposed to sign autographs even if it was little kid standing in front of him. Didn’t matter if the guy was a Teddy bear in real life, he was encouraged to mean to people.

In some cases, they were encouraged to get into real fights, especially at bars. Getting into a bar fight wasn’t enough. You had to win. If you didn’t, that could be a fireable offense as well.

The cat has been long out of the bag on professional wrestling, but one of the final beacons of kayfabe hope still exists in Sandow.

Sandow isn’t getting into bar fights like heels of years gone by. It wouldn’t fit his character anyway. Intellectual saviors of the unwashed masses don’t have time to get into bar brawls.

But he does thumb his nose to the common fan when interacting with them, but does it in a way where he’s not flat out insulting people. It’s actually quite entertaining even when the joke is on you.

Sandow invests in himself more than most performers would think about. One big way of doing it is his keen eye to detail.

I was fortunate to have met Sandow in person at this year’s WrestleMania. I met him after he had signed autographs for a long line fans.

Upon interviewing him then, I noticed he that didn’t sign autographs with the usual pen. He signed them with a pink pen with a long pink feather on top.

Why? According to him, the pen is a family heirloom dating back to the earliest days of the Sandow family and was even used to sign the Declaration of Independence — in invisible, of course.

I had the pleasure of speaking with him again Thursday morning, this time over the phone as he was helping to promote WWE’s live event at the Wells Fargo Center Sunday.

Once again, Sandow was on, especially when he explained his actions here in Philadelphia back on July 14 when he won his coveted Money in the Bank briefcase.

“I’m not sure if you saw this or not, but Cody [Rhodes] was actually inches away from the briefcase then the ladder was about to fall,” Sandow said. “And I went to go hold the ladder, but as Cody went to fall I went to go catch him but I was just about a second too late.”

“I knew Cody would have tried to climb it again so to prevent him from further injuring himself, I, in what many are calling the most heroic act in the history of the WWE, climbed a broken ladder and grabbed the briefcase myself from further injury,” Sandow added. “That’s the kind of human being I am.”

In reality, Sandow pushed his former tag team partner off the ladder in order to claim the briefcase for himself. But the story he told me was hilarious.

But it’s that level of detail that makes Sandow so entertaining and so talented. Fans appreciate that level of investment even when they’re being made fun of. The pen with pink feather and the story of how he won the Money in the Bank briefcase are just two examples of what makes Sandow such an asset to WWE.

Sandow didn’t learn these sensibilities all on his own. He was taught some them when he was first being trained to become a professional wrestler.

The late, great Killer Kowalski, who was a legend himself in the wrestling business and trained other legends, most notably Triple H, trained Sandow.

Kowalski came from a time period where the most important thing wasn’t how fancy your moves were, it was about doing what you had to do to sell tickets, or, as Jim Ross would say, “Putting a butt every 18 inches.”

This was instilled in Sandow and it shows in his work today.

“That school many consider the heart of pro wrestling and it really was,” Sandow said. “Looking back on it, you learned your basics and stuff, but what Walter [Killer Kowalski] taught us was how to truly be a success and how to make a living for a sustained period of time, to what’s called ‘putting posteriors in seats.’”

“He taught to make the people notice you and make yourself stand out from everybody else,” Sandow added. “He did that, in my opinion, better than any other teacher could.”

Standing out is something Sandow does very well. From his large, but somehow well-groomed beard, to his pink tights, Sandow doesn’t have the cookie-cutter look that has plagued professional wrestling lately.

Kowalski not only taught Sandow about what it took to become a star in and out of the ring, but he also helped him navigate the pit falls of being a young independent wrestler.

“I’ve always preferred quality over quantity because there’s a lot of what we call ‘outlaw’ promotions that the only thing you get out of it is high risk of injury and you really won’t learn anything so I was very fortunate that I had god teachers and the quality of shows was something that I could learn from.”

Sandow is a polished professional wrestler, but when looking at his matches most would notice that his move set isn’t all that large. Not to say he isn’t capable of doing a lot of moves, but his main concern isn’t doing a plethora of them.

His main concern is doing what is necessary to draw a reaction from the audience in the stands and the audience watching on television. What he doesn’t do in the ring he makes up for with his presentation.

The way he comes to the ring, his music, the way he holds a microphone, his in-ring attire is all apart of the package that make up Sandow.

What that results in is good business. People want to see Sandow. Whether they want to see him entertain or get his butt kicked, they want to see him nonetheless.

“My message is that I’m trying to save the unwashed masses,” Sandow said. “It is my job to make that message heard as loud and as clear as possible. A lot of people are just concentrated on going out and exchanging holds and various maneuvers and all I’m concerned about is the fans. That’s what this industry is about, is the fans.”

Joining Sandow on Sunday night’s event will be CM Punk, Paul Heyman, World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio, Intercontinental Champion Curtis Axel, The Wyatt Family, Big E Langston, Primetime Players, R-Truth, The Bella Twins and The Great Khali.

Sandow made it perfectly clear that the possibility of him cashing in his Money in the Bank contract is always there and it could very well happen Sunday.

“I can assert myself whenever I see fit,” Sandow said. “Will I cash in? That is the theme at every WWE event and quite frankly, the only way to find out is to come and see.”

Vaughn Johnson Sports Producer
About this blog
The Squared Circle is a one-stop shop of pro wrestling news, recaps and observations. You can also enjoy interviews with some of your favorite stars from the world of professional wrestling both nationally and locally. Reach Vaughn at vjohnson@philly.com.

Vaughn Johnson Sports Producer
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