Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Damien Sandow vs. The Machine

It could go somewhere, but it probably won't
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Damien Sandow was once a can't-miss prospect. Sure, he'd already floundered on the WWE roster as Idol Stevens and had to go back to developmental, but once he got there and was given the Sandow name and character, he'd seemed to have found his perfect storm. The erudite snob allowed him to channel disdain towards the fans in an engaging and thoroughly enthralling way, while he was able to claim a certain look that made him stand out above the rest of the roster. He got to the main show and turned a lot of heads. Being given the opportunity to chew scenery with Degeneration X and work long matches on television against Sheamus was a hugely positive sign for him going forward. His career arc seemed to reach its apogee when he snaked the Money in the Bank briefcase from Cody Rhodes and banked himself a near-guaranteed run with the World Heavyweight Championship.

As the story unfolded, however, Sandow backslid to the point where he's become almost a non-entity. Last night was a stark reminder of how far he'd fallen, when Big Show paid off his diatribe with a knockout punch to the face. The segment was straight out of Pro Wrestling 101, mind you. The bad guy mouths off, gets the crowd all riled up, and then hero comes in and provides instant gratification. Segments such as those are healthy and provide vicarious relief for the lizard side of the average fan's brain. Not everyone has upward mobility, nor should they. The reason why acts like 3MB or Santino Marella exist is to be easy butts of jokes for the faces to pop crowds or for villains to enact humiliation without damaging the goods of a guy with whom the company may want to draw money someday.

The problem with the segment wasn't so much that it happened, but who the butt of the joke was. Yes, Sandow is adept at drawing the crowd's ire, but he's proven that he's got a lot of other tools valuable for a main event baddie in the WWE or in any company. He draws the cheap heat, sure, but every bad guy at some point has to be able to get the easiest boos out of the crowd. However, he's got the next-level skillset that makes him one of the few wrestlers on the roster who can credibly headline WrestleMania as a villain. His in-ring work is impeccable, not only from a nuts and bolts standpoint. He's one of the best at intensifying his evil through his completely domineering and ruthless tactics in the ring. Even though his gimmick feels one-dimensional on the surface, the man behind it has taken great strides to put gravitas behind it enough that he could and did go up against John Cena.

For his troubles, Sandow has slowly but surely been degraded into "just another guy." His trademark pastel tights, whether pink normally or orchid during WWE's monthlong support campaign for Susan G. Komen, have been downgraded to black. His entrance attire is his latest t-shirt, which ill-fits the spirit of his character in a monstrous way. Worst of all, since losing the briefcase in his cash-in attempt on Cena, his role in the company has been the bearer of the dreaded "losing streak," the laziest, very-definition-of-tepid story crutch for a bunch of "creative" types who end up having "nothing" for an awful lot of rostered WWE wrestlers.

Sandow isn't the first talented wrestler to be chewed up by this machine and he won't be the last. WWE as a company doesn't like to bear the creative failure, and when the booking fails a wrestler like it did Sandow after he lost his briefcase to Cena, WWE responds by making it seem like the fault rests with the performer. Then again, standard operating procedure in any major American corporation seems to be to protect the nebulous entity before doing right by individuals on a consistent basis.

Sandow is talented enough to overcome this recent spate of bad booking, however. In reality, the idea that wrestling fans have short memories seems to bear out, and whether he's repackaged in another gimmick or he just gets a refreshed confidence behind him, he can still ascend to where he should be. Who knows, maybe that KO punch from Show was the start of something grander for him. Then again, track record seems to bear out that wrestlers who fall that dramatically out of favor with the machine don't really go anywhere without some kind of major intervention. For all I know, Kieran Shiach could be right and that Sandow might just be part of an old guard who is never going to get as over as the guys before them or the guys coming ahead of them. Still, stripping a character of everything that makes him or her different and treating an obviously talented wrestler like dead weight is counterproductive to having a complete and decent show. Damien Sandow doesn't seem to me to be the kind of guy who should just float around and be a short term punchline, and the fact that he's trending in that direction is a goddamn shame.