Tuesday, July 8, 2014

If This Be the End for Santino Marella...

Godspeed, fair jester
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Santino Marella announced at a house show in Toronto on Sunday that he would be retiring from WWE. He cited a neck injury as being the breaking point, as it has cost him a lot of time in the ring over his recent past. The announcement drew out mostly warm wishes for the comedic dynamo, but his presence on shows lately had drawn mostly sighs and groans. Unfortunately, Marella has had to deal with mixed reactions most of his career from the hardcore community. While live crowds always popped for the Milan Miracle, his critical acclaim has been lukewarm to say the least in aggregate, even if those who did praise him ended up being effusive with their words.

Every story has more than one side to it. Perspective is both humanity's greatest gift and its most confounding obstacle, which is why Marella's legacy, or anyone's for that matter, will be debated for as long as people remember who he is. I refuse to proselytize to the sect of fans who would rather everything be the 2010-2012 Ring of Honor World Championship scene, because no matter how much I extol his virtues, they're not coming around. Comedy is extremely subjective in the wild, let alone in professional wrestling. I have found Marella to be grating and pandering at times, and I'm not sure how much of it I could blame on WWE's writing and the way comedy is streamlined to fit an impossibly narrow standard (read, to Vince McMahon's liking if the rumors are correct).

Yet for as much as the content he conveyed was questionable at times, Marella's timing, the way he knew exactly when to pratfall or duck or break into his invisible trombone, always seemed as close to objectively good as one could get in the arena of pro wrestling. Knowing how to manipulate a crowd into raucously cheering you is a difficult art, especially when your methodology involves traversing over the funny bone. To that end, Marella has to be considered one of the all-time WWE greats. The pop he got when the TD Bank Garden thought he won the Royal Rumble was electric, and it certainly sounded louder to me than the one Sheamus got for winning the damn match one year later. Of course, location may have had a lot to do with the change in volume, but the impression I got was that Marella's connection with crowds, both with his intended juvenile audience and the the grownups who were supposed to cheer for guys who didn't make snakes out of their arms, was real and genuine.

It wasn't just the support he got in bigtime matches, like that Rumble or the World Heavyweight Championship Elimination Chamber match the following year when he was arguably the most over guy in the match. He elevated more than enough comedy segments, whether the material he was given was transcendent or cringeworthy. Most of the time, what he got from the writers was closer to the latter than the former. But Glamarella, the Honk-a-Meter, his teaming with Vladimir Kozlov - highlighted by a delightfully absurd tea party segment with Sheamus - and the simple joy the Cobra as his finisher all made his inclusion on whatever show he was on more than worthwhile.

RAW is going to have a pretty big hole to fill when it comes to comic relief. Damien Sandow seemingly is filling it adequately by doing the best possible variant on the impersonation gimmick, but no matter how well anyone fares as a serial cosplayer, the ceiling is pretty low. If anyone on the roster now has his timing, his knack for the moment, his ability to inject some kind of amusing worth into an awful segment, they haven't shown it yet. Hopefully, he'll be able to teach the finer arts of comedy at his wrestling school up in his native Canada (FOURTH WALL! FOURTH WALL!). Having your body force you into retirement sucks, but I guess nearly a decade of Santino Marella is better than none of him at all. Thanks for the memories, and Godspeed.