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 411mania » Wrestling » Columns

Smart Marks 7.12.14: Toasting Santino
Posted by Dino Zee on 07.12.2014

Welcome back to another edition of Smart Marks, the weekly column that allows us all to come together and attempt to intelligently discuss a few items of the past week! I don't mean "intelligently" in a snooty way- I just mean that I'm not writing for the sole purpose of pissing you off or trolling you. What I say is legitimately how I feel, and if you disagree, then feel free to tell me why! I am known to answer the comments, so please don't take it as an attack- I just like pushing the conversation forward from time to time.

Last week, I put the spotlight on the ladies, as we talked about AJ's return and subsequent regaining of the Divas title, along with Gail Kim's win of the Knockouts championship, before turning the talk to our favorite women wrestlers ever. As usual, there were some great callouts for the favorites, and I was happy to see that the column itself got some attention. The ladies can sometimes draw out the pervy crowd, so I was happy to see that avoided for the most part.

This week, I'm dedicating the space to one of my favorite wrestlers of the last ten years, who over the last weekend had to retire due to injury. I'm talking about Santino Marella, a guy who I immensely enjoyed watching from his debut in Milan until his last appearance that I saw, where he attempted to shill some Adult Beverages with Adam Rose on Raw last week. That said, this column will be a little light, and if you've never considered yourself a fan of Santino, then this might not be the place for you this week.

When Santino debuted, Raw was being held in Milan, Italy. Umaga was the Intercontinental Champion, having recovered from losing the John Cena feud just fine. When Vince McMahon announced that he was simply going to pluck someone out of the crowd, I was expecting to see a wrestler, and most likely someone I recognized. However, I did not recognize the man that was pulled out of the crowd. I didn't have any access to OVW, so I did not realize that this was the man known as Boris Alexiev.

However, that didn't stop me from marking out- and marking out HUGE- when he came into the ring, and with a little help from Bobby Lashley, walked out of the ring the new Intercontinental Champion. I'm Italian, and so rooting for him came along pretty easily. I even seem to remember calling a friend up and saying "You HAVE to watch tonight! This was the best Raw ever!" He was not amused when the show was over.

From that day, I was on Team Santino, and I never once flinched. I remember when he gave Umaga a rematch on pay per view, and Umaga absolutely smashed him. The fans kept cheering "One more time!" It was clear that they weren't taking well to this new guy who won a title and then did very little afterwards. Clearly, Paige today is proof that they didn't learn their lesson. Soon, Santino would drop the title, and turn heel. It was his heel turn, however, that really allowed him to display what he could truly bring to the table.

He started off slowly, but began to gain some momentum showing off his comedic chops, and it wasn't long before the "Boo the faces, cheer the heels" crew started getting behind him and his wacky hijinx. In that time, he again won the Intercontinental Championship, forming Glamarella with Beth Phoenix, who was his on-screen squeeze. As you may remember, this title reign was famous for the Honk-a-Meter, a graphic Santino would use to show how far away from topping the Honky Tonk Man's record reign. I was convinced this was being done only so he could break the record, so you can imagine my dismay when it was ended very shortly into it, with him dropping the belt again. There would be no record for Santino this time.

I don't mean for this to simply be a Wikipedia page history of Santino, I really don't. I just wanted to give a bit of backstory for the man to those who may not have seen it all. Once this title reign was over, Santino was basically a face for the rest of his tenure in WWE, as he was just too goofy to keep as a heel. Too funny, really. Whether he was mispronouncing words, or doing his aerobic walk to the ring, or even trying out new moves in slow motion while wrestling, it was clear that this was a man who knew how to entertain a crowd.

For me, there are two moments that stand out more than anything in his career, and those are the two I'd like to talk about here.

The 2011 Royal Rumble was "The Biggest Rumble in History," and the smart money was on an Alberto Del Rio win. Well, that's what me and my friends had called, at least. We watched the Rumble as we always do, playing our Rumble game where we put money in a pot, draw numbers, and whoever draws the winning number gets the money. It always makes the Rumble more entertaining, and even draws in non-fans to participate. So we're watching, and at some point, I realize that Santino has not been eliminated, but he's out of the ring.

I start screaming, because now I'm certain that he's going to win the Rumble. Forget that it makes no sense, I've crossed into full mark-out mode, and with each elimination, I get more and more excited to see it happen. Santino, Royal Rumble winner. Let me state that I wasn't dumb enough to think he'd actually go to Mania as champ, I just thought he'd get this unreal win, and then promptly lose his shot at the Elimination Chamber or something. Finally, Alberto Del Rio is all alone in the ring, thinking he's won. Santino gets up behind him, and at this point I'm losing my mind. Santino slowly walks up behind him, preps the Cobra, and drops Del Rio! I'm literally leaping out of my seat now, because I can't believe this is actually going to- and then he charges Del Rio, Del Rio moves, and Santino flies over the top and out of the Rumble. Son o'ma gun!

While this was a huge letdown, just knowing that Santino had that whole arena behind him was a cool moment for me as a fan. Lots of times, the "comedy characters" just don't get real support from the fans. We know better than to think that anything serious is going to happen with them, and we sort of resign ourselves to that fact. The 2011 Rumble, however, proved that even a comedy character can grab the entire audience and place them in the palm of his hand if all the pieces are right. No one wanted to see Del Rio win, because he was a jerk. Santino, on the other hand? This lovable cat? How you could root against him at that moment, I just don't know. It was on this night, as well, that I realized that if WWE actually got behind Santino, they might actually be able to push him in a serious light. Of course, I'd have to wait a while for WWE to realize this, but eventually, they did realize it, and that takes me to my all-time favorite Santino moment.

Santino earned himself a spot in the 2012 Elimination Chamber match for a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship. The instant I heard that he was in that match, I ordered the Elimination Chamber pay per view. Yes, that's right. I was convinced that WWE realized from the previous year's Rumble that giving Santino a decent little run may not be the worst idea they've had. I was also convinced that he was going to win the World Championship.

Yeah, yeah, yeah… this is where all you brainiacs point out how stupid I was for thinking that. Whatever. In my head, you have Santino pull off this ridiculous upset, everyone goes crazy, and then either the next night on Raw, or maybe a week or two later, he loses the belt, and you can continue on to WrestleMania without much of a problem. Make no mistake about it, though: I was 100% convinced that he was winning the World Title, and I wanted to make sure that I was "there" for it when it happened.

Alas, I was wrong. He came so, so very close to pulling it off, but it was not to be. Still, he once again proved that with the right booking, the crowd would absolutely pull for the comedy character. And this was with DANIEL BRYAN as the champion! I had no regrets about ordering the show, even if he came up a bit short.
Santino reignited a fire in me as a fan that had been missing for a bit when he showed up. I still had guys I rooted for, but I had also become a bit of a smark when you really break it down. Too cynical, and unable to enjoy stuff that wasn't done the exact way I would have done it. With Santino, I was able to realize that it's all fun, and that no matter what, they're here to entertain you. If you're entertained, then they've done their job. I can't remember a time that Santino didn't entertain me.

Some have talked about how his retirement isn't a big loss, because he wasn't a great worker. First off, I think that's incorrect. Second off, while he may not have been Bret Hart in the ring, the fact is that he absolutely knew how to work the crowd, heel or face. He absolutely knew how to get the reactions he wanted. He absolutely knew how to make low level wrestling matches seem important.

I will absolutely miss him, and I want to thank him for the entertainment he provided me over the last seven years. In the 2000s alone, I've lost Bret Hart, Edge, possibly Daniel Bryan, and now Santino to head/neck injuries. These were the guys I'd follow to the ends of the earth for, and they've been taken from me in the harshest of manners. Santino may not have achieved the success of the others, but he was absolutely a Favorite of Mine at the same level as the rest.

Thank you, Santino.

It's All Wrestling. It's All Stupid. We All Love It.


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