MOONEYHAM COLUMN: Damien Sandow uses smarts, skill to climb up the WWE ladder
He calls himself the “Intellectual Savior” of WWE.
His mission, he boasts, is to bring enlightenment to the unwashed masses.
It’s a gimmick, of course, but one that draws big-time heat and could potentially make Damien Sandow a top-tier heel in World Wrestling Entertainment.
The 6-4, 240-pound Sandow possesses many of the qualities that WWE looks for in its top talent. He’s got the size and the look along with the ring chops and mic ability.
His gimmick is old school, a combination of Lanny “The Genius” Poffo and Hunter Hearst Helmsley, but Sandow gives it an updated touch. He uses his verbose vocabulary to belittle opponents and talk down to fans. It’s an instant recipe for drawing the ire of the crowd.
Sandow, who will be part of a Smackdown event Dec. 4 at the North Charleston Coliseum, routinely begins his promos with a heat-drawing spiel: “Allow me to beg your indulgence. My name is Damien Sandow, and I’m here to help all of you.” He even holds the mic like a champagne glass during promos.
Sandow, who doesn’t break character during interviews, says his ring persona is a reflection of his own personality.
“I believe the reason this (the character) is working is because it’s actually not a character. It’s pretty much my own personality. It’s my views on society, but now I have the opportunity to share them with the world via the platform of WWE.”
The obnoxious character fans love to hate on TV, however, is actually a hard-working, 11-year veteran who has put in the time and effort to master his craft.
No overnight sensation
This isn’t Damien Sandow’s first rodeo.
Sandow, whose real name is Aaron Steven Haddad, is a Massachusetts native of Arab-American descent who first landed a WWE developmental contract in 2002 after earning strong reviews in a series of tryout matches. He made it to the main roster in 2006 as a character named Idol Stevens.
With partner KC James, he earned a crack at the WWE tag-team title held then by Brian Kendrick and Paul London at the 2006 No Mercy pay-per-view. Dubbed “Teacher’s Pets,” the two were managed by former WWE diva Michelle McCool (now Mrs. Mark “Undertaker” Calaway).
Not long after, though, Sandow was sent back to Ohio Valley Wrestling, WWE’s Louisville-based developmental territory,
Discouraged but not deterred, Sandow worked his way back into the WWE fold in 2010 and was sent to Florida Championship Wrestling. It was there that he introduced the Damien Sandow moniker.
Known as “Colonel” Damien Sandow, this time with a militant, beret-wearing gimmick, he managed to win the FCW tag-team belts with current WWE performer Titus O’Neill of The Primetime Players.
Again drawing the attention of company talent scouts, Sandow made his WWE in-ring re-debut in May as part of the Smackdown roster. Offering physical and spiritual enlightenment to the WWE Universe, Sandow assumed the rule of WWE’s martyr.
Clad in ring robe, pink trunks and purple kneepads, he snobbishly proclaimed himself “the avenging sword of taste and decency in the WWE,” denouncing social media and pop culture.
Already a management favorite, Sandow has drawn heady praise from colleagues and fans.
Former wrestling star and WWE trainer Dr. Tom Prichard first noticed Sandow when he was a rookie learning the ropes at the late Killer Kowalski’s Chaotic Wrestling school in Massachusetts.
“He had a ton of potential,” says Prichard. “I helped get him on some dark matches and always believed he had something to offer. He eventually got signed to a developmental deal and went to Louisville.”
“It went well,” Sandow says of his OVW experience, “but the time was not right, and timing is a big issue when it comes to anything.”
Veering back in the direction of his arrogant but scholarly persona, Sandow adds, “I think the time for these people to receive enlightenment is now. Thus I am on the main roster now.”
“Damien Sandow has a bright future,” says Prichard, who is considered one of the top trainers in the business. “I’ve been impressed with him from Day One. Given the opportunity, he will go as far as he desires in this business.”
Team Rhodes Scholars
WWE’s self-professed champion of civility currently is hitting his stride as part of a tag team with Cody Rhodes called Team Rhodes Scholars.
The two have been teaming up for less than three months, but they already have established themselves as the top contender for the WWE tag title currently held by Kane and Daniel Bryan.
“Cody and I were two people with a common goal,” says Sandow. “The crassness of Kane and Daniel Bryan needed to be stopped. Cody is the only person who is intellectually compatible with me. I think that it’s a very good pairing, and we shall continue.”
Rhodes suffered a concussion and shoulder injury during a recent match with Kane and Bryan in Cleveland, and was held out of last weekend’s Survivor Series pay-per-view.
“I know Cody was recently struck down by Kane, but rest assured he’s recovering nicely, and Team Rhodes Scholars shall press on,” Sandow promises.
Tag teams in WWE traditionally have played a backseat role to the singles division where there is greater upward mobility in the company. Some insiders have tabbed the 30-year-old Sandow as world championship material.
“He’s entertaining and credible in the ring no matter who he faces,” says Prichard. “I like him and Cody as a team, but Sandow is a singles performer. Let him be him, and he will be successful.”
“The world title would be good because then I can champion the cause of the world,” says Sandow, once again morphing into his WWE character. “It’s something I’m already doing. I’m championing the cause of the enlightenment of the world. The world heavyweight title would simply be a token of my status and a token of my mission which is to better us as a planet.”
“Would I say he has a chance of winning ‘the big one?’ Yes, I would,” says Prichard. “He’s talented, but even more so, he’s smart and understands how to do business these days. Stranger things have happened, and there is no reason Damien Sandow couldn’t or shouldn’t be a main-eventer and carry the world or WWE championship one day very soon.”
Sandow has heard all the comparisons to former WWE star Lanny Poffo’s “Genius” gimmick. There have even been comparisons to the flamboyant Gorgeous George.
Sandow’s presentation, he boasts, is designed for the greater good.
“I believe the intellectual thing will draw some comparisons, but when you really look at them, they’re really two very different things. There’s a cartwheel which was done by him as opposed to the Rotation of Illumination that I do. He would speak in rhyme whereas every time I speak I am trying to better society as a whole and trying to make my message heard by all the people so that they can enrich their own lives. So with me there’s a lot at stake. By that I mean the survival of us as a people.”
No cookie-cutter heel, Sandow’s well-defined character also is reminiscent of Triple H’s original Hunter Hearst Helmsley persona.
“We both were trained by Killer Kowalski,” says Sandow, who notes that the experience was “extremely positive.” “But I think if you look at the history of our business, you can draw comparisons to a lot of guys that have come before. There’s the Gorgeous George element and so many other things. I think what makes people successful is just being able to be themselves. Throughout the course of time there’s been so many characters and personas, and there’s going to be comparisons drawn. However I believe I am the first-ever ‘Intellectual Savior of the Masses.’”
Sandow says he is proof that hard work and determination can pay off in the end. It has allowed him, he says, to conduct his crusade of enlightenment.
“I am the living example of setting a goal and attaining your goal. There’s a lot to be learned from observing me,” says Sandow, who attended Worcester State University in Massachusetts. “As one changes and progresses, their dreams change and progress. Now my dream is to enlighten everyone, and that’s what I’m working on now, and I certainly will attain it.”
His biggest thrill in the wrestling, he says, is “changing people’s lives.”
“People can take the self-gratification route of the admiration of thousands and thousands of people, but with me there’s much more at stake. The betterment of society as a whole. The survival of us as a nation and as a people. I get a thrill in changing people’s lives. When someone is finally enlightened by me, that is the ultimate prize.”
Sandow says he is looking forward to the North Charleston show, and quite naturally, he’s got some advice for local fans.
“Just listen to everything that I have to say,” he says, sharing his unique brand of wisdom.
And, better yet, all for a fraction of the cost of a college education.”
“You’ll see title matches, everything,” he continues. “Above all, you’ll become enlightened. There’s thousands and thousands of dollars in student loans to get a college education, and I encourage everyone to get a college education. But for the small price of a WWE ticket, you can receive enlightenment. People can’t afford to miss this.”
— The first local WWE TV taping in several years will be held Dec. 4 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Smackdown double main event features Big Show defending his world heavyweight title against former champ Sheamus, and a challenge match between Randy Orton and Alberto Del Rio.
Ticket prices are $95 $50, $35, $25 and $15.