Santino: Breaking Down WWE Star's Upside, Direction and Long-Term Potential
There are a few superstars in the WWE who the creative team feels comfortable putting titles on. One of those superstars is clearly Santino Marella, as he is the current United States Champion and has held every midcard title in the company at one point or another.
It remains to be seen if that will be the extent of his success in the company, however.
Santino has had a few brushes with greatness over the past couple of years. He was the final man eliminated from the Royal Rumble won by Alberto Del Rio last year, and he was the final man eliminated by Daniel Bryan in the SmackDown Elimination Chamber match for the World Heavyweight Championship prior to WrestleMania.
Keep reading for another installment of my daily WWE superstar breakdown in which I analyze the upside, direction and long-term potential of the company's established and rising stars.
Today I'll determine whether Santino has the ability to be a main-event-caliber performer in the WWE.
Santino's wrestling career began in 2006 in Ohio Valley Wrestling where he was initially given the ring name Johnny Geo Basco. That didn't last long, however, as he transitioned to the character of a ruthless Russian tough guy named Boris Alexiev.
Santino had some dominant performances in that gimmick and impressed the WWE enough that the company signed him to a developmental deal.
Santino would win the OVW Television Championship before getting the call to the main roster in 2007. Santino debuted as a supposed jobber to face Intercontinental Champion Umaga. In his first WWE match, however, Santino beat Umaga for the title in shocking fashion. He would hold it for a few months before dropping it back to Umaga and turning heel.
Santino transitioned into a comedic character and had on-screen relationships with Maria and Beth Phoenix. He would eventually turn face after portraying a woman known as Santina Marella and saying that she was his sister. Santino also had a successful run as a Tag Team Champion with Vladimir Kozlov before going off on his own once again.
Despite the fact that Santino is the United States Champion, he isn't doing anything of note right now. His current feud is against Alberto Del Rio's personal ring announcer, Ricardo Rodriguez. The feud started several weeks ago when Santino said that Ricardo was an awful announcer and that he could do better.
It has escalated from there, and the pair has competed in a few quick matches since then.
Santino challenged Ricardo to a tuxedo match at No Way Out during which the first competitor to strip his opponent from his tuxedo was the winner. It is obvious that there aren't really any plans for Santino since the creative team has opted to put him in a comedy feud without much substance.
Santino and Ricardo do well together in that regard, but I can't help but think that Santino should be involved in something far more substantial.
I understand that Santino is the United States Champion because he is viewed as a safe superstar to hold the title thanks to his popularity, but if he were to get involved in some real feuds over the belt in which he went over legitimate heels, then it could make him look like a true threat.
Clearly the creative team isn't overly worried about the United States Championship, though, because it is no longer a bridge to the main event.
Whether you take him seriously as a competitor or not, there is absolutely no question that Santino has a fantastic personality that makes him relevant in the WWE. Some of the things he does are pretty juvenile, but even I have to admit that he's very funny. His fake accent and the way he purposely mispronounces words is hilarious.
While his theatrics in the ring may come off as hokey to some, they can bring some much-needed levity to the table at times.
He is over with the crowd, plain and simple, and I'm not sure how many other superstars can say that. The top guys like John Cena, CM Punk, Randy Orton and Sheamus obviously can, but there aren't really a lot of midcard wrestlers that the audience gets behind. Kids and adults, alike, enjoy Santino's character, so he will always have a spot in the WWE and in the business in general.
On top of that, Santino is also quite good on the mic. It might be a little easier for him since he has an obvious gimmick that allows him to butcher words and doesn't force him to cut serious promos, but he does a great job with it.
He never seems flustered or uncomfortable, and I feel confident that he could flourish in that area if he were to ever get a big push.
What is Santino's biggest weakness?
For a midcarder, Santino's gimmick is fantastic; however, it is a detriment in terms of him ever becoming something more. I can't be the only one who has a hard time seeing a glorified comedian like Santino running around with the World Heavyweight or WWE Championship.
His finishing move involves him putting a cobra sock on his arm and thrusting his opponent in the throat.
I understand that The Rock did The People's Elbow, Mankind did the Mandible Claw with Mr. Socko and Cena does the Five Knuckle Shuffle, but all of them have more substance to them than Santino. They are or were multidimensional performers who were capable of doing the comedic stuff, but when they had to get serious, they could do that as well.
I'm just not sure that Santino can do that. He did have a gimmick like that in OVW as Boris Alexiev, but that is a complete departure from his current character. Additionally, he hasn't proven that he can put on a top-level match.
That isn't his fault since he is encouraged to be funny, but it does hurt his credibility. From what I've seen, Santino is legitimately good in the ring, but unless he is allowed to showcase his true talents, he is kind of stuck.
As I have said, Santino hasn't really gotten an opportunity to wrestle many marquee matches during his WWE career. He has been Intercontinental Champion on a couple of occasions, as well as United States Champion currently.
But the vast majority of his bouts aren't necessarily serious. One match that I believe made him look like a serious threat, though, was the World Heavyweight Championship match at Elimination Chamber.
Santino won a battle royal to earn the right to get into that match, and rather than just being a guy who was thrown into action, he made a major impact.
He eliminated both Cody Rhodes and Wade Barrett in the match and had the crowd behind him in a big way. He ultimately succumbed to Daniel Bryan as expected, but he appeared to be credible; the fans truly wanted him to win.
Thus far, his performance in that match has to be viewed as an outlier in his career, but it does give me some pause in saying that he can't ever be a main-event guy.
Perhaps if he keeps the comedic-face persona but adds a little bit of an edge, he can become something more. This match is evidence that the WWE Universe wouldn't mind seeing Santino win a world title.
As much as I do enjoy Santino and hope that he is a fixture in the WWE for a very long time, I don't believe he will or should ever be a world champion or a main eventer for that matter.
Santino is good in his current role—so good in fact that he should stay in it for the foreseeable future. The midcard scene is actually quite barren in terms of quality faces, and Santino is one of the few who fits that description. He is a guy who can have some good midcard feuds and get people to care about them.
The main event scene is already littered with top faces in Cena, Punk, Orton (when he returns) and Sheamus. Also, heels like Daniel Bryan, Alberto Del Rio, Dolph Ziggler, Cody Rhodes and The Miz are ahead of him in the pecking order when it comes to a world title run.
Santino is fun and entertaining, but he is so far down the totem pole that I don't see him ever ascending to that position.
He is only 33 years old, so he has a decent amount of time left in the business. But he is too much of an asset to the WWE for the creative team to risk changing him in any way. The company needs its midcard to be strong in order to have events with plenty of depth, and Santino contributes to that. Keeping him there just makes good business sense.
How He Gets There
Will Santino ever become a world champion?
While Santino may be able to pull off becoming a world champion, I feel like it would be a mistake to make him one.
Some of the greatest all-around performers in WWE history have never won the world title, so it would be like a slap in the face if it was given to a comedic character. Perhaps Santino is unfairly pigeonholed because of his gimmick, but I believe he has passed the point of no return as far as legitimizing himself as a serious competitor goes.
If he was to become a main event player, though, he would have to get a serious streak in some way.
Perhaps he could have his normal character most of the time, but when it comes time to wrestle, he could turn into a serious competitor with excellent wrestling skill.
It seems like the creative team has done something similar by giving Brodus Clay a mean streak, so that may be able to work for Santino as well.
I wouldn't even bother tinkering, though, because he has refined his character quite well and carved out a niche for himself. I'm sure Santino understands his role, and while he would probably like to get a chance as a main eventer, his gimmick just isn't a fit.
I suppose you never know what might happen, but Santino is actually one of the few guys in the company who, I feel, is being used to the best of his ability.
Check back daily for new entries in this WWE 25-superstar countdown. Here are the five most recent editions for your viewing pleasure:
19. Brodus Clay
18. David Otunga
17. Kofi Kingston
16. Jack Swagger
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