For Damien Sandow, the path to WWE's center stage begins with a climb out of a deep hole.
The majority of images that fans have seen of Sandow over the past few months have been of him failing. While WWE has portrayed other Superstars as destroyers and gladiators, "The Intellectual Savior" has been made to look like a bumbler.
He has a store of negative impressions to overcome as he tries to start a fire with a pile of wet leaves.
On the pre-show for Monday's Raw, Sandow burst onto the set in what was meant to look like an unscripted event. He ranted about how WWE was afraid of what he had to say before Josh Mathews informed him that officials had cut his mic.
This was a rare sign of life for a wrestler who has been mostly dormant as of late.
Handing him a CM Punk-like rebel angle would be a smart move. One of Sandow's biggest strengths is his mic work, and having him talk more is the best way to get him some traction.
He has embraced this storyline even if it was born away from the spotlight on the pre-show rather than on the show itself. After this incident, he's used his Twitter account to further this idea of him being someone WWE wants to punish for speaking out of turn.
Well, after that I guess my voice will be heard on twitter exclusively. I was worth it .— Damien Sandow (@TheDamienSandow) May 13, 2014
On Tuesday's Main Event, Sandow played up this angle during his match with Dolph Ziggler. He kept raising his hands in the air, mockingly asking WWE to handcuff him.
This is a story with potential and a welcome change from Sandow just being tossed out to other wrestlers like chum in the water.
It will take a lot more than insulting Jimmy Hart's wardrobe and being slightly disruptive to succeed, though. Fans have gotten used to thinking of Sandow as a patsy. For him to be taken seriously, to be seen as a threat, WWE has to repair the damage it's done to his aura lately.
His descent began after failing to become world champion despite cashing in his Money in the Bank contract on John Cena, who was still recovering from an elbow injury and was halfway to Dream Town thanks to a beating from Sandow.
There were some, including Mick Foley, who believed that the loss was a positive for Sandow.
"The Age of Sandow" never came. Instead of climbing into contention for a world title, Sandow slid down the card. He didn't do much butt-kicking in his new position either.
He didn't just lose a Broadway Brawl to Ziggler on Nov. 18—he was made the fool in the match. The final image of that bout is "The Showoff" stuffing Sandow into a drum and smashing a guitar over his head for the win.
All Superstars lose, but it's not as if WWE is asking Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan or Cena to suffer their defeats in such a cartoonish way.
The company doesn't make its top stars dress up as the bad Santa and inspire laughter from the announce desk either. Sandow played that role on the last Raw before Christmas. Mark Henry played the good Santa and proceeded to pummel the former member of Team Rhodes Scholars.
The bout featured Henry smashing Sandow's head in a toilet, and after the bell, "The World's Strongest Man" mushed a pan of cupcakes into his face.
He has had a few victories since the failed cash-in, but losses have been his trademark during that span. Sandow was the first man tossed from the 2014 Royal Rumble and after was an easy victim for Sin Cara, who had Scooby Doo in his corner.
WWE added to Sandow's collections of follies just recently. Sandow dressed up as Magneto to confront Ziggler and Hugh Jackman in a segment that ended with both those men taking shots at him. On the SmackDown from May 2, Sandow was still in Magneto gear when he took on Ziggler.
He lost after stumbling on his cape long enough for Ziggler to hit the Zig Zag.
No one else on the roster has been made to look as silly as Sandow. WWE's resident punching bags 3MB haven't looked like world beaters but have kept their heads out of toilets and their torsos out of drums. Even someone like Zack Ryder, who barely gets on camera these days, hasn't left impressions of ineptness like these.
Big wins and memorable words will counteract those over time.
It will just be a difficult process to convince fans that Sandow is a threat rather than a punchline. It would be like Tracy Morgan trying to pass himself off as a serious actor. It would take a number of tear-jerking performances before we stop thinking of him as a goofy guy.
This is what Sandow will be trying to do should WWE have him continue on his current path.
Fans have spent the last few months watching him play a dupe. The expectation for him at the moment is for other Superstars to push him aside and for him to fall on his face. Counteracting those expectations doesn't happen instantly.
He can certainly rejuvenate his career with this new angle, freshening up the perception of him with some bright new colors. There are just a lot of layers of old paint to cover.