Pushed to Punished: The Maligning Misstep of Fandango in WWE
In Pushed to Punished, we analyze the controversial careers of past and present WWE Superstars who were once in the good graces of management but ultimately met their downfalls for one reason or another.
That essentially sums up Fandango's WWE tenure in a nutshell.
Then known as Johnny Curtis, he was signed to a developmental deal in 2006. During his time in Deep South Wrestling and Florida Championship Wrestling, Curtis impressed officials with his exceptional in-ring ability and reigned as FCW Tag Team champion on two separate occasions.
In 2011, Curtis took part in the fourth season of NXT, winning the competition and earning a main-roster contract. When his SmackDown run failed miserably, he returned to his roots in NXT before reinventing himself as Fandango.
It was a gimmick so silly that it actually went over with the audience, albeit for a short period of time. Instead of capitalizing on the buzz his character (as well as his catchy entrance music) was generating, management cut his momentum short and relegated him to jobber status.
Over the last three years, Fandango has slowly faded into obscurity, despite his best attempts to rejuvenate his career by going solo and turning babyface. What's worse is that the outdated gimmick is holding him back from fulfilling his full potential as a performer.
Here, we'll break down every peak and valley in the career of Fandango in an attempt to discover where WWE went wrong with him.
Winning NXT Season 4
When NXT launched in February 2010, the concept was designed to find WWE's next breakout star, but in reality it did nothing but embarrass the up-and-comers. NXT Season 1 is best known for giving us The Nexus, but all subsequent seasons were a waste.
NXT Season 4 featured the talented likes of Johnny Curtis, Brodus Clay and Derrick Bateman, and even through the ridiculous challenges, they shined. Better yet, they were able to showcase their skills and make the most of the garbage they were forced to endure.
Curtis in particular stood out from the rest of the pack with his genuine charisma and above-average wrestling skills. Despite having very little chemistry with his on-air mentor R-Truth, they remained a cohesive unit throughout the season, unlike other pairings.
Bateman appeared to be the heavy favorite to win the main-roster spot, but an unfortunate injury prevented him from making it to the finals. It instead came down to Curtis and Clay, with the former FCW standout ultimately earning the contract.
By that point, however, winning NXT virtually meant nothing. Kaval was released in late 2010, and Kaitlyn was barely featured on SmackDown, so Curtis' immediate future was very much in doubt.
Debuting on SmackDown
After winning NXT in early March 2011, Johnny Curtis disappeared from programming. There weren't any updates on his whereabouts or what brand he intended on signing with; it was almost as if WWE forgot about him entirely.
It wasn't until June that the company realized he was still on the roster and began to air vignettes promoting his pending debut on the SmackDown brand. But instead of getting the fans hyped for his arrival, the series of strange video packages had people questioning his character and why anyone should care.
These vignettes lasted two months and culminated with Curtis finally wrestling on the Aug. 12 edition of SmackDown, though he was quickly squashed by Mark Henry. He made sporadic appearances on the blue brand through the remainder of 2011 before being quietly removed from the roster.
In addition to never receiving the WWE Tag Team Championship opportunity he was promised, Curtis was never given a chance to succeed on the grand stage. His ill-defined persona played a factor in that, but there was more Creative could have done before giving up on him so soon.
That said, his massive main-roster flop worked out for the better. It allowed him to return to his stomping grounds in NXT and re-evaluate his career, making the necessary changes to get to the level at which he deserved to be.
Returning to NXT: Redemption
Originally, the purpose of NXT's fifth season was to bring back competitors who had previously lost and give them a second chance at redemption. But over time, it devolved into a never-ending rib on the rookies involved.
Making a return to the program after nearly a year away was Johnny Curtis, who debuted an all-new, creepy character who appeared to be completely out of his mind. While a move to NXT looked like a demotion for Curtis on paper, it provided him with the perfect platform to rejuvenate his stagnant gimmick (or lack thereof).
The segments he had with Maxine and Derrick Bateman were so ridiculous they were actually entertaining. It was a far better use of his talent than having him waste away in the undercard on SmackDown, as he had been months earlier.
Just as Curtis was building momentum, NXT finally met its demise in June 2012 as it prepared to be revamped into the updated developmental system for WWE. This left the cast and crew of NXT: Redemption, including Curtis, largely directionless.
Curtis made a handful appearances on the program emanating from Full Sail University in the latter half of 2012 before being taken off TV all together. A rebirth was imminent, and it proved to be the turning point his waning career desperately needed.
The Debut of Fandango
In October 2012, vignettes began to air hyping the impending debut of Fandango, a ballroom-dancing wrestler portrayed by the repackaged Johnny Curtis. It was evident the character was a pet project of Vince McMahon's, and although that isn't always necessarily a sign of success, it meant he would be aggressively pushed from the get-go.
The vignettes played for months on Raw and SmackDown, leading to the artist formerly known as Johnny Curtis making his main roster re-debut on the March 1 edition of SmackDown. In the weeks that followed, he refused to compete and berated anyone who mispronounced his name.
He ran into his first roadblock that March in the form of Chris Jericho, who challenged him to a match at WrestleMania 29. It was there that Fandango would wrestle his first matchup under the new moniker, and few talents can say they had their in-ring debut on the grand stage.
Arguably, Jericho deserved a higher-profile opponent one year removed from challenging for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania, but it was undoubtedly a major opportunity for Fandango to prove himself as a competent competitor. Their 'Mania match was well-wrestled and nicely paced, but it was the NXT alum's upset victory that had fans talking the day after.
Speaking of which, it was on the next night's Raw that Fandango instantly became one of the company's most popular Superstars, thanks to his theme song. The rowdy post-WrestleMania crowd took to the electric entrance theme and created an overnight sensation as a result.
Rise in Popularity and Fall from Grace
As the art of "Fandangoing" became a global phenomenon, WWE failed to capitalize on the trend and missed a golden opportunity to make a recognizable name out of Fandango. By forcing it on fans, any cool factor "Fandangoing" had was ruined shortly after it was born.
Despite that, Fandango remained over with the audience for a few months and appeared to be primed for a run with the Intercontinental Championship. However, a concussion sidelined him from in-ring action for a month, giving up his title opportunity to Curtis Axel instead.
During his absence, his stock had fallen significantly within the company. No longer was he looked at as a top priority by management, but rather a midcard competitor at best, and with minimal direction upon his return to the squared circle.
In a matter of months, Fandango went from feuding with Chris Jericho to feuding with The Miz, to whom he lost at Night of Champions. He spent the rest of 2013 chasing the Intercontinental Championship, but to no avail; any chance of his returning to relevance was lost.
He maintained a presence on WWE TV heading into 2014 but was mostly utilized as an enhancement talent. Being left without a dance partner that summer didn't help his situation, either.
Aligning with Rosa Mendes and Turning Face
Fandango was once again removed from WWE programming in the final few months of 2014 before being reintroduced at the Survivor Series pay-per-view.
In his first match in over three months, he debuted a new ballroom-dancer gimmick and revealed a partnership with Rosa Mendes, ditching the only aspect of his character that made him special: his entrance music.
The new look and attitude certainly had promise, but his booking didn't change in the slightest. He was still portrayed as an undercard competitor fans couldn't take seriously, and thus his latest "push" was doomed to fail.
It became quite clear by April that the gimmick was going nowhere fast, so WWE made a last-ditch effort to refresh his stale persona by turning him babyface and giving him back his old entrance theme. The raucous fans in England ate it up, but every crowd from then on couldn't have cared less.
Simply put, fans gave up on Fandango, and WWE waited far too long to pull the trigger on turning him. Over the last year, he been a regular on Main Event and Superstars with no meaningful direction in sight.
You wouldn't be wrong to categorize him as "damaged goods," but a complete character overhaul would do him wonders (i.e. ditching the dancing shtick altogether).
For someone for whom officials had high hopes at one point, it has been disheartening to see his potential go to waste.
Be sure to drop a comment below with your thoughts on how Fandango has been utilized over the course of his WWE career. Also, include any potential Superstars or Divas you would like to see featured in upcoming editions of Pushed to Punished.
Read every archived edition of Pushed to Punished here.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his officialFacebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.