The Jeremy Lin of the Squared Circle

Article written by:
Romeo Moran
Author: Romeo Moran
Ro is our resident wrestling geek. Don't mess with him; he'll elbow drop you out of nowhere.

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Admit it: when you first heard that Randy Orton was being replaced in the SmackDown Elimination Chamber by, of all people, Santino Marella, you got pissed. If you’re one to overreact, maybe you threw up a little. Like everyone else who has dabbled in a bit of fantasy booking, and that’s almost every other wrestling fan, you made a prediction that Santino would get taken out of the match before it even begun, following the precedent Edge set when he unceremoniously laid out Kofi Kingston in the 2009 RAW chamber to take his spot.

And then, when that didn’t happen, admit that you expected Santino to be eliminated second, because you never thought Khali was going to amount to much, even though he was the biggest man in the match. You expected that Santino would just come in, clean house for a bit like he’s always booked to on television, do his usual comedy spots, and finally unleash the Cobra. He’d have his moment, maybe let the Cobra strike once, and then one of the other, more serious opponents would have his way with him. After his 15 seconds of fame, he’d be on his merry way, back to midcard oblivion. And nobody would care.

Now, admit it: you were wrong. I know I was, and I did.

The fortunate (or unfortunate, however you wish to look at it) truth about Santino’s sudden emergence is that it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. It’s easy to forget, under his history of comedy segments, air trombone marches, and dubious Cobra venom-induced victories over opponents put forth as much, much more credible than he, that Santino has always been adored by the crowd. That adoration has seen varying degrees over the course of Santino’s career, but the fact remains that it has always been there, waiting for a moment that would blow the door off its hinges, whether it was aware of it or not.

As early as the opening hour of last Sunday’s PPV, the WWE, through some strategic foreshadowing by Michael Cole (who, by the way, is steadily starting to return to his old job as an actual commentator, but that’s a story for another day), has already begun to capitalize on the blossoming popularity of Taiwanese-American NBA player Jeremy Lin. And of course, it’s ridiculously easy to make these kinds of comparisons in wrestling – everyone knows this is a world created from the imaginations, either individual or collective, of a few people. Whatever they want to do is easily done, as long as there’s a will. If Vince McMahon wants Santino to be wrestling’s Jeremy Lin, then nobody can stop him.

But here’s the thing, though: the Lin metaphor is loaded with expectations that are not only high, but also still rising, and dangerously so for a company which has lately shown a reluctance to push superstars audiences actually want to see. And even if they do, they eventually get sabotaged, one way or the other. (See: Clay, Brodus, under “Funkasaurus.”)

So while it’s easy and favorable to saddle Santino with the label, it is that frustrating precedent of reluctant pushing which makes it unfair for him to be wrestling’s Lin. Jeremy Lin proved that he belonged in the starting lineup by unleashing and contributing his natural talents to the team, and going by that alone, you know that a basketball team is run as a meritocracy, where people earn their way to the top by being skilled. However, wrestling’s meritocracy, as most smarks know by now, is not as cut and dry; it’s filled with politics and proverbial glass ceilings that still need to be broken. If Lin was a wrestler as skilled in wrestling as he is in basketball, he wouldn’t be pushed with the same optimism as they’re pushing Daniel Bryan (who, as everyone also knows, took a bit of time to get to the main event himself, but still got there relatively quickly).

But going back to Santino. It will only be unfair for him to be wrestling’s Lin simply because I’m not confident enough that creative will allow him to unleash his true talents. The crowds love him now because he’s a refreshing, electrifying change of pace, but over time they will surely demand more from him than a sock puppet made to look like a snake – the same way people will demand Lin to consistently play at a high level in order to be worthy of their hero worship. The difference is that it’s easy for Lin to do that and it will be difficult for anyone to hold him back, while Santino faces the constant pressure of what Vince and Creative, who largely march to the beat of their own drum, want from him, and most crucially, want him to be.

At the heart of it all, however, if there’s anyone deserving to be a true breakout, it’s Santino. Most fans are now in worth their salt know all about Anthony Corelli’s history and potential as a wrestler. He lets that potential shine for a few seconds every time he steps into the ring for a match as Santino, but it’s all overshadowed by the Cobra. For the uninitiated, and also for those who have forgotten, all you need is one minute to be acquainted:

He doesn’t have to completely change his personality in order to be like old Boris Alexiev. In fact, the solution is ridiculously simple: just have him wrestle longer singles matches. If he wrestles, it will all come out. Have people kick out of the Cobra, forcing him to find another way to win. He already incorporates bits and pieces of his martial arts repertoire, so why not go all the way with it?

After Elimination Chamber, most fans are now on Santino’s side more than ever. Now, the onus is on the WWE to deliver on what they started. It is important Vince knows that Jeremy Lin is not just a buzzword or a sports fad: it means they need to make a lot more of a commitment than the Knicks made to Lin. Right now, with a roster slowly being depleted by injury and overemphasis, Santino Marella is their best shot.

   

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