The intellectual saviour of the masses, Damien Sandow has just completed a short jaunt across the UK with the burgeoning What Culture Pro Wrestling team (read here to learn more about them). Sandow remains arguably one of the most organically 'over' wrestlers of all time. Whether the Rhodes Scholar, the Miz imitator or the Meta Power, he always managed to have fans invest in his characters - a unique and critical talent in the industry. Royal Ramblings were on hand in London to hear what the man now known as Aron Stevens had to say for himself.
Having done few of these public Q&A affairs before, we were keen to get some insight into the man himself. Our initial impression of Stevens was of a decent, charming and funny man. He was attentive to the audience and whilst sharing with us that he wasn't going to turn down any wrestling opportunities in the future (TNA or otherwise) his promise that we would soon be reading about exciting developments in his career led us to believe that this was a chance to say thanks to wrestling fans before he took a different path. As he put it, "I wasn't sure I was ever going to have anything to do with wrestling again, I just wanted to say thank-you". Hopefully he'll be proven wrong.
What Culture contributor and Inside the Rope's main man Kenny McIntosh was MC for the evening and did a very good job indeed albeit in the face of a witty interviewee. "You're here in the UK" McIntosh started. "Very observant" was Steven's retort.
Kenny held no punches though and was straight in with a question about Vince McMahon's eating habits. Stevens has clearly enjoyed in time at WWE immensely and so there was to be no rudeness or startling revelations. As a company man he remained loyal to the former boss. "I find if you talk to him man to man, he treats you like a man" he saod. Of his eating habits, Stevens says he "kind of had other things than Vince's dietary needs on my mind..." cue more laughter...
We were however given insight into the development of the intellectual saviour. Setting out his early relationship with the WWE from 2003, Stevens jokes that "one thing led to another and the next thing I knew I was tagging with a guy on TV that I really hadn't teamed with before". "Even for wrestling purists" he went on "two guys in black trunks exchanging holds, when you really don't know who they are, unless it's off the charts - and I mean maybe they can teleport onto the top rope or something, it's not going to keep the audience interest". Stevens astutely points to the importance of character and revealed that he had "an alarming amount of input" into the intellectual saviour. "I started wearing pink trunks as a joke" he said, "but people started reacting to it." "Everyone else is all serious, clean shaven and short haired" he continued, "so I grew a beard out, the hair too and thought how can I get more of an emphasis on the trunks?" "Dusty, God rest his soul, had the idea of a Lou Thesz robe with the towel - just a basic 1950s style". "People would think I was serious and stoic and there'd be the pink and purple and I would just act like I didn't know what was wrong and people would just eat it up"
Stevens is reflective when asked about his onward character development. "My view on this whole genre is different to a lot of people" he explained. "I'm not going to take myself so seriously that I'll let my ego get in the way of putting on a good show for paying customers. It's not in my DNA". "Naming no names, some people take it so seriously" he continued "I'm like, let's have a good match and move on. Some people don't. With me, I'm trying to be genuine and give you the best I can and hope everyone enjoyed it"
There was little more enjoyable on Raw at one point, as Kenny rightly says, than Mizdow. Thinking about his role as the Miz body double, Stevens says "The Mizdow stuff was on the fly as you saw it and that includes TV. Pretty much, we wouldn't talk to each other. He'd go do his deal, he'd know I was going to do something stupid, there'd be a reaction to it then he'd go do something else and it was art". "We had such a good time" he says, "I was going to be his stunt double but I just got the idea once on Raw when he fell down, I fell down and every week I would keep doing something more ridiculous and they never told me no so as a result you had Mizdow".
There's further inside track insights on the night. We learn that Stevens favourite opponent was Chris Candido "he was the first guy to ever truly make me relax in a ring" he says. The worst (an unnamed indie wrestler) shot Stevens off the ropes and said "do something!" we hear. We were told that Sherri Martel would have been his female manager of choice and he's "open to any possibility" vis-à-vis further wrestling opportunities. His favourite match meanwhile was revealed to be Money in the Bank 2013 but "not because I won" rather "because we did what a lot of people thought we couldn't do which was make Cody into a good guy". Speaking to the follow-on from that match, we learn that Stevens found out he would not be successful in cashing in his briefcase the day of the event. Refusing to be pessimistic he said "Would I like to cash-in and be the world champion? Yeah but as a result people tend to talk about that match a lot more than they do other cash-ins". Indeed.
Asked by Royal Ramblings what might be on his 'Cody Rhodes list' Stevens replies "At wrestlemania when I turned on the Miz, inside, at that moment that five year old kid that wanted to be a wrestler and wanted to be the guy was experiencing that". He continued "I had made peace with everything and my list, honestly would read thank you to all the fans". "I was never WWE champion because it was never decided that I would be but the responses I got - there's never been another me in WWE. I've done three segment matches, knockdown drag outs with the World Champion, street fights and I've also dressed as an astronaut. So if anything, my body of work takes in everything on the whole spectrum and that last year of my career, I loved the fan response, it never gets old".
Stevens joins Ric Flair and a small minority of others that refused to give us an answer to the best rib he'd pulled but humour was provided on the night as he MC'd a quiz between What Culture's two Adams, mixing the drink for the losing participant. You'll have to subscribe to What Culture to find out the result!
As with his run in WWE, Stevens gave the audience more than they paid for. There was one little gem that struck a chord with us though. "We're grown men running around in our pants, so entertain people and if you're really good and get them to suspend disbelief, they'll get caught up in it and that's when the magic happens". Stevens clearly believes in the art of wrestling and was able to successfully encourage people to invest in him so that they might enjoy themselves and forget about the world for a little bit. He didn't quite put it like this but coming to the UK was a chance for us to have a group hug, to say thanks and for him to tell us "you're welcome!".
What Culture events are listed on their Facebook page. Make sure to check out their next Q&A series with Eric Bischoff, followed by visits from Cody Rhodes and Kurt Angle. Inside the Ropes host their own evening with Bischoff so Glaswegian readers should get their tickets pronto!
Above: Royal Ramblings Meets Damien Sandow