Damien Sandow is the most recent embodiment of a classic wrestling archetype: the refined intellectual who looks down his nose at the “unwashed masses” in the audience.
He is a walking thesaurus whose smug diatribes invoke memories of Nick Bockwinkel and Lanny Poffo, with a dash of Chris Jericho circa 2009.
Although the schtick is not entirely original, Sandow is a worthy successor to those who portrayed the role before him.
The gimmick isn’t the only thing Sandow has inherited, though. His name itself carries a rich history in the wrestling business that dates back more than a century, and it’s an heirloom that suits him perfectly.
Billy Sandow (born Wilhelm Baumann) was one of the most important figures in professional wrestling during the 1920s. He was part of the so-called Gold Dust Trio, along with Ed “Strangler” Lewis and Joseph “Toots” Mondt (the latter of whom launched with World Wide Wrestling Federation, WWWF, alongside Vince McMahon Sr.).
Professional wrestling had fallen into a somewhat boring slump in the early 1920s, due to focus on mat grappling. The members of the Gold Dust Trio are credited with spicing things up by adding time limits, creatively booking matches and fostering a more fast-paced style. They called it “Slam Bang Western-Style Wrestling,” and it was essentially the prototype for what’s now known as “sports entertainment.”
The concepts of “worked” wrestling matches and long “programs” designed to generate big paydays were pioneered by Sandow and his colleagues.
An able wrestler himself, Billy Sandow earned international headlines by issuing a $10,000 challenge to heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey for a boxer-versus-wrestler match against Lewis.
Billy Sandow, not unlike Damien, had a knack for trash talk, and managed to fan the flames of public interest in the Dempsey fight even after official negotiations fell apart.
But even Billy wasn’t the first “Sandow” in the professional wrestling business. That title likely belongs to Eugen Sandow, a Prussian athlete widely regarded as the “Father of Modern Bodybuilding.”
Eugen Sandow joined the circus in 1885 after leaving Prussia to dodge military service, and began performing weightlifting shows. The circus ringleader, however, soon realized that audiences were more interested in seeing Sandow flex his muscles than actually lift heavy objects. And thus began the era of the posedown — a ritual that is still seen on practically every professional wrestling show.
Every year since 1977, the winner of the Mr. Olympia competition receives a bronze trophy called The Sandow.
Because he had sculpted his body into what he called a perfect Grecian Physique, he became a wrestling attraction as well. This short clip purports to show Sandow wrestling a competitor named Greiner:
Damien Sandow seems tailor-made to carry the Sandow name in the 21st century. For most of his 12-year wrestling career, he toiled in relative obscurity as Aaron Stevens, Idol Stevens and a handful of other ring names. He came tantalizingly close to landing a prominent spot on the main WWE roster on several occasions over the past decade, but was always relegated back to the developmental leagues and indies.
During his third stint in WWE’s developmental territory he was given the moniker Damien Sandow and the accompanying gimmick. Since being called up to the main roster in April 2012, he has been one of the most consistently entertaining heels in the company.
What’s in a name? For Damien Sandow, quite a lot, apparently.