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Damien Sandow: TNA’s New Intellectual Savior?

This year has seen many shocking moments in the world of professional wrestling. From the shocking debuts of stars like AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, and The Club (Anderson & Gallows) arriving in WWE, Adam Cole joining the Bullet Club in ROH and NJPW, the pipebomb from Ethan Carter III in Evolve, and The List of Cody Rhodes, the wrestling universe has had it’s share of astonishing moments. Up until now, the most shocking thing associated with Aaron Haddad – the Massachusetts professional wrestler best remembered as the sadly underappreciated Damien Sandow from 2012 until earlier this year – was his disappointing (yet not entirely unexpected) release from the WWE in its annual post-Wrestlemania pink slips.


Haddad entered the world of professional wrestling as a 16-year old when he began under the tutelage of WWE Hall of Famer Walter “Killer” Kowalski, the man who has trained such Superstars as Triple H, Perry Saturn, Chyna, Big John Studd, and Matt Bloom (Albert/Brute Bernard/Tensai). Three years later, the 19-year was rebranded as Aaron Stevens, debuting in Massachusetts indie promotion Chaotic Wrestling in 2001.

A quick learner, Stevens was soon receiving tryout matches a year later with the WWE, appearing on Sunday Night Heat in enhancement roles against such Superstars as Stevie Richards and John Morrison. A quick learner, with athleticism and charisma, he was soon assigned to WWE’s developmental system, Ohio Valley Wrestling, as Aaron “The Idol” Stevens.

As Idol Stevens, alongside other 'Teacher's Pet' KC James, managed by Michelle McCool (Photo:
As Idol Stevens, alongside other ‘Teacher’s Pet’ KC James, managed by Michelle McCool (Photo:

He received his first WWE call-up in 2006, when he debuted on Smackdown under the name Idol Stevens. Paired with KC James, he was packaged as a tag team, managed by former WWE Divas champion Michelle McCool. A few feuds, including unsuccessful bids for the WWE Tag Team Championship against Paul London and Brian Kendrick. By 2007, Stevens was back in OVW and shortly after, released from the company.

Stevens spent the next three years working his trade throughout the independent circuit. Barring his first year in the Massachusetts indie circuit, he’d spent the past four years within the WWE machine. Spending time in NWA, a return to OVW (who had since lost its development deal with WWE) and Puerto Rico’s fabled WWC, Stevens added more tools to his arsenal.

He re-signed with WWE in 2010, once again sent to their developmental for conditioning. By then, this meant Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), which would become NXT shortly after his next WWE call-up.

Damien Sandow, The Intellectual Savior of the Masses (Photo:
Damien Sandow, The Intellectual Savior of the Masses (Photo:

Debuting as Damien Sandow, the “Intellectual Savior of the Masses”, Sandow showed an unwavering confidence on the mic and a demeanor that overshadowed a somewhat overused gimmick. The pretentious arrogant loudmouth had been used by such other Superstars as Shane “Dean” Douglas, “The Genius” Lanny Poffo and “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig with varying degrees of success. In an era where fans were becoming disenchanted with such old school gimmicks, Sandow seemed to be the new exception. His gimmick actually bore more than just an old school feel – while in NXT, one of his mentors, Dusty Rhodes, gave him robes similar to NWA Legend Lou Thesz, and his last name Sandow was a tribute to early wrestling promoter Billy Sandow, part of the famed Gold Dust Trio of the 1920’s who created the blueprint for professional wrestling as we know it today.

Alongside Cody Rhodes in the Rhodes Scholars (Photo:
Alongside Cody Rhodes in the Rhodes Scholars (Photo:

A stop and start solo run, followed by a fun pairing with Cody Rhodes in The Rhodes Scholars, the WWE Universe soon began warming to this new Superstar. A sound yet unflashy ring technician with a strong sense of bravado and comedic timing, Sandow would peak in 2013 when he was the surprise winner of that year’s Money In The Bank briefcase. But what seemed like his golden moment to reach the next level, became one of the sourest points in recent history, when he became one of only two people to ever not cash in and become a WWE World Champion. After a solid rise through the ranks, from solo to tag team to MITB briefcase holder, Sandow was halted to a painful stop and seemingly returned to the enhancement level he hadn’t been a part of since his early 20’s.

Winning MITB (Photo:
Winning MITB (Photo:

A seemingly disastrous run as a goofy impressionist – impersonating such people as Abe Lincoln, Magneto, Sherlock Holmes and Bruce Springsteen – lead to an unlikely pairing with The Miz, when he began an angle as Miz’s valet and “stunt double”. Damien Mizdow would become the perfect foil next to the Miz, whose serial unlikeability only enhanced the cheeky charm of Sandow. Hitting arguably his biggest peak in his WWE career, Sandow and Miz won tag team gold, with all the perfect plot points in place for a huge falling out that should have propelled Sandow to the upper midcard following its conclusion. Turning on The Miz during the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale at Wrestlemania 31 started the engines for a red hot path for Damien Sandow. It was now his time.

Mizdow, with The Miz and his "Stunt Double" (Photo:
Mizdow, with The Miz and his “Stunt Double” (Photo:

Or was it? Instead of drawing out the dissolution and bringing the final battles to PPV, it was rushed in a series of unremarkable matches on Raw, ending only weeks after the swerve at Wrestlemania. And just like that, one of the most popular characters in the WWE Universe was reduced to an afterthought.

A short run as Curtis Axel‘s tag partner, “The Macho Mandow” to Curtis’ Axelmania, some time away for family issues, and by early 2016, the writing seemed all too clear on the wall. The WWE seemed to either distrust Sandow’s actual ability or were just oblivious to his true potential.

"The Meta Powers", Macho Mandow and Axelmania (Photo:
“The Meta Powers”, Macho Mandow and Axelmania (Photo:

On May 6, 2016, WWE officially released Aaron Haddad from his contract, in a seemingly mutual parting of the ways.

He returned to the indies and was one of the first of the post-Mania cuts announced for independent bookings. As he slowly wrestled around the world at various promotional events, Haddad slipped in the social media buzz to Cody’s List, 2016 BOLA announcements, and the WWE Cruiserweight Classic. But just because the Twitterverse had stopped talking about him, it sure didn’t mean they’d forgotten about him.

But all of that changed on August 10, 2016. The first rumblings began when Rolling Stone – the former counterculture manifesto that had begun to cover professional wrestling – published an article on TNA signing a “top free agent” who would be debuting on the August 11 episode of TNA Impact. Within the article, Rolling Stone debuted a video from TNA to announce the impending mystery man, which was shared hours later by TNA themselves.

Immediately the dirt sheets and news sites began speculating, with almost all pointing their fingers Haddad’s way. And what he himself tweeted at 7pm on the Wednesday night only seemed to add fuel to the fire.

If all signs are correct (and at this point, it seems to be), then signing Aron Stevens (as he’s been wrestling on the indies of late) could be TNA’s most important signing of the year. After taking shots for letting go such TNA icons as AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Eric Young and Bobby Roode of late, they’ve shown that they’re now going to follow the path set in motion by signing past underappreciated WWE students Derrick Bateman (now Ethan Carter III) and Drew McIntyre (now Drew Galloway), by giving them the time and space to carve out the characters they’d always known they possessed, but were never truly trusted to attempt. And Aron Stevens – the man formerly known as Damien Sandow – is perhaps the finest gem yet. McIntyre never quite panned out as Vince’s “Chosen One” and Bateman fizzled before every progressing past the new ECW, but Sandow actually reached a level of “over” that neither of the other two reached. But still he was let go. Sandow would come in with far more upswing out of the gate than either Galloway or EC3 came in with, and that can only be a good thing.

With Matt Hardy‘s Ed Wood magnum opus The Final Deletion bringing a lot of eyes back to TNA, the addition of one of WWE’s most beloved undercard performers could help keep them there.

He’s not the kind of Superstar who will suddenly make TNA a contender against the juggernaut of WWE, but he is indeed a talent that can help buoy a new TNA into at least a position to ward off the snickers. And by Friday morning, Stevens will have two words for TNA (and all of us):

You’re welcome.


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