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"The Ugliest Girl in Town", remade again

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In show business, it's not uncommon for men to pose as women. It's a practice almost as old as time itself. However, it hasn't been tried in professional wrestling on a national stage. Until now.

At Wrestlemania 25 on April 5, Santino Marella (real name: Anthony Carelli) entered a women's battle royal posing as his "twin" sister, "Santina", and ended up winning the match. "Santina" has yet to lose, and the worst case scenario for most of us long-time fans is still possible, that this charlatan could take away the "Divas" championship from current champion Maryse Ouellette before 4-time Women's champ Mickie James does. It shouldn't happen, but in the crazy world of Vince McMahon's WWE, it conceivably could.

Now, Marella's not the first one to pull off this scam. 10 years ago, veteran manager Harvey Whippleman, posing as a woman, won the women's title, only to lose it a week later. This gimmick was a short term novelty act, but "Santina" is being used to turn Santino back into a fan favorite after a year and a half as a bumbling, ill-mannered villain. The disguise is also transparent, as the fans can see through this charade, but the heel administration on Raw can't. If this is familiar ground to you, well it is.

Six years ago, Hulk Hogan, after beating Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania, was "suspended" because McMahon couldn't stand the thought of losing to the former champion. A month later, Hogan resurfaced as the masked Mr. America, but instead of shaving off his signature mustache, Hogan made this gimmick come off as weak and lame, and he was gone 2 months later.

Whereas Hogan's inspiration came from the comic book hero Captain America, Marella's comes from the 1982 Dustin Hoffman movie, "Tootsie", and its TV forebear, a failed 1967 sitcom, "The Ugliest Girl in Town". By continuing to appear in a dual role, Marella's certainly not drawing comparisons to comic characters of the past, like Geraldine Jones (Flip Wilson) or Wanda, the Ugly Woman (Jamie Foxx on "In Living Color"). However, while he's frustrated his ex-lover, Beth Phoenix with this disguise, Marella is also drawing the ire of Raw GM Vicki Guerrero and her nephew Chavo. Inevitably, Chavo & Santino will meet in the ring, or "Santina" will be forced to wrestle Chavo. That's how the story figures to play out.

Sadly, what McMahon and his writers fail to understand is that a gimmick that had a 2-week shelf life 10 years ago can't be extended too much further than it has. Marella has shown very little in the way of actual in-ring talent in the 2 years he's been with WWE, despite 2 Intercontinental titles on his resume. I'm not the only fan who's grown tired of this insult to the industry, but contrary to what Randy Orton told us on Raw on 5/11, the McMahon family doesn't always listen to their audience. At 63, Vince is vulnerable to accepting bad ideas at face value from his writers, who are mostly failed Hollywood writers (comics geek Brian Gewirtz, Raw's head writer, falls into this category). He's allowing Marella to remain on the main roster, rather than send him down to Florida Championship for further seasoning, which Marella actually needs more than anything. Marella's greatest strength is his work on the microphone, though his language mangling, lifted from Norm Crosby, got old in a hurry, too. It's time to put the women's clothing away before the entire women's locker room is embarassed to the point of no return.

And, maybe, just maybe, Santino can say hello to Timmie Blair (Peter Kastner on "Ugliest Girl in Town" 32 years ago) on his way out the door.
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