Santino Marella Reflects On Controversial WWE Character

2009 was a much different time in professional wrestling and the world as a whole. Equality has progressed multi-fold in the last fourteen years, bringing greater respect to people who have had their rights limited in society. This directly affected WWE and professional wrestling in various ways, with perhaps the most apparent being how women have been treated in the company. The term "diva" is gone, some women stars are receiving contracts that financially rival the male superstars, and being subjected to mostly humor and sexuality is a thing of the past. This raises curiosity about which storylines from WWE's past would even be considered for television in today's more politically correct climate.

At WrestleMania 25, The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels wasn't the only "WrestleMania moment" that happened that evening. Santino Marella, wearing drag and portraying his "twin sister" Santina, eliminated Melina and Beth Phoenix from the "Miss WrestleMania" battle royale to earn the crown. In today's climate, Santino questions if snatching the victory from one of the legitimate female stars would be something fans would appreciate.

"I don't know if it would fly today because there's definitely a movement, but to make light of it, I don't know if we're there," Santino admitted to WrestlingNewsCo. "But to highlight and showcase it, yeah, that's interesting. I never thought of it. It was definitely a memorable moment, and probably, actually, the irony is that it's probably one of my favorite WrestleMania moments and it's not even as 'me' kind of thing."

How Santina began

Certain WWE personas have thrived regardless of being placed in a feminine-acting, drag role, such as Goldust, and Santina, himself, though the rule doesn't always apply. Vito from the F.B.I. (Full Blooded Italians) stable portrayed a character that enjoyed wearing a dress, but that didn't propel his career to new heights. So, with the gimmick having mixed results, how did the idea fall into Santino's lap in WWE?

"Santina was supposed to be one night only and it was just so funny," Santino revealed. "You know, people that were in Gorilla, they were like, 'Vince was pissing his pants, it was so funny.' So, she stuck around for a few months." Furthermore, Santino admits that he actually "loved" bringing the character to life because it presented him with new challenges. 

"I feel like it's some of my best work because I was conscious of the layers. I'm a Canadian guy, playing an Italian guy, who's playing his sister. There were multiple overlapping accents and personality types, and on WWE television, we never admitted it was Santino. I mean, obviously, everybody knew that. Even at the end, when Donald Trump fired Santina, we never ever broke kayfabe in regards to staying in the characters and its realism."

As Santino mentioned, a time eventually came when the Santina character stopped gracing our televisions each week. On the June 22, 2009 edition of "Raw," the new kayfabe owner of the show, Donald Trump, fired Santina from WWE and erased the Miss WrestleMania title.

Santina's legacy

Something that rang through Santino's mind when the Santina character was scrapped was the words of his former coach, Dan Kolov. "He was kind of like, 'Well, once they make someone dress as a woman, that's the end. They're trying to squeeze every last drop of entertainment out of 'em. There's no coming back from that,'" Santino recalled. 

But Santino wasn't going to be satisfied if his run with the company ended with the Santina character. As much as he enjoyed the time he had, bringing the persona to life each week, he still had more accomplishments in his sight. "I came back and had a [United States] title run after, and then even a tag team championship run –- multiple title runs," he recalls.

Santina is still remembered fondly by the WWE Universe. At the 2020 Royal Rumble, Santino donned the drag one more time and entered at #29 in the women's titular match, becoming the first male star to enter a Women's Royal Rumble match. He set up the signature "cobra" for an attack before forcing himself out of the ring due to the intimidating Beth Phoenix and Natalya.

Santino still competes in occasional matches on the independent circuit, appearing in seven bouts in 2022 and winning the majority of the contests. His legacy in WWE now lives on through a legitimate female of the family –- his daughter, Arianna Grace, who is currently signed to the "NXT" developmental brand.