Killer Kowalski had a lengthy and accomplished in-ring career that spanned over 50 years and included countless championships. However, most modern fans know his name as being a great wrestling trainer as he taught the likes of Triple H, Chyna, Kofi Kingston and Damien Sandow.
Sandow, aka Aron Stevens, had a six-year run in WWE that included winning the Tag Team Championship alongside The Miz and being a Money in the Bank contract winner. He recounted his first day training at Killer Kowalski’s during an interview with Giancarlo Aulino.
“I was 16 at the time and I remember Killer Kowalski or Walter as he was known to his students and people that knew him. He taught me how to lock up ? it was outside the ring in front of a mirror ? I’ll never forget that. He taught me how to lock up and taught me a hammerlock and all that,” said Sandow.
“First day, I got to go into the ring which was pretty cool and that was a big deal. And then of course some of the older guys they thought, ‘Who’s this kid going into the ring the first day?’ Cause I guess that wasn’t a thing back then. And you know, it was interesting ? I took my bumps and bruises and I wasn’t in any danger, but the older students, they roughed me up a little bit. But it was, you know, it made you tougher and I don’t know if wrestling is like that nowadays. I can say I don’t think it is but I haven’t seen, as far as on the ground floor when people are breaking in and things like that cause I don’t hang around wrestlers that much. That was my personal experience with it and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Sandow was just 16 when he began his wrestling training under Kowalski but he made it clear that he wasn’t treated unfairly by the older wrestlers there and it was the normal learning of the ropes.
“Let me just clarify, there was no like hazing or anything like that? no, it was just okay, this kid wants to be in a man’s world and you know what it is, they didn’t want to make any exceptions for me. It wasn’t like that. It was just like, ‘Okay, you’re with us. Let’s make sure you know how to be here’ and this and that,” stated Sandow.
He had three different stints in WWE under three different names. First he was Aaron Stevens and worked roughly a dozen matches in 2002-03 before returning to OVW. He was then called up again in 2006 where he went by Idol Stevens before being released a year later. Sandow then returned to FCW in 2010 and re-debuted on the main roster as Damien Sandow in 2011.
Sandow would stay with WWE until being released in 2016 and through all his stints, Sandow described WWE’s travel schedule.
“You have a day-and-a-half at home. Your plane lands at 11:30 [am] on a Wednesday. You know, you’ve been up since 5 am, you catch your flight, you do your laundry. Then Friday, you get up six in the morning, catching a flight, three house shows, then you do two TVs [tapings], then you do it again. Yeah, it was no time at home,” revealed Sandow. “It’s funny cause I hear now how the schedule is and I’m like, ‘Oh my God’ ?well this is pre-pandemic too? yeah, like that schedule is nothing [laughs]. You know, for what they did and what they expected from us.”
Unlike all other sports, there is no off-season for pro wrestling. They also don’t schedule events around holidays so Sandow was asked if wrestlers got any time off for special events like holidays.
“Day after Christmas we’d leave and we’d get home for New Year’s, which was a very lucrative loop which was cool. And people getting time off like, ‘Oh, I need some time off.’ We would never think about doing that? ever think about doing that. I think you know what with some guys, I think they’re just for some reason they’re more lenient, but I never ever, ever got any special treatment from the office or anything like that,” said Sandow. “Like I never? nobody ever made an exception in my case and they would with some guys, but that’s what they do and it’s like that in any business.
“This isn’t just, ‘Oh, evil WWE.’ No, it’s just sometimes some people get breaks, sometimes other people don’t, that’s it. They compensated me for it and life goes on.”
After leaving WWE and spending about one year in Impact Wrestling, Sandow took a break from the business in 2017. He would resurface in late 2019 with NWA where he is the current Tag Team Champion alongside JR Kratos.
Sandow talked about working for the promotion and for NWA’s owner Billy Corgan.
“Amazing. I think Billy is somebody who is very much in tune with the public and at the same time, he is an artist first and foremost and I’ve always approached wrestling like that,” said Sandow. “You know, a lot of guys would be like, ‘Oh, let me just go out there and do my match’ like no, this is performance art. This is 100 percent performance art and it’s funny, him and I we’re very much on the same page in terms of character development. It’s been a very, very positive experience and an honor to work with him.”
The National Wrestling Alliance dates back to 1948 and boasts such legendary champions as Ric Flair, Harley Race, Lou Thesz and Sting. Sandow is now part of that history as he held the NWA Heavyweight Championship for nearly a year.
Sandow talked about the rich history of NWA as well as what makes NWA Powerr so much fun to watch.
“In my opinion, WWE has only been around 20 years something like that right? But, okay, you had the WWF you can trace the lineage of the WWF and this and that but before that, the NWA? like there is no three letters in pro wrestling active today that have a tradition like those three letters,” said Sandow. “I mean this in my opinion is not for debate. Even if you back far enough to WWWF, that was part of the NWA, so like roots run deep there.
“You know, the presentation of NWA Powerrr and just how everything was kind of presented, you take that traditional template and you take the template of matches that are fun to watch with distinct characters, promos that help the characters get over, to me it was an easy show to watch. It was a fun show to watch ? it left people wanting more. But you’re also able to think outside the box a little bit and that to me keeps the product relevant today in 2020?2019 when it first came out too. It keeps it relevant; it keeps it cutting edge so you’re not watching essentially a carbon copy of 1985 because if you did that, that wouldn’t work. You know, the wrestling style is different, just everything is different ? the society is different. But at the same time, it’s like you’re rooted in tradition yet kind of carving your own path and I think that’s just a wonderful thing that NWA does.”