The Wrestling Menu #25 - The History Of Al Snow
Submitted by DaveyBoy on Wednesday, December 4, 2002 at 4:35 AM EST
THE WRESTLING MENU #25
Welcome one and all to the 25th edition of The Wrestling Menu, the column that is sure to satisfy your taste buds when it comes to discussing all things wrestling.
As this will be a longer than usual column, there will be no mucking around today. A few appetizers & then your 'Main' & 'Dessert' will be served as one.
APPETIZERS - History Columns
When I first started writing The Wrestling Menu, I decided that I wanted to write a special column on those editions that I deemed to represent a significant milestone. At first, I thought that I would do it every 10th column. So for edition #10 of The Wrestling Menu on the LOP Columns Forum, I chose a wrestler that at that stage was very topical & wrote a history column on him. The wrestler was Kane & in doing research on him, I found out things that I had previously never known.
It was fun & the column went over very well with my readers (I received heaps of feedback), but the time & effort taken to research & write the column was enormous. I knew then that doing a history column every tenth edition was probably not going to be possible. I'm not even sure when the next special column will be, but I made up my mind a month or so back that edition #25 was going to be my second attempt at one.
I don't really want to be doing the histories of any of the huge stars, as most people will probably already know what they did on their way to superstardom. That, plus the fact that I would probably be writing for days. So I have tried to choose wrestler's who have had an interesting past on their way to where they are right now. Those that know of Kane's past will surely agree that his story is extremely interesting. After today, you will also think the same of Al Snow.
How did I choose Al Snow? Well, some say my column is too structured, if anything. I wanted to have some sort of link between the 2 history columns I have done so far. The most obvious links to Kane would be The Undertaker & Mankind Mick Foley, but it was Al Snow who was Kane's (Glen Jacobs') tag-team partner in Smoky Mountain Wrestling (SMW) when Jacobs (Kane) got his major break in the industry.
So sit back, relax, and be entertained & educated of the history of Al Snow.
MAIN & DESSERT:
The History Of Al Snow
Allen Sarven was born on July-18 1963, making him 39 years of age at the moment. He was born in Lima-Ohio, where he still lives with his teenage son & daughter. He is 6 feet tall & weighs approximately 230 pounds. Similar to many wrestlers, he has wrestled under many names, but Al Snow is the one that has been used for the majority of his career. The surname Snow, simply came about because he was talking to an African-American friend one day about a wrestling name. His friend was obviously black & with Sarven being white like snow, the name was born.
The biggest misconception about Snow's career is that he wrestled on the independent circuit in the early nineties & was then discovered by ECW in 1994. This is quite a fair way from the truth, approximately 8 years in fact. You see, Al Snow's wrestling career started way back in 1982. That's right, 20 years ago!!! Three years before the first WrestleMania, when a man named Bob Backlund was the current big thing in the world of professional wrestling. Snow was 16 years of age when he decided that he wanted to become a wrestler. At this age he started to ring around making long-distance phone calls to see if he could start his chosen profession immediately. However, at the time, there weren't a lot of wrestling schools around, so he decided to see out the final years of high school. In the meantime, he learnt martial arts to quench his thirst for a body-contact sport. This resulted in Snow (or Sarven as he was still then) earning a black belt in kempo karate & a brown belt in ju-jitsu. He also studied other martial arts & even tried kickboxing, but nothing ever came of them because Snow knew his future was in professional wrestling.
While phoning around looking for a place to start, Al practically accidentally came in contact with Gene Anderson, who invited him to Charlotte for a tryout. So Al took the 24 hour bus ride from Lima to Charlotte, paid $250 & proceeded to go through hell. Among the things that Al remembers clearly having to do was run 500 miles, do 500 squats, 400 push-ups & run around piggy-backing another student. This was all before he got into the ring. When in the ring, the final workout was with the legendary Ole Anderson, who proceeded to stretch Al every which way. Not to mention pulling his hair, sticking fingers in his mouth & poking him in the eye. Genuinely exhausted that night, Al watched a show, before having a painful 5 mile walk to the bus station for the ride back home.
Back in Lima, Al convinced a man named Jim Lancaster (a grappler & show sponsor that he had talked to briefly before) into teaching him the basics. It started as once a week & progressed to twice a week over a matter of 3 months, in a run-down black community center on half-inch tumbling mats. Finally, Al made his wrestling debut on May-22 1984, in a two-ring over-the-top battle royal. I don't want to skim over the next decade or so of Al's career, but there's practically no choice. For almost 10 years, Al went from one independent promotion to another & from state to state looking for his big break. He wrestled as a member of many tag-teams with names like The Sensationals, The Wild Bunch, The Tag-Team Fantastics, The Texas Chain Gang & The Fabulous Kangaroos. He worked for many promoter's such as Sam Mushnick in St. Louis, Verne Gagne in Minnesota & The Poffo's in Kentucky. Al also worked events around the world, including a stint in Canada & a few trips to Japan.
Snow was making a name for himself in the independent's. Most promoters loved to refer to him as 'the wrestler to bring in when they needed a good match with their (promotion's) top guy'. Because of this, Al was basically doing nothing but putting over other wrestlers. But he always made sure that he performed well enough for them to bring him back down the track. Al puts his slow progression down to 2 things; Firstly, it was the time that the WWF went national & changed the territory system. This meant that promotions that could have been his stepping-stone basically didn't exist anymore. Secondly, Snow is rather hard on himself, stating that he allowed his trainers to have too much of a say in running his own career. By not learning how to get himself booked, Snow was being unknowingly held back.
In the early nineties, Snow became fed up with the lack of work in the Ohio & Michigan area (where he based himself). He started to promote some shows & opened up a wrestling school of his own. Al was very serious about his role as a trainer. He knew that his graduates would carry his name with them whatever they did, so he took great pride in his teaching, making sure that his students knew & respected every aspect of the business. Some of his graduates included D-Lo Brown, The Blue Meanie & Reckless Youth. But the graduate that brought Snow the most recognition at the time was Dan 'The Beast' Severn. Al Snow actually was the trainer for Severn in The Beast's no-holds-barred debut at the Ultimate Fighting Champioship IV in December 1994. Snow can be seen briefly in Severn's corner at that event.
However, we need to backtrack a little to find out where the start of Snow's rise to national significance began. Oh, and it was all by accident!!! It was back at the start of 1994, when Snow appeared on a card where he worked with Severn. However, the main star of the card (& arguably the independent promotions at the time) was Sabu. Sabu's opponent didn't show up & Snow was put in as his opponent in the main event. The 2 went on to put on a great match that included mat, aerial & hardcore wrestling, which finally seemed to have promoter's all over the country wanting Al Snow to appear on their shows. It was in late 1994 that Snow's credentials were brought to the attention of Paul Heyman, which resulted in Al having a tryout with ECW. Despite losing to Taz, he made enough of an impression to be invited back at the start of 1995. Before returning to ECW, Snow was everywhere. He appeared in UFC with Severn, on the AAA 'When World's Collide' pay-per-view & once more in Japan. In fact, he could have started with ECW sooner, had it not been for these prior obligations.
Such was the magnitude of the respect that Snow had earned over the early nineties, the original gimmick that Heyman & Tod Gordon wanted to give him in ECW was that of a 'Chameleon' or 'Mirror-Man'. That is, a gimmick where Snow would actually wrestle his opponents gimmick/style against them. For example, using suplexes against Taz, aerial-wrestling against Sabu & mat-wrestling against Dean Malenko. The many styles of Snow resulted in him having great matches with the likes of Sabu & Chris Benoit at the start of 1995 in ECW. The bottom line was that he was wrestling these different styles & still succeeding in having good matches. This was what surely would lead to bigger & better things for him in the future.
It was at this stage of his career though, that Snow had to make a decision, that he knew was going to severely impact on the career he so truly loved & enjoyed. It was February 1995 & Snow received a phone call from the legendary Jim Cornette. At the time, Cornette was running Smoky Mountain Wrestling (SMW), which was the main feeder organization for the WWF. He offered Snow a position in his organization, initially teaming with Glenn 'UnaBomb/Kane' Jacobs. Al's immediate reponse was to inform Cornette that he had a commitment to ECW at the time. Undeterred, Cornette was willing to allow Snow to work for both companies simultaneously. Snow liked the idea, but Paul Heyman did not. Thus, the difficult decision that Snow had to make. It was made all the more tricky because Cornette openly told Snow that it wasn't entirely his wrestling ability that caught his eye. In fact, what brought Snow to Cornette's attention was a comment made at a UFC fight. A UFC interviewer had asked Al wat Dan Severn had planned between fights. Al quickly & naturally responded "He's going to have sex, what do you think?"
It was a genuinely tough decision, but Snow chose SMW. He wanted to be at the top & that meant being in the WWF. SMW was going to give him a better chance of getting there than ECW. It wasn't very long at all before Al & Jacobs won the SMW Tag Team Titles, when the duo beat The Rock 'N' Roll Express on April-7. Snow & Jacobs held the titles for 3 months before falling to the team of Tracy Smothers & Tony Anthony on July-6. It was during this time that Snow started to work on what he thought was the final ingredient needed for him to become a superstar. Hell, it was a smarta$$ comment that got Cornette to notice him, so he knew he was going to have the 'all-clear' to improve his mic skills even further. Jim Ross had been working in SMW at the time & Snow wasn't sure whether his main focus was on Jacobs, Al or both. When UnaBomb Jacobs was pinned in a 'Loser Of The Fall Leaves SMW' match, Snow was a little more the wiser. He had nothing to worry about though, as he would follow Jacobs (now Isaac Yankem) into the WWF shortly after.
I should state that Al had also received approaches from WCW at this time, but a combination of where he had already worked & feedback from friends he trusted and respected resulted in him choosing the WWF. Snow knew he would be handed a gimmick, everyone practically had one in the WWF at the time. So what would his be? Well, Vince McMahon wanted to take advantage of the Power Rangers & Mortal Kombat craze that was happening at the time, so Snow became 'Avatar'. Avatar could best be described as a high-flying & hooded martial artist. If you can remember back about 3 years ago in WCW, there was a wrestler named 'Glacier', well the Avatar gimmick was very similar to that. The only problem was that the introduction vignettes that were supposed to be aired for Avatar didn't happen, when Snow was quickly called up to wrestle on the October-23 Raw in Manitoba, Canada. Avatar got the win that night, but Snow (along with WWF management) quickly realized that the debut was not what was originally planned.
To this very day, Snow believes the Avatar gimmick could have gone a lot further if the introduction of the character was done correctly. The next 3 months basically saw Avatar being written out of the WWF. Snow was still wrestling the lower end of the card as the character, losing to the likes of former partner Glen Jacobs (then Isaac Yankem), but everybody knew that it was just a matter of time before Snow was re-packaged with a new gimmick. But in February 1996, he was not given a new gimmick, he was actually re-packaged as 2 new gimmicks at the same time. Firstly, Snow would wrestle as Shinobi in singles competition. Shinobi was Al's idea & was basically a gimmick of being a masked ninja. It did get him main event matches with Shawn Michaels & Ahmed Johnson at the time, but the WWF were always a little more keen of the other gimmick that Al was doing at the time. That was his teaming with Marty Jannetty in 'The New Rockers', as Leif Cassidy.
Would it be "3 strikes, you're out" for Al? It looked as though it would, as 'The New Rockers' never caught on with the fans or management. The WWF genuinely acted as if they had no idea what to do with the gimmick. The tandem had stints as both heels & faces, but neither seemed to work. They were also both pulled off televison for months on end, to see if WWF writers could think of a way to get either or both of the 2 wrestlers over. When the 2 received the call up in August, they both thought that they would once more be re-packaged, but to everyone's surprise, the New Rockers basically continued where they left off earlier in the year (which was very low on the card). From SummerSlam to Survivor Series inclusive, The New Rockers did, at least, appear on each pay-per-view event, in some capacity. Unfortunately, all were losses & the fans' reactions weren't getting any better. The WWF then tried to make Snow (still in the leif Cassidy persona) a singles wrestler, but lower-card losses to Flash Funk (aka 2 Cold Scorpio) & Marc Mero in December '96 & February '97 respectively, proved that something had to be changed & quickly.
It should be noted that during these 18 months in the WWF, Snow still showed that he could genuinely wrestle. The problem was that nothing he did was catching on with the fans. The main reason for the fans not caring was that all 3 gimmicks that Snow was handed, were all introduced & subsequently handled, terribly. Following the loss to Mero, the WWF once again used Snow sparingly. He wrestled occasionally in lower-card matches, but often was not used for weeks on end. As Al did not have a downside clause written into his contract, money began to dry up for him & he became increasingly frustrated in real life. Snow thought that no matter what he did, he had basically just wasted his entire adult life. But in mid 1997, things happened which would see another chapter in the history of Al Snow.
It was at this time that the WWF and ECW came to a strange talent-sharing agreement. Snow called Paul Heyman, telling him that he would love to work for ECW again. Snow then asked the WWF to release him from his contract, but the Federation (still seeing potential in Al) decided to renew his contract instead. His talk with Heyman however, had planted a seed. ECW subsequently asked Vince McMahon if it could have Snow on loan. McMahon agreed, and Snow went to ECW with the express purpose of getting himself so over that McMahon would want him back, Heyman would want to re-hire him, or some other organization would want him. As Snow tells it, he went down to ECW, worked his butt off, and 'through the Grace of God', got himself over.
Following pay-per-view defeats to Rob Van Dam, Taz & The Great Sasuke, Al decided to put his real-life frustration with the WWF to some use. He began to use as his gimmick the fact that he had been psychologically scarred by his WWF stint. He started talking to himself before, during & after all matches. Then, the turning point! He brought a styrofoam head to the ring & began arguing with it. Unfortunately, one such argument turned physical & the overmatched head was left shredded on the mat. Snow's new persona received an amazingly positive reaction from the ECW faithful. It was also decided that the gimmick was at its best when the head was involved. So in late 1997 when New Jack brought an array of weaponry out with him to the ring, a new & improved head was discovered by Al amongst it. This head was the same one that was later used in the WWF. On the idea of the head, it is sometimes mistakenly reported that it was Paul Heyman's idea, but it actually stemmed from a conversation that Al had with students Dan Severn & The Blue Meanie. In fact, Heyman took a while to be talked into the idea of the head being a permanent fixture on the ECW roster. One thing that Paul Heyman did do however, was talk Snow into believing that he would be a better face, than heel.
So the tide had apparently turned for Al, but it had not apparently raised him to main event level. That arguably occurred at House Party '98 on January-10 when ECW distributed hundreds of styrofoam heads to the ECW fans. The crowd went nuts & to say that Snow had gotten over was an understatement. He began to win matches consistently, the most important of which was at the Living Dangerously ppv, when as Lance Storm's mystery partner, Al snowploughed Shane Douglas (then ECW World Champion) for the pin. This set the stage for the biggest night of Snow's professional career; WrestlePalooza '98, where Al Snow would finally get a shot at a world title. Unfortunately, an anti-climactic end resulted in Douglas retaining the title.
By this time, the WWF (to which Snow was still under contract with) had seen enough. It was time to bring the new & improved Al Snow back. But was he 'new & improved'??? To the purist's, Al's performance levels had actually diminished, if anything. However, after over a decade of perfecting his in-ring skills, Al was not perplexed that he was appreciated more for his out-of-the-ring antics than his performance in the squared circle. He understood that people wanted to be entertained & that when they were entertained, they would naturally respect what he could do in the ring. So back to the WWF Al went, playing off his psychologically scarred persona. He befriended Jerry Lawler in an angle that was supposed to get him an interview with Vince McMahon to be reinstated. After falling out with Lawler, Snow was seemingly sent on his way out of the WWF (in an angle) when Too Much (Brian Christopher & Scott Taylor) defeated Al & Head when Christopher pinned Head with the help of a shampoo bottle (Head & Shoulders). Approximately 2 months later, Al Snow returned to Raw & beat Sgt.Slaughter in a Boot Camp match to earn re-instatement for himself & Head.
Then came the push...finally!!! Pay-Per-View retribution over Too Much (with the help of 2 Cold Scorpio) & then a victory over Marc Mero in October 1998 (at Judgment Day) was the start. Then came the music. An almost tribal theme that was chant firendly & included the all-important catchphrase "What Does Everybody want?". Al was majorly over with the WWF fans & it appeared that main event status was just a matter of time. His Survivor Series win over Jeff Jarrett was also a step in the correct direction. But the closest Snow got to the main event, was when he was involved in angles with friend & practical joke nemesis, Mick Foley, a year later at the end of 1999.
1999 saw Snow predominantly involved in 2 angles. The first was as the leader of the J.O.B Squad, a group that consisted of 2 Cold Scorpio & Bob Holly. The group basically lived up to their name though & was used as a lower-card distraction, the way all similar insider-orientated angles & storylines end up. The second was Snow's involvement in the hardcore division. It is arguable that he was actually the mainstay of the division, but it was hardly main event status. Al traded the title with Bob Holly for much of the first half of 1999, in a feud that did result in some mildly entertaining hardcore encounters. Then followed a similar feud with The Big Bossman for the same title, which took up the latter half of the year. The unforgettable moment in this feud of course, was the time that Bossman had kidnapped Snow's dog Pepper (who for some inexplicable reason had been accompanying Al to the ring at the time), cooked him up & served some 'Pepper Steak' to Al. This all resulted in a 'Kennel From Hell' match at Unforgiven, which is probably best left unexplained.
Fueled by his jealousy of Mick Foley's success, a heel turn in late 1999 did nothing to bolster Al Snow's career. So onto the next gimmick, as in February of 2000, Al joined forces with his seemingly exact opposite, Steve Blackman, to form Head Cheese. Snow genuinely found the gimmick fun to do. During in an interview, he was quoted as stating the following; "I'm not bragging, but I think the stuff I did with Steve is some of the best stuff I've ever done outside the ring. It was like we had our own show within the show. People were tuning in just to see what we were going to do. I think people really found it interesting, intriguing, and funny. We could have kept going a lot longer". I think his enthusiasm of the angle stemmed from proving Vince McMahon wrong about the entertainment value the teaming could provide, as originally Vince didn't think it would work.
A combination of Steve Blackman's ongoing problems with injuries & the fans only being able to take so much out of the ring happenings from a team, resulted in the end of Head Cheese. Once more, Al was left with nothing much to do. A loss to Tazz at July's Fully Loaded ppv was the only other main outing to speak of, but Snow's new direction was, unknown to him, taking place in production meetings of WWFEntertainment. In the television industry, 2000 was seen as the year of reality tv. Continued success of shows such as 'The Real World' & 'Road Rules', resulted in MTV doing a deal with the WWF to screen a wrestling school reality show. Al Snow was seen as the natural choice to be the head trainer for the series which would show both the contestant's & the viewers that life as a professional wrestler was not at all easy. Why was Al a natural choice? Well, he had owned & operated a successful wrestling school previously (which he sold in 1998 when he resumed with the WWF full time). He therefore knew what he was talking about & could be a hard task-master if needed. But he also had that kind fatherly approach that not only made him a great teacher, but would also gain empathy from the viewers.
With Tough Enough currently having its third series aired & Snow approaching 40, his full-time career as a wrestler may be over. But it's arguable that he is a bigger star in the wrestling entertainment world as head trainer of Tough Enough, than he was at any stage of his actual wrestling career. I think it's great to see such a talented & intelligent man like Allen Sarven, finally find his niche in the industry he worked so hard to succeed in. As a dreamer who obviously loves & enjoys the wrestling industry, Snow is currently making sporadical returns to the WWE while training Tough Enough contestants. Not surprisingly, these returns are predominantly used to put over other talent, the current examples being his own graduates; Christopher Nowinski & Maven. I, for one, hope that Al is comfortable & happy in this role and wish him all the best for the future. It is people like Allen Sarven that contribute to the wrestling industry on so many levels, that it makes our viewing as fans, all the more enjoyable.
As mentioned previously, this column took me an eternity to research & write. For this reason, feedback and thoughts to this column would be much appreciated. Maybe let me know what your most memorable Al Snow moment has been thus far, or why he never reached proper main event status. Anyway, I hope the effort I put in was all worth it & proved a great read for all of you. My e-mail address for feedback is DaveyBoy123@bigpond.com. I will attempt to respond to all e-mails.
One topic that I used commonly on the Columns Forum that hasn't seen the light of day for a while, is something I call 'The Oz Perspective'. Next Wednesday, you will find out what it is, as I take a look at another topical & controversial incident that has happened recently in the WWE. Until then, this is Davey Boy signing off & asking you to remember that dinner is best served in 3 courses.
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