To many modern wrestling fans, Al Snow is just a judge on TNA’s Gut Check. For those of a slightly older vintage, he was one of the most entertaining and prominent characters during the WWF’s Attitude Era and in Extreme Championship Wrestling.
In this latest, and reader requested, ‘The Many Faces of‘, Craig looks at the career of Allen Sarven.
Avatar & Shinobi
After achieving some success in Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and Smokey Mountain Wrestling (SMW), Sarven signed for the WWF in August 1995. His debut came under the name Avatar – a gimmick that saw Sarven mask in the ring pre-match and unmask after the match. He debuted at the episode of Raw on 23 October, the night after In Your House 4, defeating Brian Walsh with as standing moonsault.
He also portrayed Shinobi, a ninja assassin, hired by Jim Cornette to take out Shawn Michaels.
In the 80s and early 90s The Rockers were a hugely successful team. The pairing of Shawn Michaels and Jannetty tore it up in the WWF before they were split up, with Michaels achieving far more success than his former partner. The idea of putting the Rockers back together again was pitched to Jannetty with Sarven being his new partner.
Instead of being a straight up return to the Rockers gimmick, it was decided that the pair would comedy heels with Sarven renamed Leif Cassidy – a play on David Cassidy and Leif Garrett.
The duo were never really pushed by the WWF, bar a few lower card matches on pay-per-views and by the end of 1996, Jannetty was gone from the promotion and Cassidy was relegated to being a glorified jobber and, once again, crying out for a gimmick.
By this point the WWF and ECW had a working agreement and with Sarven having little or nothing to do, he was sent to ECW. Sarven developed a new character for himself after reading about psychology and finding a mannequin head on the street. He got the idea to portray an individual with a schizophrenic disorder using the head as a prop for projection.
The shtick was that Snow had been driven insane by jobbing in the WWF. Head was a play on the notion to get far in the business you have to “give a little head” – i.e. sleep with a booker. Snow took it literally and was accompanied to the ring by Head, who had Help Me written on the forehead backwards, whom he spoke to.
Snow got over big with the ECW fans who would wave styrofoam heads at him and throw them into the ring before the match. Chants of “We want head” were common from the crowd and Snow would even get a title shot, at Wrestlepalooza 1998, in a losing affair to Shane Douglas.
When he returned to the WWF he kept the Al Snow gimmick, complete with Head. Although used largely as a lower card performer, he still managed to be part of some of the more entertaining angles of the Attitude Era whether it was fighting Bob Holly in a Mississippi river, facing Head in a hardcore match that involved Snow throwing himself through a table or, yes, even the rightly maligned Kennel from Hell match, see below.
Snow would even achieve mainstream publicity in 1999 when, after a complaint, Walmart withdrew his figures from sale. The complaint alleged that Head was a severed females’ head and that sent the message that violence against women was acceptable. As was the norm at the time, this real life story was incorporated into WWF storylines with Snow claiming it led to depression and complaining to his mum that Walmart withdrew his figure but still sold guns and ammunition.
It would lead to Snow dumping head and the gimmick, but not before his feud with Bossman that led to the infamous Kennel from Hell match. In 2000 Snow started teaming Steve Blackman as Head Cheese. The name derived from Snow’s attempts to get Blackman to wear a Green Bay Packers “Cheese” hat. He would also turn heel and feud with Mick Foley over quips the then WWE Commissioner had made in his book ‘Have a Nice Day’. Perhaps his most entertaining, and certainly my favourite gimmick, followed soon.
On the episode of Smackdown that aired on August 31, Al Snow defeated Perry Saturn to win the European title. He would start entering the ring to certain European countries’ native music and wearing attire which would suit the stereotype of that country.
His run with the title, however, was reasonably short lived and he dropped the gold to William Regal in October of the same year.
In the 2002 brand extension he was drafted to Smackdown, where he teamed with Maven, a former student of his. Snow also became heavily involved with Tough Enough, where he acted as a trainer. Upon his return to the active roster he became a commentator for Sunday Night Heat alongside Jonathan Coachman. He and Coachman would turn heel and the two would feud with Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, and briefly replaced them at the RAW announce table. When Tough Enough IV came to SmackDown!, Snow was involved and, in the process, turned babyface once again.
The following few years were uneventful until 2006 when he returned to full time in-ring action as part of the WWE version of Extreme Championship Wrestling. By the middle of the year he had become a jobber and was used as enhancement talent for other ECW talent before being released from his contract in January 2007, although remained with the company as a trainer.
Sarven had a brief stint with TNA in 2008 before returning to the company in 2010 where he has remained since. He is a judge in Gut Check was recently on screens here in the UK as part of the British Bootcamp.