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Checking in with a champion

Checking in with a champion

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Two weeks after shocking the world in Milan, Italy, by walking out with the Intercontinental Championship around his waist, Santino Marella is still dazed at how his life has changed. Reality set in when he traveled with the Raw roster from Europe to the United States, where airport security forced him to remove his newly won title from his bag.

"That's when everything became real for me, but the whole thing has been like a dream," he said with a proud smile. "My family is so excited for me. We're from a simple background; now my mother and father have a son who is internationally recognized as WWE's Intercontinental Champion. There are no words to describe that feeling."

Inhibitions nearly got the best of Marella when the opportunity arrived in Milan. For a moment, he thought of letting the open challenge presented by Mr. McMahon go to someone else. Then, his senses — and confidence — kicked in.

"I thought, if I don't raise my hand, and Mr. McMahon chooses the guy beside me, I'll feel like a fool for the rest of my life," he said.

But on that night, fortune happened to be on his side. After raising his hand among thousands of other members of the sold-out crowd, the Chairman picked him. The rest is history.

"With a little help from Bobby Lashley, all the preparations I've done to become a WWE Superstar paid off."

Lashley was an integral part of making Marella a champion. One could even argue that without Lashley's involvement, Umaga would still be wearing the gold. That's not meant as disrespect, but someone who walks into an event a virtual nobody and walks out a champion could offend certain Superstars -- especially those who have been waiting for that type of opportunity their entire professional lives.

"At first, I felt like the locker room was looking for any way to show I wasn't worthy," said Marella. "In time, I only hope to prove to everyone I'm a legit champion."

Since the European tour, Marella hasn't had much of an opportunity to defend his gold. When he is put to the test, that will be his chance to prove he's not a flash in the pan. Until then, he claims he's going to continue to train and prepare.

"When I have free time, I'm in the ring working out, getting better and trying to slowly gain the respect from the locker room."

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