Santino looks to silence his critics

Santino looks to silence his critics

This Sunday at Vengeance: Night of Champions, in order to silence his critics in the locker room and in the stands, Santino Marella will get back into the ring with Umaga, the monstrous Samoan he unseated as Intercontinental Champion.

Marella's critics -- mainly WWE Superstars -- have not attempted to hide their contempt toward Marella for the way he won his Intercontinental Championship in Milan, Italy, in April. Those who have taken issue with Marella's rise to Superstardom give credit to Bobby Lashley's interference in the match as the sole reason the title went from Umaga's massive waist to Marella's.

To the champion's credit, the rules were changed mid-match to a No Holds Barred Match by Mr. McMahon. It was then that Lashley interfered on Marella's behalf. It wasn't as if he asked for anyone's help. But he got some in the form of a devastating steel chair to the head followed by a rib-crushing spear from Lashley that knocked Umaga off his feet, leading to the cover and the victory.

"I'm incredibly grateful Bobby helped me out," said Marella. "I will never say this would have happened without him."

But according to Marella, Lashley's absence from his corner won't be the only difference when he takes on Umaga this time around.

"I have trained with better wrestlers, better coaches and I've used better facilities since joining WWE," said Marella. "I've upped my game. The person in Milan is no longer around; this is a brand new Santino Marella."

There's no arguing that point. In April, Marella had the veil of anonymity to mask him; he and his abilities were unknown and were therefore taken lightly. For the past few months while he has held the title, the target on his back has seemingly grown larger, and the luxury of "mystique" has dissipated. This has caused him to refocus his goal of fitting into the locker room and adjusting to life on the road as a WWE Superstar. Now, his intent revolves around one purpose: defending his gold at any and all times.

"Beating Umaga for the second time is my one chance to prove that becoming a champion was not a fluke," Marella said. "This match on Sunday means everything for me. I have to win, and when I do, it proves I'm here to stay."

The size factor he's up against also won't be foreign to the Italy native. Having defended his title against a 275-pound block of muscle, Chris Masters, Marella knows the type of strategy he'll need to overcome that size hurdle.

"Overpowering Umaga is impossible, just like out muscling Masters was," admitted Marella. "Umaga is enormous, but I'll use my quickness and outsmart him. Some people forget that before Bobby got involved last time, I did have him rocking a little bit."

For Umaga, the match represents payback for the virtual unknown who embarrassed him live on national television. The victory would also be the perfect way to revisit the winning ways he enjoyed for the all of 2006 and much of 2007.

To Marella, picking up the three-count would be more than respect, it would be vindication.

"They're calling Vengeance a Night of Champions, and I plan to be one of them when the final bell rings," he claimed.

Check out Umaga's t-shirt...

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