Brian Damage, who writes for the Ring The Damn Bell wrestling blog, ran a great article titled “Andre And The Extinction of Wrestling’s Giants” where he examined the irrelevant nature of the wrestling giants as an attraction.
Reading this made me think about the how this all came to pass after such a long standing tradition of wrestling big men producing an instant cash grab at the box office.
Before his King of the Ring qualifying match against King Kong Bundy in 1995, Shawn Michaels stated “Being big, doesn’t make you good.” It sounded absurd back in the day but today it is the status quo. But why?
In my opinion, Andre the Giant is the best big man to ever step in the ring. If you watch his stuff prior to the that evening in the Pontiac Silver Dome, the man could move for someone his size and pulled off dropkicks and jump off the top rope. Once he donned the black singlet, he was the most feared man in the sport.
As a kid, the only time I was ever concerned for the safety of a babyface was when Andre entered the ring. Perhaps, Andre set such a high standard for being a big man attraction that those who came after him pale in comparison.
Vader comes in second place on my list for wrestling big men and could have been an Andre like draw but bad booking decisions that culminated with losing clean to Shawn Michaels in his first WWF title match did irreparable harm to his aura which made him just another member of the rank and file. No other giant has come as close.
The Undertaker started off as just another big man but now that distinction if the last thing you think of when referencing this 6’10” phenom. Mark Calloway has reinvented himself time and time again and it’s all come full circle as he is back to the incarnation of his character that brought him to the dance.
He wrestles a hybrid style that encompass athletic prowess of an averaged sized individual and the power repertoire of a giant. The way he blends then together doesn’t make you think of Andre or HBK. It is unique to him and it makes me wonder if perhaps he saw the spectacle of the big man of giant becoming adapted to prevent his own extinction? He is one of the most intelligent workers to ever wear a pair of boots so it’s wouldn’t surprise me.
Another reason why the giants have taken a back seat is how the in-ring product has evolved over the years. While today’s ring psychology can be up for debate, just pop in a DVD and compare the match quality of WrestleMania 7 and WrestleMania 17.
Things move at a much faster pace with more chances being taken than before. Attention spans are shorter this things need to keep moving in an interesting manner to prevent the masses from changing the channel. Seeing someone lumber around and nail his opponents with clubbing forearms isn’t going to sell as many tickets as it once did.
Plus, the way WWE books their big men today it atrocious. The Great Khali is the exception because booking him as a world beater would make it difficult for even the untrained eye to suspend reality with his lack of mobility.
Perhaps we are not looking in the right place for the demise for wrestling’s giants. Maybe, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. This particular form on hand to hand combat will always draw comparisons to professional wrestling and lots of people watch both.
With UFC putting on fight cards every week, people have become more accustomed to watching athletes of the proper size and strength for optimal performance competing against one another. You don’t see any giants tearing it up in the octagon.
6’8” 265 lbs. Tim Sylvia is a former UFC heavyweight champion but using size and power over technique along with fighting a very safe and slow style didn’t endear him to fans and produced some of the most boring fights in UFC history. When he finally lost the title, he became irrelevant as has stayed that way ever since.
At the end of the day, does wrestling really need a big man attraction anymore? Is it just a matter of the right giant at the right time, making the right kind of impression? Maybe, it is as simple as Andre is the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be when it comes to giants. The old school fan in me will always be intrigued by those larger than life performers but it seems as if the business doesn’t need them anymore.