Is WWE Moving Away From the Traditional ‘Big Man’ in Wrestling? by Mike Sanchez

I’d written down some ideas for articles to submit for the site and one was the idea that we’re seeing less of the traditional ‘big men’ we associate with wrestling. Larger than life figures who draw gasps from the crowd when they enter an arena simply by their sheer size and presence. Anyone who has seen Big Show live will testify that he’s huge. I thought the same when I saw Braun Strowman at a Raw house show last year in the UK.

The recent news of Ryback’s departure from WWE, the self-styled ‘big guy’, brought me back to my notes and made me wonder if I should look into this. Was I onto something in thinking WWE talent is getting smaller, or was I wrong? I decided to look back over five year periods and see if there was any merit in what I thought. With Summerslam on the horizon, I looked back into the archives of WWE and came up with an idea.

If I took this year’s Summerslam and the ones from 2011, 2006, 2001 and 1996, then take the top 5 matches (excluding women’s and tag – mainly because there weren’t many women’s matches on the PPV), I could have an idea on the size of the top stars at the time on what is traditionally the second biggest PPV of the year. From this, I’d note the height of the wrestlers, work out the yearly average and compare it to the other years to see if what I thought was true.

Ready, here we go:

Note – method of average: total number of feet (combined with total of inches converted to feet) divided by number of performers (always 10).

2016 (probable card)

  • Brock Lesnar (6’3) v Randy Orton (6’5)
  • Finn Balor (5’11) v Seth Rollins (6’1)
  • Dean Ambrose (6’4) v Dolph Ziggler (6’0)
  • John Cena (6’1) v AJ Styles (5’11)
  • The Miz (6’1) v Apollo Crewes (6’1)

Average height – 6’1

 

2011

  • CM Punk (6’1) v John Cena (6’1)
  • Randy Orton (6’5) v Christian (6’2)
  • Wade Barrett (6’7) v Daniel Bryan (5’10)
  • Mark Henry (6’4) v Sheamus (6’6)
  • Dolph Ziggler (6’0) v Alex Riley (6’2)

Average height – 6’2

 

2006

  • Edge (6’4) v John Cena (6’1)
  • Batista (6’6) v Booker T (6’3)
  • Ric Flair (6’1) v Mick Foley (6’2)
  • Hulk Hogan (6’7) v Randy Orton (6’5)
  • Big Show (7’0) v Sabu (6’0)

Average height – 6’3

 

2001

  • The Rock (6’5) v Booker T (6’3)
  • Kurt Angle (6’0) v Steve Austin (6’2)
  • RVD (6’0) v Jeff Hardy (6’2)
  • X Pac (6’0) v Tajiri (5’7)
  • Edge (6’4) v Lance Storm (5’11)

Average height – 6’0

 

1996

  • Shawn Michaels (6’2) v Vader (6’6)
  • Mankind (6’2) v Undertaker (6’10)
  • Jerry Lawler (6’0) v Jake Roberts (6’5)
  • Goldust (6’6) v Marc Mero (6’1)
  • Sycho Sid (6’9) v British Bulldog (5’10)

Average height – 6’3

 

  • 2016 – 6’1
  • 2011 – 6’2
  • 2006 – 6’3
  • 2001 – 6’0
  • 1996 – 6’3

 

The dip in 2001 is largely due to Tajiri having a PPV match, but the average for Wrestlemania in 2001 under the same criteria was 6’2. Perhaps a coincidence here was that year was one of the best for WWE, so could the heights of the wrestlers (and how little difference there were between opponents), make a PPV better? Do these stats show that opponents who are more evenly matched size-wise equals a better show?

Outside of 2001, the other PPVs show big imbalances between opponents that could limit the ability to tell a story in the ring and also make it harder for the watching audience to suspend their disbelief for the show. There’s just no way a man the size of Big Show is going to do anything other than squish someone a foot smaller than him, not to mention the weight difference.

There’s a reason why boxing and UFC have weight classes. It’s going to level the playing field and to show that talent, skill and ability will win the day, not size. It gives a fine balance that draws in audiences, builds hype and asks the question of who will overcome against their opponent. A comparison can be drawn with this statement and the popularity of the new Cruiserweight division. Again, opponents evenly matched give a sense of balance and in turn gives the audience the knowledge that these guys are physically similar but who has the skill set to beat the other? It is something that intrigues the fan, not just as a new product, but it gives the familiarity we draw from boxing and the like. We understand the workings and what it means.

It’s been widely reported that WWE has changed its approach to finding new talent. Scouring college sports in the US and scouting the independent circuit further afield. While there’s still some brought in by someone spotting a ‘big guy’ and having him sign up (see the Braun Strowman interview with Steve Austin), it’s few and far between. The emphasis seems to be on athletic ability and talent over anything else. To also say this is the case for the women’s division would be fantastic, but hopefully the tide is turning on that and women are now being brought in for their ability rather than looks.

Granted there are exceptions to the idea WWE is moving away from signing ‘big guys’; Big Cass & Strowman to name two, and in previous years where talent is talent no matter the size (Undertaker, Big Show, Kane). Perhaps there is however some truth in the notion that size doesn’t matter anymore in WWE. Perhaps if you’re good enough, you’re in. A transition such as that can only benefit the organisation as I believe it gives it a more realistic look to the product when ‘normal sized’ performers are on TV. To the watching audience it’s more believable and can draw you in. You suspend your disbelief that the ending is written, but find yourself caught up in the moment. There’ll always be a place for a giant in wrestling (at least I hope so), but for now, the roster is smaller, more athletic, more talented and hopefully going to push wrestling through the new era back up the popularity ladder where we all hope it stays.

What do you think? Do you think WWE needs more big stars or are smaller stars in competitions such as the Cruiserweight Classic the way forward? Does having mismatched opponents hurt the product? I’d be interested to hear your take. Thanks for reading.