WWE’s Endangered Species
As fans of professional wrestling, we’ve grown accustomed to those larger than life athletes, those gigantic specimens of human strength and athletic ability. We are used to seeing those that astonish and surprise us. In a land once ruled by giants, the landscape of WWE has suddenly changed for the smaller performer. The days of every other wrestler being at least 6’ 5” tall are gone and we are entering a new dawn where height simply isn’t everything for a performer. In this case The Great Khali doesn’t really count given his minimal presence on WWE TV and his lack of talent, but dare I say that WWE and its giants are simply on the verge of extinction?
One of the greatest big men to grace the WWE, the Undertaker, no longer works a full-time schedule and hasn’t for many years. He has earned that right given his age and what he has accomplished in the ring during the twilight years of his career. Each year, fans believe that this is the year that Undertaker finally retires and calls it quits. Yet each year he finds it in himself to come out of his semi-retirement and entertain the fans once more at Wrestlemania. It’s clear to say that there will never be another talent to venture into WWE like The Undertaker ever again. It’s impossible and quite improbable at this point that there can be someone else to carry on that legacy, and even if they wanted to they couldn’t duplicate the aura of the original Deadman. Which leads us to our next big man on the verge of the end of his career.
Kane too has had quite the career himself. Originally debuting in WWE as Isaac Yankem, DDS, Kane debuted alongside the Hell in a Cell concept at Badd Blood in October of 1997. Since then he has gone on to accomplish almost everything possible during his WWE career as The Big Red Machine. A career that has nearly spanned twenty years isn’t anything to sneeze at, but how much longer can a man like Kane go? What else does he have to offer WWE at this point other than turning face/heel over and over again? I’m not saying that he isn’t a serviceable worker, he’s much more than capable of holding his own when he’s motivated, but he’s not going to be able to elevate new talent successfully since his singles character really is damaged goods at this point. He had a phenomenal run with Daniel Bryan as they wouldn’t have succeeded without the other. It’s the same reason none of Kane’s other tag teams with miscellaneous partners have never worked out, Kane isn’t a threat on his own. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kane retire in the next year or so, his time has come to leave the squared circle for good.
Move over for the World’s Strongest Man, who has had more success in the last few years than any other time in his career. He is a force to be reckoned with to say the least. He is another textbook big man, weighing in at over four-hundred pounds, nobody can contend with his weight and his frame the way it is. While his work inside the ring could be described as remedial at best, there’s nothing else Mark Henry has to offer WWE at this point either other than being a “gatekeeper” for other talent that he can willingly put over, but even then he’s not listed as a true threat to the main event or any major feuds anymore after all the losses he’s suffered over his career. He has his self-described hall of pain for opponents, but as far as his career is concerned, it peaked during his feud with Randy Orton and will not be any greater than that.
The man once known as The Big Nasty, The Big Show is quite possibly, the last true giant of professional wrestling. He is a unique specimen with a career quite like no other. He’s had many memorable moments in the squared circle, most notably the superplex he and Brock Lesnar took part in on Smackdown in 2003 that ended up with the ring self-imploding, an ending to a match that had yet to occur in WWE before. He’s always been the guy to show off the talents of others (the proverbial punching bags for the likes of Lesnar and John Cena both of which could easily lift him on their shoulders). He too is already working a part-time schedule and while he may not be as active as he once was, he still has an impact on the product whenever he enters the ring, and I daresay he was perhaps one of the most criminally underused talents during his tenure in WWE.
Let’s make one thing clear, outside of The Undertaker, these men will not be remembered for their countless classic matches. The history books will remember these athletes as being the larger than life superstars we have come to know them to be. We as fans do not expect five-star classics from these men, but we do expect to be entertained. How often do we get to see someone as agile as Kane on television weekly? Where else do we get to see a seven-footer like The Big Show stand tall amongst the other average sized competitors? How many more weeks are we going to be able to see The World’s Strongest Man induct members into his Hall of Pain?
Though I feel as if I state this on a weekly basis, but the WWE of yesterday is becoming more and more a thing of the past with each passing day. There are no members of NXT that could easily take the place of someone like Kane, Big Show, or Mark Henry. This isn’t simply about their size, but rather the larger than life persona that each professional exudes. Sure, WWE can try to market a seven footer if they come across one in developmental, but it won’t be the same thing. Remember the last man to come through NXT? Here’s a hint…mustache.
These men are irreplaceable to the sport of professional wrestling. With the trend of talent moving away from the scores of larger athletes and moving towards the smaller more agile talent, it’s no surprise to see these types of wrestler going the way of the dodo bird. They will not exist for much longer, just like the steroid muscle-freaks are virtually non-existent (unless someone has a Therapeutic Use Exemption) thanks in large part to the Wellness Policy. The times are changing in WWE, and would some argue it’s for the better? Hardly.
The fact of the matter is, anything someone can use to make themselves stand out is important for that wrestler’s persona and image. In the days of the recent WWE, everyone was meant to be the same cookie-cutter image with a first-name last name and have a specific physique with similar wrestling gear to the point where guys just didn’t stand out anymore. While most recently WWE has taken a step in the right direction with some fresh gimmicks (The Shield, Wyatt Family), new talent was not able to breakout because they did not possess those intangible qualities that make someone stand out from the crowd.
The next time you are watching and see someone like Kane or Big Show in the ring, and you want to moan and groan because they aren’t the greatest technical wrestler or they don’t have the agility of a normal sized wrestler, just remember one thing: These superstars won’t be around much longer, so feel free to appreciate them while they still grace our television screens. Let us rejoice in the fact that, while the main WWE roster is much more talented from top to bottom, nobody can take away what these men were able to accomplish in the ring. Thank these larger than life men for making an impact with their size and/or weight, you never know when they’ll decide to hang up the boots for good.