Thursday 2 August 2012

Wight Elephant

A month or so ago on RAW Vince McMahon told Big Show what a disappointment he’d been since signing with WWE over a decade ago. Those comments were not a work. They may have been part of the script but the fact is that Paul ‘Big Show’ Wight has been a letdown for the sports entertainment company.

Paul Wight debuted at the St Valentine’s Day Massacre pay-per-view on February 14th 1999, attempting to help Vinnie Mac defeat his arch nemesis ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin in a cage match. Wight lobbed ‘The Rattlesnake’ into the cage a few times, eventually causing the structure to collapse. In the whacky world of wrestling this meant Austin won (because his feet touched the ringside mats before Vince’s did). This storyline blunder beautifully encapsulates Wight’s entire WWE run.

Since then he has ballooned in weight and failed to meet expectations in the ring. The giant could famously execute a top rope moonsault when training at WCW’s Power Plant facility in the mid-90s. Even by the time he’d signed with the WWF this was beyond him.

Clumsy and injury-prone Wight has received varying degrees of push from WWE over the years, in a variety of roles. He has portrayed a bullying monster heel several times. He’s had numerous runs playing the affable yet powerful babyface. In 2000 he even did the tried and tested mid-carder gimmick of impersonating other wrestlers. That the promotion happily put a man on headliner salary in this role told us all we needed to of what WWF management thought of their seven foot acquisition.

Not only has Show been given gimmicks that should really be below his station he’s even been demoted to WWE’s training facilities throughout his career. When his weight first became a serious issue the former WCW champion was sent to OVW. It was an obvious demotion, one designed to motivate Wight into dropping some weight and earning his way back to the main roster. That didn’t happen. While he did make it back to a feature spot on WWE television it was more because the company was lacking in star power than because it was believed Show had gotten the message.

His role as smiley babyface has been the role Show has played the best. He is a naturally likeable and funny man, which comes across in his promos when playing a good guy. There’s nothing wrong in theory with using him as a heel: he has the size and strength to intimidate and is built to work a heelish strength-based style of bout.

The trouble with booking him as a terrifying baddie is that long-time fans have memories of dozens of smaller mid-card workers earning victories over Show. It’s hard to take him seriously as a threatening force when you know the likes of Carlito have pinned him.

Another part of the problem is that WWE has always seemed reluctant to keep one of his monster pushes going for longer than a couple of months. 2011 saw Mark Henry, one of the few people on the roster even more limited than Show, get over as a vicious, unbeatable bad guy. Had Show received a push like that at any point in his career he would very possibly be easier to accept in the role now.

He never has. His pushes have always petered out quickly. Fans remember that and cannot take Show seriously as an unbeatable monster because they know that sooner or later someone of average size will beat him again.

CM Punk tells Big Show that sooner or later he'll start being jobbed out again. The champ's not wrong...

It’s ironic that the last twelve months have arguably been the best of Show’s career. You would imagine that his increased age and blubbery belly would have made him more of a liability than ever. It is surprising then that he had a successful run as a babyface. While his feud with fellow mammoth Mark Henry (which spanned a whopping seven months!) failed to provide enjoyment Show was more over than he ever had been before.

His World Heavyweight championship win at TLC on December 18th was little more than an angle to get the belt off of Mark Henry and onto Daniel Bryan, but it showed how far Show had come that he was accepted in that scenario. Just a year before he would have looked out of place in a world title match.

The giant’s subsequent rivalry with Cody Rhodes accomplished little except curtailing Cody’s rise to the top. Show captured the IC gold at WrestleMania XXVIII but dropped it back to Cody four weeks later at Extreme Rules. It did less for him than his minute-long reign as World champ had done in December. That’s both a reflection on the state of WWE’s booking and the status of the mid-card strap in 2012, not Show’s effective as a face.

The recent heel turn has done Show no favours at all. As a babyface he could play to his strengths. As a heel he is forced to appear imposing and fearsome. It’s failing already, thanks to his high profile losses to Blunder Machine John Cena. Things have tailed off so quickly for Show that he was relegated to a bit part role on the 1000th episode of RAW, appearing only to interfere and attack WWE’s king of merchandise during the main event.

A reversion to the face side of the fence seems unlikely for the time being. Big Show has only just become a heel and has yet to end the first feud of this latest run. There are a number of babyfaces left to pit Show against before allowing him to soften his character again.

Top of the list is probably Randy Orton. CM Punk will defend his belt against Big Show and John Cena at SummerSlam, but after that event it’s reasonable to assume that Punk and Cena will drop the giant and continue the feud between themselves. That will leave Show without an opponent and with ‘The Viper’ recently returned from suspension pairing the two up seems a natural step.

Hopefully WWE won’t wait too long before switching Show. As a heel he is mostly laughable. As a babyface he is affable and surprisingly sympathetic for a man of his size. Playing the loveable underachieving giant is how Show should spend the last years of his career.

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