There are two primary types of professional wrestlers: the large powerhouse, and the smaller, quicker, more skilled athlete. Yes, there have been a few notable hybrids, but if you had to draw a line and place every wrestler in history on one side or the other, it wouldn’t be all that difficult.
Does the big man always win, or can the smaller man avoid his opponent’s superior strength, and use his skills to defeat his larger adversary?
TODAY’S ISSUE: Speed vs. Power
Hulk Hogan. Kevin Nash. The Giant/Big Show. Undertaker and Kane. Yokozuna. Sid Vicious. These are all huge men, with power-based offensive sets and limited mobility (comparatively). In some ways they’re not very good pro wrestlers, but their strength and bulk is usually enough to get them to the pay window, and even to world championships.
Chris Benoit. Bret Hart. Chris Jericho. Shawn Michaels. Ricky Steamboat. Eddie Guerrero (Note: I was working on this column before Eddie’s tragic death, and Eddie’s name was already included). These talented grapplers use speed, a quick pace, flexibility, endurance and resilience to defeat men like those listed above. Although smaller, they are more skilled, and know how to avoid getting squashed by physically dominant opponents. Their endurance is key, since sometimes they have to take a brutal beating before being able to take over a match.
In my post-SummerSlam column I wrote about the first ever Hogan vs. Michaels match, and that lead me to discuss Hogan vs. Savage for the WWF championship at WrestleMania V. Savage personified the smaller, quicker, more athletic man in that match, and did everything he needed to win. Of course, a Howitzer couldn’t stop the amazing might of Hulkamania (please notice my tongue firmly planted in my cheek), but Savage dominated the slower, less athletic, lumbering behemoth that night.
Speaking of The Macho Man, Savage faced the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII with both their careers on the line. The Macho King faced a similar challenge against the Warrior as he did against Hogan two years earlier. He was forced to pit his speed, agility and ring savvy against the brute strength of the Ultimate Warrior. At one point in the match Savage used an especially tasty tactic that wasn’t so common in 1991, when he tossed a chair into the ring to distract his less-than-brilliant opponent, then used the opportunity to Pearl Harbor the Warrior.
After Queen Sherri helped set up the proper moment with distractions of her own, The Macho King took over on offense. He played mind games with the Warrior, distracted him, made the Warrior chase him, and was able to out strategize the Ultimate One. After wearing out the Warrior, Savage hit no less than FIVE of his devastating, patented elbows from the top rope. Within kayfabe at the time, the Ultimate Warrior should have been dead. But the Warrior kicked out from all those elbow-drops, and Savage didn’t know what to do next. He had been mentally defeated at that moment. Warrior must have been channeling the spirit of Hulkamania, because he Hulked-up and hit his finishing sequence.
Amazingly, Savage also kicked out, and now both men were unsure of what they had left to throw at their opponent. While attempting to drive the Warrior’s throat into the guardrail, Savage missed and forced himself into the metal fencing. The end came shortly thereafter, but I maintain that it should have been over after Savage hit the five monster elbows. Savage had done enough, as he did against Hogan, to defeat the stronger, slower man. It just wasn’t meant to be that night.
I’m not trying to establish a WrestleMania theme for this week’s edition, but when thinking of good smaller men facing larger, stronger men, I can’t help but think about Shawn Michaels challenging Diesel for the WWF championship at WrestleMania XI. HBK was in great shape, and he knew he’d have to run and duck, stick and move, and use all his speed, agility, endurance and resourcefulness to get past his mammoth former bodyguard on this night.
On commentary, Vince McMahon revealed a little insight into his bigger-is-better theory of booking. Very early in the match, Jerry the King Lawler said, “Look at Shawn Michaels. He knows he has to be quick!” McMahon replied with, “Yes, but he has to be powerful as well…”
Every time HBK’s speed and determination put him in a position of advantage, Diesel simply hit a power move and regained control. Shawn continued to strike when he could, enduring Diesel’s pummeling until he finally had the big man right where he wanted him. After injuring Diesel’s ribs, Shawn controlled the match for several minutes. He punished the ribs, attacked the leg, and broke Diesel down.
Hell, at one point during HBK’s dominance, McMahon speculated on commentary that the referee might have to consider stopping the match and awarding the title to Michaels. That’s how badly Shawn was bludgeoning Big Daddy Cool. HBK nearly knocked Diesel out with a sleeper hold, but Diesel, following the script from a Hulk Hogan match to perfection, picked that very moment to “Fuel-up” and take control of the match. Even after HBK hit his renowned Sweet Chin Music super-kick, the champion kicked out. The super-kick was the last offensive move Shawn would hit during the match. Diesel hit a very awkward, token jackknife powerbomb and that, as they say, was that.
The only thing Shawn did wrong that night was fail to grow six inches in height and fifty pounds in weight. That relative size deficiency was the only thing missing from his arsenal; other than that, he executed a perfect game plan, and should have won his first world title on April 2, 1995 in the Hartford Civic Center. The problem was that Vince couldn’t imagine a man smaller than himself ever hurting him, and he projected that thought process into his booking for years.
If it hadn’t been for the steroid scandal, men like HBK, Bret Hart, Chris Benoit, and others might have never achieved the pinnacle of success in the WWF. I’m certain that Vince’s love for the big men explains how in all these matches, even when the smaller man appeared to have it all wrapped up, his larger opponent always found the one big surge that he needed to secure the victory. At that time, a wrestler needed to at least outweigh Vinny Mac himself in order to be a world champion in the WWF.
Fast forward several years, and smaller men are now capable of defeating larger opponents, ironically, by utilizing similar battle plans to those used by the grapplers I discussed above. The only difference was in Vince’s way of looking at the business. While we all know he still prefers his giants, he has made a few exceptions to his own size rule. At No Way Out 2004, Eddie Guerrero went to war with a man far larger than himself.
When reigning WWE champion Brock Lesnar defended his title against Eddie Guerrero, Eddie had a new variation of the classic “speed vs. power” conundrum: while Brock had Eddie outweighed by 60 pounds, Brock was also a world-class amateur wrestler, loaded with speed, agility, quickness, leverage, endurance, and mat wrestling technique. After absorbing massive punishment, Eddie finally started to damage Lesnar’s left knee. He broke Brock down and pummeled the leg, but Brock still had so much strength and ability left, that he came back to regain control of the match over and over.
It seemed hopeless for Eddie, but his perseverance and intensity prevailed. His ability to stay in the fight frustrated Lesnar, who underestimated his smaller challenger. Brock assumed he’d have an easy night, but Eddie extended Brock further than he was prepared to go. Sure, Goldberg’s run-in and spear set the stage for Eddie’s miracle win, but it was Guerrero himself who wore Lesnar down and mentally defeated him before he ever covered Brock for the three-count. Eddie countered Lesnar’s vaunted F-5 finisher with a beautiful DDT onto the WWE championship belt, followed by Eddie’s signature frog-splash.
On that night, the big man stayed down when he should have, and didn’t “Hulk-up”. On that night, the veteran discovered the answer to the puzzle, and stole victory from the jaws of defeat. Guerrero shocked the world by winning the WWE championship.
When the promoter/booker wants to, he can write a compelling story of skill over mass, speed over power, and ability over strength. When done correctly, this David and Goliath theme can allow two performers to tell an exciting story between the ropes, and that’s all we can ask for as wrestling fans.
If all things are equal, should Rey Mysterio defeat the Big Show? Probably not, as there’s simply too much bulk there to overcome, and it’s difficult to imagine Rey ever hurting Show. However, Bret Hart, Chris Benoit, Shawn Michaels, Eddie Guerrero and others are not small men by any stretch of the imagination, and with all their skill and velocity, they can really hit hard. There’s no reason to believe they couldn’t defeat bigger men.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.
p.s. – You’ve heard the expression: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” CH says, “If I can’t eat it, why the heck would I want it? What do you do with cake?!”