Clark’s Corner: Heavyweights Vs. Light Heavyweights

Clark’s Corner: Heavyweights Vs. Light Heavyweights
By Phil Clark

Let me start out by saying that this is NOT a new weekly column. J.D. & I will be back next week with The Reality.

This is a column that with be semi-regular and will be done by myself on certain topics in wrestling that I think need a more detailed look into. My first dive into these waters came a few months ago when I did a full-scale analysis of TNA. Sadly, it seems that every positive and negative I wrote about is still going on in TNA, which means that in the three months since the article was posted, TNA hasn’t changed one bit.

However, this article will not be about TNA, even though it is about TNA at its base; that base being the Kevin Nash/X-Division feud. What this feud has brought plainly out in the open is something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time: light heavyweights constantly not getting well-needed victories over heavyweights. It’s something that isn’t really a big deal anymore as fans have become apathetic in the plight of whether a guy under 6’0″ is going to be taken seriously against a 6’7″ 300 pound musclehead. That is what this article is about because wrestling is all about perception and perception is one of the easiest things to fool people with. Politics is an incredible example of this.

Pitting two big guys against each other, have people take it seriously, and have it draw money isn’t very hard. People are used to seeing it and all wrestling fans are universal in the want to see a good power match. The Steiner/Joe match from TNA’s Slammiversary PPV just over a week ago more than likely drew more people to watch the show than the main-event itself (the King of the Mountain Match). The reason for this is because people are instinctively drawn to watch two people fight (hence the popularity of MMA, boxing and wrestling at different points in time) and the bigger the better. Where smaller wrestlers fit into all of this is that they can feed off of that fascination and use it to get them over with great matches or victories over big men. For that very reason, I do believe that matches between heavyweights and junior heavyweights can not only help the little guy, but they can help the card that the match is on and—in the long run—the heavyweight and the company itself.

Now, it is obvious that the light heavyweight benefits by just being against the heavyweight as that is an indication that this guy is moving up in the world. This is true, but the result of the match is what most people will take with them when it comes to a heavyweight/light heavyweight match.

Wins for the light heavyweight can catapult them up in terms of popularity and drawing ability. Rey Mysterio is the best example of this with his “giant killer” angle in WCW that saw him defeat big men like Bam Bam Bigelow and Kevin Nash. Despite the fact that WCW didn’t capitalize on the angle and didn’t really do much with Mysterio (minus the Filthy Animals stable) for the final few years of WCW, the angle did almost single-handedly make Rey the most identifiable junior heavyweight in the U.S.

Shawn Michaels was another who benefited from this approach. For most of 1995, Shawn was put against, and beat, many the super heavyweights on The E’s roster including Mabel, Yokozuna, and Sid Vicious. Combine that with a great performance at that year’s Wrestlemania against friend Kevin Nash (wrestling as Diesel) and Michaels was the #1 babyface in the promotion and the perception of him as a legitimate world champion was there. If the light heavyweight can get clean wins over a heavyweight (even if it’s a lucky win), people will still remember the win.

Luckily enough, the heavyweight doesn’t have to lose every time he faces a junior heavyweight if putting over the junior heavyweight is the point of the match. In this case, Japan is the best place to go for a few examples. One of my favorite examples was a February 24, 1994 match at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan Hall between IWGP Champion Shinya Hashimoto and Junior Heavyweight Champion Jushin Liger. The fact that it was champion vs. champion and two of the most popular wrestlers in Japan was enough to sell-out Budokan, but the fact that Hashimoto won is an afterthought. Hashimoto was generous with letting Liger get offense in and really helped people think that Liger was going to beat the Heavyweight Champion. That match, along with a famous match with The Great Muta in 1996, cemented Liger as the most famous light heavyweights in Japan and one of the most identifiable on the planet.

Kenta Kobashi’s run in NOAH as of late is another good example of the heavyweight getting the win, but the light heavyweight benefiting more from the match. After Kobashi’s dream match with Sasaki last July, it seems that he and Akiyama (NOAH’s bookers) decided that he would be the right guy to help get some of the junior heavyweight talent ready for the next level. It was a smart call as Akiyama would be the World Champion shortly after the New Year and Kobashi is NOAH’s most popular heavyweight that can still entertain the crowd and every now and then have great matches. In two of NOAH’s three Budokan shows this year, Kobashi had 20+ minute matches with NOAH’s two most popular junior heavyweights, KENTA and Naomichi Marufuji. His match with KENTA was part of an old vs. new series of matches while his match with Marufuji was made because Marufuji beat heavyweight Akira Taue as part of the old/new series. Kobashi won both matches, but because both matches neared 30 minutes in length, Kobashi took and sold a great amount of his opponent’s offense, and the matches were incredibly crowd pleasing, both juniors benefited. Marufuji in particular may have benefited the most because of his finishing sequence with Kobashi saw him go down fighting to many of Kobashi’s big moves including an Avalanche Style Half-Nelson Suplex, which Marufuji kicked out of. His victory over Taue and his courageous performance against Kobashi did get Marufuji some headlines in Japan and some momentum that may or may not have been lost by the lack of big singles matches for him since that show.

It’s interesting that the heavyweight can really benefit from wrestling a light heavyweight. The best example from the last ten years is easily Samoa Joe. Joe, who stands 6’2″ and weighs between 270 and 280 pounds, has spent the majority of his career wrestling light heavyweights. His tenure as Ring of Honor Champion made the belt the most prestigious Indy belt in the U.S. mainly because he kept having great matches against light heavyweight wrestlers (as most Indy wrestlers are). He would continue this as his undefeated run through the X-Division has made him the guy that most insiders say will lead TNA if the company survives long enough for him to lead it. So how did this happen? How did this flabby Samoan who doesn’t have “the look” of a future heavyweight champion become such a cult sensation? The answer is very simple: because he wrestled guys smaller than him he would get to look like a monster, but since he was more than generous with the offense he would give his opponents the matches would turn out great and he would please both masters (the workrate crowd and the marks).

Another great example of a guy benefiting from matches with light heavyweights is Batista. Most people believe that the feud with HHH is what made Batista, and those people would be correct. However, Batista wouldn’t have been in the position to get made if it weren’t for spending most of 2004 and the beginning of 2005 facing guys like Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho. Plus, the feud with Eddie Guerrero revitalized Batista’s World Title reign as the JBL feud (heavyweight/heavyweight power matches) nearly sunk it.

Going back to two things I mentioned earlier—our love for two big guys beating each other up and perception being everything—I would like to bring up the point that match quality matters the most in wrestling when it comes to heavyweight/junior heavyweight matches. I mentioned that fact above with Joe’s rise and it holds true for the Batista matches I mentioned above as well. Interestingly enough, in the wrestling world, it seems that the amount of ability that wrestlers have diminishes as height and weight go up; that’s mainly a speed and mobility issue IMO.

It doesn’t have to be hard for a heavyweight and light heavyweight to have a good-great match against each other, as the formula for that match is incredibly simple. That formula goes as follows: the heavyweight pounds away on the light heavyweight for the majority of the match, the light heavyweight pulls out the majority of what he’s got to try and beat the heavyweight thus making the heavyweight look that much more imposing and “better” while the light heavyweight gets to show off his moveset and ability to pull someone to a great match that isn’t in his weight class, he does this through several comebacks that come in-between getting beaten up and bumping for the heavyweight. There are some variations to this formula, but that’s basically what it is. Now, don’t think that any heavyweight and any light heavyweight can put on a great match against each other if they just follow the formula, because that’s completely wrong. Any time a light heavyweight gets a shot at a heavyweight in an important match, they have to be the one wearing the work boots because they are the one responsible for adding flavor to the match with flurries of offense spread out throughout the match while the heavyweight will more than likely be a brawler for the entire match. However, if the heavyweight isn’t a good brawler or wrestler period (JBL and Kevin Nash are good topical examples) the match and the possible push for the light heavyweight will suffer. While the formula may be a little simplistic, pretty much any formula for a wrestling match is.

While a heavyweight won’t lose a whole lot in terms of standing within the promotion if he can’t put on a good match with a junior heavyweight, a junior heavyweight will lose a shot at getting to the next level career-wise if he can’t put on a match that is either good or crowd pleasing (there is a difference). Case in point: the matches that Mysterio had in his “giant killer” angle weren’t good because the heavyweights he faced weren’t that good, they were T.V. matches so time constraints hurt the chances of a classic, and with the massive difference in height, there’s only so much that the heavyweight could do. However, the fact that the crowd was able to get behind Rey and enjoy the match made Rey a big star. On the other side of that, Chris Benoit having great matches with Steve Austin, HHH, and The Rock got him his 2001 push and made him a star in The E. Along with that, Benoit being able to make Tyson Tomko, Kane, Batista, and HHH look good during his 2004 World Title reign solidified his status as “eternally over” with The E’s crowds. So when it comes to match quality getting the light heavyweight over it can go both ways.

Was Sabin the right person to go against Nash for this feud? I’m going to say no, not because Sabin isn’t that great of a wrestler, but because Sabin had nothing to build to this feud. Because of that, the feud ended up seeming like (and was) just something for Sabin to do in another vein attempt by TNA to get him over. The fact that they may have another PPV match is a case of “too little to late” as Sabin is a dead issue in TNA for this year and possibly for good as TNA has screwed up so many times with Sabin in these four years that it may be time to pack it in. This feud would’ve been more suited for Christopher Daniels as he is someone who will probably always be #2 to A.J. Styles when it comes to TNA’s Light Heavyweights. In his case, a payoff win over a heavyweight would’ve gotten Daniels one step closer to claiming a spot equal to Styles’. Then again, if the same result would’ve happened at Slammiversary with Daniels in Sabin’s place, it still would’ve been all for nothing.