The Common Denominator – Let’s Hear it for the Little Guys (Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrerro, Billy Kidman, Chris Benoit)

Okay, so here’s the column I originally intended to write last week before the Daniel Bryan-Sheamus 18-second “match” left a bad taste in my mouth. In retrospect, it seems like Bryan may turn out to have actually benefitted from the quick defeat, and unless the WWE is just completely against listening to their fanbase, an idea which has often been hit-or-miss over the years, DB could end up being one of the hottest commodities in the organization.

Which I think is just great. You see, I have always rooted for the little guys in this sport. Now don’t get me wrong, the larger-than-life behemoths like Andre and Undertaker and the like can certainly be entertaining as well, but it’s more exciting to watch the smaller competitors keep fighting against the odds and overcome their perceived disadvantage by relying on ability, tenacity and drive (and sometimes luck). Seeing Daniel Bryan run with the Big Gold Belt was great. Surely I was not the only one who noticed that even the belt itself seemed too big for him, like he was fighting above his weight class.

It was the same way with Rey Mysterio. I would never have believed that Rey would be given a world title run in the WWE. He certainly was never going to get even close to consideration for such in WCW where the “big boys” and their buddies played. I mean, name one short WCW World Champion…and anyone who even THINKS the names “David Arquette” or “Vince Russo” sucks balls. With the exception of a possibly unofficial one-day reign by Benot, I can’t think of anyone shorter than Ric Flair.

There has definitely been a shift in what kind of wrestler can be considered a viable candidate for the top of the WWE (or TNA) hierarchy. While there is certainly still a certain sense that “size matters” as far as having a look that the WWE prefers, in the wake of steroid scandals, a new consideration given to mic skills and athleticism over having the “big muscular guy who may or may not be able to wrestle” look, or whatever, smaller guys are being given a chance like never before.

Bret Hart was probably the first guy I really noticed being given “top guy” status despite not really filling the Hulk Hogan-Ultimate Warrior-Yokozuna-whoever mold. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Hart and Shawn Michaels’ emergence as WWF title material coincided with Vince’s steroid trial. And admittedly, even then Diesel, Sid, and Undertaker had title runs too. I really think it wasn’t until the Radicalz jumped from WCW that someone made a conscious note that “hey, these smaller guys really can go in the ring, work the crowd and sell tickets/pay-per-views” and were slowly moved up the ladder. Eddie Guerrerro and Chris Benoit were both given World title runs. Rey Mysterio was treated as a legitimate superstar upon his WWE debut and not only won the Royal Rumble but won the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania (let’s not debate just now on how much of a factor Eddie’s death played on that).

Then there was Jeff Hardy. While he and brother Matt had already become stars in the tag-team scene, that was a place where smaller competitors had already been accepted as legitimate competitors. In fact, Ricky Morton, as part of the legendary Rock N Roll Express had made a career out of being the plucky little guy who could make a crowd go nuts with a big comeback. He even got a few NWA World Title matches against Flair back in 1986 during the Great American Bash tour. But back to Hardy…

By 2002, he had done pretty much all he could in the tag division and was moved into singles competition. One of the first signs that Hardy was to be taken seriously was taking the WWE Champion the Undertaker to the limit in a ladder match for the WWE title on RAW, earning ‘Taker’s respect. Now, it would be five more years (and a trip to TNA) before Jeff finally got a title run, but by then he was poised to be one of the top faces of the company, and if not for all the bullshit that derailed his career, there’s really no telling what he might have accomplished.

And now we’ve got CM Punk as WWE Champion. Punk’s not a wee little man by any means, but he’s definitely smaller than Cena, Sheamus, Kane, Big Show, Mark Henry, and most of the guys in the Main Event Scene, but he’s booked as a man who uses his talent to overcome any size disadvantage. I do wish we had gotten the planned CM Punk/Kevin Nash match just to see how Punk would have fared against someone who a) was a foot taller than him, b) tight with HHH and therefore connected backstage, and c) not one who usually likes to lose (I mean, this is the guy who booked himself to end Goldberg’s streak). In fact, the very idea that Punk and Bryan went into Wrestlemania holding the top belts in the promotion (and arguably the world) says something about how much talent, determination, mic skills and crowd support can take a smaller guy these days. (Although one has to acknowledge that Punk/Jericho and Bryan/Sheamus were pretty far down the importance scale in the grand scheme of things compared to Rock/Cena and HHH/Undertaker.

So, where do we go from here? Sheamus is World Champion, and he’s a big fella, but I don’t see him with the belt long. Maybe Bryan will get another run with the belt? Mark Henry just beat Punk by countout last week, so that could be a brewing feud. Big Show just won the Intercontinental belt. He’s the big men of all big men these days. Brock Lesnar just returned, and there’s no telling how much money he’s getting for what I have heard basically sounds like a part-time job. So, who knows? (Maybe Christian – another smaller guy – will finally get “one more match”)

But things definitely seem better these days for the smaller guys, at least in terms of being considered World Title material (even in TNA AJ Styles could conceivably win the World Championship), and that’s a good thing. I mean, who knows what guys like Brian Pillman, X-Pac, and Dean Malenko might have done in today’s environment if given a chance. It’s something that wouldn’t even have been considered 25 years ago.
One of my favorite “little guys” in my youth was “Superstar” Bill Dundee. Dundee, in addition to being the father of Jamie “JC Ice” Dundee of the tag-team PG-13, was a great performer, mainly in the Memphis area. He made a few appearances in the NWA, including as “Sir William,” a manager for Lord Steven Regal, but at only 5’4″ and aroud 180 pounds, Dundee was never going to make it beyond a certain level in the business. He did have some legendary matches with Jerry Lawler and others in Memphis and his Australian accent and ability on the mic gave him an air of believability as a plucky underdog.

Some other smaller guys who managed to carve out a successful niche for themselves over the years whose work I have enjoyed include Dynamite Kid, Spike Dudley, Hurricane Helms, Jushin Liger, Mickey Whipwreck, Pat Tanaka, Tazz, and one of my personal favorites Billy Kidman.

Kidman was just fun to watch. We were the same age, about the same size, and he did the shooting star press, so what was not to like. He had several good runs in WCE, and even though the booking was crap, I was thrilled to see Kidman bloody and beat none other than Hulk Hogan during the New Blood/Millionaire’s Club program in WCW. He even had a nice run with the WWE and dated Torrie Wilson for a while, so yay, Kidman. I don’t know that the feud with Hogan had any real long-term positive effects for Kidman’s career, but he can always say he had a program with one of the biggest names in the history of the sport. Here’s a Hogan/Kidman match from the last days of WCW at the Great American Bash 2000.

Now, granted there was only so much Hogan was going to give Kidman, but not bad for a “little guy.” Anyway, thanks for reading. Comments welcome below.

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