With the rise of Daniel Bryan to the top of the card in WWE and Chris Sabin’s brief title reign in TNA this past summer, 2013 is shaping up to be “the year of the undersized champion”. Gone are the days when men like Hulk Hogan, Undertaker and Andre the Giant ruled the squared circle. Finally, the glass ceiling has been shattered for wrestlers under six feet tall and two hundred pounds. Now, in this more enlightened time, fans appreciate “workrate” and “indie cred” over bulging biceps and towering titans.
What many modern fans fail to understand is that the idea of an undersized champion is not a new trend. Although promoters have exaggerated the heights and weights of pro wrestlers since the days of the carny circuit and kayfabe, they also understand that the audience wants to see the tiny, scrawny, hopelessly outmatched David put down the big, mean Goliath.
Here are a few examples of sub-six-footers who beat the biggest and the baddest to become world champions.
Verne Gagne (5′ 11″)
Yes, he owned the territory. Yes, he gave himself ten AWA world title reigns. Yes, he also held his own world title for seven years straight. He was also the Brock Lesnar of his day: a two-time All-American at Minnesota and an alternate for the 1948 Olympic team. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1947, but chose wrestling over football because it paid better.
Ricky Steamboat (5′ 10″)
The man born “Richard Blood” had the greatest matches in the history of the two biggest North American promotions. His Wrestlemania III match in 1987 with Randy “Macho Man” Savage is still considered by many fans as the greatest Mania match of all time. His series of matches against Ric Flair for the NWA title in 1989 are also the best in the history of that legendary championship.
Tazz (5′ 9″)
As the ECW champion during its heyday, Tazz was not only undersized, but under-appreciated by fans outside of the “bingo hall”. Tazz brought the mixed martial arts style to pro wrestling, combining traditional holds, powerful suplexes and Brazilian jiu-jitsu submissions into a unique blend that had never been seen up to that point.
Eddie Guerrero (5′ 8″)
The late, great Eddie Guerrero brought talent, charisma and fun to each of his matches. From his days working in his father’s promotion in El Paso, through his dark days in WCW, to his win against Brock Lesnar in February 2004, Guerrero brought more heart and excitement to his matches than most men six inches taller and fifty pounds heavier.
Rey Mysterio (5′ 6″)
The pride of San Diego makes Daniel Bryan look like Sid Vicious, but Rey Mysterio accomplished more in his career than anyone could have expected. He became a fixture in the post-Attitude Era WWE, where his small size and colorful masks made him a favorite among the company’s younger fans. His World Championship win at Wrestlemania XXII over Randy Orton and Kurt Angle cemented his place as the best “little man” in the promotion.
While the trend toward smaller, athletic champions is a welcome one for most fans, it’s hardly a revolution. As the song goes, “everything old is new again”.
Tags: chris sabin, Daniel Bryan, Eddie Guerrero, rey mysterio, ricky steamboat, tazz, TNA, Verne Gagne, WWE, wwe logo