Through all the big wrestling news items recently such as the 3 hour raw launch, John Cena’s divorce and even Triple-H’s haircut, the one which generated the most discussion from all corners of the wrestling business was a Twitter comment from master wrestling politician Kevin Nash. Big Sexy is Well known for being an extremely controversial figure within the wrestling business and has ruffled feathers on more than one occasion with his remarks about others but maybe never before as much as his recent comments on smaller-statured workers and specifically, the late Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit.
Having infamously previously lit a fire in the Internet wrestling community by referring to Benoit and Guerrero as “Vanilla Midgets” back in the early WCW, he positively petrol-bombed it by saying he believed they never belonged in the main event of which they ruled at one time. “When Benoit and Guerrero hugged [at the end of WrestleMania XX], that was the end of the business,” claimed Nash. “Has business been the same since that WrestleMania? Has it come close to the Austin era? Has it come close to the nWo or the Hogan era? You put two f****** guys that were great workers that were the same height as the f****** referees, and I’m sorry, man. Are you going to watch a porno movie with a guy with a three-inch dick? Even if you’re not gay, you will not watch a porno movie with a guy with a three-inch dick. That’s not the standard in porno films. So you put a 5-foot-7 guy as your world champion.”
While the porn comparison is a rib(bed) tickler, the comment is indeed very strong and immediately upset a large portion of fans and wrestlers alike, but was it valid? If you look closely at what Nash says, at no point does he knock either man’s ability as a wrestler, even referring to them as great workers, his point is with their ability to both draw and their physical appearance as a “top guy”. Having personally met both men, Eddie and Chris were large built, physically impressive men especially compared to Joe Average in the street and pound for pound were possibly two of the bigger guys in the WWE at the time they were champions. However, the unavoidable fact remains that yes, each man was considerably sub-6ft in a land and environment where the average height is quite a lot more.
Nash draws a similar line under current “Internet heroes” CM Punk and Bryan Danielson as he remarks “They are not bigger than life. I bet they could both walk through airports and not be noticed unless they have a gimmick shirt on and the belt.” Many say it’s both easy and biased for Big Kev to take this approach as he is naturally gifted with a 6ft 10inch frame with naturally lean and muscular genetics so he immediately stands out quite literally as larger than life and it may sound funny coming from me as I’m 5ft 9 in my boots and I’m one of the smaller guys he speaks of who doesn’t necessarily turn heads walking through an airport even though I’m a stocky and bulky guy and stand out to a degree because I’m kind of a blocky lump, I’m not an attention-grabber (which in reality is handy if I ever commit a crime). Think of tv shows too, you don’t see programmes named “World’s average strength man” or “regularstructures”. Imagine Ice Road Truckers rewritten to be about tesco lorry drivers on the M4 on a Sunday morning, not extreme really is it? In wrestling, the appeal is to 3 factions in society. Children, adult males and adult females. To children the appeal is simple; it’s superheroes and super villains and typically in entertainment, superheroes are, as Nash says, larger than life. In the 1980s the top action hero was Schwarzenegger, Rocky’s deadliest foe was Ivan Drago, The Incredible Hulk was played by the enormous Lou Ferrigno and even now in 2012 in the recent smash hit Avengers movie, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is a jacked muscular 6ft 2 alongside a 6ft 1 Chris Evans. When it comes to wrestlers, for adult males, it’s a simple two-fold social case of they either want to be them or fight them. To want to be them, they have to be something on a higher level that the adult male can only aspire to be. For women its even more simple, the manly hero to sweep them off their feet or save them. It’s a known fact that in society, larger males are perceived as superior to both sexes – hell, it’s a fact of nature in almost all species. It’s the “Alpha Male” factor of being seen as stronger, more powerful, better to lead and to protect the pack. To women, an alpha male is seen as a better potential partner both for virility and protection and to men an alpha male is seen as one who is looked up to and admired because they are such a beacon of manliness. People from the mass populous don’t pay to see smaller wrestlers in an environment built on the idea of gladiatorial tough guys because they don’t command the Alpha presence. If a punter sees a wrestler and feels they can beat them up then that’s it, they’re done.
Knee-jerk responses were that Nash was full of it because his year on top was bad business-wise but not only is that somewhat inaccurate but the entire business was on it’s knees. Despite the popularity of Austin and Hogan, the business’s success never rested entirely on one top guy but the product overall. In the attitude era there is no doubt Austin was THE star but people watched wrestling because the whole package was so entertaining with the storylines and characters like the cutting edge rebellious DX, a porn star, a pimp, nudity, dick jokes etc. Hogan had The comic book-esque Ultimate Warrior, the dastardly Millionaire Ted DiBiase, Snake-man Jake Roberts and truckloads more. Nash was supported by such luminaries as Man Mountain Rock, the pig farmer Henry Godwinn and the garbage man Duke Droese – not exactly wrestling’s most successful figures. Another comparison was made with boxing with the comment of “people pay to see Manny Pacquio and Floyd Mayweather” but that is inherently flawed logic because boxing is a legit sport (kayfabe) and its all about the fighter’s skill and real sporting competition. Plus, lets be honest, a huge amount of Mayweather’s appeal is the fact he’s a gimmick and a charismatic larger than life cartoon. Brock Lesnar was very mediocre and some would even say rubbish as a fighter in UFC but he was the biggest draw in the company because he was a must-see attraction due to his colourful promos, bad attitude and his monstrous appearance.
The main element is the “drawing power” factor and question of if smaller average sized guys can be a draw or not. As smaller, shorter, lighter wrestlers can’t get away with being quite so physically imposing when surrounded by monstrous anomolies who can do it far more believably, they tend to go the route of the technical and almost artistic style, highlighting and emphasising their skill as a “wrestler” which is fine because much like a circus, you need the diversity and Wrestling is all about entertainment and being an entertainer and this is the fundamental “don’t get it” point that so many miss. Die-hard Wrestling fans like to watch good WRESTLERS because they are fans of WRESTLING. A niche interest in a niche group in a niche medium. These are the people who think “workrate” means how much you can do in your matches and how many 5-star matches you can have when it’s the total opposite. Workrate is how productive you can be in your time at the job with the tools you have and how well you can achieve your job description. It’s about how well you can sell the product to everyone, draw people in who wouldn’t necessarily be interested otherwise, make people believe in you and your character and I’m sorry to those who think otherwise but the job description is not wrestler, it’s entertainer, because it’s….not…real. Hulk Hogan wasn’t much of a wrestler but he was the greatest worker of all time because he made more money, was more of a mainstream icon and has become part of world culture more than anyone in the history of the business while never taking crazy risks or shortening his career. He sold matches and feuds on who he was, not what he could do and has one of the greatest earning-to-risks taken ratios ever in wrestling. Hulk was a superhuman, beyond normal man and that was the element that set him apart and helped make him the biggest wrestling star of all time.
The thing is, I LIKE the smaller more athletic wrestlers I really do. I like the technicians, the fliers, the pure athletes because they are entertaining to me and because I see wrestling as a performance art (which it essentially is) and the majority of those guys make it truly beautifully artistic. My all time favourite wrestler is Shawn Michaels, who probably retired at about 180lbs having had his best years at that weight and was realistically about 6ft tops. I would prefer to watch the Rockers over the Road Warriors, Michaels over HHH and Eddy over Hogan, but I am a wrestling fan so I like my wrestling. The problem is too many fans are content with just watching it and getting their fix and not caring about wrestling being bigger and better as a business by branching out into the framework of everyday entertainment. That is by no means to say that smaller, shorter wrestlers have no place in wrestling, they can be successful, great stars and can draw, but only in the context of wrestling, not outside of it in the real world and that makes them being main event top guys an unrealistic thing in America.
Did that Wrestlemania XX moment “kill” the business? Of course not. There have been far worse things that have done more damage and pushed people away such as the PG direction, raping a corpse, Al Wilson and Nash’s own finger poke of doom, but it certainly helped change the face of the business by setting a new standard, one which like it not, the former Diesel is right about; success in business lies in profit which lies in money which in wrestling lies in mainstream appeal and the mainstream just won’t pay to watch a 3 inch dick do its stuff because – sorry fans- wrestling lies to you just like girls lie to you; it really isn’t about what you do with it, it’s all about how big it is.