The show must go on: in basketball, professional wrestling and life in general, Paul Wight has had his share of triumphs and disappointment.
IT'S NO SECRET WHY PAUL WIGHT IS known as "the Big Show." At 7'1" and 410 pounds, Wight is one of the biggest performers to ever enter the squared circle. But how he got that big was more a result of a medical oddity than the genetic traits passed down to Wight by his parents.
As a child, Wight suffered from a condition that caused his pituitary gland to secrete above average levels of growth hormone. This gave Wight a condition called acromegaly, which causes abnormal growth throughout the body.
Making the best of the situation, Wight's intent was to use his condition to his advantage and eventually play professional basketball, but through some bad luck and circumstances beyond his control, he never realized that dream.
Instead, a chance meeting with Hulk Hogan put Wight on the track to wrestling stardom, and while there have been some mishaps and misconceptions along the way, Wight is intent on proving that "the Big Show" is not a big fluke.
A Big Kid with Big Dreams
Paul Wight II was born on February 8, 1972, in Aiken, S.C., to Paul, an airplane mechanic, and his wife, Dorothy, a deputy sheriff. Because of the nature of his father's work, the family lived somewhat of a vagabond existence, moving to Maine, back to South Carolina, to Kansas, and back to South Carolina again all before Wight's 11th birthday.
Due to his pituitary gland condition, Wight grew abnormally fast. By the time he was six, he stood over 5'0" and weighed over 100 pounds. At 12, he was 6'0" and weighed 220 pounds. At 13, he was 6'5" and could easily dunk a basketball. The game became an obsession as Wight quickly realized it was a way for him to fit in at school and later in life, allow him to get a college education.
With Wight's advanced size came advanced responsibilities and expectations, none more so than from his father. His dad was a hard-worker and was quite demanding of his son and seldom treated him like a child. At a very early age, Wight was helping his father around the house, working on cars, in the yard, and generally doing tasks normally reserved for people much older. This was the case throughout Wight's childhood. Wight's father believed feeding and housing his son was the end of his responsibilities. As a result, Wight worked for his clothes, his expensive basketball shoes, and other things. The thought of his son playing basketball rather than working as much as he could did not please the elder Wight. The entire Wight family was a hard-working bunch, and playing basketball created tension at home. As a result, his father was not supportive of his athletic pursuits, leaving Wight with a difficult balancing act of academics, work, and basketball.
Because of his prowess on the basketball court, Wight knew, at the very least, he would be assured of a college education. As a result, Wight was not convinced that homework was more important than basketball. Stubborn and headstrong, none of Wight's teachers could convince him of how crucial an education would be. Wight had one goal: attend college on a basketball scholarship and become a professional basketball player.
From Basketball to Karaoke
Wight attended Wagner Salley High School in Wagner Salley, S.C. During his freshman year, Wight fell in with the wrong crowd and found himself in trouble with his father. The next year, his father enrolled him in St. Angela's catholic school, about 40 miles from the Wight home. There, Wight began attracting attention with his agility and basketball skills. Unfortunately, an encounter with the head nun, Sister Veronica, over his poor study habits led to his dismissal from the team. At the end of the year, the school closed its doors due to financial issues.
Wight was offered a basketball scholarship his junior year to attend Wyman King Academy, a Christian school located in Batesburg, S.C. There, Wight continued to reap the benefits of countless hours spent on the basketball court During his junior and senior years, Wight averaged 30 points, 20 rebounds, and 11 blocks a game. He scored 50 points or more in seven games during his senior year. Wight was a two-time all conference player for King and led the team to a final four and runner-up finish in the state tournament. While his basketball skills were getting better, his grades weren't.
In 1990, Wight graduated from Wyman. Despite being heavily recruited by the University of South Carolina, he headed to Northern Oklahoma Junior College to mature, get his grades in order, and play against some stronger competition. That season, Wight averaged 14 points and 6.5 rebounds a game and earned an all-conference selection. He played there for one year before transferring to Wichita State University, where according to then-coach Mike Cohen, "Paul displayed good hands, good passing ability and a nice shooting touch."
Wight averaged 2.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game for the Shockers.
Cohen was a father figure for many on the team, including Wight, but mid-way through the season Cohen and the players learned that his contract would not be renewed, which left all involved extremely dejected. After considering transferring to Ft. Hayes State in Ft. Hayes, Kan., to be with his girlfriend, Wight reconsidered and enrolled at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, a division III school. Before he played one game for the Cougars, he sustained what was thought to be an injury to his left knee during a pickup basketball game. Instead, he had a condition called sciatica, which are irritations to large nerves that start at the lower spine and travel through the legs. That prevented him from playing basketball, and the school informed him that it would cancel his scholarship if he could no longer play. His dreams of NBA stardom were over, and so was his chance at an education.
Depressed, Wight dropped out of college in 1993 and moved back to Wichita, where he took various jobs. He was a bouncer at a bar, a bail bondsman, a used car salesman known as "Tall Paul," and a chemical salesman. In 1994, Wight met Jim Strauser, who owned a karaoke distributorship in Chicago. Strauser offered Wight a job working as a telephone operator for the company. Little did Wight know at the time what an impact the move would have on the rest of his life.
His Big Break
Working at the karaoke distributorship enabled Wight to come in contact with many stars of entertainment, one of which was radio personality Danny Bonaduce, who played Danny on the "Partridge Family." In early 1995, Danny invited Wight to play in a celebrity basketball game. Hulk Hogan and Jimmy Hart also attended, and Wight met Hogan, one of his wrestling heroes.
"I swear to god, when I first met Hulk Hogan I thought he was six inches taller than me," Wight said at the time.
Hogan was impressed with Wight's overall look and saw a potential star in the making. Hogan spoke to Wight about a future career in professional wrestling and invited him to come to the matches as his guest. After the matches, Wight socialized with the stars of World Championship Wrestling, including his idol, Ric Flair.
"As I'm standing there in the hallway, I see this platinum blond hair walk by," Wight said at the time. "He said to me, `How you doing, sir, nice to see you.' I had to go outside and take a deep breath and hold onto the wall. Ric Flair had just walked by me and said hello. Oh my god! You could have taken me outside, put a bullet through my head, ended my life, and I would have died happy. I was hyperventilating. I thought for sure I had just met Jesus Christ himself."
Wight was promised a phone call from Eric Bischoff. That call never came. Dejected, Wight and some friends headed to Orlando for a vacation. Hart, who lived in the area, contacted him because he believed that Wight was in town negotiating with the World Wrestling Federation, who was also in town for a show. Wight was not, but it did accelerate a meeting with Bischoff, who signed Wight in March 1995 and assigned him to WCW's training school, "The PowerPlant," in Atlanta.
For the next six months, Wight worked extensively with trainer and former wrestler Terry Taylor. He and wrestlers Diamond Dallas Page and Paul Levesque, who is now Triple H in the WWF, began teaching Wight about the rigors of wrestling. At the time, Wight was extremely agile and was performing moonsaults and jumps off the top rope with regularity. Hogan was monitoring the training regimen and had other ideas. Hogan believed a grounded mat style was better suited for Wight and invited him to move to his Florida beach house to continue his training. Hoping to be groomed for a spot against Hogan, Wight accepted the offer. In short time, Wight debuted in then-booker Kevin Sullivan's "Dungeon of Doom" as "the Giant."
A Giant Debut
A series of worked attacks against Hogan culminated on October 29, 1995, at Halloween Havoc, where Wight challenged Hogan for the WCW world heavyweight title in his first match. Shocking fans around the world, Wight defeated Hogan to become world champion.
Although he was stripped of the title less than a week later, Wight became instantly famous and rich. With his notoriety came jealousy and resentment from other performers, some of whom had been wrestling for years and never had the opportunities Wight was given. Along with these problems came the perception from Bischoff and other WCW brass that Wight had an attitude problem and was Hogan's lackey. While Hogan was away making movies, Wight was constantly on the phone with Hogan conferring on storylines and character direction. If Hogan didn't like it, he would instruct Wight to tell the booking committee. This caused problems backstage for the young and inexperienced Wight, but he continued to seek the advice of his mentor.
"Hogan got me my job, took care of me and put the freakin' strap on me in my first match." Wight says. "I looked at Hulk as the guy who has made more money than anyone in the entire business, and this is the guy I was going to listen to. It caused a lot of resentment toward me."
Wight won his second WCW world title on April 22,1996, from Flair, and continued wrestling in WCW for almost three years. During that span, Wight wrestled a who's who of performers, including Lex Luger, Sting (with whom he won the tag-team title on May 17, 1998), and Randy Savage. Wight also became Hogan's ally when he joined the New World Order alongside Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. He and Hall captured the tag-team title on July 20, 1998. During that time, he also began a budding acting career, playing Santa in 1996's "Jingle All the Way" and Captain Insano in 1998's "The Waterboy."
Now in his mid-20s, Paul Wight was a two-time world champion and earning a high six-figure income. Fellow workers began to spread word that his ego was getting as big as his bank account.
"I thought I was a lot better than I was," he says. "I was having good matches, because the guys I was working with were leading me. I thought I was main-event material and gave main-event matches. Looking back, I was wrong."
From Being WWF-Bound to Being Sent Down
Increased problems backstage led to Wight's decision not to renew his WCW contract. On February 8, 1999, his WCW contract ended, and on February 9, he signed a 10-year deal with the WWF.
"No matter what the WCW would have offered me, I was going to the WWF," Wight says. "I already had plans in place prior to my contract ending. As a matter of fact, Hogan told me the first day I walked into WCW that I needed to be in the WWF. Nash told me the same thing."
Wight debuted on WWF programming on February 14, 1999, at the St. Valentine's Day Massacre pay-per-view, throwing Steve Austin against a steel cage with such force that the cage broke. Well received by the fans and the wrestling public, Wight, dubbed "the Big Show" by Vince McMahon, was on his way.
As his tenure in the WWF progressed, Wight realized that his time spent in WCW did nothing to prepare him for life in the "big leagues." Performers were sharper, quicker and more professional than anything he had encountered in WCW. He tried to hide his anxiety by being cocky. This alienated him from many on the roster.
An injury to his right knee required surgery, and during his six weeks of rehabilitation, Wight's weight ballooned from 430 pounds to more than 490 pounds. Overweight, sloppy, and too cocky for his own good, Wight was issued an ultimatum: Shape up or ship out. For a while, Wight was on the track back to his old self, and the WWF rewarded him with the world heavyweight title on November 14, 1999, at Survivor Series in a Triple Threat match against the Rock and Triple H, but it didn't last long.
The Big Show Return to the Big Time
By summer of 2000, Wight's weight and attitude problems resurfaced. Rather than releasing him, the WWF decided to send him to Ohio Valley Wrestling, run by Jim Cornette and trainer Danny Davis in Louisville. They were given the task of getting Wight's body and mind back in shape. Louisville was a long way from the glitz and glamour of the WWF, but it was a necessary trip for Wight. After six months in the territory, Wight lost 60 pounds and found a new attitude and work ethic. He was called back to the WWF for Royal Rumble on January 21, 2001.
Since then, feuds with Kane, the Hardy Boyz, the Undertaker, and Test followed. Time and time again, Wight's attitude was tested, and thus far, he has passed. As of press time, the Big Show is trying to win the affections of Trish Stratus and appears to be enjoying himself once again.
Maybe this time around, the Big Show can finally live up to his name.