World Championship Wrestling pushed him as an immediate title contender. He made his pay-per-view debut not jerking the curtain, but by wrestling in a main event with Hulk Hogan. He won two WCW world heavyweight titles during his rookie year. The World Wrestling Federation came calling and pulled him away with a lucrative, multi-year contract.
At more than 7 feet tall, “The Big Show” Paul Wight is imposing. He was a terrorizing, monster heel, the type that Hulk Hogan battled during his 1980s WWF run. Promoters liked what they saw in the young, rising star, as did wrestling fans.
Wight literally tore up the ring in his debut at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre on Feb. 14, 1999, when he emerged from underneath the ring to assist Vince McMahon during the WWF owner’s bout with Steve Austin.
Since his debut, Paul Wight has had a WWF tenure of both great accomplishment and noted disappointment. Within his first year in the federation, he won both the world heavyweight and world tag team titles. In spite of his accomplishments, there were factors that still impeded the progress of The Big Show: Injury resulting from an alleged lack of conditioning and alterations in both his storyline “game plan” and persona.
“He’s what he is. He’s huge. He’s got an impressive look. I just think that what he’s struggling to find is his true niche, his real personality,” said WWF commentator Jerry Lawler.
Going In Every Direction
The Big Show’s on-screen identity crisis mirrors his behind-the-scenes issues since joining the federation. While his size has become his hallmark, it has also become a source for concern in the WWF. While the federation may “like ’em big,” they also like ’em in good shape and without injury. The 7-foot-plus wrestler has seemingly “fallen short” in that regard.
“He knows he’s 7-foot. He knows he’s got a gift. And he knows he’s always going to have a job,” said 19-year veteran wrestler Dusty Wolfe, who had a six-year stint with the WWF.
On July 7, 2000, Jim Ross was cautiously optimistic in his WWF.com Ross Report about Wight’s imminent return to the WWF.
“The Big Show looks to be in better physical condition, and time will tell how mentally committed the 7-footer will be in the future,” wrote Ross. “The work ethic within the WWF is very strong and anything less should not and will not be accepted by other WWF superstars or, more importantly, the fans. We believe The Big Show can and will become a major player.”
Six weeks after Ross’s assessment of Wight and three weeks following Wight’s WWF return on July 24, the Ross Report had a decidedly different tone on Aug. 18: “The Big Show has a herniated disk in his back based on the results of an MRI. Show will heal for a couple of weeks and then will be assigned to Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) in Louisville, Ky., to work himself into great condition and lose some weight. There is no exact timeframe for how long he will be in OVW, but WWF officials expect it could take up to three months to accomplish what needs to be done.”
The Big Show, a former WWF world champion and main-event star, was moving to a developmental territory, akin to Randy Johnson or Mark McGwire being shipped to a Triple A baseball club. The rumor mill began to churn as speculation ran rampant on the reasons for Wight’s apparent demotion. Ross had already intimated a problem with Wight’s conditioning and propensity for injury. He had just returned from a knee injury and now was suffering from back problems. WWF television has documented the stops and starts in storylines and the changes in persona.
“A lot of that stuff as far as why he was sent down there was, more or less, rumors. From what I have heard, it was more to recuperate than anything,” said Lawler. “The last time I saw him in the WWF, he was laid out with two doctors working on him. They had to give him some sort of shot in his back, and he couldn’t even get up.”
Change Builds Character
“The King” speculates that The Big Show’s purported “demotion” is also the result of “tweaking his character and getting him into wrestling shape where he won’t be so injury prone.”
“He went from trying to be the killer-type bad guy, and then all of a sudden they see him with a funny personality on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ” said Lawler. “And then [the WWF] felt that really wasn’t working. I think it’s not just The Big Show himself. I think the people in the WWF are really searching for exactly what they want him to be. How does a main-event star and former world champion reach the point of being shipped off to a smaller territory? The WWF is rich in its star power; but in its ongoing – albeit one-sided, Monday night war with WCW – it needs a wrestler with the talent and star power of The Big Show to wage such a battle.
Following Wight’s stay in OVW, the WWF is hoping The Big Show will return in better condition and be less susceptible to injury. That should result in a more defined gameplan for his character. Wrestling experts predicted greatness. Essentially, The Big Show realized his potential. He has joined an elite group of wrestlers who have been pushed to both the WCW and WWF world titles.
“I think they have a huge investment in [Wight]. He has a world of potential,” said Lawler. “They want to get it right. They don’t want to make a mistake with somebody like that.”
“It’s up to him,” said Wolfe. “If he gets himself square, he’ll be right where he was and where Vince [McMahon] wants.”
The WWF does everything in a large, grandiose way, whether it be a pay-per-view or a voter drive. All of its efforts are under a bright spotlight with mainstream media attention. Successes are heralded, but failures are noticed as well. A 7-foot-plus investment should bring a return and, by allowing Wight to ply his trade under a more dim spotlight, the WWF may succeed in making his star shine brighter.