"The Big Show' Paul Wight sounds off about what he learned from his demotion, his early WCW success and the controversy surrounding the word 'goofs'
The world of professional wrestling is full of peaks and valleys. Just ask Paul Wight, who after standing on the top of the tallest peak, made the long, unenviable descent into the flattest, widest of valleys.
It all started in June 2000, when Wight, a.k.a. The Big Show, was sent to Louisville, Ky., and the World Wrestling Federation's Ohio Valley feeder system to work some kinks out. In the business for six years, Wight has been both WWF and World Championship Wrestling heavyweight champion, yet somehow he started on the wrong foot and has been paying for it since, culmination in his demotion a year ago.
"My first initial thoughts were of course, ones of heartbreak," The Big Show said in a conference call. "I just came off the knee surgery, and quite frankly, I just laid up at the house and didn't do as much cardio as I needed to do, and just went to gym to lift weights, ate like horse and ballooned up to 480 pounds. I came back two weeks after the knee surgery and my cardio wasn't where it needed to be to perform at the caliber of The Undertaker's, Kane's and [Steve] Austin's. I just didn't have my shit together. I had a lot of stuff going on the side, like a divorce I'm fighting, and I think I just lost track of my most important goal, and my most important goal is to be successful.
The saying "how the mighty have fallen" comes to mind. For most, seeing The Big Show demoted was strange. After all, here's a former major belt holder for the two largest federations in the world, a highly recognized name and someone who had headlined with the current top names of the business. Why did he need to get sent down?
"Quite frankly, I thought I was bulletproof. 'I'm 'The Giant.' I'm the most athletic guy for my size.' I listened to all that hype and B.S. and it developed a real bad case of insecurity with me, because I knew deep inside I didn't have the background of the guys I was working with. I didn't have the experience, and I didn't have the knowledge. I didn't know how to go up to an Undertaker, or Triple H, and even though these guys are my friends and want me to do well...I didn't know how to say, 'Hey, I don't know what to do here. I don't know what to do. I'm lost here, and I'm lost here.'"
Perhaps one reason for his fall was all the quick success that came Wight's was after he debuted in WCW in 1996. After all, being world champion in a matter of months, as well as being put into a program with Hulk Hogan almost right off the bat, certainly couldn't help someone who didn't have a grasp on the fundamentals of the business.
"I experienced success at first in the aspect of popularity. My First match was against Hulk Hogan. I won match of the year, wrestler of the year and rookie of the year all in the same year. I didn't know the work, the pain and the sweat, blood and the tears that guys put in this, and never get recognized; to never even get a chance to work for a big company after busting their entire lives doing independent shows and never getting a break.
Once again with the cliches, "the bigger they are, the harder they fall." From the stratosphere, The Big Show fell out of the sky and landed in the town of Louisville. But far from being from the worst experience of his life, Wight states the opposite is true.
"I think going to Louisville was the best thing to ever happen to me. I'm not just saying this because I'm a company guy. I swear to God that it's the best thing to ever happen to me, because it actually gave me the chance to experience what 90 percent of the guys in our business have to go through.
"I think going to Louisville has made me be able to say that this business is a learning business everyday," he continues. "I'm humbled enough now to say if I don't know something, I will ask for help. And I will, and I want to put the work in. I watch my tapes now. I bust my ass doing cardio. I try to do everything I can to make myself better so that people can enjoy my performance and hopefully not be bored with it. It's too bad that the first five years I was in this business I walked around with my head up my ass. Going to Louisville really helped me pull it out and hopefully become a better talent."
The 'goofs' controyoversy
Wight isn't out of the woods yet, though. His wrestling career has always appeared to be a case of two steps forward, one step back. He won the WCW world heavyweight title on April 22, 1996, and was then overshadowed by the New World Order (nWo) phenomenon. He won the WWF world heavyweight title on Nov. 14, 1999, and was then placed in a feud with Shane McMahon. And now, he's triumphantly climbed back from the depths of wrestling purgatory only to be embroiled in further controversies.
After Wight's recent comeback from Louisville, it had appeared he had worked hard and won his way back onto the WWF roster. Yet soon into his return, during a promotional segment on RAW on April 16, 2001, Wight said the word, 'goofs' in talking bout his opponents Kaientai (Taka Michinoku and Sho Funaki). The word was misconstrued as the word 'gooks,' a racial slur used against people in the Asian community. Wight steadfastly denies saying the slur, and the incident was one big misunderstanding.
"I'm telling you the honest to God's truth, and it sounds so terrible, but sometimes I talk like I've for a mouth full of spit. I guess it's just from having a big tongue...I said the word 'goofs,' and when I said the word 'goof' in the interview, the people that were there doing the interview with me, doing the pre-tape, understood the word that I said was 'goofs,' but the people in the truck thought it was too close and thought I said the other. To tell you the truth, in no way shape or form did I know they were going to bleep it out, because that made it sound worse. I would never mean any disrespect to Kaientai, or anyone else of an (Asian) background...I didn't say the word. I said the word 'goofs,' and it sounded like the other word, and I just really apologize if anyone got offended by that because they shouldn't, because it was just a screw-up.
"In today's world, there's no room for that kind of slander, there's no room for that kind of racism," he continues. "And you can bet your bottom dollar that if people thought I said it then I deserve every bit of backlash I get."
Could those strong words be a sign that Wight has matured, and perhaps found a new outlook on life? It appeared that, though the course of the telephone conference, Show sounds somewhat humbled. Remember, The Big Show was once king of the hill - how could one not be humbled?
From his new outlook to the old, Wight probably gained most of his early views on the business from his WCW days. He debuted nearly a year before the highly touted turning point in the Monday night Nielsen rating wars. At that time, the ratings were heating up, and, in the early going, WCW was winning, so it's understandable if the events of that era helped to induce a cocky attitude. But it wasn't all about beating the competition. In the beginning, times were fun, according to The Big Show, but not without some hardship, as he relates in a humorous story about performing a moonsault.
"It was pretty goofy," he said. "The only problem was that I don't think anybody wanted to lay underneath me when I landed. We were screwing around with it, and one of the upper-echelon in WCW at the time pretty much reamed my ass out for doing that. I was a rookie at the time and didn't really know how to stand up for myself. Basically, they told me I had no business being on the top rope at all. I was a ground attacker, and I was a tank, so stay off the tope rope. [Diamond] Dallas [Page] and Terry Taylor (put him up to it), and it was one of those collective 'you've for so much athleticism, show it.' So I did, and I got my ass chewed out right after it. I haven't actually hit somebody with it, but it was a glorified miss."
And while the early partnership between the former Giant and WCW paid dividends for both parties - putting Wight on the map and giving WCW a monster heel - the whole experience was not one that came off smelling like a bed of roses. Wight was billed as the son of the legendary Andre The Giant, and while he was one of the federation's main-event draws, he says he was certainly not treated as such behind the scenes.
"I wasn't making huge money from WCW," the PowerPlant graduate said. "That was an advantage they had. They could work me to death, because I didn't know any different to ask for the kind of money that people got paid in that spot. I think at the time Marc Mero, who was Johnny B. Badd, was making five or six times what I was making, and I was the WCW champion, doing main events and wrestling Goldberg, Kevin Nash, and Hogan all over the country. So, in one aspect it hurt me financially, but in the long run, now, I think things are so much better. Working for the WWF, the harder you work and the more you produce, the better you'll do. It's more of a work incentive program."
The Big Show has the distinction of being one of a handful of people who have held both the WCW championship and the WWF championship (the others being Nash, Hogan, Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Bret Hart and Sid Vicious). After experiencing a significant amount of time in both promotions, Show has some interesting observations about the differenced in the two companies.
"The biggest difference between the WWF and WCW is leadership. There's one guy in our company who makes the decisions final, yes or no. There's no committee, there's no runarounds, there's no 'yeah, we'll do this,' and then five minutes later it changes. That was the thing with WCW. What was correct today would change by the end of the afternoon. In the WWF, everyone is contributing towards the common good. 'If somebody has a better idea please throw it forward.'
"But Vince McMahon makes the decisions," he continued. "You work for a boss that, No. 1, will go out there and lay his ass on the line with those matches he has with Shane, and some of the different matches he's had with Austin - the bumps and the blades - for him to lay his ass on the line, and expect us to do the same thing, it works. Plus there's the locker room leadership. Undertaker and Tripe H, these guys are so well respected, they're genuine leaders. Undertaker, in our locker room, when he speaks everybody listens, and it's because he's put in the miles, he's put in the dues, he doesn't bullshit people, he doesn't try to crew someone around - like a buddy, pat you on the back just so you can do a job for him- which was a lot of that bullshit down in WCW.
"There were a lot of con games down there, a lot of cliques and a lot of buddies taking care of buddies. If you weren't in their clique, then nothing happened, and it was this clique against that clique. There's none of the clique stuff (in the WWF). There's one clique in the WWF, and that's the WWF talent; we're all working together. And if someone comes in there and doesn't want to work together, he doesn't want to go along with the system, then they get bucked out of the system. That's the biggest difference. I'm part of a team now. I got guys from lower card to upper card where everybody is helping everybody with their matches, with advice, with helpful hints. It's just a real good environment right now, all the way through."
Other problems also plagued the formerly AOL Time Warner - owned WCW, according to Show.
"A lot of problems WCW had is that they gave out contracts to there guys that it didn't matter if you worked one day or 365 days, you got paid the same. So that's going to automatically induce people to be lazy. So I think now, with the WWF attitude of 'the more you work and the better you do, the more you get paid,' is just a better work-payment-reword ratio."
The new Show
Now with the WWF as the only game in town, Show said he realizes the onus is on him to perform. Once, he could be viewed as wrestling hierarchy, with the ability to perhaps throw a little weight around to see things through his own way. Now, that is no longer an option. Realizing this, Wight knows the proverbial "job" is something he will have to do on occasion. And while some would wretch at the idea of losing, Wight seems enthused about the prospect and even illustrated his new attitude through example.
"Just a few weeks ago, I did the job for the Hardys, and it was tremendous TV. Doing that job for the Hardys was better then any victory I've ever gotten myself. The pops were absolutely huge. It was great business, it told a story of how I was a giant and it took all these different moves to beat me. It told the story of how The Hardy Boyz were so intense, they fought together, and Lita brought it, and everybody worked together. That was great TV, that's emotion, that's three people chopping down the beanstalk. That's what people want to see."
As you can probably tell by now, The Big Show also has a big appetite for speaking his mind. To finish off, Big Mouth, er, Big Show, talks about his current role and what's in store for the future, which right now does not include a title belt.
"I don't think I need to be in the (championship) spotlight because of my physical presence and size. I should be able, quite frankly, to get over without the aid of a championship. I would love to be WWF champion, and I just don't know what my role is going to be. Right now, I just want to be somebody that Vince McMahon can point his finger at and say 'OK, I know I'm going to get a good match out of him, wherever I put him and whatever situation I put him in,' and just be dependable like that right now. I think I have plenty of time to let my character develop. I don't have a clue where to take it. Basically, I'm an infant in the business having only been here for six years. Do you have any ideas?