Yet another black mark befell the WWE Hall of Fame this week...
Great WWE Champions Come In All Sizes
Once again, Kevin Nash has made a statement that has gotten under the skin of many people. He dared speak ill of two fan favorites when he stated in an interview for Grantland.com that when Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero hugged at the end of WrestleMania XX it was the end of the business.
How dare he?!
While those words have been met with an overwhelming round of boos and hisses from fans, I find it a bit odd that ‘Big Sexy’ would make those comments considering some of the greats in the business who aren’t overwhelming giants like himself.
You see, Kevin was blessed with great gifts — standing 6’11” with a muscular physique, perfect for pro wrestling. Plus, he has charisma and a certain charm that wins people over.
I can’t say that I am friends with Kevin but we have had a few conversations, one being on the radio during an interview. But the other was a more intimate situation a few years ago when I found myself backstage at Impact Wrestling before a television taping. We were both sitting in the green room watching college basketball and he struck up a conversation with me that included the game and real estate among other things over the next hour. In fact, the one thing we didn’t talk about was the most obvious one: wrestling.
I get it – you don’t think small guys should be the World Champion. Wrestling is about bigger than life beasts that look like they can really handle themselves in a down and dirty fight. No one can stop these behemoths and people should be in awe in their presence.
But how does that explain how others who are height-deprived have had successful careers which included being the World Heavyweight Champion?
I think Ric Flair has had a pretty good career for someone who is 6’1″ and has never had a chiseled body with bulging muscles and veins popping out. Yet, he is widely considered by many to be one of the greatest wrestlers and arguably the greatest World Champion in wrestling history. And he’s drawn some pretty good money over the years but I will give you that most of those were before WrestleMania XX in 2004.
Chris Jericho has had a fine career. In fact, a great career which has included him being a six-time World Champion and many other great programs, especially over the past five years in the WWE which has been some of the best angles during that time which have done very good business. But also, he was trusted with the honor of being the first Undisputed WWF Champion back in 2001. The company could have easily gone with Steve Austin, The Rock, Kurt Angle or The Undertaker — all of which were much bigger stars at the time — but the decision was made to go with Jericho. So, someone of importance had to think pretty highly of him.
Speaking of Kurt Angle, he’s done pretty good for himself as someone who is under six feet tall. Take out his amateur and Olympic success — which are ridiculously impressive — and you have a guy that has been a World Champion 11 times over two companies, six of which with the WWE. That includes many memorable angles including ones with both Benoit and Guerrero. And he headlined WrestleMania 19 against Brock Lesnar, was in the WWE Championship match at WrestleMania 20 (which Guerrero won), the World Heavyweight Champion match at WrestleMania 22 and stole the show at WrestleMania 21 against Shawn Michaels.
And there’s that name … Shawn Michaels. The Showstopper. Mr. WrestleMania. A man who is far from being a giant in the ring. While he’s billed at 6’1″, everyone knows that’s not true. I’ve stood next to Shawn and we’re the same height at 5’11”.
Plus, he’s one of the Nash’s best friends.
Here’s a man who is barely taller than the referee and still found a way to have one of the most accomplished careers of any professional wrestler which has taken him to the WWE Hall of Fame. I can make the argument that HBK is not only the greatest in-ring performer in WWE history but in the history of the business.
I think Michaels has done pretty good business during that time. Take out his career before WrestleMania 20 and he’s what he has done:
WrestleMania 21 – His match with Kurt Angle was one of the most hyped leading up to the event and stole the show as expected which a majestic masterpiece of wrestling. The show drew 1,085,000 buys, up more than 9% from the previous year.
WrestleMania 22 – He squared off against Vince McMahon and that got plenty of attention since the head honcho was a part of it. That show did 975,000 buys.
WrestleMania 23 – Michaels challenged John Cena for the WWE Championship in the main event. The show drew 1,250,000 buys, the biggest number up until WrestleMania 28 earlier this year.
WrestleMania 24 – Here, the squared off against Ric Flair in the last prominent match of the Nature Boy’s career and was part of an incredible weekend to celebrate the 16-time World Champion. The show did 1,041,000 buys, once again topping the one million mark.
WrestleMania 25 – All Michaels did here was have, in my opinioin, the greatest match in WrestleMania history against The Undertaker. An all-time classic, a masterpiece. The show did 960,000 buys.
WrestleMania 26 – Michaels finished up his incredible career with another show-stealing match against The Undertaker. The number were once again down, drawing 885,000 buys.
Plus, WrestleMania 28 this past year, which did not include Michaels, but saw the return of The Rock as he faced John Cena drew 1,300,000 buys, the biggest in WrestleMania history.
I don’t think that’s the end of the business.
Here are some key points to this argument that need to be mentioned: while Michaels had a key match on all these shows that were heavily promoted, there were other big matches that helped draw the buyrates. He didn’t do it all on his own but he had a big part in getting people to buy those shows.
WrestleMania 20 – featuring both Benoit and Guerrero winning world championships and hugging to end the show – drew 1,0007,000 buys, one of just seven WrestleMania’s in history to break the one million mark. So, they did some business too.
As for the business not coming close to the Austin era or the Hulk Hogan era or the nWO, I will say this. You’re right. It’s never been close, especially when talking about the nWo and Austin which ran parallel to one another.
That was a special time in the wrestling business that will likely never be seen again. It was two promotions hitting their peaks with the right stars and storylines – the nWo in WCW and Austin vs. McMahon in the WWF – squaring off against once another.
Right people, right place, right time.
Even if those storylines took place now rather than more than a decade ago, they wouldn’t do the overwhelming business they did then with the proliferation of cable channels and the Internet. There are more choices people can make now and that has diluted the audience for many forms of entertainment, especially television. About the only thing that keeps a rating on TV these days is anything involving the NFL.
While there have been plenty of bulking stars in wrestling, it’s also been proven time and time again that those suffering from height restriction can break through and become the biggest names in the business and even draw fans which means make money.
And by the way, WrestleMania 11, which saw Kevin Nash become the WWF Champion in one of the main event matches, only did 340,000 buys. And even his opponent Shawn Michaels could save that one.
Brian Fritz has covered pro wrestling since 1995 as a radio host and writing for The Orlando Sentinel and AOL FanHouse. He currently hosts the Between The Ropes podcast which can be heard at http://www.BetweenTheRopes.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianFritz