Last week, Marz Daily Media released the first tier of its WWE Pyramid. And while rock star qualities are a strong foundation for sports entertainment today, professional wrestling was built in large part on the backs of its big men.
Whether drawing on David and Goliath or Godzilla vs Megalon, the WWE has built stories around ring giants because they remind wrestling fans that sports entertainment goes far beyond the reality that people experience.
And what better way to make a show larger than life than by featuring performers who are, in fact, larger than life? That’s why the second tier of the WWE Pyramid is reserved for the company’s most imposing figures in…
The Hall of Monsters
#10 – John Tenta
The late John Tenta’s fame peaked as the heel Earthquake in the early 1990s. At his size (billed at 6’7,” 468 lbs.), Tenta was hardly a virtuoso in the ring. But young WWF fans from that era still remember the storyline that pitted Earthquake against “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan, and remember how scary Earthquake was as he threatened the career of wrestling’s greatest hero.
Regardless of whether Tenta was just at the right place at the right time or his talent justified his placement in the storyline with Hogan, the way the WWF sold the storyline grounded it with seriousness unlike any storyline ever written before that period.
Any eight-year-old who watched the melodramatic video package of Earthquake squashing Hogan (nearly forcing him “into retirement”) without crying is probably some kind of robot.
Tenta made kids cry, the definition of a monster.
#9 – Kamala
Here’s another guy who would scare the hell out of children. Whenever ‘The Ugandan Giant’ was in a match, there was no sure way to beat him. In most contexts, sustaining no damage from your opponent, or ‘no-selling,’ saps a match of credibility. But Kamala incorporated being impervious to beatings into his mystique.
Often accompanied by a masked safari-themed animal wrangler, Kamala was a barely-tamed beast that made you wonder whether he knew was in a wrestling match.
Standing 6’7” and weighing 375 lbs., Kamala’s frame was in no way conducive to being thrown around by even the WWF’s strongest guys. His marginalization as a sideshow heel, however, made it easy for fans to dismiss him as a legitimate contender.
Good thing Marz Daily Media has a sense of history that won’t let him be forgotten.
#8 – Vader
Leon White, a.k.a. Vader (among other names), did not have his best years with the WWF. However, his reputation in Japan and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) was what made him an impact player in the WWF the moment he arrived.
Vader’s trademark brutality was only eclipsed by his uncanny agility. It is still not typical for a 450-pound man to land moonsaults with ease. Unfortunately, Vader’s tenure with the WWF (1996-1998) was during a period where the company’s pressure to compete with WCW led to weird character alliances and storylines that detracted from Vader’s ability to be the monster that many wrestling fans remembered from WCW years before.
Still, credit should go to Leon White for the contribution he made to professional wrestling: being a mean SOB who had no business trying the moves in the ring that he pulled off.
And if that description wasn’t enough to show you how tough he was, he once had a match where his eye socket stretched so far that the eyeball was dangling on his face. That part was not fake.
#7 – Sid Vicious
Sid Eudy’s wrestling career consisted of different stints between WCW and the WWF, as well as other promotions. But the ‘Sycho Sid’ persona that the WWF cultivated made Sid into one of those unstoppable forces that made young fans afraid for the safety of (you guessed it) Hulk Hogan. Sid peaked as Hogan’s opponent in the main event of WrestleMania VIII, but his star paled in comparison to the unexpected return of The Ultimate Warrior during that same match.
Sid’s career was peppered with injuries that made him unable to continue his career on his own terms. But real fans know that no matter what company he was in, Sid was not a guy to mess around with.
You might call anyone who hit a man that he already put on a stretcher a punk…but you’d never want Sid to hear you saying it about him. Hell, the guy stabbed Arn Anderson with scissors! No fake-o!
#6 – Yokozuna
During the early 90s, when Hulk Hogan’s popularity conflicted with Vince McMahon’s ideas for new main event talent, the WWF tried a few different things to keep the product exciting. One move they made was calling on Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart to step forward and become the perennial championship contender of the new generation. Another was the signing of ‘The Total Package’ Lex Luger.
But at the center of both of those pushes was Yokozuna (Rodney Anoa’i), the new resident monster of the WWF. Billed as a Japanese sumo wrestler, Yokozuna actually came from a long line of Samoan wrestlers that have come in and out of the WWF/E over the years. And although Samoans are not known for being slight of frame, the Japanese sumo wrestler gimmick aligned well with Anoa’i’s size at 6’0” 689 lbs!
Naturally, his size was often too much to overcome even by the WWF’s most powerful. And competitors’ inability to beat a guy that they couldn’t even move made him a dependable heel for about 6 years, during which he would capture the WWF (very) Heavyweight Championship.
Towards the end of his run with the WWF, Yokozuna’s weight became a problem. For instance, during a match with ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Yokozuna set up to perform his trademark banzai drop (where he would stand in a corner, straddling his opponent, then climb the rope, only to crush his opponents’ chests), and the ropes broke, sending him to the mat, and onlookers rolling around in laughter.
Whether the spot was planned has never been confirmed. But the company began to lose interest in using Anoa’i because his weight had gotten so out of control. Eventually, his weight problem caught up with him, with fatal results. But no one can say that Yokozuna was not an impact player that kept the WWF on top of its game during a period when they appeared desperate to retain viewership.
#5 – Andre The Giant
You may be wondering why Andre the Giant ranks so low on the WWE Pyramid. As iconic as he is, Andre the Giant’s role during the rise of Vince McMahon’s empire was marginal. With the exception of his role in the main event of WrestleMania III (the live event that changed the landscape of big arena professional wrestling forever), Andre the Giant was hobbling into the twilight of his career during the late 80s, long before the WWF kicked its product into the hyperdrive that we see it in now.
Still, Andre the Giant is a legend who paved the way for all big men who came after him. And without him being opposite Hulk Hogan on that fateful day in the Pontiac, Michigan, the Silverdome would have never sold 93,173 tickets, and Hogan’s legend would be a mere shadow of itself.
#4 – Batista
Personal dislikes aside, Dave Batista was one of WWE’s biggest stars for his entire run from 2002-2010. Even though the WWE has become its own farm system over the years, putting homegrown talent on the big stage after building them up in Ohio and Florida, Dave Batista was one of the first to get their start with Ohio Valley Wrestling and spend his entire career with the WWE.
The company remained loyal to the 6’6,” 290-pound former bodybuilder and bouncer, giving him his big break by aligning him with Triple H, Randy Orton and Ric Flair in the heel stable Evolution. Then, Batista proved he could carry his own torch and became a championship contender with a respectable following.
Although his work rate was far from top notch, and his promo work was pretty weak, his look and his undeniable strength overshadowed his shortcomings for years. And those abilities were what made him a formidable opponent even against fan favorites of superior ability.
#3 – The Big Show
Comparing their two exteriors, you may want to call The Big Show the second coming of Andre the Giant. But even old school loyalists would have to admit that Paul Wight has taken big man wrestling to a higher level than his predecessor.
At 7,’ 485 lbs., Paul Wight has gone from a misused WCW big man (as The Giant, natch) to one of the most popular WWE Superstars of all time. With agility normally beyond his body type, Wight impresses fans in every match. But he’s also respected among WWE insiders for having the better technique than most.
Paul Wight is one of the few examples of how big men in professional wrestling can continue to be relevant in these changing times. Along with his professionalism and athleticism, he has a magnetic personality that has kept him a factor, and will for years to come.
#2 – Kane
Glenn Jacobs’s start in the WWF could have easily ended around the time of his WWF debut in 1995. His role as Isaac Yankem, D.D.S, Jerry Lawler’s personal dentist, was not conceived for longevity. Luckily for Jacobs, his size and athleticism made him the raw asset that would settle into a more fulfilling character: Kane.
The Kane character came to life through a storyline where Undertaker’s half-brother, thought to be dead, comes to the WWF for vengeance. Fortunately, the WWF creative team finessed the storyline such that Kane didn’t fade back into obscurity after the storyline ran its course.
Instead, Kane developed as a versatile player who would have storylines written around him instead of being a secondary element. Over the years, Kane has been a champion and a fan favorite regardless of whether the storyline calls for him to be a face or a heel.
Kane has also tested his crossover mettle starring as Jacob Goodnight in the slasher movie See No Evil and playing small roles in Smallville and McGruber. His appearance somewhat limits how far he can stretch into entertainment outside of wrestling. But considering how many WWE fans he has, those limitations hardly matter.
#1 – Undertaker
Mark Calaway joined the WWF in 1990 and has been a mainstay ever since. Then known as the most ominous heel in the company, Undertaker would make light work of opponents of any size, displaying ruthless aggression as well as speed and agility uncharacteristic of a man 6’9” and 300-ish lbs. No Superstar routinely walked on the top rope before him, and it’s likely that no one will ever try it again.
For a few years in the early 2000s, Calaway abandoned his ‘dead man walking’ persona for a more palatable ‘American badass’ affectation, riding a motorcycle to ringside and donning a head bandanna. The change helped usher in the WWF’s incorporation of big names in music like Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock into shows for co-promotional purposes. In that way, Calaway was a catalyst for the crossover product that WWE is today.
As well as Calaway’s willingness to use his character to strengthen the company, he has been the backbone of the WWE for the past two decades. His presence in the locker room and interaction with the younger talent can be considered the industry-wide barometer for professionalism.
Despite never being someone who carried the WWE with his apparent main event potential, Undertaker’s body of work could make him the first active WWE Superstar to be inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame. It might have to happen that way, because it doesn’t look like he plans on slowing down any time soon.