I've been thinking recently about a comment made to me by NWA professional wrestler Ali Stephens (aka Atomic Dogg). He said he's not a fan of small wrestlers. His uncle, the Junkyard Dog, was a big man so Stephens grew up being surrounded by people like Andre The Giant, Earthquake, and other wrestlers that were no less than 6'5" and nearly 300 lbs.
He asked me point-blank, "If you met one of the current wrestlers in the business today, how many of them would honestly scare you?" He was obviously referring to their size, with most grapplers today standing closer to 5'10".
My answer, "None of them."
Its true. I'm not that big at 5'9 1/2" and not that heavy at a 150 lbs soaking wet, but even still I would match up physically against most of these guys pretty evenly. That being said, after thinking about it more, yeah the fear factor may be gone, but I don't think that's a bad thing to have smaller wrestlers carrying your product.
For one, to me they are much more entertaining than most of the lumbering mammoths we are forced to watch. You tell me, who would you rather watch wrestle for 20 minutes: Rey Mysterio or The Great Khali?
No you can't teach size, but you also can't teach mobility and physicality. There is only so much a seven-footer can do in the ring (clothesline, big boot, punch...) while a smaller more athletic guy can pull from an array of weapons like shooting-star presses, climbing the top rope, and jumping in and out of the ring with ease.
Back in the days of territory wrestling, giants made the money. They were the "freaks of nature" everyone came to see. But as time has moved on and the business changed, it's become more about the showmanship and the agility on display for the avid wrestling fan. Hence the need for a cruiserweight and light heavyweight division. But while Americans have taken a long time to figure out that smaller wrestling is where it's at, Mexican promotions have been keenly crafting the lucha libre style of wrestling for several decades. Even today, lucha fighting is considered some of the most breathtaking, acrobatic fighting styles you may ever bare witness to.
It seemed the era of the big man was beginning to dry out after Hulk Hogan and his 22-inch pythons saw his popularity decline in the later stages of the 90s. Replacing him were guys, who were smaller, but could wrestle their tails off.
Guys like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and the Hardy Boyz, along with countless others ushered in a new, high-flying style of cruiserweight wrestling that not only told better stories than that of their bigger counterparts, but took you on a ride with every single flip or dive.
Inventions like ladder matches, cage matches, and other extreme matches only served to further show the world the absolute skill these athletes display in the ring. It also used to be said that the small guy could never be a main-event wrestler, let alone a viable champion. That long-held belief has been shattered in recent years.
In the past three years, WWE has put its two heavyweight belts on Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, Jeff Hardy, and CM Punk, none of whom stand over 6'3", while TNA has given its title to Kurt Angle and Christian Cage, also short men on the totem pole.
However, now it seems like the clock is starting to reverse back in some companies. Many WWE insiders say Vince McMahon, also a child of the "giants" era, is trying to bring back the "big man mentality", which would explain the rise of The Great Khali. Plus in both WWE and TNA, the cruiserweights and the X-Division guys are being severely under-utilized, and completely over-looked in favor of larger guys like Big Show, Triple H, and the Undertaker.
But if you ask me, the more exciting brand of wrestling is with the guys who may not be tall enough to "ride the ride", but have the heart to throw their bodies around like rag dolls off the top turnbuckle every single night!