May 21, 2007
Size does matter
By NICK TYLWALK -- SLAM! Wrestling Columnist
I hope I'm not spoiling anything for anyone, but the Great Khali is not the WWE Champion, having lost his match with John Cena at Judgment Day. Even so, just the fact that he was in position to get a title shot should tell us something.
Understand, I've never met Khali, so far all I know he's a real stand-up guy with a great work ethic. Maybe he's got a really humble personality and he's won over all the boys in the back with his willingness to learn, though I suspect the promos he's cut over the past few weeks that show him needing a translator have more than a little bit of truth in them.
I can say this about the Great Khali though: he's not a good wrestler. Even allowing for his size, he makes Kane look like Chris Benoit, and while the WWE seems to want to make us think of the late Andre the Giant with the way they've pushed Khali, that's actually a little insulting to Andre.
Even the basics seem to elude Khali. A couple of weeks ago on Raw, Cena ran up the ramp to try to retrieve his stolen belt from the big man. who was supposed to drop the champ with a belt shot. The words "supposed to" are key here, because I'm sure it was intended to look like a blow that might have taken Cena's head off. Instead, it was the complete opposite: one of the weakest shots in recent memory.
So if we can all agree that Khali can't do much wrestling, what exactly is he doing competing for the WWE championship? Why on earth would he be featured in the main event of a pay-per-view -- even a minor one like Judgment Day?
Part of it has to do with the reaction Cena gets from the fans, something that's been dissected in this space on several previous occasions. Desperate for someone to pit against the champ that everyone would actually want to see him beat, it was only a matter of time before they turned to the hulking seven-footer.
It's an easy push for the writers (giant destroys everyone in his path!) and a simple story to write for the match itself (champ overcomes impossible odds!). Unlike a lot of things that happen in professional wrestling, it even makes some sense.
I'm more interested, or maybe even concerned, about the other part of the equation. It appears that the WWE thinks that the Great Khali is an attraction just because he's, well, big. And in a rare instance of underestimating wrestling fans, I'm just not convinced that's actually the case.
That's not to say it wasn't true at one time. It's hard to argue that Andre was a big attraction in his day, due in no small part to people in awe of his enormous size. They didn't call him the Eighth Wonder of the World for nothing.
But that was a long time ago. So long in fact, that even though I've been a wrestling fan for almost 25 years, I still came in only at the tail end of it. The circus sideshow bit may have worked in the '80s; in 2007, it feels dated.
Contrary to popular stereotypes, today's fans are more sophisticated. That goes for the average fans too, not just the ones who frequent internet sites like this one or post on message boards. Maybe the youngest end of the WWE crowd is still dazzled seeing someone the size of Khali, but that's probably about it.
There's another element at play here too, and that's the fact that size just doesn't translate as well on TV as it does in person. Yes, you can see that Khali towers over other wrestlers, but you don't have a true appreciation for how big those guys are until you see them up close. The sense of scale just doesn't come across the same way on the screen.
My gut tells me that the heat Khali has been receiving is the bad kind, the type that comes not from dismay over what a heel has done to their heroes but because they truly can't stand watching the wrestler in question. And can anyone see people ordering Judgment Day just because Khali is in the main event? I sure can't.
That same intuition, plus a little bit of recent history, tell me we're likely to see the biggest WWE performers continue to get big pushes. The Big Show got plenty of second chances despite stories that he was often in the doghouse. Mark Henry just made his return and Snitsky is getting repackaged. Even Batista and Bobby Lashley (though he has some legitimate wrestling skills) are benefiting from the "bigger is better" line of thinking.
Fans and members of the wrestling media alike have been debating for years whether Vince McMahon and his team had a special affinity for big guys that made it easier for them to get to the top. I'd like to present the Great Khali as Exhibit A for the affirmative side of the argument, because there's just no other explanation for his spot on the card.
When you boil it all down, it's easy to see that in today's WWE, size does matter. Even if it's a little harder to figure out why.
Nick Tylwalk has been a SLAM! Wrestling contributor since 1998, and his column, Walkin' That Aisle with Nick Tylwalk, appears most Mondays. Comments, compliments and complaints can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like to see a response to your question or comment in a future column, please include your full name and hometown in your e-mail.