Late in his career, the WWE's Big Show has big matches, making others look good.
I never loved physically big wrestlers in the WWE. They wrestled big, slow matches that were all about power, so they bored me on a couple of levels. I am proudly #neverhulkhogan, and The Great Khali and Giant Gonzales made me uncomfortable to watch because you could see that their unusual size came from the acromegaly that would afflict them more as they aged. That unhealthy undercurrent in big wrestler matches further took the fun out of them.
The Big Show has been only incrementally better than the rest for me. Many seemed as slow mentally as they were physically, but not Show. He has also demonstrated a sense of humor. Opponents had a hard time being convincing against him because his mass made almost all attacks seem unlikely to hurt, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort on his part. He has always employed The Undertaker’s strategy of not selling early in matches so that it looks like an accomplishment when his opponent finally cuts him down.
Show also took steps to make sure he’d have a life after wrestling. He had surgery to address the hormone issues that produced his size in the first place, and he dropped weight so that he’s less of a load on his knees and ankles than he was. He’ll likely still suffer after wrestling for more than 20 years, but it could have been worse. The increased agility that accompanied his weight loss made him the best in-ring performer he’s been in his career.
These days though, he’s an add-on to stories and not the story itself. He got involved in the Big Cass/Enzo break-up, but it was their story, not his. This week on Raw, he wrestled Braun Strowman for the second time, this time in a steel cage match. When they first met in April, he took a superplex off the top rope from Strowman which caused the ring to collapse—as it did when Brock Lesnar superplexed him in 2010 and when Mark Henry superplexed him in 2011. This time, he got the better of Strowman for much of the match including a Randy Savage-like flying elbow off the top rope that earned its “This is Awesome!” chant. Eventually, Strowman won and finished the match with more destruction, slamming Show against the steel cage so hard that a panel gave way as Strowman dumped Show out of the ring together.
It was as good as big man matches get, but it, like his program with Cass and Enzo, was all about putting other big men over, not about him. Strowman’s wrestling dance card is going to be filled with Lesnar, Roman Reigns, and other WWE Superstars whose reputations are growing. The Big Show’s role was to make him that much more convincing as The Monster Among Men, just as he gave Big Cass a chance to show that he could be a legitimate singles competitor if he could brush up his promo skills. He even got into a recent battle royal to, as always, be the odds-on favorite and target of all the mid-carders in the match until someone craftily gets him over the top rope and out.
Unfortunately, Show needs a hip operation, so now he’ll be out for a while. He’s 45 and started talking about retirement earlier this year, so this recent run might be his last. Earlier this year, he expressed frustration that Shaquille O’Neal declined to get involved in a one-off match against him that would earn Big Show a spot on the Wrestlemania card one last time. While matches like that get attention, they’re inevitably painful to watch as the non-wrestler rarely has the chops or storytelling skills to make the moment anything more than a carney act. If he goes out the way good professionals do—putting over rising talent in impressive matches—he’ll leave the best way possible.
This week on Raw:
- John Cena beat *yawn* Jason Jordan. When Jordan got out of Cena’s Attitude Adjustment and hit him with two duplexes, the crowd started a “This is Awesome!” chant. They were being kind.
The match existed to get Cena in the ring so that Roman Reigns could confront him again. Last week, Cena easily won the battle of the promos, but Reigns was much better this time, and you could see what the WWE wants from him. He’s not a ranter, but his cool delivery made Cena look like he was overcompensating in his rebuttals. The spot didn’t have the impact of the previous week’s cutting contest because it was the second time, and because the angles of attack made it clear that the confrontation the week before wasn’t a shoot, no matter how shoot-like it felt.
- The Miz beat Jeff Hardy and defended his Intercontinental belt. Without the “Broken” gimmick that the Hardy Boyz have stopped teasing, they seem rudderless. A singles match doesn’t help. Admittedly, he’s a stop gap because The Miz was slated to start a program with Samoa Joe before Joe injured his knee, but more and more, the Hardy Boyz’ return to the WWE looks of a piece with the company’s current love for short-term pops—events that get excite the crowd and go nowhere. Countless NXT stars have made their debuts on Raw and Smackdown Live, got crazy love once, then jobbed or disappeared. Alexa Bliss briefly stabilized the Raw Women’s Championship, but the belt has bounced around all year. At SummerSlam, five titles changed hands. These manufactured moments are the kind that frustrate fans as they give people a chance to get emotionally involved then leave them hanging. I usually give WWE writers credit for playing a longer game with talent than I see, but Sasha Banks is devalued by her inability to defend her title each time she won it. Jeff Hardy in a singles match is similarly a clear sign that the Hardys aren’t in the picture for anything meaningful any time soon.
- Speaking of the Women’s Championship, Banks’ rematch with Alexa Bliss became a tag team match against Nia Jax and Emma. The match felt awkward as it paired a face and a heel in Banks and Bliss against two women who have worked as heels. Emma’s role was to be the bigger heel in what looks like the start of Jax’s face turn. That doesn’t bode well for Banks in what will now be a fatal four-way between all the competitors at the “No Mercy” pay-per-view, but it moves us closer to the Nia Jax/Alexa Bliss match that the WWE has been slow-building since Bliss moved to Raw.
On Smackdown Live:
- I love all things Kevin Owens, who’s even great in angles I don’t love. This week he was brilliantly petulant and abusive to Shane McMahon, who attacked Owens after Owens mentioned his children. That became the through-line for the show—McMahon crossed the line, the cops are coming, Owens is going to wreak havoc on Smackdown next week in Las Vegas, and Mr. McMahon will be in Vegas as well. That storyline doesn’t move me because, if history is a predictor, Owens will exercise his power in trivial ways that isn’t remotely like anything you might do if you suddenly had leverage over a major player in a Fortune 500 company. It feels forced and silly, and is predicated on McMahon drastically overreacting, but Owens made it work.
- Carmella freaked out when James Ellsworth dropped her Money in the Bank briefcase in the ring during her match with Natalya, almost costing her the chance at a title shot that it guarantees her. Distracted, she lost, then told Ellsworth they’re through. It’s hard to see where that’s going, but something needs to happen because as is, Money in the Bank hasn’t got Carmella much ring time.
- Dolph Ziggler’s reboot continues to sputter. After two weeks of trash-talking other wrestlers’ introductions and the fans who mark for them, he took his act to the arena this week, doing Ric Flair and Naomi’s walks down the ramp before telling the crowd that anyone can do that, but that only he can do what he does in the ring. He was wrong on both counts. Ziggler’s a good worker, but NXT has been a boon to the WWE because wrestlers called up to the main roster from it tend to be able to work. Not everybody has the charisma to make people invest emotion and energy in them, and he doesn’t. Bobby Roode does, and he occupies a space Ziggler could theoretically fill.
- Randy Orton faced Shinsuke Nakamura and lost. Good. Nakamura’s now the number one contender to face Jinder Mahal at “Hell in a Cell.” Maybe they can have a better match this time.