Little Big Men: Why Can't Small Wrestlers Make It to the Big Time in WWE?

Matthew MaloneyCorrespondent IJuly 25, 2009

The WWE is a big man's world. 

The Khalis and Kozlovs of this world seem to get a free pass to the main event scene. Along the way, more than a few of the little guys get thrown around a ring or bearhugged into oblivion in a frantic effort to get them over.

It's a tried and tested booker's strategy done since the WWE's earliest days.  

A pity about the wrestling though.

It has long been known in wrestling circles that Vince McMahon is a strong adherent of the "bigger is better" philosophy. Numerous steroid scandals, which have engulfed the WWE, have shown Vince to be anything but an innocent bystander in those ordeals.

But the question Vince has probably never asked himself is if bigger really is better in pro wrestling.

For example, many longtime and knowledgeable fans today regard Shawn Michaels as probably the greatest wrestler of the modern era.

What many fans don't realise however is that even in his prime in the '90s, Shawn handily qualified to compete for the now defunct Light Heavyweight championship.

To give you an idea of how light heavyweight champions are regarded within the WWE pantheon, take a look at this brief list of some former champions:

  • Taka Michinoku: A joke character who was frequently dubbed during his promos. This was hilarious until the joke got stale and nobody knew what to do with him.
  • Gillberg: Knock-off McDonalds version of WCW's Bill Goldberg.
  • Essa Rios: Who?!
  • Taijiri: Involved in a blatantly racist angle as William Regal's "boy."
  • Crash Holly: His gimmick involved acting like he was just born.

Imagine if Michaels had started his career in the '90s in WWE's light heavyweight division...Michaels's career may simply have never have gotten off the ground.

What perhaps clearly illustrates the bankruptcy of the bigger is better ethos so ingrained in the WWE was its former rival WCW's use of comparatively sized wrestlers, whom they dubbed "crusierweights."

Forget the branding; the matches still hold up to this day. Wrestlers like Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, Billy Kidman, Pyschosis, and Ultimo Dragon regularly tore the house down.

When people look back today on WCW's initial success in the so-called "Monday Night Wars" many overlook how WCW was able to truly differentiate itself from the WWF by showcasing the high-flyers and lucha-libre talent at its disposal.

Something the WWE, to this day quite simply don't have a clue about booking properly: As shown by their lame take on the crusierweight division earlier this decade.

The fact that WCW has so far been the only real rival to Vince McMahon's WWE juggernaut over the past two decades must lead some people to question what aspects of its wrestling programming it got right.

The cruiserweight division was certainly one of those things in my opinion, and an important one, too.

Of course, there are success stories for the smaller wrestlers in the WWE. But unfortunately they're qualified success stories, in many respects.

Mysterio and Jericho both made their names first in WCW. Both were so talented in their own ways that it was probably going to be impossible for even Vince to keep them from getting over with WWE fans.

Likewise, Christian, formerly of the Light Heavyweight champion's curse, was forced to further his career in TNA before returning, unceremoniously to WWE's "third" show.

Perhaps today only Jeff Hardy can be held up as a true graduate of the WWE light- heavyweight experiment, having gone onto main event success.

The problem seems to be that "small' men of the WWE simply must be outrageously talented to have any chance of becoming a success in the WWE. In Hardy's case, an outrageous bravery to perform death-defying manoeuvres, in Jericho's case, outrageous promo talent and in Mysterio's case, outrageous in ring work. 

But unfortunately patience is not a gift granted to smaller wrestlers and many fail to get time to hone and improve these aspects of being a pro-wrestler.

Like Christian, Mysterio, Jericho often the only choice is to learn their trade in a wrestling entity not owned by a certain Vince McMahon. And with Vince Russo and co. currently endangering public intelligence at TNA, the opportunities to make it to the big time in pro wrestling for the Jerichos, Mysterios and indeed Michaels of tomorrow are coming fewer and further between.