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The Contentious Ten 07.26.10: Super Heavyweights

July 26, 2010 | Posted by Ryan Byers

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Contentious Ten, which was recently ranked number seven on the list of Top 100 411mania Countdown columns of all time.

As you may have noticed, your regular host, Aaron Hubbard, has had to take this week off, leaving yours truly to step up and select a topic to serve as the basis of today’s list. I decided that it would be fun to highlight the most outstanding members of a class that has historically been either ignored or outright derided by those of us who talk about professional wrestling on the internet. I’m talking about SUPER HEAVYWEIGHTS~!, the men with the gigantic bodies who have been a part of wrestling ever since its presentation first started to drift away from that of a legitimate sport and towards its current status as some sort of live-action superhero cartoon. Though, stereotypically speaking, we internet fans have heaped the most praise upon matches featuring smaller guys who are capable of doing highspots that emphasize their speed and agility as opposed to highspots that emphasize their size and strength, the fact remains that the big guys have been crowd pleasers for the majority of wrestling fans for many decades, and several of them have drawn a significant amount of money for the companies that they wrestled for. They deserve more credit for their accomplishments than what they have traditionally gotten in columns here on 411, so today we’re going to pay tribute to ten of the best.

I should note at the outset that the “super heavyweight” cutoff that I used for this column was three hundred and fifty pounds. If a guy wasn’t billed at our above that weight during the peak of his career, he wasn’t considered for this list. Factors used in considering whom made the list included quality of in-ring performances, charisma, status as a box office draw, and historical significance to wrestling.

With all of that established, let’s head to the list!

Honorable Mentions

The Headhunters: The ‘Hunters make the list as more of a personal favorite than anything else. This tag team of four hundred pound identical twins have been wowing fans for many years with top rope elbow drops, moonsaults, and dives out of the ring to the floor. They have competed mainly in Puerto Rico, Japanese deathmatch promotions, and, most recently, in Mexico.

Yokozuna: I have a feeling that some will be disappointed that Yokozuna wasn’t in the list of ten. However, with all due respect for the dead, I see him as being a bit of a flash in the pan, whereas everybody I ranked higher had sustained success in wrestling. Yoko was really only a top guy for about a year, and his top level in-ring performances only occurred during that year. Afterwords, his increasing weight prevented him from being on top and from putting on matches the caliber of which he used to put on.

Crash Holly: Somebody was going to make this joke. It might as well be me.


Haystacks Calhounsize=6>

Former WWWF Tag Team Championsize=4>

Many younger professional wrestling fans believe that there was no nationally televised wrestling in the United States until the 1980’s, when Vince McMahon used syndication to stretch the World Wrestling Federation from coast to coast and his competitors struggled to keep up. However, that’s not entirely accurate. When television first became popular in the 1940’s and the 1950’s, a long defunct broadcasting service known as the Dumont Network beamed professional wrestling cards into the homes of fifteen major cities across the country. Several men were made major stars as a result of this exposure, including the infamous Gorgeous George and a young Verne Gagne, who would use this popularity to found the AWA. Another one of those competitors made popular by television in the 1950’s was one of the first true super heavyweights to make a mark on the business, the 601 pound scuffling hillbilly from Morgan’s Corner, Arkansas known as Haystacks Calhoun.

Calhoun was relatively young when he achieved this national popularity, being in his early twenties when he first stepped in between the ropes of a professional wrestling ring. He was by no stretch of the imagination a quality in-ring performer, with offense consisting mostly of big right hands and either sitting or standing on his opponent. However, in addition to his larger than life body, he had a larger than life personality which captivated the imaginations of wrestling fans of the era and turned him into a significant wrestling and television star. Though he competed in numerous territories across the United States and even made international trips for Rikidozan’s Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance, the majority of this fellow’s success came when he worked for Vince McMahon Sr.’s Capitol Sports group. He was, for a time, a regular opponent of Capitol Sports’ top drawing card Bruno Sammartino and later one of Bruno’s most notable tag team partners. Later on, he captured the World Wide Wrestling Federation’s Tag Team Titles with Tony Garea.

Haystacks essentially established the blueprint for how a man of his size could be used as a top attraction for a wrestling promotion, and he also set the standard for a “hillbilly” gimmick that would be used and reused for decades in the business. This influence makes him an easy number ten.



Monster Heel Across the Globesize=4>

If you only saw Kamala in 1992 or later, you didn’t really see Kamala. During the latter part of his run with the World Wrestling Federation and during his entire run with World Championship Wrestling, the man who was supposedly a Ugandan headhunter had been transformed into a kid friendly cartoon version of his former self, whether he was being “civilized” by the Reverend Slick and taught to bowl in the WWF or whether he was part of Kevin Sullivan’s nutty Dungeon of Doom in WCW.

Prior to this latter stage of his career, though, Kamala was perceived as being one of the most dangerous competitors in all of professional wrestling. In reality, Kamala was Jim Harris, a young man from Mississippi who, after several years of bouncing from odd job to odd job and state to state found himself living in Michigan, where a chance encounter with the legendary Bobo Brazil set him on a course that would lead him across the nation and, in fact, the entire globe gaining notoriety as a professional wrestler. Originally he wrestled under the names “Sugar Bear” Jim Harris and the Mississippi Mauler, but, when he wound up in the Memphis wrestling group promoted by Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler in the early 1980’s, the duo took one look at him and decided that he would be perfect to play a savage character from “deepest, darkest Africa.” Though some consider the character incredibly racist by today’s standards, Harris himself has always maintained in shoot interviews that he in no way found portraying the Kamala character degradin, despite the fact that he has been a critic of what he perceived as unequal treatment of black and white wrestlers in some locker rooms.

Kamala was an immediate success in Memphis, and he parlayed that success into even greater fame and bigger paydays in the Mid-South territory promoted by Bill Watts. Part of Kamala’s success no doubt stems from his dedication to playing his character to the hilt, as modern day interviews with Harris are chock full of stories about how he would always act as Kamala if in public and in the vicinity of wrestling fans, including one truly disturbing tale about tearing a live chicken apart with his bare hands in order to keep the act alive. This dedication helped Kamala into semi-main event spots in the Louisiana Superdome for Mid-South, where sometimes upwards of twenty thousand fans would pay to see if a plucky underdog babyface could overcome the monster. At the same time, he was also bringing the Kamala character to World Class Championship Wrestling, where the savage was a perfect counterpoint to the headlining Von Erich brothers.

Though, as noted above, the character was toned down in later years, the foundation that Kamala laid in Memphis, Mid-South, and WCCW allowed him to be considered a solid hand to help fill out cards in the national promotions of the WWF and WCW until the mid-1990’s.


One Man Gangsize=6>

Former UWF (Mid-South) Heavyweight Championsize=4>

The One Man Gang is similar to Kamala in that he rose to fame as a character that made him out to be an absolute killer but unfortunately became more watered down as time wore on. Also like Kamala, he was given one of his first big breaks in the professional wrestling business from Bill Watts’ Mid-South wrestling, where he was transformed from Crusher Broomfield (his original gimmick) into the One Man Gang. Gang, who was only sixteen years old when he first engaged in professional wrestling, had a level of agility that was almost unheard of for a man of his size in the early 1980’s, and he backed that up with a presence and a snugness in the ring which made fans believe that he would have been capable of killing them with his bare hands. He was considered a top-level talent in Mid-South, World Class, and, for a brief time, even Championship Wrestling from Florida. In fact, when Mid-South decided to undergo national expansion in the late 1980’s and changed its name to the Universal Wrestling Federation, OMG was one of the men who the company originally built around and made their second World Heavyweight Champion. However, as the newly expanded promotion quickly faltered, the Gang followed up in inquiries that he had been receiving for some time from the World Wrestling Federation.

When the One Man Gang made his debut in the WWF, he almost immediately had a loop of house show championship matches against none other than Hulk Hogan, though the Gang’s time at the top of the WWF wouldn’t last too horribly long, as was the case with many of the Hulkster’s opponents. However, he did remain in a strong upper card position until later in 1988, when he was transformed into “Akeem the African Dream,” a character that is rather polarizing in pro wrestling circles. Despite the controversy surrounding the character, the Gang’s talent could still not be denied, with his tag team match at Wrestlemania VI in particular being a bit of a cult classic among online fans. Akeem remained active in the Fed until 1990, as he vanished and did not appear in a national wrestling promotion until five years later, when he popped up as a member of the Dungeon of Doom in WCW in 1995 and served as an unusual transitional champion when the company decided that it needed to get the United States Title off of Japanese superstar Kensuke Sasaki and on to Mexican superstar Konnan.

Though he had a career of ups and downs in terms of how he was pushed, there is no denying that, for a time, the Gang was a legitimate box office attraction, and, even when he was not, he was one of the most talented in-ring performers of his size that wrestling as ever seen.



Former All Japan Tag Team Championsize=4>

The character of Umaga only appeared on WWE television for three years. However, the wrestler behind the gimmick was perhaps the most talented in-ring performer of a legendary wrestling family that has a legacy spanning almost half a century in the industry. Born Eddie Fatu, he was the nephew of original Wild Samoans Afa and Sika as well as the younger brother of the Tonga Kid (a.k.a Tama of the Islanders) and Rikishi (a.k.a Fatu of the Heandshrinkers). He began training to wrestle with his family in the mid-1990’s, and it was in 1996 that he made his first appearance in the World Wrestling Federation alongside his cousin Matt Anoa’i (later known as Rosey). The two were scheduled to be rivals of WWF star Fatu, who at the time was playing the character of a former gang banger who had reformed his ways and was now educating children about how to “Make a Difference.” Eddie Fatu and Anoa’i were meant to be individuals from Fatu’s past out to settle an old score, though, for reasons unknown to most, the angle was dropped early and Eddie Fatu was off of national television in the United States for six years.

However, this did not deter him from gaining further experience and continuing to grow as a professional wrestler. The first notable promotion that Eddie Fatu wrestled for after leaving the WWF was Japan’s Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling (FMW), where he used his real name and continued to team with Matt Anoa’i, who at the time was referred to as Matty Samu. The duo made an impact almost immediately on arrival, scoring a brief reign with the promotion’s World Entertainment Wrestling Hardcore Tag Team Titles. Not long thereafter, the WWF came calling again, and Eddie Fatu was signed to a developmental deal in 2001, when the “developmental” concept was still relatively new in professional wrestling. After roughly a year in developmental, he returned to the active WWE roster under the name Jamal as part of Three Minute Warning. 3MW was portrayed as a brutal heel duo for a brief period of time, and perhaps the highlight of their run was a very hot angle in which the two members, under the direction of Eric Bischoff, ambushed members of the rival Smackdown roster during the wedding of Billy and Chuck.

For whatever reason, WWE management seemed to lose interest in Jamal and his partner Rosey not long after the big angle on Smackdown, and Jamal was ultimately let go by the company after an incident in which he was alleged to have assaulted a police officer. Though it may have seemed catastrophic at the time, Jamal’s release may have been one of the best things that happened to his career, as it resulted in him becoming a top heel with All Japan Pro Wrestling during 2003 and 2004, where he polished his skills as an in-ring performer and became, for the first time, a truly world class professional wrestler. Upon his return to WWE under the unconventional gimmick of Umaga, he quickly struck fear into the hearts of younger fans and kept older fans entertained with a series of superb matches against Jeff Hardy and a well-remembered championship program against John Cena. As Umaga, he also holds the distinction of wrestling in the most heavily promoted match at Wrestlemania XXIII, an event which holds the record for the largest live gate in North American wrestling history and further holds the distinction of being the Wrestlemania with the largest pay per view buyrate.

Unfortunately, it would not be long before Umaga was released again from WWE and also not long before he was found dead at the age of thirty-six due to an apparent drug overdose. Talented and successful as he was, his legacy may wind up as being one of wrestling’s many sad cautionary tales.


Big Daddysize=6>

The British Hulk Hogansize=4>

Though you wouldn’t know it from looking at the state of the sport in the country today, there was a period of time during which home-grown professional wrestling in the United Kingdom was big business. During that period, there was no bigger wrestling star than Shirley Crabtree, Jr., who fans knew better as Big Daddy. Though many wrestling purists familiar with British grappling speak fondly of the World of Sport action that they saw between men such as Johnny Saint and Marc Rocco, the fact of the matter is that it was the antics of Big Daddy that truly drew numerous television viewers to wrestling in the country.

Crabtree’s wrestling career began in the mid-1950’s and was inspired by his father, who had also been a professional wrestler for a period of time. Crabtree, born in 1930, originally started wrestling in his twenties and was a moderate success as a heel. However, professional wrestling’s popularity as a whole began to wane in the country, and, once it did, Crabtree took a fifteen year hiatus from the ring. Then, in the mid-1970’s, the popularity of pro wrestling on the island began to skyrocket once more, and one of the key promoters was Shirley’s brother Max Crabtree. At that time, Shirley was coaxed back into the business but adopted a new persona. No longer was he an arrogant bad guy. Now he was a charismatic, kid friendly hero . . . oh, and he was also significantly fatter than he had ever been. Much like Haystacks Calhoun, Big Daddy certainly would not have been mistaken for a professional athlete when he was walking down the street, but his persona and his body were such that fans clamored to see him in large numbers.

Daddy’s second and more lucrative run in professional wrestling lasted about ten years, when an “expose” about the worked nature of professional wrestling in Britain and the perception that the death of one of Crabtree’s opponents was caused by his hand dealt a significant blow to the popularity of our favorite pseudo-sport. That in turn lead to television executives calling off broadcast coverage of wrestling (much like what would happen to WCW in 2001), leaving Big Daddy and domestic wrestling as distant memories for the English.


John Tentasize=6>

Former WWF Tag Team Championsize=4>

If there’s one guy on the list who history has given a raw deal to, it’s John Tenta. WWE, the promotion in which Big John gained the majority of his American popularity, almost views him as a joke, as he has participated in gimmick battles royale and has been featured in clips the few times that WWE has decided to do Wrestlecrap-style video packages featuring its kitschier gimmicks of the past. However, John Tenta wasn’t a Bastion Booger or a Giant Gonzalez. He was, quite honestly, one of the best “big man” wrestlers that the WWF or wrestling in general has ever seen.

Tenta got his start in professional sports as a sumo wrestler in Japan, adopting the name Kototenzan. He was undefeated in his short career, though he decided not to move into sumo permanently and instead entered into training to become a professional wrestler in the dojo of All Japan Pro Wrestling. After only a year and a half with AJPW, sufficient interest was expressed in Tenta by North American promoters that he decided to make the jump to the World Wrestling Federation in 1989. He was immediately pushed as a dangerous heel star under the name Earthquake, with his first major angle being a beatdown of the Ultimate Warrior alongside partner Dino Bravo. Within a year, he entered into a feud with none other than Hulk Hogan, being portrayed as the man who was able to take Hogan down and put him on the shelf for many months, which nobody had done to date. (In reality, the Hulkster was taking time off to film the movie Suburban Commando.) Earthquake was, almost without a doubt, the best of Hogan’s “monster” opponents from an in-ring perspective, and many say that their feud overshadowed the ongoing title reign of the Ultimate Warrior.

When the Hogan feud came to an end, ‘Quake turned to the tag team division and worked with partner Typhoon as the Natural Disasters, holding the company’s Tag Team Titles. He even had a feud with Yokozuna when Yoko first debuted with the company that drew on Tenta’s legitimate sumo wrestling background to put over Yoko’s fictitious sumo background. Tenta and the WWF parted ways soon thereafter, and, before long, he was in WCW, first appearing as the Avalanche and later the Shark. When he was done with the cartoonish gimmicks, he had a run in the company under his given name, and, though he was always able to come up with things for his character to do, the promotion ultimately decided that he was not worth their time. A return to the WWF followed, where Tenta briefly played Golga of the Human Oddities and provided a veteran presence and guidance for the younger giants which made up the stable. Once the Oddites’ run concluded, Tenta was done wrestling on a national level. In an unusual coda to his career, he became a regular contributor to the online forums at Wrestlecrap.com, where fans learned that he may have been one of the nicest men to ever become a pro wrestler.

Unfortunately, Tenta lost a battle to bladder cancer in 2006.


Gorilla Monsoonsize=6>

Maniac from Manchuriasize=4>

While many wrestlers whose careers began prior to the 1990’s traveled from territory to territory in order to make names for themselves and increase their star power, Gorilla Monsoon established himself in the northeast and remained there for almost his entire career. Despite this, he managed to become one of the most popular stars in America and remain in that position for several decades.

Monsoon, who early in his career portrayed himself as a wild man from the Manchurian region of China, was in reality an Italian American and a man with a storied collegiate wrestling career. He parlayed his amateur success into professional success, first forming an intimidating tag team with Killer Kowalski and later becoming a top contender to the World Wide Wrestling Federation Title when it was held by Bruno Sammartino. After his career took a brief detour through the same successful Southern California promotion that launched Freddie Blassie into stardom, Monsoon returned to the WWWF in the early 1970’s and continued to tear apart numerous competitors, with his most noteworthy confrontation being against boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Gorilla got the better of Ali when the two began taking shots at one another during one of Monsoon’s wrestling matches, and he also got a significant amount of press in legitimate sports circles when he interfered in a boxer versus wrestler match involving Andre the Giant and Chuck Wepner later in the same year. After another WWWF Championship feud, this time against “Superstar” Billy Graham, Monsoon took the time to wrestle and mentor a young heavyweight wrestler named Hulk Hogan during his first, pre-Hulkamania run working for the McMahon family. Monsoon would retire from in-ring competition in the early 1980’s, becoming a popular television announcer for the WWF and later its onscreen president.

Gorilla Monsoon was not just a powerful force in front of the fans during his professional wrestling career, though. He was also one of the most important figures in wrestling behind the scenes. When he made his return to the WWWF in the 1970’s, he also bought into the promotion as a minority owner, helping control the successful promotion, keeping it in a very strong position so that Vince McMahon, Jr. could ultimately expand it into a nationwide company. In addition to that, Monsoon was one of three men who gave Puerto Rico its own wrestling promotion, when he invested money with partners Carlos Colon and Victor Jovica to found the company that would eventually become the World Wrestling Council, which is still in operation to this very day. And, of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that the area just before the wrestlers’ entranceway into a WWE arena is still referred to as the “Gorilla position,” so named because it was historically Monsoon’s seat in his later years with the company, where he dispensed last minute orders and advice to performers ready to go before the crowd.


The Big Showsize=6>

First Man to Hold the WWF, WCW, and ECW Titlessize=4>

Well, it’s the Big Show. Paul Wight, a college basketball player in the early 1990’s, impressed rasslin’ folk with his height and build and was quickly recruited into pro grappling. He was signed by WCW and thrust into the spotlight immediately, being portrayed as the son of Andre the Giant and placed into a feud with Hulk Hogan. Though the feud was panned by a lot of critics because of its unrealistic elements and Wight’s early ring work was panned even harder because he had virtually no experience, Wight, referred to as the Giant, still earned himself a place in wrestling’s history books when he was booked to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship from Hogan (albeit in a controversial fashion), making him the youngest man to ever hold that title. The Giant continued to compete in World Championship Wrestling for four years, and, despite the fact that he was essentially learning on the job and never quite reached the level of being a good wrestler, he still became quite popular due to his impressive displays of strength and his even more impressive delays of agility, including an occasional missile dropkick. (However, the moonsault that Wight allegedly pulled off in training never made its television debut.)

In 1999, Wight became the biggest free agent in professional wrestling and signed a multi-million dollar contract with the World Wrestling Federation, where he was rechristened as “The Big Show” and placed immediately into a feud with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Though the Fed continually placed Wight in main event level matches in order to justify his contract, there was a feeling that he was not quite ready for prime time, both due to his level of experience and his attitude. Ultimately, in 2000, the Big Show was jettisoned to WWF developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling for the majority of the year. In many interviews, Show has credited OVW to being what turned his career around, as after his stint there he became a better wrestler and learned out to keep his ego in check. When he returned to WWF television, his push slowly began to match his new found attitude and skill level, and he ultimately became a consistent main eventer in 2002 when he entered into a feud with and won the WWE Title from Brock Lensar. Since that time, Show has been involved in numerous championship level feuds and, perhaps most famously, he was a significant part of Wrestlemania XXIV promotion when he feuded with professional boxer and top PPV draw Floyd “Money” Mayweather. The result was a Wrestlemania that broke the vaunted one million buy level on pay per view and ranks among the top grossing installments of the event.

Though he spent a significant amount of time being pushed far higher than his level of experience should have allowed him to be pushed, the Big Show has evolved into one of the most versatile “big man” professional wrestlers in history and has been a quality main event level wrestler for almost a full decade now. That more than qualifies him for a high spot on this list.


Andre the Giantsize=6>

No Description Neededsize=4>

Really, what can I say about Andre the Giant that hasn’t been said before? Billed at 7’4″ and weighing over 500 pounds (though the accuracy of those figures is often – and probably correctly – disputed), Andre worked in virtually every major territory in the 1970’s and was a mainstay in the World Wrestling Federation during its global expansion in the 1980’s. He became one of the most iconic and beloved wrestlers in history, rivaling even the notoriety achieved by his most noteworthy opponent, Hulk Hogan. You know him, you love him, and he absolutely belongs at the top end of this list.


Big Van Vadersize=6>

Former IWGP Champion, AJPW Triple Crown Holder, WCW Championsize=4>

It’s time! I would imagine that there are some people getting ready to crucify me for ranking Vader over Andre the Giant at the top of this list. However, get ready to hear me out. Yes, Vader didn’t exactly cut it in the WWF. He spent just under two years in the company and, despite an initial big push and main event run, politics got in the way of his further success and he became nothing more than just another midcarder. However, that was by far the lowest point of this legendary wrestler’s career, and the rest of his time in the business more than justifies his ranking atop this list.

Vader originally began working with the American Wrestling Association in the mid-1980’s as a large but rarely successful midcard wrestler. In 1987, he made the transition from American wrestling to the world of Japanese puroresu, and he was an instant success. Within a year of his debut he was appearing in championship matches for the company and, in 1989, he was the IWPG Heavyweight Champion. At the time, Japanese professional wrestling was as popular in Japan as American wrestling was in America, making Vader the de facto equivalent of a Ric Flair or a Randy Savage. Vader continued his impressive, main event level run with the promotion through 1992, locking horns with other legends like Tatsumi Fujinami and Keiji Mutoh. At the same time Vader was competing in NJPW, he also began appearing for World Championship Wrestling, where he dominated numerous opponents en route to becoming a contender for the promotion’s World Heavyweight Title. He bested Sting for the belt in 1993 and held it for the majority of the year, ultimately losing it to Ric Flair at Starrcade in one of the best matches of Flair’s career not involving Ricky Steamboat and one of the best matches in the history of WCW.

After the previously mentioned WWF run, Vader returned to Japan in 1998, this time competing for All Japan Pro Wrestling. Ten years after he captured the IWPG Title in New Japan for the first time, Vader won AJPW’s vaunted Triple Crown by besting Akira Taue, making him one of the very few men to hold the top championships in both NJPW and AJPW. He even appeared with Pro Wrestling NOAH during the early days of the promotion, winning its Tag Team Titles on two separate occasions.

In short, no super heavyweight has dominated as many major promotions within such a short period of time as Big Van Vader. He captured the primary singles championship in New Japan, All Japan, and WCW in addition to having high level runs with the WWF and NOAH. Unfortunately, in 2010, WWE writes a lot of pro wrestling history and Vader was never a long term success in WWE. As a result, he doesn’t get nearly the credit that he deserves as a historical figure, as he was a multiple time world champion for several companies and a legitimate box office draw who is still fondly remembered by former WCW fans in the United States and is revered as a legend in Japan for his work against some of that country’s top names.

And that does it for me. Aaron Hubbard should be back next week. Until then, drop a line in the comments to let me know whether you agree or disagree with my selections!


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Ryan Byers

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