Jim Ross weighs in on Yokozuna and sports-entertainment's big men
What really defines the term “super heavyweight?”
I’ve always been under the mindset that a super heavyweight had to weigh in excess of 300 pounds. As athletes have evolved over the years, perhaps that weight should be moved up considering that I never thought of 300-pounders like Brock Lesnar and Batista as super heavyweights for some reason.
Andre the Giant was obviously a super heavyweight and likely the best known big man of all time, but Andre, although he wrestled hundreds of bouts, was more of an attraction inasmuch as he never was overexposed on any individual TV broadcast or to any specific grouping of fans. Andre was truly an “attraction” much like the other individuals of significant size that I’ve seen or read about in my career. ( WATCH)
WWE Hall of Famer and former NWA World Champion Harley Race was once the handler/driver for 700-plus pound Happy Humphrey in the ’50s.
Six-hundred pound Bill “Haystacks” Calhoun was another attraction who performed in every major arena in the world while wearing massive, cutoff bib overalls and coming to the ring barefooted with a horseshoe attached to a chain around his neck. Ironically, many of “Stacks” adversaries would oftentimes use the chain and the horseshoe to their advantage against the man who was billed as 601 pounds from Morgan’s Corner, Arkansas.
I refereed several tag bouts involving the “World’s Biggest Twins” — the 600-plus pound brothers Billy and Benny McGuire. They, like all attractions, would tour and stay in one area for a short time, essentially long enough for the fans in a city to see them once a year.
So the super heavyweights were essentially “attractions” — massive wrestlers who had a limited albeit unique skill sets and who were best marketed if they were not overexposed.
Yokozuna was obviously a super heavyweight, but the former WWE Champion was a “regular” and not an attraction that became a focal point of WWE in the early to mid ’90s. ( WATCH)
The enormous Samoan, whose size would eventually become his enemy, was an extraordinary athlete for a man of any size much less the astonishing weight that he grew to over the years.
For my money, Yokozuna was the greatest super heavyweights of his era and arguably of all time. To carry the mantle of WWE Champion is a massive responsibility and Yoko did it miraculously considering his size that became more of an issue as every year passed.
When I made my WWE debut in 1993 at WrestleMania IX, Yoko was the No. 1 contender to Bret Hart's WWE Title and they were set to meet in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace for the championship. Yoko, thanks to his manager Mr. Fuji, won the coveted title from Bret in what would be the first of many WWE Title bouts that I would broadcast in my WWE career. Moments after that controversial bout ended another began as Hulk Hogan came to the ring and challenged the new WWE Champion. So, in one PPV Yokozuna would face two WWE Hall of Famers in Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart while winning and losing the WWE Championship. Quite a night’s work for anyone much less someone tipping the scales somewhere around 600 pounds. ( WATCH)
WrestleMania IX is a perfect example of the versatility of Yokozuna who by conventional wisdom should have been a seldom seen attraction but instead became a regular, main event Superstar.
Since I was a young wrestling fan, I’ve been fascinated by super heavyweights and was always amazed at Yokozuna’s amazing grace and agility. How could a man who was SO large still remain SO athletic and retain perfect in-ring timing and spot-on psychology?
Yoko turned a simple leg drop into one of the most devastating looking maneuvers I’d ever seen. His massive thigh would completely engulf an opponent notwithstanding the fact that the enormous human being would get elevation on the move.
The mark of a great in-ring talent is being able to have superior bouts with opponents of all sizes and skill sets. Yokozuna could do just that. No matter if it was Hacksaw Jim Duggan (who Yoko had his first, memorable rivalry with in WWE), Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan, the Undertaker or an array of others talents of varying abilities, Yokozuna never failed to deliver in a big way. No pun intended.
Yokozuna also became a viable tag team partner with Owen Hart as they formed one of WWE’s more significant odd couples while ruling the tag team scene in WWE.
One of my most vivid memories of Yoko was at a cookout in Nashville in the mid ’90s where the featured entrée was deep fried turkey tails. Turkey tails are loaded with amazing amounts of unhealthy fat and in 2007 were actually banned from American Samoa due to health concerns for people who indulged in them too frequently. Yoko ate dozens of the unique, comfort food dipped in mayo.
Knowing the toll that travel takes on regular size people is commonplace, but one can only imagine how challenging travel was for a person that weighed in excess of 600 pounds. I never heard Yoko complain as sports-entertainment was in his DNA and he loved performing.
Big men like John “Earthquake” Tenta and Leon “Vader” White have to be included on any shortlist of great super heavyweights. Andre the Giant will always be THE attraction. However, when it comes to wrestling a regular schedule and touring as the “normal sized” athletes did, Yokozuna stands alone among super heavyweights. ( PHOTOS)
Rodney Anoa’i portrayed Yokozuna as no other performer could and his legacy will live forever as he joins the other amazing members of his squared circle family right where he belongs and that’s in the WWE Hall of Fame.