As Kevin Owens, Cesaro, Big E Langston, Johnny Mundo, and Michael Elgin rocked the wrestling airwaves this weekend, they brought with them recognition of a renaissance: the arrival of the athletic big man.
This body type genre has long been overshadowed by the giant, high flyer, and grappler, respectively, three wrestling types arguably more conducive to camera tracking and the ‘wow’ factor. Few athletic big men ever held a Championship belt…and if so, for long durations of time.
Thus, the rise of the athletic big man comes as a surprise…but not upon second glance. These rare individuals – many pushing 300 pounds – are the darlings of the new independent wrestling scene, one that prizes itself itself on match flexibility.
To explain, today’s professional wrestling scene is one of collaborative leagues, buoyed by unprecedented talent trading between mainstream and independents (Alberto Del Rio and Samoa Joe, for example). It survives on PPV networks and subscriptions, ones with an insatiable appetite for new fanbase.
The athletic big man is tailor made for this revenue model. Perhaps the most flexible of wrestling styles, they are simultaneously capable of deadlifting a giant, executing top rope maneuvers against luchadors, likewise well suited for dueling transitions with submission specialists. In short: safe main event or secondary material guaranteed to sustain 15-20 minute, attention seeking matches.
Importantly, being both big and flexible means – in contrast to weightlifters often unaware of power differentials – athletic big men possess arguably better physical control and safeguards when things go wrong. With the slew of recent neck and spine injuries across the wrestling universe, this nuance should not be understated.
As professional wrestling fans become more educated on the diversity of leagues offerings, athletic big men will only continue their quest toward glory. This current crop of athletic big men are also blessed with terrific mic skills, a prerequisite when the next match type and opponent is literally roster wide.
Hopefully this crop’s success brings more of their ilk to professional wrestling academies. WWE’s Tough Enough finalists are devoid of athletic big men, a glaring but likely unintended ignorance on matching wants with needs.