Note: All quotations are either from original interviews or from deposition testimony in SoBe Entertainment International, LLC v. Paul Wight, Bess Wight and World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., an ongoing civil lawsuit in Miami-Dade County, Florida.
One day in late October 2007, professional wrestling superstar Paul “The Big Show” Wight found himself growing increasingly terrified by the second. There was nothing unusual about where he was: He was at home in Miami, sitting in his car in front of his house. The problem was that he was parked in the driver’s seat of his Hummer with the keys in the ignition and had no memory of driving there, much less ever stepping foot into his car. The last he remembered, he was at the gym in the middle of a workout.
How did he get home? Why couldn’t he remember? What the hell happened?
When seven-foot tall Wight walked out in front of the crowd at the Joe Louis Arena a dozen years earlier in 1995, almost to the day, it was the beginning of the rest of his life. Dressed like Andre the Giant and billed as his son, to that point he was the most impressive physical specimen in the history of professional wrestling. Stories from the gym had already become the stuff of legend, with fans and wrestlers alike speaking in hushed tones about this kid who was like a young Andre if Andre could do backflips off the top turnbuckle.
“They wanted to make me a player,” Wight later explained. “They said I was the son of Andre The Giant so I had a little bit of credibility with our fans going into it, which was always kind of a rough thing for me because you get some dedicated fans that were very rural that would [say], ‘Oh, I loved your dad,’ and I’m thinking, oh, my dad was an airplane mechanic, but, thanks. But I know who they’re talking about. They’re talking about Andre.”
For all intents and purposes, it was his first real match. He had technically made his debut 10 months earlier in a converted shopping center in Clementon, New Jersey, only to be quickly scooped up by Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW) to hone his skills in their Atlanta training center. His lone match against Frank Finnegan at the Route 30 Market didn’t really count. After all, it couldn’t possibly prepare him for what WCW earmarked for his debut: A pay-per-view main event against Hulk Hogan (real name Terry Bollea), who had taken the sizable youngster under his wing. And when the dust cleared that night in Detroit, Wight had defeated Hogan to become the heavyweight champion of the world. The win was designed to be controversial, part of a convoluted storyline that involved Monster Trucks, his “father’s” wardrobe from The Princess Bride, Hogan shoving Wight off the roof of Cobo Hall and a mummy named “The Yeti.”
It was obvious that the man best known these days as Big Show was going to be a big star for a long time. What had taken place was unprecedented. Winning the heavyweight championship of the world in his first real match? From the biggest star in the history of pro wrestling? Wight was made.
Twelve years later, on the fateful day in 2007 when Wight found himself in his Hummer in front of his home with no idea how he had gotten there, it all came full circle. As he tried and failed to rebuild his memories of the day, he eventually would come to realize that this could all be traced to a question that Hogan had asked him about a year earlier.
“Paul, have you ever boxed?”
Wight’s path to the ring can be traced back to when he was nine years old, when the symptoms of acromegaly first manifested. An excess of growth hormone caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland caused Wight to grow to 6’2 tall by the time he was 12 years old. He grew another six inches in the next two years, and by the time he was a college freshman playing basketball at Northern Oklahoma College, he stood 7’1 and had become a cartoonishly big eater: His metabolism was so accelerated that McDonald’s staffers were regularly wowed as Wight downed enough Big Macs and fries for five. Wight was officially diagnosed with acromegaly during his freshman year playing college ball, at which point he learned that he wasn’t “blessed” the way he thought he was. If he didn’t stop growing, he risked enlarged internal organs, spinal problems, diabetes and scads of other medical issues. Although surgery at age 19 stopped his unchecked growth, after transferring to Wichita State, injuries derailed his basketball career
He floated around doing odd jobs, getting a few offers to box and having a brief flirtation with small-time pro wrestling before settling in Chicago. There, he worked as a phone bank employee by day and a karaoke host by night. The karaoke job led to a friendship with Partridge Family moppet-turned-morning-radio-host Danny Bonaduce, who enlisted him as his secret weapon in charity celebrity basketball games. “I got to meet Hulk Hogan. He took a liking to me, because of my size,” Wight recalled. “He saw that I was a good athlete and could move. He told me at the time, he says, ‘You got a big dollar sign in your forehead, kid,’ and I said, ‘Well, please show it to me, because I’m broke.’” After his debut he rapidly became a major star, a WCW main event mainstay during one of the company’s hottest growth periods. In 1999, he signed what was reported as a “10 year, $10 million” contract with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), WCW’s main competition.
Privately, Vince McMahon had constantly criticized WCW for not presenting Wight as a special attraction the way his father, Vincent James McMahon (a second generation promoter himself) had once used Andre the Giant. Yet when given the opportunity to do so himself, McMahon the younger proceeded to have the newly named “Big Show” lose to Stone Cold Steve Austin on national television in his first match with WWE. That set the tone for the rest of his career: Big Show was someone who could be plugged into main events, but was never made a true “special attraction” like Andre. Why McMahon went back on his plans for Wight have never been made clear. There was also another issue: Big Show’s weight kept yo-yoing, something usually chalked up to not cleaning up his eating habits after the tumor surgery.
By 2006, Big Show was in an odd place. From a skills perspective, he was the best he’d ever been, having evolved into a skilled and accomplished wrestler capable of telling compelling stories in the ring, and he was being properly presented as an unbeatable giant. Yet physically, he was a complete wreck. From 350 pounds at the time of his surgery, he had ballooned up to around 500 pounds, and years of wrestling had taken an increasingly heavy toll on his already overburdened frame. “So that was, what, 11 years straight, 290 days a year,” he later testified. “I just needed a break. I never got vacations. I mean, I would have two, three days off, and that was it. I wanted to step away and take a break and heal. My back was bad, I was smoking, I was taking pain killers, I was grossly overweight. I needed to get healthy.” His mother, Dorothy, shared his concerns, and around this time told The State newspaper in South Carolina that he also had an enlarged heart.
Bobby Lashley, one of Big Show’s regular opponents around that time — now a Bellator MMA fighter — recalls what kind of state the giant was in. “He says, ‘Sometimes my back goes out.’ [I said] ‘What happens when your back goes out?’ He says ‘I can’t feel my arms.’ [or] ‘I can’t feel my legs.’ Something like that. I was like ‘Oh … alright. That’s basically it. And I remember, I think it was sometime during the end of the match [on Dec. 4, 2006, in Charleston, South Carolina] where that happened.” As bad a problem as one half of the match going numb below the waist would be in and of itself, the planned ending to the match called for Lashley to hoist Show over his shoulder and slam him down on the mat, a move difficult enough to accomplish with Wight’s cooperation. When that time came, it was obvious to viewers at home that something was not quite right. “I picked him up for my finish, and hit him for my finish without any help [from him]. I had to lift his enormous body up and throw him down.” Wight was unable to provide any help at all.
The match marked Big Show’s last television appearance in his initial WWE contract, which would expire two months later. As much as he clearly needed to let his injuries heal, strengthen his body and get into shape, his finances were as unhealthy as his physical condition, including an IRS tax bill of $405,068.55 and a lien against his home. What few people knew, either watching at home or even within WWE, was that he had a backup plan in place, one that nobody could have expected.
In the latter part of 2006, Hogan and Big Show were keeping in touch regularly, with Hogan becoming increasingly aware of how beat up and frustrated his protégé had become
And then the Hulkster had an idea.
“I said, ‘Paul, have you ever boxed, you know, have you ever gotten in the ring?’ He was so fast, you know, in the wrestling ring. If you’d try to run away from him, you couldn’t get away from him. He was quick. I thought if he had some heart, you know, and we could get him to get in good shape and if he had the killer instinct, I thought there’d be no stopping him.” Yes, the version of Wight that Hulk Hogan met in 1994 was uncannily athletic for his size, and he even got some boxing offers back then, but all wrestling fans knew Wight wasn’t that guy anymore. Hogan’s notion was almost delusional. Even as a younger wrestler, “The Big Slow” was a common nickname for the giant. True, he still had some explosiveness, but even when he was doing flips in wrestling schools, he was never exactly fast. Besides, how many people, no matter how big they are, take up boxing past the age of 30 and have professional success?
Those who knew Wight were surprised by and skeptical of the plan, to say the least. WWE executive and performer Stephanie McMahon-Levesque, Vince McMahon’s daughter, bluntly said it didn’t at all fit the man she knew, describing him as “a bit of a gentle giant” who “doesn’t really like to get hit very much.” How did she know this, exactly? “I remember a story line,” she said, “when Trish Stratus, one of our [female wrestlers], slapped Big Show in the mouth; and he was very upset it and complained about it for a long time that it cracked his tooth. So to me, if Trish Stratus’ slap bothered him so much, then it doesn’t seem like he would be cut out to get hit in the face by a professional boxer.”
Hogan, though, was confident, to the point of the absurd. He had Wight’s boxing career all mapped out in his head, including who would finance such a misguided venture: Miami entrepreneur Cecile Barker, founder of SoBe Entertainment. “I said, ‘Cecile, you got to see this guy,’” Hogan recalled. “Can you imagine if — there’s nobody prevalent in boxing. There’s no Tyson, no Foreman. What if we had this guy?” He imagined Wight as a kind of modern-day Toro Moreno, the ersatz contender based on boxer Primo Carnera who served as the protagonist of the classic fight film starring Humphrey Bogart, The Harder They Fall. Except Hogan envisioned Wight somehow earning the title for real — eventually.
Barker was managing the singing career of Hogan’s daughter, Brooke, and while Hulk didn’t know it yet, he also happened to be the father of her boyfriend, rapper Yannique “Stack$” Barker. To most, Cecile Barker is probably known best as the “black billionaire guy” Hogan ranted about on a racially charged 2007 recording, the transcript of which was leaked this past summer, on which Hogan also repeatedly uses a racial epithet and concludes, “I guess we’re all a little racist.”
As far as Cecile knew, though, he and Hulk were “best friends,” nicknaming themselves “Crockett and Tubbs” after the two main characters in Miami Vice. “Hulk introduced me to Cecile,” Wight recalled in a 2012 deposition. “Hulk was talking to me on the phone, ‘[You]’ve got to meet this guy,’ because Hulk was a big promoter of me going to boxing. He said that he knew a guy in Miami that was very interested in helping me start a boxing career and I need to meet him. He had, supposedly, boxing contacts and what not.” Wight just knew what Hogan told him, that Barker was “a mover and a shaker in Miami” financing Brooke’s singing career.
Barker didn’t volunteer much more information himself. Why?
“[I] didn’t have to,” Barker testified. “[Wight] was enamored with SoBe. There was a crazy black man spending millions of dollars on Hulk Hogan’s daughter. And [he] was willing to put up millions of dollars for him to change his profession.” According to Barker’s own testimony, he had put up one million dollars just to fund a Hulk Hogan energy drink, and all told, he lost “probably ten million” on Hogan’s various business ideas. Meanwhile, Wight wasn’t alone in not knowing much about Barker. There’s little information about him to be found online (he claims that’s by design) other than the most barebones biographies: He’s a purported billionaire who worked in aerospace for decades before selling OAO Corporation to Lockheed Martin in October 2001 and eventually forming SoBe Entertainment, making the improbable career move from outer space to recording and promotions. Improbable enough that as of 2012, he couldn’t say whether SoBe had ever been profitable.
At the first powwow between Wight, Hogan and Barker, described as a “sales meeting” by Wight, Hogan laid out the plan to make Wight a boxer so convincingly that the naive giant started to really buy into it. “Hogan was pumping me up to Cecile that I have all this potential because of the hands and hand speed and I believed it too.” Wight said Barker was just as enthusiastic, going on about how “with my size and the fact that I’m white I could be a Great White Hope, and he knew Lennox Lewis and he could give me fights with Klitschko and get me a title shot and all these other ludicrous things.”
Well, in 2012 he knew it was ludicrous. In 2006? “I had no idea what the boxing world was really like.” In the meantime, though, “I was a little leery about this whole thing anyway, but, you know, between the confidences that Hulk, who I trusted very much, and then Cecile seemed very excited and enthusiastic about this.” Hogan was to serve as, if not the actual promoter, as Wight’s mouthpiece and the promotional face of his boxing endeavors. With his celebrity, charisma, speaking ability and overall salesmanship, he was, in theory, the perfect hype man for “The Great Wight” (a name Barker protested was inappropriate in the event Wight faced a black opponent).
Barker then enlisted Miami-based “nightlife baron” Antonio Misuraca and boxing matchmaker Michael Marchionte to find the man who would teach Big Show how to box. Marchionte already had someone in mind, immediately suggesting Artie Artwell, a onetime heavyweight with a career record of 3-3-1 who had stopped working as a trainer several years earlier and was teaching boxing for fitness in Providence, Rhode Island.
Marchionte told Misuraca that if anyone could convert a pro wrestler to a boxer, it would be Artie, and asked Artwell if he could board the next flight to Miami. “The next thing I knew is someone calling me from SoBe Entertainment telling me about dates, flight and car service,” Artwell testified in 2012. He flew out a couple days later. Everyone involved went out to dinner together, where the plan was discussed further.
Artwell was presented to Wight as someone who could not only teach the sweet science, but was capable of training larger fighters and whipping them into shape. During the meeting, Wight’s braggadocio got the better of him, making a statement that came back to haunt him later. He spoke of having an iron jaw, with Barker quoting him as saying, “No man can knock me out. I’ve been hitting my head with steel chairs in the WWE. I’ve never been knocked out in my life. And nobody can knock me out.”
After dinner, the decision was made to take Wight to Miami’s Phantom Gym to work out. At Artwell’s suggestion, he didn’t spar at first, but Artwell did lead him in a basic workout mixing squats, push-ups and rudimentary punching. Before long, Wight was sweating bullets and starting to breathe heavily. The wisecracking giant joked about how he felt as if he had just finished delivering a baby.
Good spirits or not, it certainly seemed like it would take a while to get him into even decent condition, but Artwell was undaunted. “I told him that, you know, he’s probably in shape for wrestling, but it’s — it’s always skill specific. You know, I explained to him how I used to play basketball and I could play basketball all night, but I couldn’t do two minutes [in the boxing ring], and I was wondering what the hell’s wrong with me? I’m in shape, but I was in shape for basketball but not for boxing. I couldn’t do two minutes in the ring and vice versa. And I told him that, you know, we’ll take it slow and work it out.”
As naive as it all sounds, at least Barker, had a backup plan in mind. Artwell recalled, “What he told me was that he just wants to see if I can convert this wrestler into a boxer and if it didn’t work out, maybe it could transition into a reality TV show or something of that nature. He just told me what he wanted to see if I could accomplish in six months with him and then we would re-evaluate and determine whether he could be a boxer or whatever else was in the situation.” Barker’s testimony confirms Artwell’s account that, going in, he had the reality show idea in his back pocket if Wight couldn’t be fast tracked to a pro boxing career. And according to BoxRec, that same year, Marchionte went to work with Mark Burnett Productions and DreamWorks Studios, serving as matchmaker for the boxing reality show The Contender.
That was October. Everything was in place. Three months later, in January 2007, a few weeks after Wight’s final appearance for WWE (but with a month or so left on his contact), he embarked on his new career in Miami.
Like many wrestlers, Wight had settled in the Tampa area, about four hours away from Miami, where Barker, Phantom Boxing and Hogan were based. He planned to commute, stay at Hogan’s house during the week and then return home for the weekend to rest with his wife and dogs. That arrangement only lasted about a month, as “after the Super Bowl, it was apparent that “[Hogan’s then-wife] Linda didn’t want me to stay in the house anymore. It was making Terry’s life crazy. Then it was up to me to find, to get a place.” Barker temporarily put Wight up in a hotel in Miami, while Hogan was constantly in the giant’s ear with incessant requests of “Brother, you got to move down here. Brother, you got to move down here. Brother, you got to move down here.”
There were big problems with that. Wight’s unique size required a home that could be adapted to his needs, rather than a rental. On top of that, even with Barker paying him $84,000 a month to box, he was still deep underwater with the IRS and still had to pay the mortgage on his Tampa home. Barker then offered to advance him $400,000 and procured the assistance of a local realtor to find a new home. Wight settled on a place in South Beach at Barker’s request, but first, Barker drew up a contract to show to the bank so Wight could secure a mortgage. At Wight’s insistence, “Hulk Hogan Promotions, Inc.” was included as a third party to the agreement, which Hogan never signed.
In the meantime, Big Show tried to learn how to box. Regardless of how plausible this all was, he took it seriously, diligently showing up every morning and working his ass off in training. At first, the goal was primarily weight loss and conditioning while slowly learning the most basic boxing concepts.
Artwell and Wight were well-matched. The trainer, for instance, didn’t believe in the distance running traditionally preferred by coaches and Wight was a terrible candidate for it anyway. The two also hit it off quickly as friends. “I loved him. Loved him,” Artwell testified. “And I told him that our relationship was going to be much different. I said, ‘I don’t care who your manager is, who your trainer is, I mean the trainer/fighter relationship, you’re an extension of me.’” Which isn’t to say that he didn’t get tough with his new pupil: When Wight strayed from Artwell’s prescribed high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet and dined on matzo balls at Jerry’s Deli on South Beach, the coach had to give his gargantuan protégé a very specific list of what he was allowed to eat.
In the ring, Artwell started to lead Wight in “phantom boxing” (his term for back and forth shadow boxing) sessions, which he described as “the closest to boxing that you’re ever going to get without getting hit.” So as Wight started to get into shape, he was building a foundation of boxing concepts that would aid him when he started live sparring. In April, he began highly controlled sparring with Artwell defending himself in pads. Concepts like basic blocking were apparently coming along fine, because, well, he was so oversized it was hard to get a punch through to his chin “He had big enough shoulders, big enough arms that he didn’t need to do the Floyd Mayweather, Muhammad Ali head movement,” Artwell noted. He also shed so much weight Wight joked to his wife, Bess, that she better watch out when she touched him or else she might cut herself.
Later that spring Wight started live sparring with heavyweight contenders Attila Levin and Timur Ibragimov. Former WBC World heavyweight champion Oliver McCall even stopped by to get some rounds in, and sparred with Wight three times a week while he was there. McCall, in fact, did the honors of giving Wight his first black eye, but the experienced fighters knew this was not a normal sparring session. They were all told in advance to take it easy on Wight, to pull their punches.
Most of the time that went fine, but there were some notable exceptions. “He [Wight] really wanted Levin,” recalled Artwell. “He thought Levin … wasn’t following the protocol to take it easy. He thought Levin was pushing it. And Paul said to me that he was going to take care of him. I told him he had my permission to take, you know, take care of him if he gets out of line again.”
If that sounds like an accelerated program for a rookie with zero amateur experience, Artwell disagrees. “I had an expectation of Paul being more aggressive. I was looking, I was really looking for Paul to — because of size, weight, especially Levin, because that’s who he said he had it out for — to give those guys a good, at least him, a good beating. … I didn’t think much of Levin even though he had a good record, but the quality of opponents he fought weren’t anybody.”
That was Atwell’s plan, which he explained not just to Wight, but also to Hogan and Barker. He wanted to bring Wight along slowly, just as had been done with former football players Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Mark Gastineau when they tried to become boxers. Gastineau’s first victim was a well-known regional pro wrestler who took a theatrical spill and later admitted to taking a dive. That said, Artwell wasn’t necessarily talking about fixing fights, and he laid out the age old blueprint to turn Wight into a contender that promotors and trainers boxer have followed for generations. Citing Gerry Cooney and others, Atwell said, “You can line up what’s termed in the business tomato cans, guys that should be able to [be] beat. Every once in a while, that gets thrown out of whack, but yeah, it has happened and that’s how they bring fighters along. … The other term they use for them are ‘opponents’ and ‘opponents’ is code for guys that you should be able to beat.”
On the surface, everything was going well. Artwell was happy with his pupil’s progress and there was a plan in place to protect him. In reality, though? After sparring with McCall and having his eye blackened, Wight started to realize just what he was getting into. “[That] was a little bit of a wakeup call.”
At the six-month mark Barker watched some sparring sessions and was concerned: He felt Wight didn’t have it. Artwell agreed, but tried to reassure him that it didn’t matter. “Even though he hasn’t shown anything in the gym right now, but we can get this thing started with getting him opponents, and sometimes you use sparring partners as your opponents.” That satisfied Barker for the time being, but as the summer went on, Wight started to become more disenchanted as his support system vanished. At first, Hogan was a regular at the gym, but as his marriage began to self-destruct and his son, Nick, was in a car accident that maimed his best friend and landed him in jail, Hogan left Miami. Regardless, Wight kept going. What else was he going to do?
In late October, super heavyweight T.J. Wilson, a former Olympic alternate just a few days removed from a huge first-round upset win over Travis Walker in only 15 seconds, came in to spar with Wight. A big wrestling fan, he was familiar with Wight going back to his time in WCW. When he first saw the giant sparring, he watched him handle an unknown amateur. “I don’t know the guy’s name, but he was sparring with him, and [Wight] was beating him up pretty bad,” Wilson recalled. “He was hitting the guy with some good combinations.” Wilson felt Wight was coming along fairly well, but with obvious signs that he was a beginner. “He was kind of robotic. He’s a big guy, he wasn’t the fastest, but he had pretty good hand speed, and was moving pretty good.” As for punching power, that was as advertised, Wilson remarking that “You know, he’s a big guy, he hits pretty hard.”
So when it came time for Wilson and Wight to spar, Wilson knew what he was getting into; at least as much as he could sparring with someone that big. For Wight, however, it was different: Wilson was the first left-handed fighter he had faced. This not only changed the angles of the punches from what he was accustomed to, but also the distance each is thrown. Even many experienced fighters are troubled by southpaws, and Wight, who at this point had only been sparring for about six months, was completely befuddled.
The two squared off, and after only a few minutes — Wilson can’t recall if it was the first round or the second — he threw an overhand left at his oversized target. He was mindful to pull the punch as he had been instructed by Artwell, but it didn’t matter. The placement was perfect, and it came from an angle that Wight had not expected and never saw coming. They say the punch you don’t see hurts you, and Wight went down, toppling backwards. “He landed face up,” Wilson recalled. “He may have made the count to be on his feet, but I would have stopped it [if I was the referee or his cornerman].”
Wight later recalled, “Artie made it very clear and very apparent to me that it takes one punch to win a fight, one punch to knock you out, one punch to kill you.” And in spite of Wight’s bragging about his iron jaw, Artwell told Wight from the start to get out of that mindset. “I explained to him that for all of his bravado about never being knocked out that you have a nervous system, Big Show.” Artwell gave a colorful example: “I said, ‘If a baby would punch you in the nose right now, you would tear up and feel some pain. So you’re not impervious to that happening.’ I said, ‘I’m glad you had that experience, so now you know that, you know, it can happen.’” That’s what everyone else in the gym told him after the KO: “Welcome to the fraternity.”
Artwell thought it was a flash knockdown, where a fighter gets dropped but quickly recovers and doesn’t seem worse for wear or concussed. Wight seemed fine, but it was enough to stop the training session for the day. When Artwell saw Wight exiting the gym a short time later, he wasn’t concerned and continued working with the other boxers.
Wight was not fine. He later said, “I remember trapping [Wilson] in the comer, him getting out of the corner, and then I remember waking up in my Hummer with the keys in the ignition. Apparently, they had taken my gloves off, called the match, and I had taken my bag and walked out of the gym and was sitting in my car with the car running, when I woke up.”
How did he feel when he came to?
“It scared the shit out of me.”
Wight soon told his wife what happened. “She was worried. She asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital. I said no. I told her that I was woefully out of my depth. I remember saying that.” He was done sparring for good. He had never been knocked out in over a decade of wrestling and was ill-prepared for the realities of boxing. Now, it was just a matter of being able to officially end the relationship. “I was trying to get a hold of Mr. Barker to have a meeting with him. I wanted to be done. It wasn’t for me anymore. I was very limited in my lateral movement, because of my bad foot. Standing toe to toe with another fighter I could probably do well, but a smart fighter is not going to stand toe to toe with me and they’re going to move to a weakness. I didn’t want to die. Artie made that very clear to me from day one’s training — one punch to win a fight, one punch to knock you out, and one punch to kill you.” And for Wight, that one punch was one punch too many.
In the meantime, Wight spoke to Hogan, his longtime mentor who got him into this mess in the first place. As much as Wight tried to explain that he had been knocked into a dissociative state and it scared him, it didn’t faze Hogan. “I think [Hulk] thought that I was not aggressive enough. I don’t know how to explain it.” When recounting their talk under oath more than four years later, it was the emotions that stuck with the gentle giant more than the content. “I don’t really remember much of the conversation other than Terry being disappointed and I was embarrassed.”
Hogan remembered the gist of the conversation similarly, though he recalled a lot more detail. “I said, ‘You got to go back. You can’t quit.’ And Mr. Wight says, ‘Well, I can’t do this. My heart’s not in it.’ And, you know, I basically said. ‘Well, you know, Cecile has paid you every month to train and you’ve been asking about fights and we’re trying to get you ready and everything’s going to be set up.’ … I pretty much beat him up, telling him he had to go back.” The next day was more of the same for Hogan. “He had a different attitude, almost like a different persona. He wasn’t even listening when I talked to him.”
Wight also felt like he was talking to a wall, but for different reasons. “I think Terry had a different view of what he thought it was and what it actually was.”
So, what was Wight’s next move? For the moment, he wasn’t considering a return to WWE. “[Paul] told me he — never mentioned wrestling,” Hogan recalled. “You know, he basically told me he was done and he was going to produce this cooking show with Bess. You know, he just told me she was going to be bigger than Rachael Ray, and I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing.” In a 2010 deposition, Bess described her occupation as a “host of a cooking show” seconds before answering the question, “Is that a TV show?” with “I’d like it to be.” Although WWE did survey fans to gauge interest in a similar show featuring both Wights in late 2011, the show never got off the ground
“I just couldn’t believe he quit and walked away,” Hogan continued. “Even if the guy wasn’t a champion, if you had a fight with him, that would be huge, you know. And there would several other fights against normal-sized guys and all of a sudden you’d be fighting for 10, 15, 20 million bucks, is what I told him. I said, ‘You got a lottery ticket in your pocket. You can’t leave, you can’t walk away from this.’” It caused a schism between the two, with Hogan saying they didn’t talk much afterwards. “I mean, he quit and there’s nothing really to talk about.”
Due to health issues that put Barker in the hospital, he and Wight didn’t meet up at the gym to square things away until Nov. 14, more than two weeks after the fateful knockdown. Remembered Barker, “On the assumption that Paul Wight was going to ask for money, because he was always broke, and on the assumption that he was going to ask for money, even though he was already paid a month in advance, I walked in there and had my checkbook and proceeded to write him a check [for December] and handed it to him after we shook hands and sat down. I said, ‘I guess this is what you’re looking for. Here’s your check.’”
Of course, that wasn’t the only reason Wight was there. “Paul Wight then proceeded to tell me that he had been doing some soul searching; that he had, had a long conversation with his wife, Bess; that his wife Bess had become concerned for his safety; and that I was sick and not around in the gym, he had gotten into the ring one night and he had been knocked out.” According to Barker, Wight then broke down. “He started crying; saying one of the most — probably one of the most unexpected events of my life; to see a 7-foot, 450 [pound] man sitting there at a desk crying, telling me that he didn’t know what he was going to do. He had to get on with his life. He knew he owed me money.”
In spite of Wight owing the money advanced towards the purchase of his house (and depending on which of them you ask, his 10 months of salary, which were advances from future earnings), they never spoke again, only exchanging a few emails in the weeks following the meeting. With Wight’s ongoing financial issues now including the monies from Barker for his house, it was time to become The Big Show again.
Believing he had dissolved his agreement with SoBe at the Nov. 14 meeting with Barker at the gym, four days later Wight met with Vince McMahon and WWE Talent Relations representative John Laurinaitis at a WWE event in Miami. By now, he had decided to return to wrestling. According to Wight, WWE offered the same $1 million annual guarantee he had before, but he asked for $1.25 million plus a $250,000 signing bonus. WWE insisted on a “weight clause” in the contract to protect their investment.
When Barker found out, he eventually tried to stop Wight’s return to WWE, claiming that he had Big Show under contract, but that claim went nowhere until SoBe sued WWE and the Wights more than a year after he had resumed wrestling. That’s the only reason the details of Wight’s flirtation with boxing are accessible. The case has now dragged on for more than six and a half years, with the next hearing scheduled for April 2016.
When Wight, now an ex-boxer, returned as The Big Show on WWE programming in February 2007, he made his surprise comeback in Las Vegas, the boxing capital of the world, flaunting his new, svelte physique end route to setting up his match for that year’s WrestleMania in Orlando. First, he attacked Rey Mysterio, his total opposite, WWE’s smallest star and someone being written off TV due to a legitimate injury.
As Big Show menaced Mysterio that February night, the fans knew that someone certainly, would come out to make the save and protect Mysterio from the returning giant. What they didn’t expect was that Las Vegas’s own Floyd “Money” Mayweather, considered the best boxer in the world, would come to the rescue, a role in stark contrast to his villainous public persona. Less than a year removed from setting pay-per-view records, he was a perfect “special attraction” for WWE’s Super Bowl of wrestling, a flashy celebrity athlete with a track record of drawing money and attention.
Mayweather, however, was not much bigger than the diminutive Mysterio. As Mayweather stood in the ring, Big Show got down on one knee and dared the champion pugilist to hit him. Mayweather, a defensive fighter hardly known for his power and giving up about 300 pounds, lit the giant up with a combination.
This time, Big Show, already on one knee, didn’t go down. The punch woke something in him, something that had probably been festering since he came to in his car a few months before. As Mayweather and his entourage fled the ring in a panic, Big Show, his nose bloody and broken, rose in hot pursuit, giving chase and moving faster than he’d ever moved before in pro wrestling.
Even when you know they are coming, it seems that punches can still hurt.