One morning last summer, The Big Show rose out of bed with the familiar aches and pains that had long followed him from city to city. He managed to take a few heavy-footed steps into a nearby room, stopped and gazed -- reluctantly -- into a mirror for some time. What he saw glaring back was a person who had reached the lowest point of his career.
Everything hurt. His hips, his knees and most certainly his size-22 feet. More than anything, the 7-foot mountain of a man had become mentally fractured. One of the industry's most iconic performers, the Big Show needed a few moments before clarity set in.
When it finally did, he reconciled something he knew, that he had always known, but was too afraid to admit: Giants don't live long.
Long dubbed the "world's largest athlete," Big Show couldn't bear the literal weight he had been carrying to and from the ring for more than two decades. Never mind knockout punches and choke slams, the number of times Big Show felt like tapping out were becoming more frequent.
"Man, I weighed around 463 pounds," Big Show, whose real name is Paul Wight, recently told ESPN.com. "I wasn't feeling good at all. I was complaining and complaining. I had been a tremendous athlete, but it was a difficult time."
Three or four months earlier, Big Show had a passing conversation with John Cena. For Show, the discussion was meant to be his way of coping with the reality of his declining well-being. He wasn't sure if he was looking for sympathy or merely wanted to be heard. What he received was neither.
"Cena has a way of putting stuff out there that really makes you think," Big Show said. "He wasn't trying to condemn me or put me down. But he made me think."
Arguably the most accomplished performer in the history of the WWE, Cena looked into Big Show's eyes, and in a facetious but dude-you've-got-this sort of way said, "A giant with abs? Who'd want to see that?"
Hint, hint, wink, wink.
Cena got up and walked away. Big Show saw through the veiled message.
Years later, he's still the real deal
Big Show first came on to the wrestling scene in 1995. He was discovered by Hulk Hogan, thanks to a mutual friend who introduced the two. He spent the first five years of his career in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) before signing with the WWE, where he has been -- with the exception of a few months in 2007 -- ever since.
Like most other longtime performers, Big Show has undergone plenty of character iterations, but as you'd expect, the linchpin for each has been his imposing size.
He's been a multiple-time champion at every stage, and he's held just about every conceivable championship. Now 45, Big Show realizes his window headlining major events has more than likely closed, but that doesn't mean he's out of the spotlight completely.
A few weeks ago, Big Show faced another large-scale human being in Braun Strowman to close out Monday Night Raw in the main event. It was a terrific battle that exceeded all expectations as the two giants flashed incredible athletic prowess, and you could hear it from the crowd that filled the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Ultimately, Big Show lost, as you might have guessed, given Strowman's recent push toward the main-event level. Strowman, who is nearly 12 years younger than the Big Show, has the potential to be the next monster heel in the business. The outcome, according to Big Show, wasn't a passing-of-the-torch moment per se, but it was one big guy helping another.
"There are many facets to this business, and he's learning the ropes along the way," Big Show said. "He's got that 'it' factor as far as the aggression, the power, the speed, the looks that draw attention."
But for Big Show, the match was also a reminder to everyone, including himself, that he is not, and never has been, a cosmetic star, even if the perception from his size suggests so.
Looking out for fellow big guys
It's rare to find a person as large as Big Show with his athletic skillset, even in the wrestling business that attracts and often nurtures freakish human beings. In fact, when he first began his career, Big Show remembers being reprimanded if he showcased too much athleticism.
"It wasn't supposed to be your character as a big guy," Big Show said. "But our business has evolved where we're seeing more and more guys who are athletic, who can move. They're natural athletes."
If you look at how wrestling has changed over the past 20 years, the number of behemoths left in the business has steadily declined. It wasn't too long ago that The Great Khali had a prominent role, and going further back, guys like Kevin Nash, Giant Gonzalez, and before that Big John Studd, King Kong Bundy and Andre the Giant, were mainstream and commanding the attention as major attractions. Today, there are only eight wrestlers in the WWE who are 6-foot-8 or taller.
"So at the top of the food chain among big guys, it's very competitive for us," Big Show said. "You don't want to be a big guy who's terrible because you will stand out for the wrong reasons. You want to be The Undertaker. You want to be Kane."
You want to be Braun Strowman.
There isn't a fraternity among big men, exactly, but according to Big Show, they have each other's backs, and they're vigilant in helping each other succeed. He knows the frustrations, the impediments, the politics involved, and as superstar, if you can't compartmentalize, it will show. The audience will know.
"This is a blessing," Big Show said. "At the end of the day, it's pretty simple, and I tell the younger guys this all the time: 'You're one of the chosen 40 or 50 people in the world working as a performer in the WWE. Put on your spandex, travel the world and go entertain.'"
- Big Show (@WWETheBigShow) January 15, 2017
A smaller Show means a happier Show
Soon after the conversation with Cena, Big Show thought a lot about how to approach the tacit challenge of correcting years of poor choices. The difference is, unlike so many other fleeting and failed moments to get into shape, this time he was looking at the more pressing issue of refuting the belief that men his size don't live a full life.
"So I actually spent a couple of months just preparing a game plan," Big Show said.
At his size, and with the thousands of minor and major collisions his body has endured, it wasn't as if Big Show was going to join a CrossFit gym and run around the block a few times. It was a long educational process.
He had to first find a nutritionist. He had to learn about Vitamin B and D. Even E. Mainly he has to remain dedicated and diligent. This was a lifestyle change, not a diet. He had tried those. Hundreds, in fact, and none worked.
Big Show embraced the new reality of replenishing himself with healthy calories, while also re-dedicating himself to a physical fitness routine that works for him.
"I remember when he had such a negative mindset," 2017 WWE Hall of Fame inductee Kurt Angle said. "He didn't understand why he had to take care of himself when people his size weren't supposed to live long anyway.
"But when he decided to make a change, I was really happy. It's great to see he's going to break the mold of overweight giants."
Now, months later, the Big Show has stuck to his plan and weighs in at a rawboned 387 pounds.
"To see myself today," he said, "and the way I look and feel, it's a pretty powerful thing."
More importantly, Big Show is happy, and it shows in the ring. He'd be the first to tell you that perhaps he is exhibiting too much amusement out there. But, really, who can blame him?
After all, he's a giant with a six-pack.