I cannot buy the Great Khali as a world champion, despite his status as a former champion. In fact, I cringe a little every time the Great Khali wrestles. The thought of him in an Elimination Chamber match (for the second time), enclosed in a structure where much could physically go wrong, makes me cringe even more. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed by more singles matches involving Great Khali than I have enjoyed.
And yet despite all that, there clearly is value in him as a WWE Superstar.
In the independents (and perhaps also in the WWE, though I cannot verify this because I have never been in a WWE locker room), there is a term called a “freak pop” – a crowd reaction caused mostly by the sheer shock of someone’s appearance.
Andre the Giant made a career out of this notion. He was a man of phenomenal stature, eclipsing anyone in the ring with him. In his early days, he could pull off unbelievable athletic maneuvers, like delivering a drop kick. Throughout his career, and especially later on, simply the sight of him could wow a crowd. He truly was the “8thWonder of the World.”
The Big Show is another example of this. The “World's Largest Athlete” is always the biggest guy in a room, and, member of the WWE Universe or not, will command attention and gazes from passers-by when he walks through airports, restaurants or anywhere else in public. When his music hits, especially in front of a new audience that hasn't seen WWE live before, the Big Show will receive an ovation based on shock alone. Other current WWE superstars, like Mark Henry, Mason Ryan and the Great Khali, fall under a similar category.
There is, however a big difference between the Big Show (and the others listed) and the Great Khali. While all may garner part of their reaction for similarly sized-based reasons, the difference is evident when the bell rings. When I see the Big Show in the ring, there's a decent chance that I will enjoy his match and I don't necessarily think that he will break down and get hurt. I'm not privy to Show's actual physical health status (assuming that every superstar has some naggin physical ailment that they battle through), but assume he's fit to perform by the fact that he looks agile in the ring for a man of his stature. I always believe that he is able to contribute to an entertaining match.
I cannot say the same for Khali. Even walking to the ring (and around the ring) seems to be a struggle for him. When the bell rings, every offensive move for him seems laborious and in the back of my mind I'm wondering if the next time he raises his leg for a big boot or even to climb over the ropes, he will injure himself in some way. It's often more uncomfortable to watch Khali than it was Andre the Giant in his last years in the ring. Would I believe and accept the Great Khali as a credible World Champion, given that he is a participant in the Elimination Chamber match for the World Heavyweight Championship in February? Absolutely not.
I say this knowing that Khali is a former World Heavyweight Champion, holding the gold for 61 days, and a history with WWE that includes main-event-level matches.
Looking at his pay-per-view history with WWE, Khali has had 12 singles matches at an average length of match of 7:29. If you take away the outliers (a No Mercy 2007 Punjabi Prison match with Batista lasting 14:47 and a match with Hornswoggle at Survivor Series 2007 lasting 3:16), the average falls to 7:13 – both small numbers for pay-per-view matches.
In the Royal Rumble, Khali's first success came in 2007, when he spent 3:45 in the ring eliminating six superstars. From 2008-2011, he spent a total 5:46, eliminating no one. This year was his longest effort ever, with him lasting 7:29 and eliminating one superstar. These stats are in equal parts due to Khali’s limited motion in the ring and the Royal Rumble match’s ability to create (or recreate) stars. In 2007, Khali won the World Heavyweight title. In 2012, Khali again becomes a challenger for the World Heavyweight Title.
Aside from the reaction he will receive from the WWE Universe and casual witnesses for his stature, he is a national hero in India. Here is one small example of his fame in his home country, at an autograph signing in a mall in India (in this clip, however, you see Khali struggling to get down a set of stairs, needing assistance). Here is another, where Khali is participating in a rally against terrorism in Mumbai. His hero status in India proves vital if WWE has designs on gaining a foothold in the world's second-most populated country (wrestling seems to be in favor currently with the initial success of the Ring Ka King promotion, which scored a 2.2 rating for its debut episode on Colors TV, which to that network is an impressive number). Khali has been rumored to open a wrestling school in India, which may produce further stars of Indian descent (personally, my first choice for wrestling training would not be with the Great Khali, though aspiring students in India might not have the luxury of choice). There is a lot of upside from keeping the big man tied with WWE.
Thus, the paradox of the Great Khali.
One idea that comes to my mind is putting Khali in a tag team situation, mimicking such winning formulas in the past as former WWE tag champions the Colossal Connection (Haku and Andre the Giant) and Owen Hart/Yokozuna. Both teams had an imposing giant who couldn't necessary work extensively in the ring at the time, and a more agile superstar who took much of the workload in a match to also hide the big man’s shortcomings. I am a big proponent of tag team competition and would welcome more tag teams in the WWE landscape, so a pairing of Khali with a workhorse would suit me just fine.
What doesn’t suit me just fine is a human being suffering from simply walking to the ring, performing the most basic of wrestling maneuvers and getting back to his feet after a pinfall. There certainly could be superstars besides Khali who are suffering from nagging injuries, but with Khali, it seems more obvious.
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