Memorializing the Giant

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Cheap Heat: Memorializing the Giant
By Jacob Fox

Recently, in a discussion about the big men in wrestling, I came across a disparaging remark about Andre the Giant. In comparison to the Big Show, who was mentioned as an athlete, Andre was referred to as “just a freak.” This person insisted that Andre could not wrestle, and was nothing more than a side show attraction. It was difficult for me, a huge fan of Andre, to understand why anyone would say that.

Growing up during the Rock ‘N Wrestling years, the Andre I was most exposed to was the 500 plus pound giant who had limited mobility in the ring. At the time, it was very difficult to get older wrestling videos. Most of what I knew about Andre before the 1980’s was revealed to me through interviews in the Bill Apter family of wrestling magazines. It was only through the proliferation of the internet that I was able access older matches, interviews and information about Andre. I can say without hesitation that Andre was anything but just a freak.

When Hulk Hogan announced the creation of the first Andre the Giant memorial battle royal before Wrestlemania 30, I had little faith that it would become an annual event. With its inclusion in the upcoming Wrestlemania card, although I love battle royals, I began wondering if the idea was truly the best way to remember this huge ring legend. Other than being named after Andre and having his visage on top of the trophy, the match seems to have little to do with him.

Although no official number has ever been given, Andre the Giant is remembered well for his record battle royal victories. It’s one of the things that sets him apart from other giants who amazingly seem to have a hard time winning any of them. It makes sense that the most successful battle royal participant in history would have a battle royal named after him. Despite this, Andre’s record has not once been mentioned when discussing the Wrestlemania match meant to memorialize him.

Concerning the inaugural battle royal, the focus was more on Hogan than anyone else. Although Hogan did not bring up the much ballyhooed (mostly by him, whenever Andre’s name comes up) slam of Andre at Wrestlemania 3, it still seems to have been the primary focus of the first memorial match.

While Hogan’s legendary slam was not the first time Andre had been slammed, it was still an impressive feat. All previous body slams of Andre were done when he was much smaller than he was at Wrestlemania 3. Beyond that, the majority of WWF fans at the time were not familiar with Andre’s early career. They knew was that he was an unstoppable behemoth who supposedly had not lost a match in 15 years, but could not tell me what Andre’s finishing move was (for the record, it was the butterfly suplex).

Although I am a recovering Hulkamaniac, there is no doubt in my mind that Hogan has genuine affection for Andre the Giant. He speaks very highly of him in Hogan’s autobiography. Regardless, the only memory that Hogan ever shares with the fans is the body slam. If one learned wrestling history from Hogan, they would likely think Andre’s entire career was being slammed at Wrestlemania,

Even though Hogan was not involved in the first battle royal, the story of the match echoed his Wrestlemania 3 experience with Andre. The eventual winner, Cesaro symbolized Hogan. Not only did he pick up the Big Show, but Cesaro carried the giant and slammed him over the top rope. Much like Hogan 27 years earlier, Cesaro accomplished a feat that appeared impossible.

My point is not to disparage Hogan or the WWE. However, I think that the man with whom the battle royal match is synonymous deserves a bit more of a memorial this year.

Thinking of Andre the Giant as a freak should only inspire wrestling fans to delve deeper into the man’s career to see what he was really like. Anyone who only remembers the 7’5″ and 525 pound man that lumbered around the ring, should find some old matches online to see what he used to be like.

The earliest known footage of Andre the Giant shows a man that is nothing like the slow moving behemoth that Hulk Hogan body slammed at Wrestlemania 3. A tall and well proportioned man in a flannel shirt is shown chopping wood. This is followed by a shirtless and evenly proportioned Andre using a full body scissors on his opponent before standing up and brushing off the man’s attacks with one hand.

As Andre put on the pounds, he still was quite agile in the ring for a man his size. In the 70’s he occasionally would execute dropkicks against his opponents. The majority of his early work, however, was exhibition handicap matches. Relatively quick in these matches, he would throw the other wrestlers around, sometimes picking them both up in the air at the same time. He was known to run across the ring and perform an avalanche before grabbing both men and putting them in a rowboat maneuver.

Looking up these old videos are also worth it simply to see Andre the Giant‘s amazing hair. Unlike the short hair he had in the mid 1980’s, which is reflected on the battle royal trophy, for most of his career, Andre had huge, afro like hair of which he was greatly known for.

There are other ways to remember Andre even if a fan does not have the time nor the ability to watch these matches. Through interviews with many wrestlers, in particular Hulk Hogan, Bobby Heenan and many others, the giant is always a favorite topic of conversation. Almost everyone has a fascinating tale to tell about this huge man who only cared about the simple things in life. Andre’s idea of paradise was sitting around with his friends, drinking beer or wine and playing cards. He never once let anyone he was out with pay for dinner or drinks. Andre knew that the important thing was that he was able to spend the time he had, short though he must have known it would be, having nice times with nice friends.

With the recent announcement of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal to the Wrestlemania pre show, it seems that this event will not be a long term fixture of the event. However, fans can memorialize Andre by taking the opportunity to watch some old matches or read some stories about him. I believe a whole new legion of fans can then remember a man who may have been psychically huge, but had a heart that could not be measured.

— Jacob Fox