We're One Giant Step Closer To Shaquille O'Neal Vs. Paul Wight
A feud 12 years in the making...
The Zach Galifianakis "math" meme swiped from The Hangover is required here, for it is the most accurate way to depict us trying to understand the story to this Cody Rhodes/Red Velvet/Shaquille O'Neal/Jade Cargill match taking place on Wednesday night's Dynamite.
Tony Khan and AEW have constructed some truly thoughtful angles in the company's brief existence (some week to week, some with satisfying longer term callbacks). But this...well, in terms of reason and coherence, this feels like Homer Simpson desperately trying to assemble his grill before the cement dries.
In spite of its confusing composition, there's a good chance the match itself will still do a very strong number, thanks to the celebrity guest.
Though he's been retired from the court for close to ten years, Shaquille O'Neal is one of the most iconic stars to have graced the NBA, or any sports league, for that matter. You can't watch more than 15 minutes of American television today without seeing "The Big Aristotle" hawking Papa Johns pizza, Epson ink cartridges, General car insurance, Icy Hot, and other products and services.
O'Neal is undoubtedly a household name. When the world knows you simply by the first syllable of your first name, that's rare stardom.
WWE certainly understood Shaq's appeal as a superstar. That's why the four-time NBA champion memorably guest hosted Monday Night Raw one night in 2009. As far as non-WWE legends acting as one-night overseers go, Shaq was second only to Price is Right host Bob Barker in terms of overall effectiveness (Like Barker, Shaq got his own hilarious interaction with Chris Jericho).
It helps that O'Neal is a noted wrestling fan, and "gets" how the show works. His connections to wrestling participation date all the way back to 1994 WCW, when the then-rising NBA star hobnobbed with an inbound Hulk Hogan, as way of giving an aging Hulk some cred with the younger parts of the audience.
The buzz coming out of that 2009 Raw was the broadcast-closing tussle between O'Neal and Jericho's then partner, The Big Show. Sports media response to that teaser brawl seemed to indicate that the two seven-foot goliaths would cross paths once more down the line.
With Paul Wight now coming into AEW (after 22 years of only working for one wrestling company, save for an "indy" date with Hogan in 2007), perhaps All Elite Wrestling could be the battleground for that ultimate battle of globally-renowned colossi.
Sure, both men are now 49 (Shaq turns 49 on March 6), but surely there would be interest in seeing this battle of the giants, no?
WWE definitely thought so. Because for years, they tried to make the match happen.
As soon as that footage of O'Neal bulldozing Big Show up and over the top rope began circulating, the speculation kicked off. In an era where future President Donald Trump shaved Vince McMahon's head, Floyd Mayweather walloped Show with brass knuckles, and Mickey Rourke rocked Jericho with a few boxing combos, Show vs. Shaq felt like the next big celebrity-based WrestleMania struggle.
If WrestleMania was the designed destination for the battle of the giants, it was going to have to wait.
While WrestleMania 26 in Glendale was the earliest opportunity to strike while the hype was hot, the scheduling wouldn't have been as opportune. At the time, O'Neal was still an active NBA star, playing his penultimate season with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, so taking a wrestling booking at the end of March or start of April wasn't going to work out. Ditto the following year, when O'Neal was finishing his career with the Boston Celtics.
After that, however, his schedule opened up.
By the end of 2011, just as a now-retired Shaq was settling into his new position of talking head on TNT's Inside the NBA studio show, rumours emerged that O'Neal was going to compete at WrestleMania 28 in Miami. The location definitely made sense, as O'Neal spent four years the prior decade with the Miami Heat, and was part of their 2006 championship team.
By Royal Rumble weekend in early 2012, a match pitting Shaquille O'Neal against Big Show for WrestleMania 28 was about as foregone a conclusion as it seemed there could be. Major news outlets were reporting, at a minimum, Shaq's participation, while others went so far as to list Show as his scheduled opponent.
A month later, however, word came out from WWE that the match was not taking place.
An official statement on WWE.com read, "Despite Shaquille O’Neal’s claim that he will compete at WrestleMania XXVIII in Miami, WWE officials have informed WWE.com that the 15-time NBA All-Star is not scheduled to appear on the card. The professional basketball legend made waves this past weekend when he reportedly told celebrity news site HollywoodLife.com that he will wrestle on April 1."
At first, it seemed like a swerve, the sort of tease in wrestling where you say something *isn't* going to happen, but then later it *does* happen, after the viewing word continues buzzing about it.
But it wasn't a swerve, as Shaq was not a part of WrestleMania 28 in any form. Instead, on that date in question, Big Show won the Intercontinental championship from future Shaq "rival" Cody Rhodes.
Man, wresting is strange.
So what happened? Apparently, both sides were apt to blame the other for the deal never coming together. WWE's view of the matter was that O'Neal would not commit to training or getting in shape to do the match, whereas the basketball legend felt that WWE wasn't coming through on agreed-upon financial terms.
Wherever the truth ultimately lies, no matter - we didn't get Shaquille O'Neal in a sanctioned wrestling match.
For four more years, anyway.
The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32 appeared to be an afterthought, a throwaway match (from what was ultimately a throwaway WrestleMania) where the "rest of the roster" earns a participatory payday. The mostly-midcard entrants filed out of the tunnel for what seemed to be a time-killer on an already too-long show, just shark chum for Big Show, Mark Henry and Kane to sink their teeth into.
And suddenly, without any sort of forewarning or advertisement, out came Shaq himself.
The match was already surreal enough with an equally-unadvertised DDP cameo and a random Tatanka appearance (that wasn't even acknowledged until the match was half over). But not advertising Shaq? Our own Ross Tweddell hasn't seen many moments that were more WTF than that.
Show and Shaq got their requisite stare-down, and tossed out some of the surrounding deadwood, before they were both eliminated by the horde. All we got was a small taste of what we assumed we'd be getting in full four years prior.
Like that "colossal jostle" we saw between them in 2009, this battle royal skirmish felt like a mere tease for something later on down the line.
And apparently, it was.
It looked like things would pick up once more months later, when Big Show confronted O'Neal on the red carpet of the 2016 ESPY Awards. This time, however, the powwow was tamer, as Show simply offered a friendly challenge for the following year's WrestleMania. Shaq quickly accepted, name-dropping Vince and Shane McMahon as he told them to get the deal done.
With WrestleMania 33 emanating from Orlando, the location made sense once again, since O'Neal spent his first four seasons with the Orlando Magic, after being drafted first overall by them in 1992. With that mind, wonder what the significance was of him appearing in Dallas the year before? He never played for the Mavericks. Maybe he wanted to cut a promo dissing Erick Dampier once again, and WWE scrapped it?
By January 2017, the social media hype train was rollicking down the tracks, as each leviathan posted workout videos on social media, showing that they were getting ready for the king-sized showdown.
And then, once again, the match was dropped. Apparently, money issues were culprit once more, as the sides could not agree on a deal.
Another WrestleMania where Shaq vs. Show was expected, and another WrestleMania where it didn't happen. Instead, Paul Wight had to settle for the pre-show Andre battle royal, made famous by a security guard doing a better job containing Gronk than the Chiefs did in Super Bowl 55.
This Wednesday night, however, it appears that after a number of false starts, we're finally going to see Shaquille O'Neal wrestle in a match that he was advertised for.
It's not at a WrestleMania, and it won't be with a fellow big man. But when Shaq signed a new deal with TNT fairly recently, he apparently discussed wanting to wrestle fellow network star Cody Rhodes. Instead of it being a straightforward one on one match, we have this mixed tag spectacle where there's a little more to unwrap, not all of it coherent. But it is what it is.
And if it's a well-received match that does favourable metrics, who knows? Maybe it opens the (vaguely-forbidden) door that apparently stands between O'Neal and Wight, one that has deprived the world of a singles encounter that has apparently been in developmental hell for close to a dozen years.
And if it ever does come to that, hopefully we can get Jericho and Shaq colleague Charles Barkley as cornermen. Just because the banter would be something special.