The three-time World Champion — listed at an unexceptional 5-foot-10 — has consistently fought through criticism that he’s “too small.” Despite being outweighed and having far less of a reach than many of the Superstars he has beaten — a list that includes juggernauts Ryback, Big Show and Mark Henry — WWE’s “Yes!” man routinely kicks his opposition down to size.
Tenacious, at times ruthless, and tougher than a $2 steak, Bryan epitomizes the “undersized” Superstar, but he’s hardly the first grappler of average height to leave a mark on the wrestling canvas. Check out these 10 other mat men who might not have been able to step over the top rope, but nonetheless broke down barriers and raised hell inside the ring.
Beat him if you could, survive if he let you. Hailing from the same Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood streets that bred gangsters Al Capone and Crazy Joe Gallo, Tazz packed plenty of fight in his small frame. Billed at only 5-foot-9, the 240-pound animal rose to prominence in the original ECW. “The Most Miserable Man on the Planet” became the pride of the organization’s notoriously rabid fanbase while claiming the only weapons he needed were his own two hands.
In 1995, The Human Suplex Machine broke his neck in a brutal tag match, and — to the shock of hospital staff — walked into the ER on his own accord. Hoisting rivals nearly twice his size, the Kings County native employed innovative maneuvers that became known as “Tazzplexes,” but it was a suffocating finisher that became his calling card. The Katahajime judo choke — or Tazzmission — was so debilitating, the hold popularized tapping out on the canvas well before the rise of MMA, making each of his opponents, “just another victim.”
MAD DOG VACHON
Maybe it was the cold, bitter winters of Quebec. Maybe it was little brother syndrome. Maybe it was his working-class upbringing. Whatever the cause, Maurice Vachon was one of the most intense competitors in in the AWA. Don’t let the elegant French-Canadian name fool you. This dangerous brawler was as slapdash in the ring as a plate of poutine. Gnawing on competitors across North America and gaining a reputation for his vicious, animalistic style, Maurice quickly became Mad Dog.
A stocky 5-foot-7 with a patchy grizzle of a beard, Vachon possessed a blend of amateur experience and pure tenacity. After defeating the Indian wrestling champion in less than a minute at the 1948 Olympic Games, Vachon became a five-time AWA Champion. He might have been stout, but his opponents quickly learned Mad Dog matched his bark with plenty of bite.
Even as a boy, Boston thug Perry Saturn knew he was a fighter. Enlisting in the U.S. Army at only 17, he became an Airborne Ranger before ever stepping on the wrestling canvas. Adopting the surname of a Roman god, Saturn learned the ropes from the dangerous Killer Kowalski at the WWE Hall of Famer’s legendary training school before arriving in ECW. There, he teamed with freak of nature John Kronus and as The Eliminators, they became one of the ring’s most feared tag teams, pairing daring aerial tactics with smash-mouth martial arts.
As a member of Raven’s Flock in WCW, Saturn rebelled and took out his former cult leader — and all of his opponents — with high-impact brawling, not to mention pretzel-like twisting with The Rings of Saturn. After jumping ship to WWE during a pivotal moment of the Monday Night War, Saturn picked up the European and Hardcore Championships, earning him the rare distinction of having held titles in all three major organizations.
What is it about Beantown that encourages brutality? From Southie to Charlestown, this rough and tumble city has long boasted gutsy sports teams like the Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics, and its rowdy natives are no exception. Perhaps that’s why a stocky 5-foot-9, 250-pound tough guy with a blonde mullet called Kevin Sullivan became one of the most unpredictable and ruthless forces to ever Devil Stomp into a ring.
Most remembered by fans of the YouTube generation as the wacky leader of The Dungeon of Doom, Sullivan was an unapologetically scrappy competitor whose Army of Darkness in Florida was one of sports-entertainment’s first truly terrifying groups. His reckless fights against The Nasty Boys in WCW and vicious attacks in Smoky Mountain Wrestling have become the thing of legend. Don’t let his frame or bizarre tirades fool you, Sullivan was one filthy brawler.
Considered by many longtime ring observers as pound-for-pound the toughest man to ever don a pair of trunks, 5-foot-10 Danny Hodge blew away competition in the amateur ranks in both wrestling and boxing before making his name in sports-entertainment. He went 46-0 at the University of Oklahoma and won three consecutive NCAA titles, and most accounts suggest he would’ve left the 1956 Olympics with a Gold Medal had it not been for a controversial pin counted by an Eastern Bloc referee. After graduation, Hodge captured the national Golden Gloves boxing championship in 1958.
From there, the only place to go was the squared circle and, specifically, the Mid-South territory. With legendary tendon strength and an ability to pulverize apples with a simple squeeze of his hand, Hodge was an imposing foe for Hiro Matsuda, Angelo Savoldi and other contenders to the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship. An auto wreck ended his career in 1976, but tales of his feats survived long after, eventually approaching Paul Bunyan lore in their fantasticalness.
Billed somewhat generously at 5-foot-10, “The Man of 1,000 Holds” is best known for his finesse and technique and, as his moniker would imply, his vast knowledge of wrestling maneuvers. Yet, to think that scientific mat skill and sheer meanness are mutually exclusive qualities would be a grave mistake — one that too many of Malenko’s opponents had the misfortune of making.
In between the brilliant counter-holds and intricate mat work, the callous Iceman would relentlessly target an appendage. With his opponents downed and trapped in the corner of the ring, Malenko stomped away with “Stone Cold”-like fury. He was cruel, even, using a sinful selectiveness to toy with less skilled opposition. While seated on the top turnbuckle, he’d frequently hoist prey onto his shoulders, leap high in the air and then, upon landing, drop them gut-first onto his knee. In a world of giants, Malenko’s frame suggested a minnow-like meekness, but inside the ring, he was all shark.
The legendary “Crippler” Ray Stevens was not exactly a physical specimen to behold. Standing just taller than 5-foot-8 and weighing roughly 225 pounds, “The Blond Bomber” sported a paunchy midsection that was owed to more than a few six-packs of beer. The fireplug build did nothing, however, to detract from his performance in the ring — a maniacal intensity that appeared effortless.
There’s no two ways about it: Stevens was an unforgiving individual. He came to fame on the West Coast and in the AWA’s Midwest region, and by the time he traveled to WWE’s home base in the Northeast in 1982, he was nearing the twilight of his career.
That didn’t stop him from shocking audiences with his brutality. During a particularly vicious spree, he got into the habit of piledriving defeated opponents on the concrete floor. The most harrowing blitz occurred at the expense of “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, whom Stevens bloodied and beat with not one, but two piledrivers on the unprotected arena floor.
Embittered, yet obscenely skilled, the 5-foot-9 Dynamite Kid had the type of hair-trigger temper and nasty demeanor that made fellow wrestlers not only want to avoid interacting with him in the ring, but also in the locker room. Undeniably talented, the ornery Englishman was something of a virtuoso between the ropes, cultivating a style that spurred countless imitators, none of whom captured his same fierceness.
It didn’t matter if Dynamite Kid was facing somebody in his same weight class, like a young Bret Hart or Ricky Steamboat, or a larger heavyweight, such as Bad News Brown or Jim Neidhart. Either way, his was an attack that was stubbornly persistent. Stylistically, his offense was learned and precise. It was not uncommon for his forearm strikes to lacerate, and his explosive snap suplexes played havoc with opponents’ spinal health. Just like a stick of TNT, when Dynamite Kid went off, the impact was felt by everybody in the vicinity.
At only 5-foot-8, Ron Garvin looked considerably smaller in NWA and WWE rings because the 1980s started the trend of taller wrestlers becoming the norm. Still, before even having national television exposure, Garvin clashed with the likes of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, “Cowboy” Bob Orton and the best big man ever, Andre the Giant.
In the NWA, “Hands of Stone” Garvin reached the pinnacle of his career. At an unbelievably fit 42 years old, he defeated “Nature Boy” Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in spectacular fashion with a top rope sunset flip inside a steel cage. Twenty-eight years after his 1962 debut, Garvin became a WWE Superstar. Even though “Rugged” Ronnie Garvin never again reached main event status, his matches against Greg “The Hammer” Valentine were so physical, they will still make you wince.
Call him Little Guido, call him Nunzio, just don’t call him anything that will make the 5-foot-7, hot-tempered Italian plant his disproportionately large boot in your face. Debuting in ECW as the core of the comedic F.B.I. (Full Blooded Italians), the “pugnacious paesan” teamed with the likes of J.T. Smith, Tracy Smothers and Tommy Rich, none of whom were Italian. But it would be a mistake to dismiss Guido as a goofball comedy act.
Progressing into a more serious competitor, he was dubbed “The Sicilian Shooter” as he utilized his amateur wrestling and mixed martial arts background. After winning two ECW Tag Team Championships, Guido debuted in WWE as Nunzio, the Italian cousin of redneck Jamie Noble (I couldn’t make this up). Again, he defied expectations, as the undersized brawler battled uphill to overcome serious opposition while capturing the WWE Cruiserweight Championship in Rome, Italy. Viva Italia