An article by Mike Mooneyham
Published Feb. 25, 1996
Paul Wight is one of the biggest stars in pro wrestling.
Wight, who is aptly billed as The Giant and is one of World Championship Wrestling’s top performers, stands seven feet, two inches tall and weighs in at around the 415 mark, give or take a few pounds. But before he was a giant in the world of professional wrestling, Wight was a multi-sport star right here in the state of South Carolina. The 24-year-old was a standout athlete at King Academy in the Batesburg- Leesville area, where he participated in basketball, football, baseball, track and golf.
Wight, who grew up in Aiken County, earned all-class basketball honors his junior and senior years at King Academy, all-state and all-conference honors four years, averaged 35 points, 22 rebounds and 10 blocks a game his senior year. He led his team to a runner-up spot in the state tourney his junior year and a final four spot his senior season. He scored 61 points in the first round of the state tournament his senior year, connecting on 26-27 from the field and 9-9 from the line.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Wight’s athletic prowess, however, wasn’t limited to basketball. He also earned all-state and all-conference honors in baseball, and in one year of football he garnered all-state and all-conference accolades and was state captain in the North-South all-star game.
“I was good at football because I was very coordinated and very strong and very fast to be as big as I was,” says Wight. “I hit 5 flat at 320, seven foot tall, which is hauling butt for a big man. But it was something that I really didn’t have a huge amount of interest in. My heart was always in basketball.”
Despite his success in the more conventional sports, Wight also had a love for pro wrestling.
“My whole thing was that, when I was growing up, when I wasn’t playing basketball I was watching wrestling. I was really into wrestling as a kid. My mother (now a deputy sheriff in Calhoun County) told me that one of the first things out of my mouth as a kid was that I wanted to be a wrestler. It’s amazing how life just fits like a jigsaw puzzle.”
With his sterling blue-chip credentials, Wight was a hot recruit and received nearly 50 letters for football and basketball from schools such as Indiana, Notre Dame, N.C. State, Kansas, Duke, Georgetown, Clemson and USC.
“I was very directed on where I wanted to go,” says Wight. “I was a big fan of Xavier McDaniel when I was a kid. He went to A.C. Flora and had a great career at Wichita State. They had a great coach at Wichita State, and since the school didn’t have a football program, I wouldn’t get pressure to play football. Basketball was the main entity in the town, and it had a great tradition as far as fan support.
At the time it looked like a really great decision.”
The fact that Wight had attended a smaller, private school prompted Wichita State to send him to a junior college his first year, despite the fact that he was Division I eligible and had scored a 1,000 on his SAT.
Wight was an all-conference basketball player his freshman year at Northern Oklahoma Junior College, averaging 14 points and 6.5 rebounds. He calls his first college season “a fantastic experience,” but things turned sour his sophomore season at Wichita State.
Midway through his sophomore year (91-92) at Wichita State, the basketball coach was fired. Wight later decided to drop out of school.
“They still let him coach (through the season),” says Wight. “It was a horrible change and caused a lot of turmoil for me. I had just my father, and a lot of other things went bad. I ended up withdrawing from school after my sophomore season. Maybe I gave up prematurely. Looking back now, you still wonder if you could have made it or not. In a way, it’s all turned out for the better because now I’m doing something I really, really enjoy and have the natural ability for.” Wight also had to deal with a potentially deadly disease known as acromegaly. The disease, which also afflicted the late Andre The Giant, is a disorder marked by progressive enlargement of the head, face, hands, feet and chest due to excessive secretion of growth hormones.
“I had acromegaly between my freshman and sophomore year in college. I went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where surgery was performed. Within six hours after surgery, everything was back to normal. It was a fantastic surgery with no repercussions. For the first year or so I monitored it, and now once every six months or whenever I get a checkup, I take a simple blood test. I’ve been very lucky. They have the advancement now to recognize something like that early, where Andre didn’t have that benefit.”
The period following Wight’s departure from Wichita State was especially trying.
“I did a lot of odd jobs such as bounty hunting – I didn’t have problem bringing them back in and bouncing at clubs. At the time they might have been tough, but they were good for me because I had a lot of emotional distress that I was trying to deal with. It helped to realign a lot of goals. It was good for me. It made me stronger and focused.”
Wight, whose enormous size made him a natural for the wrestling business, got his break in the sport a couple of years ago.
“Some WCW officials approached me, and it was a give-and-take situation,” says Wight. “I had been trying to get in. I went through very rigorous training with The Assassin, Terry Taylor and Diamond Dallas Page. They gave me very good insight on how to apply a lot of my skills.”
Straying a little out of character, Wight admits he’s a big Clemson football fan.
“I love Clemson football,” says Wight, who was heavily recruited for basketball by then Clemson coach Cliff Ellis, as well as by George Felton at state rival USC. “There is no experience in the world like Death Valley. You can feel the electricity and energy just walking through the stadium at a Clemson game. It’s definitely an experience.”
Wight, who recently moved to the Tampa area, hopes there’s a bright future for him in pro wrestling.
“WCW is the icon of the future in this industry. The company is taking off in ways that nobody can comprehend. This company will be the one-stop shop for wrestling in the future. You’ve got the wisdom of people like Ted Turner in the board room, and a lot of other people higher up who have very powerful plans to put in motion. We’re kicking butt and taking names.
“The name of the game is putting people in the seats. We go out there and brawl, and that’s what people like to see. It’s nice to see people like Chris Benoit and Eddy Guerrero. Those two guys are the premier wrestlers of our industry. They could wrestle and bake a cake in the ring at the same time. They’re that talented.”
Wight, who in his six months with WCW has become one of the company’s top drawing cards, is well-liked within the organization and has formed a friendship with Hulk Hogan, who wants to groom Wight as the next Andre The Giant. But Wight understands that size alone won’t ensure him long-term success.
“I realize there’s a lot of hard work and hills to climb, and a lot of times I have to put on the brakes so I don’t go too fast. If I keep working hard, I’ll be all right.”
And Wight, who turned 24 on Feb. 8, has a long future ahead of him.
“I’ll be a man when I grow up,” he jokes.