WWE
Jacob Wolf, ESPN Staff Writer 89d

Big Show's charitable efforts made him most active WWE star of SummerSlam week

WWE

NEW YORK -- It's a foggy day on the piers of Brooklyn Bridge Park, the 85-acre plaza whose piers lie over the East River. As kids gather to shoot hoops, their heads slowly turn as a 7-foot man steps out of a black Cadillac Escalade and walks down the park's Pier 2.

"Is that the Big Show?" one kid asks his friend, as they stand less than 20 yards from the 46-year-old professional wrestler.

This Saturday is not an ordinary one for the eight WWE superstars who gather in Brooklyn Heights. For some, it's the first time they've volunteered for a Special Olympics event, or volunteered at all during their time with the WWE.

For Big Show, known to friends and family as Paul Wight, who in his 26-year career has become one of WWE's most notable community ambassadors, this is routine -- except, to him, it doesn't feel like it. As Big Show's junior colleagues prepare to take over the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on this Saturday night, he's dressed up to play bocce, Jenga and cornhole with the Special Olympics athletes.

Since September, The Big Show has watched from the sidelines as his fellow WWE superstars compete night in and night out inside of the ring. The 11-month absence -- caused by a legitimate hip injury that required surgery following a steel-cage match versus Braun Strowman on Raw on Sept. 4 -- has seen Big Show evaluate what's next. For the moment, he's focused on being one of the most visible faces of WWE's community-outreach efforts.

"It's just part of who I am as a human being," Big Show told ESPN. "I love getting out and meeting people and being part of the community."

In March 2017, Big Show told Sports Illustrated that following the expiration of his WWE contract in February, he'd retire, with the possibility of working as a full-time ambassador. Despite those remarks, in February, Big Show signed a three-year extension with the WWE that will see him continue to wrestle. When asked in an interview, he laughed at the prospect of retirement.

"As far as what I will do professionally, I don't know," Big Show said. "I still have to find a way to find another passion, that also brings home a paycheck. We'll have to see where that road takes us. I have several projects in the works now that give me an opportunity to still entertain people and still provide for my family. That's just who I am as a person. I'll be that guy who's 80 years old and still has a job. There is no 'retire' for me."

He hasn't made his in-ring return quite yet -- although he hopes to in the very near future -- but that hasn't stopped him from fulfilling other roles that come with being a WWE superstar. Big Show was one of the busiest performers during the week of SummerSlam, the WWE's second-biggest pay-per-view event of the year, despite not having a match.

Beginning Aug. 14, Big Show toured through New York and New Jersey, appearing at five community events ranging from visits to a children's hospital, a Boys & Girls Club, a Brooklyn Cyclones game, a veterans career fair and, finally, the Special Olympics Unified Games tournament.

About 20 miles west of midtown Manhattan sits Hackensack, New Jersey. Quaint, suburban and quiet, about as far away from the chaos of New York City as you can get in a 30-minute drive. As children pile into an activity room in the Hackensack Meridian Health Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital, they patiently wait for the arrival of three WWE superstars -- Big Show, Ember Moon and Nia Jax -- who will sign autographs, take pictures and do arts and crafts with them.

Among the children in that room is Peter, a 13-year-old boy who for the past year has fought cancer. Originally from Egypt, Peter and his family moved from the Middle East to New Jersey in 2015 with the hopes of making a better life. Less than two years later, Peter underwent one of the toughest challenges in his life, all before he was even a teenager.

In August 2017, Peter felt considerable pain in his neck, which led his family to consult with his primary care physician. Peter underwent an MRI, which diagnosed a tumor on the back of his neck. And as the tumor grew, it pushed against his nerves, leading to full paralysis.

Now, a year later, if not for a mark from surgery, Peter would be indistinguishable from any other kid -- energetic, excited and bouncing around the room. Getting here wasn't easy, according to his mother and doctor, who explained that he's had to undergo surgery and chemotherapy. Peter is now growing his hair back, and as his mother tells his story, she begins to break down in tears. So does Big Show.

"I love these kids," Big Show said. "They're so overwhelmingly beautiful on so many levels. If meeting these kids doesn't move your soul, then you don't have a damn soul."

It's weird seeing a giant cry, especially when Peter, no more than 4½ feet tall, keeps his composure throughout the retelling of his story. But Big Show, a father of three, not only feels for the pain that Peter and his family have had to endure, but admires the perseverance and strength with which the 13-year-old has faced this difficult journey.

"It's overwhelming to see the kind of impact you have on these kids, and the kind of impact they have on you," Big Show said. "Even talking with Peter, how thankful his mom was, telling me about how he couldn't walk, I got choked up and teary-eyed over it because you see the pain this mother is going through. Here's this kid, who because of the doctors, because of the people who have donated to pediatric cancer research, and those who have gotten ahead of this curve and donated time, this young man has a chance to have a happy and full life."

It's been 23 years since Paul Wight made his wrestling debut, then dubbed "The Giant" as an allusion to his character being the son of Andre the Giant, for World Championship Wrestling in St. Petersburg, Florida -- not far from his current home of Tampa. Nineteen years of Wight's career -- which has seen him play both a good guy and the bad guy; he says he likes the former more, the latter he willingly accepts -- have been spent mostly with the WWE, most as Big Show. From Hackensack to Iraq and Afghanistan, Big Show has worked in communities of children as well as both active and veteran armed forces.

Originally from a small town in South Carolina -- Aiken, which as of 2010 had only 30,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau -- Big Show has had built up the skills to step up to the challenges he faces both in and outside of the ring. From injuries -- like the hip issue that has seen him sit out for 11 months -- to having to work hard matches and put over some big-time stars, Big Show says the traits he admires in the kids, the military and veterans are all ones he's worked to instill within himself.

"I'm reminded every day how blessed I am to be able to brighten people's days and give back," Big Show said. "And how humbling it is to give just a little bit of your time -- a hug, a kind word, it means so much to so many people for so many different things. There's a lot of ugly stuff that goes on in the world, and I'm not going to get up on a rock and start preaching."

He pauses, as his voice starts to quiver just a little.

"I start small, I'm kind to people, I say please, I say thank you, and I always try to be encouraging and positive. Being able to give someone a hug from the heart, it's healing. It's healing for yourself and hearing for others, and we need a lot of that."

The Special Olympics event starts to wind down at Brooklyn Bridge Park on Saturday. Asuka leads her team to victory in bocce over Billie Kay and her squad; Big Show and Dana Warrior step front and center to award the teams medals and mini WWE Universal championship belts. The Special Olympics athletes are ecstatic as they get their awards. They pose for pictures with their team leaders, Big Show and Dana Warrior, and prepare to say their goodbyes.

But before the athletes can leave, Mark Henry grabs the mic and asks the crowd to give a round of applause for Big Show, who earlier in the week was named the newest global ambassador for the Special Olympics. At that moment, Henry, Big Show's best friend and colleague of 19 years in the WWE, presented Big Show with his ambassador jacket -- a special honor for those who receive the title. Big Show began to cry once again.

"I knew as soon as Mark starting talking that something was up," Big Show said. "It got to me. It's a special moment. When I do this, I don't do it for recognition or a pat on the back, I do this because I really love the kids and I love [the Special Olympics and their endeavor, Play Unified].

"To be honored by the Special Olympics, it's humbling. I've never been one of those guys who wants to put up titles and championships and run around and brag. This is extremely humbling, I'm very proud and I'm very honored."

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