How the Cruiserweight Title changed the game

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May 02, 2012

Ultimo Dragon as WCW Cruiserweight Champion.

The prevailing criticism of cruiserweights — usually perpetrated by the lugs in the main event — was that they were vanilla. They could fly, but they couldn’t talk. They knew holds, but they had no charisma. Of course, considering that two of the most charismatic men in sports-entertainment history in Jericho and Guerrero were key parts of the division, this is clearly untrue. It would take time for this realization to come to light, however. First, the cruiserweights would have to leave WCW, which they began to do en masse.

This exodus grew out of the fact that they were considered cruiserweights and nothing more. In 1997, the idea that Jericho or Guerrero would ever be world champion was absurd. Mysterio? Forget it. The players at WCW had been smart enough to feature this talent pool, but they weren’t wise enough to see they had the future in front of them. To them, the WCW Cruiserweight Title was something of a novelty, when in truth, it was a gateway title.

The most obvious example of this kind of title was the Intercontinental Championship — specifically during the late ’80s and early ’90s when it was held by future WWE Hall of Famers like Ricky Steamboat, Mr. Perfect and Bret Hart, just to name a few. With that championship, WWE fans knew they were watching a talented Superstar who would one day be in the main event. With the WCW Cruiserweight Title, it was less obvious.

Eddie Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko

It would take the departures of Jericho, Malenko, Guerrero and Mysterio for this to become apparent.

Y2J made the move first, debuting in WWE in 1999 before becoming the first-ever Undisputed Champion in 2001. Malenko and Guerrero would arrive together as members of The Radicalz in 2000. Malenko soon retired, but found an integral backstage role as a producer for WWE. Latino Heat thrived as one of WWE’s most beloved Superstars, winning the WWE Title in 2004 before dying too young at the age of 38 in 2005. Rey was the last to arrive, blasting into WWE in 2002, one year after WCW went out of business. He would eventually become the smallest man to hold both the WWE and World Championships.

Meanwhile in WCW, the Cruiserweight Title became a prop in a bad comedy act as champions soon included a man and a woman holding the title simultaneously and a heavyset man in a black cowboy hat, who was doing a cruel impersonation of Jim Ross with Bell’s palsy.

“It was a slap in the face,” former champion Billy Kidman told WWE.com. “It brought nothing to anything. [Oklahoma] wasn’t entertaining and he certainly wasn’t a cruiserweight.

It was a disappointing end to a title that first showcased some of sports-entertainment’s most exciting stars, but the Cruiserweight Championship's legacy endures through the smaller wrestlers like Daniel Bryan who dominant the main event scene and the younger grapplers who were inspired to climb to the top rope.

“When I was 15, I saw Rey vs. Psychosis and the match blew me away,” Tyson Kidd told WWE.com. “Honestly, I didn’t care about The nWo anymore. It absolutely changed the way I looked at wrestling.”

Witness some of the best WCW Cruiserweight Title bouts for free with WWE Greatest Matches!

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Dean Malenko Bio, Videos, Photos, and News Articles Chris Jericho Bio, Videos, Photos, and News Articles Billy Kidman Bio, Videos, Photos, and News Articles Rey Mysterio Bio, Videos, Photos, and News Articles Tyson Kidd Bio, Videos, Photos, and News Articles Justin Gabriel Bio, Videos, Photos, and News Articles Ultimo Dragon Bio, Videos, Photos, and News Articles Psicosis Bio, Videos, Photos, and News Articles

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