Sometimes the expression “anything can happen in the WWE” seems like a bit of an exaggeration. For too long, the product was stale and predictable. Even something as simple as doing what had worked in the past seemed like a chore for WWE. As resentful as WWE was toward what WCW had accomplished (which is much more than they’re willing to admit) they could have borrowed some successes and innovations from Monday Nitro.
Some of the the top talent in WCW came from its groundbreaking Cruiserweight Division. Vince McMahon notoriously underutilized smaller wrestlers, no matter how talented they were, perhaps only excluding Shawn Michaels. The rest of the world was not a part of the WWE Universe. Mexican Lucha Libre, to Japanese strong style, to European chain wrestling; all were of little interest to McMahon. And maybe he was right. In the 80s, muscles did sell a match, and in the minds of much of the audience, being able to lift weights also meant you were good at wrestling.
But then competition forced the entire industry to evolve. Paul Heyman’s ECW was designed to be the complete opposite of what had become mainstream sports entertainment. He brought in international names like Psychosis, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, Super Crazy, Tajiri, Jerry Lynn, and many more.
Most of these men were smaller than the average WWF wrestler, but their high flying and technical talents were quickly noticed by Eric Bischoff, who would then sign them to shiny, new guaranteed contracts stamped by Ted Turner. Heyman deserves all the credit in the world for bringing this counterculture style to the states. But to Bischoff’s credit, he knew it was something he needed to open his weekly show, WCW Monday Nitro. Every Monday night the competitive Nitro would battle WWF’s Monday Night Raw, and to grab audiences, WCW had their most skilled and athletic wrestlers in the world in the first match of the night.
There was no way a young Nathan Burke (That’s me. I’m Nathan.) would switch the channel over to Raw in the first 20 minutes of Nitro’s Cruiserweight matchup. This was a very clear success for WCW.
WWF attempted to follow suit with a watered down version of their own. The Lightweight division in WWF was full of amazing talent, like Taka Michinoku ... and, well, that’s about it. There just weren’t a lot of talented guys for them to work with. And when WCW was bought out in 2001, there wasn’t much of a place for a separate Cruiserweight title. It lasted for a little while, but inevitably fizzled out. The stars who once made the belt mean something were given better opportunities in the main event. Mysterio, Guerrero, Jericho, and Benoit all became some of the company’s major players; and the smaller guys who didn’t quite cut it in Heavyweight title contention were left in the dust. A guy like Billy Kidman, who made a name for himself and his Shooting Star Press finisher in WCW, was underutilized and eventually released (though he was married to Torrie Wilson for a time, so we can’t feel too sorry for him). And incredible showmen like Psychosis, Super Crazy, and Juventud Guerrera were subjected to a Mexican landscaper gimmick - which saw the trio enter the ring via riding lawn mower.
No, WWE does not have a great record of even pretending to understand the popularity of the Cruiserweights. But all of that could change next week. When WWE announced that they would be holding a Cruiserweight Classic tournament to be shown on the WWE Network, I popped like a cork. This is the most excited I’ve been about a WWE event since ECW: One Night Stand. Similarly, it involves many wrestlers who aren’t affiliated with WWE, and should be full of matches meant to impress the powers that be. There may be a lot of new signings to come out of the CWC. As of now, it’s rumored that legendary Cruiserweight, Tajiri, has already been resigned, as he was featured in this WWE.com exclusive video, reuniting with former tag partner, William Regal. The Japanese Buzzsaw is personally one of my favorite wrestlers of all time and is the oldest participant in the tournament.
Another familiar name - The Brian Kendrick will also be gracing the CWC with his involvement. As another former Cruiserweight champ and tag champ with Paul London, it should be no surprise to see him at least make it to the semi-final round. Tajiri and Kendrick could both make it to the final four if not only to put over a couple of younger talents.
Indie favorites Zack Sabre Jr. and Kota Ibushi are two potential signees, and since WWE is on a free agent acquiring rampage, many of these wrestlers could be up for grabs at the WWE Draft
(You can watch the entire lineup in a silly showcase of taunts here: http://www.wwe.com/section/cruiserweight-classic-competitors)
It’s no coincidence that the tournament debuts just one week before the Raw/Smackdown Draft, which would make for an interesting show, considering a pro wrestling draft has never involved ACTUAL free agents. This is as real as wrestling gets. There will be athletes vying for a spot on the main show and life changing contracts in this tournament. We might as well be watching the equivalent of NCAA Sports Entertainment.
But in the end, I’m just happy to see the extremely talented Cruiserweights get some recognition. It’s a cliche, mostly abused by Michael Cole, but the entire landscape of WWE could change this month. There are more deliberate changes happening now than I can remember since the end of the Monday Night War. There are 32 hungry athletes from every corner of the globe who will be proving their worth on July 13, and it may just change the way we watch wrestling.