2016–THE YEAR OF THE CRUISERWEIGHTS

Posted May 4th, 2016 by 1Wrestling News Team

By Lucas Goldman

Professional Wrestling has always been a large man’s business. Giants and larger than life characters have dominated wrestling fans TV’s and posters since the heyday of Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant through today with the likes of Brock Lesnar and John Cena. However, in the year 2016, the professional wrestling business seems to be taking a change in direction. While WWE’s competitors, such as the NFL and the NBA, are generating more athletic and quicker superstars than ever before, professional wrestling is looking to do the same. The importance and the spotlight is no longer on the ex-football players who dominate by using raw power, rather the spotlight is upon the Cruiserweight wrestlers, the superstars who are under 220 pounds and use their speed and diverse move-sets to put the crowd in a state of awe. This Cruiserweight style has undergone many transformations and taken many forms, but its main purpose of entertaining the audience has always remained. It is difficult to pinpoint when exactly professional wrestlers began to take flight and leap off of the top rope, however, the first rivalry in professional wrestling that truly incorporated acrobatics and aerial maneuvers was the rivalry between Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask in the late 1980’s. For those who are unaware of who these two pioneers of the business are, Dynamite Kid is a technical wrestling savant who trained in the Hart Dungeon along with Bret and Owen Hart and then took his abilities to Japan where he dominated the Junior Heavyweight scene. On the other hand, Tiger Mask is a Japanese wrestling legend that used his karate background as well as his quickness and striking precision to climb the ranks in Japanese wrestling. Once these two men met in the ring, as many would expect, they created magic. Everything from the quick catch-as-catch-can technical wrestling to the over the top rope toward the outside dives, was unbelievable for the fans had never seen a wrestling style as such. Never before had a match between two wrestlers under 180 pounds garnered so much attention. In fact, due to how groundbreaking and innovative their first matchup was, Tiger Mask and Dynamite Kid were signed by wrestling promoters all over the world, including Vince McMahon and the WWF, to headline their Junior Heavyweight divisions. In fact, Dynamite Kid and Tiger mask each held the WWF Junior heavyweight title, the first title of its kind in America. Japan had now become the center of Cruiserweight wrestling and the innovation of Tiger Mask and Dynamite Kid became the model for future Cruiserweight wrestlers.

In the mid 1990’s, a new generation of Japanese Cruiserweights, who grew up watching the battles between Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask, were prepared to take the sport by storm. Wrestlers by the likes of Great Sasuke, Taka Michinoku, and most importantly, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, introduced a more MMA-influenced style of Cruiserweight wrestling that relied heavily upon submissions and stiff strikes. Meanwhile, a new generation of wrestlers in Mexico, led by Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio Jr., began to take an interest in the high-flying style as well. These luchadores decided to take the same style that was made famous by El hijo del Santo and Blue Demon throughout the 1970’s and 80’s in Mexico, and blended it with the Cruiserweight style from Japan. As a result a very unique and interesting style of wrestling was created that generated groundbreaking moves such as the Asai moonsault and the hurricanrana, but more importantly a new generation of lucha libre was created. Over the span of the 1990’s this Japanese style continued to spread across the globe, making Japan a Mecca for Cruiserweight wrestling, and the “Best of the Super Juniors” Tournament it’s Hajj. The Best of the Super Juniors became an annual event in which the world’s top Cruiserweight talent from Mexico, Japan and the United States would clash over the course of two weeks. The tournament became an annual spectacle in which fans were constantly shocked by the newly created highflying moves that evolved the Cruiserweight style. More importantly, the pool of international talents fighting each other helped to create very interesting cross-continental matchups that had never been seen before and newly innovated maneuvers in attempts to “one-up” the other performers. An example of this one-upmanship would be shown in that first tournament, many of the participants used a basic top rope splash as a maneuver. However, as years went on a wrestler by the name of 2 Cold Scorpio debuted a move at the tournament that we now know as the 450 splash, which is essentially a basic splash with a flip involved. Now, in the year 2016, this maneuver has once again been reinvented by Ricochet, who uses the 630 splash, a maneuver that is difficult to even picture in one’s mind, as his finishing maneuver. This became the natural progression of the Cruiserweight style in which new maneuvers and holds were invented by adding additional movements to classic techniques.

The next part of the Cruiserweight style journey takes us to the United States, where many of the wrestlers we see on our televisions today, such as AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan, mastered the Cruiserweight style. Though, before the likes of Styles and Bryan were stars and the Cruiserweight style had been accepted in the industry as an equal or additional style to the classic “Big Man” style, these future stars had to perform in gymnasiums and poorly renovated venues across the country. Despite the poor conditions, these wrestlers traveled the world, acquired innovative maneuvers from Mexico and Japan, and put in enough hard work to overcome the weakness of their size and prove that they are elite athletes that deserve to be at the top of the sport.  Then, once Bryan and Punk were at the most elite level of the business, the Cruiserweight style’s quickness and awe-inspiring athleticism created a stronger demand for style to be showcased in major promotions.

With firm roots in the professional wrestling industry of today, Cruiserweight wrestling is now in place to make its next large step. Many signs point to this next part of evolutionary growth in Cruiserweight wrestling. One sign is that the larger wrestlers who dominated the business due to their size rather than their abilities are now being replaced by larger wrestlers whose athletic ability allows them to incorporate some of the Cruiserweight style. This can be seen when 266-pound Kevin Owens lands a Frog Splash from the top rope, when 6’5” Cesaro hits a springboard corkscrew uppercut, or when 240-pound Apollo Crews lands a standing moonsault. All of those maneuvers are incredibly difficult to hit, yet the athleticism of these larger wrestlers allows them to showcase the style as well. Another sign would be that many of the champions in top promotions today, such as Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, and CM Punk, who all became WWE champion, mastered the Cruiserweight style before entering the main event scene. Now that Bryan and Punk, especially, have set this precedent for other Cruiserweight wrestlers, these incredibly talented performers will be judged for their talent and not their size. So its no surprise that this summer the WWE is hosting a Global Cruiserweight Tournament in which they plan to showcase their top Cruiserweight talents, such as Manny Andrade (formerly La Sombra) and Zack Sabre Jr., to the world. This announcement is a clear indication that WWE has now picked up on the growing trend of Cruiserweight wrestling, for if they are able to create an environment in which Cruiserweight wrestlers or wrestlers who want to innovate new moves are given the stage and facilities to do so, then the tournament may foster a whole new generation of champions, just as it has done in the past.

I’m not sure exactly what that next step in the evolution of Cruiserweights looks like, for it hasn’t been invented yet, however, with wrestlers such as Will Ospreay and Kota Ibushi working on their craft everyday and using their creativity to develop new maneuvers, I have absolute faith that the game is about to change in a very big way really soon.

Category: Wrestling.

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