Friday, February 23, 2001

Ringside Shadows #163: A WrestleMania Wish List

In the world of professional wrestling, Wrestlemania is the last word. More so than the Great American Bash, than Summerslam, or even Starrcade. There's a certain aura, an air about the event that lifts it above all the others, something that helps it stand out as an undisputed king of the hill. The history is as rich as they come, including everything from Ricky Steamboat's early feud with Randy Savage to Bret Hart and Steve Austin's unforgettable masterpiece at Mania 13. The torch has been passed at a Wrestlemania and the World Title has, more often than not, left the building around the waist of a new champion. It's more than a pay per view, it's an event.

That's why it's such an unpleasant surprise to see the way things have become over the last few years. With little exception, the mystique has remained the same... however, something's most certainly missing. The goosebumps are still there, as the hours become minutes leading up to the big event. The grand scale remains intact, the importance of the event readily visible in the actions of the workers, audible in the voices of the announcers. But once that first bell rings, after the year's pop sensation(s) have finished their rendition of "America the Beautiful," something's different. Despite all the hooplah and celebration, Wrestlemania itself has become just another pay per view.

Maybe I'm letting the evolution of the industry blind me, rather than showing me a whole new world. Maybe it's a sign of the times. To me, though, Wrestlemania just hasn't been that special since Austin won his first World Title at big number fourteen. The buildup to these big matches has been less than I'd expect. The payoffs have been dry, if they're even there at all. More often than not, Titan has been using the familiarity of the year's biggest draw to build toward their next big PPV event. Never had it been so obvious as last year, where April's Backlash served as more of a blowoff PPV than even Wrestlemania itself.

Now don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with giving the fans something to chew on in the 24 hours before the next airing of WWF RAW. Hey, that's half the reason the Monday after 'Mania is consistently the most watched Raw of the year. What I've got an issue with is the tactful delaying of something fans have been anticipating for almost an entire year. It's the simple factor of giving an audience what they want. If they're led to believe the Rock / Austin match they've paid thirty bucks for will be the last ever, chances are they won't be back if you end it in a DQ and tell them to "come back next time." Historically, Wrestlemania has served as a bookend, with potential to serve as a springboard into the future. It's not just another chapter, it's a conclusion... but it leaves plenty of space for the sequel.

Put frankly, the WWF has let me down at Wrestlemania for two years running now, and I've yet to decide if I'll give them a third chance or not. The potential for an absolutely incredible event is there, without question, and it only depends on the federation's ability to put the right pieces in the right places, hit the start button and follow through. This year, more than any other, the WWF has the leisure of picking and choosing their participants. Unlike years before, when the "elite" air of a Wrestlemania was compromised because of a small roster, the talent pool is literally overflowing as we head into 2001. Every man that made the machine work during the dry years is still around, (from Austin to HHH to inactives like Foley and Shawn Michaels) and they've added just about everyone that was giving them trouble from the competition as well (Benoit, Guerrero, Jericho and Raven.) There's no reason why they can't put together a fabulous card from start to finish this time, something to make up for the mistakes of the past two years and then some. Yet, still I find myself doubting.

Because it's still just a bit too early to start making calls about the Wrestlemania card, I've decided to seize the day and compile one of my own. I've taken my own interpretations of the current booking layout, thrown in a twist and let my imagination run wild with the results. What follows is my absolute dream Wrestlemania XVII card, with everything from the storylines leading up to it to the followthrough the next night on Raw and beyond. I've disobeyed several key guidelines in creating this, the most notable being my exclusion of some really big names. Missing from the roster is the Undertaker, the Big Show, Kane and several others who will no doubt play a big role in the actual follow through of this year's show. I've taken the liberty of adding a couple names to the mix that in all honesty might not be signed, sealed and delivered by the time late March rolls around. In all likelihood, this card could never happen the way I've planned it. However, there's still that slim chance, a chance that I find extremely intriguing. If nothing else, it should be a blast to see just how close (or how far away) the actual proceedings turn out to my own.

So, without further introduction, I give you my Wrestlemania X-Seven Wish List:

Dean Malenko vs. Taka Michinoku (For the Light-Heavyweight title)
A questionable choice, when big names like the 'Taker and Kane sit on the sidelines, but a justifiable one in my eyes. To prepare for every good main event, you first need an explosive curtain jerker that gets fans off their seats and eager for a night of crazy action. WCW hit a goldmine with the Cruiserweights, then promptly failed to follow through. Since the WWF has practically been in the business of profiting from WCW's mistakes, it's surprised me how long they've missed this one. Quick, incredible, slightly spotty action from the LHW division does the job in a hurry, giving fans more than just pyrotechnics to cheer about.

In the months leading up, I'd have the layer of dust cleaned from the Light Heavy title, slowly weaning fans into consistent title defenses on Raw and Smackdown every week. Malenko would adopt a stance similar to his Radical teammate Chris Benoit, claiming he's the best Light Heavyweight the WWF has ever seen, and would challenge anyone that thinks differently to "prove him wrong." Enter: parade of underused talent. Everyone from Crash Holly to Essa Rios would come out of the woodwork looking to accelerate their rocketship to stardom, and Malenko would handle each with ease. I'd move away from his current "James Bond" gimmick, and more towards the cocky, arrogant dickhead he portrayed back in ECW. He'd eliminate these men in the ring, then adopt a "told ya so" persona and leave the arena, dusting his hands along the way. One week before Raw, I'd give him a real test against Scotty Too Hotty (as the two had a mildly successful feud in the summer of 2000) that ends in a Malenko cloverleaf. Spitting on Scott's prone figure, Malenko would announce "this is what happens when you mess with the best," and would systematically destroy his downed opponent. I'd employ more than a little old school heeling, involving the use of a chair and the near total obliteration of the his opponent's leg. As the bell rings incessantly (as they always do) and Malenko shouting "PROVE ME WRONG!" a lone figure sprints to the ring, scoops up the Light Heavy champion and lands a picture-perfect Michinoku driver on the chair. Just like that, Malenko's out. Taka grabs the mic and says "I accept your challenge."

I'd build things around this "former champion meets the current regime" storyline, focusing heavily on Taka's extended title reign several years ago and the fact that they've never met with so much at stake. The match would be far from overbooked, with the quality of the fight itself depending on just what they feel up to at the time. They'd tell a story in the ring, with Malenko keeping to the mat and wearing down Taka's leg and Michinoku mounting the air attack, breaking out counters to maneuvers Dean didn't even know existed. Frustration would factor in about halfway through, as Malenko wouldn't be used to such a well-planned assault, and he'd start to get more desperate as time went on. About ten minutes in, I'd send Scotty Too Hotty out on crutches. Malenko would cinch in the Cloverleaf, only to watch Taka make the ropes. With both the ref and Dean-o distracted by Scotty and Taka recovering on the mat, nobody would notice Brian Christopher's sprint down the entryway, chair in hand. The ref still elsewhere, Dean would turn around to a faceful of steel. Spinning on his way to the mat, he'd be greeted by Taka and a heavy duty Michinoku driver. His attention once more on the match itself, the ref would count to three and Malenko would be sans his precious Light Heavy gold.

In the weeks after, I'd have Taka show a level of disgust over the way he gained the title, offering Malenko a rematch on Raw. Once again, Christopher would interfere and Taka would confront him. The three would head into a rotation of feuds, with Scotty Too Hotty returning in a couple weeks to make things even more interesting.

Raven vs. Tazz vs. Crash Holly (For the Hardcore Title)
This one's pretty elementary. You've got two notable ECW Hardcore veterans and a guy that's held the WWF Hardcore belt twice as many times as anybody else. Tazz and Raven never really started the feud they should have had, and though both have developed into their own men since then, they remain similar enough to make a feud based off their dismantled friendship really work. With the crowd ready to eat out of their hands following the surefire Taka / Malenko hit, these three would be allotted a little more leeway in their match structure, which is always a necessity in the Hardcore division.

The build, admittedly, would have had to start about a month before No Way Out... so I guess you can eliminate this one from the sketchbooks for the real Wrestlemania. I'd have set up a sort of brutal teacher / student relationship between Raven and Crash around that time, with Raven always the reluctant professor and Crash the kid that just won't leave him alone. More often than not, Crash would find himself through a window or into a box of "plunda" thanks to his role model, none the wiser but that much more ballsier. Through a consistent trial at the hands of Raven, Crash would develop from an Elroy Jetson clone to a tough as nails hardcore warrior, and Raven wouldn't notice or care at any point along the way. Crash would need a new look, something a little less "pro wrestling" and a little more "street fighting."

With the Crash Holly subplot running along full steam on the side, Raven would embark on a head-on feud with his old partner, Tazz. They'd throw a few verbal jabs at one another, they'd partake in a throwaway Raw hardcore match or two, but neither man would take a noticeable advantage as the federation barreled towards Wrestlemania. With both Tazz and Raven venting frustrations on Crash at one point or another, neither would realize he was developing into a competent worker until it was too late.

The three would go nose to nose at Wrestlemania, with most of the emphasis going towards Crash and his arrival as a serious force. They'd hit the usual junk spots, and I'm willing to bet they'd bust out one or two originals, as well. Perhaps an Evenflow off a loading dock or a face-down Tazzmission on a bed of thumbtacks. When the dust settles, though, Crash would "graduate" from his school of hard knocks, emerging as the new Hardcore champion before diving back into the remains of his opponents and continuing the brawl where it was last left off.

William Regal vs. Jerry Lynn (For the European Title)
I've always felt the European title should reflect some of the things that make European wrestling as a whole so unique, and by involving two guys that know their way around the ring like Regal and Lynn I think I've captured a lot of that. My vision may be completely flawed, but I've always seen the European style as a much more mat-oriented, submission heavy style. While the Japanese or Mexicans may like their boys to fly, the Europeans would rather see a man stretched to new heights of the imagination or brutalized with a vicious series of countless assaults. With Lynn a fresh debut and Regal continuing a hot heel run, (closely involved with Vince and Trish) a shot at the European title and the arrogant prick who holds it would be close to an ideal way to establish to Jerry Lynn as a credible competitor.

To begin with, obviously, I'd need to get the belt off Test, whose run has been nothing short of worthless. If the point was to put the belt around the waist of Test so the division wasn't forgotten while Regal recovers from an injury, why hasn't it been defended on TV for weeks? As JR and Lawler made a big deal about pointing out how they'd never seen anyone defeat Regal that quickly when the gold exchange took place, getting it back on Regal shouldn't be too much of a problem. Truth is often stranger than fiction, (and, in this case, more believable) so I'd send Regal out as soon as he's healthy and request a rematch for his title later in the night. As he wasn't working at 100% when the European title left his possession, officials shouldn't have any trouble granting him this shot (and his relationship with Vince couldn't hurt either.) I'd send Test out almost immediately, and sic Regal on his legs. He'd effectively ground the big man, making it near impossible to deliver any high impact maneuvers and keeping him from climbing to the top rope for the big elbow that ended their last encounter. Wrapping Test's big frame into the Indian death hold he'd been using as a finisher in the weeks before, Regal would make the big man squeal like a pig before submitting and handing over the title he probably shouldn't have won in the first place.

I'd keep the build for his match against Jerry Lynn quiet, possibly even billing him against a "mystery opponent," in the same vein as Tazz's debut against Kurt Angle one year ago. I'd keep storylines to a bare minimum, if at all, and would keep this one strictly underbooked. There would be no run-ins, no men gliding from the roof... just a quiet, pure wrestling match. I suppose it would serve as a test for the WWF's audiences, to see if they'd matured enough to accept an actual wrestling match again or if they needed T&A and pyrotechnics to keep their attention. In the end, Regal would go over by DQ or countout. Nobody deserves a taste of gold in their first match for the Federation, but it would be worth baiting the fans to see if they'd buy it with a teased title change at the finish.

Edge and Christian vs. X-Pac and Justin Credible (For the Tag Team Titles)
I know, it's been said already that X-Pac and Justin Credible won't be pursuing their fortune in the tag division. Credible is a fresh addition to the lineup and X-Pac is returning from several months on the shelf, meaning they're both motivated and ready to light the world on fire. If anything needs that match, it's the tag team division. With the Hollys acting as singles once again, the Hardys on the verge of a breakup and Kaientai suffering through a gimmick that even WCW rejected, things have certainly looked better in the tag scene. The makeshift pairing of the Undertaker and Kane won't last, and the Haku / Phatu Samoan Connection is going nowhere fast. Edge and Christian continue to improve, but there's only so many ways you can package the same matches between the same teams. We've seen every variation the Dudleys and the Suicide Blondes can put together, and without the addition of another team to the mix, things are getting stale rather quickly.

Of course, for this match to go over with fans at all, one of the teams would have to turn face. I'd make Edge and Christian my go-to guys. They've been something of a crowd favorite for some time now, even though they're still technically heels. It's only a matter of time before they officially turn, due to the audience's reaction alone. With Credible and X-Pac working as the super serious heels, E&C would have found a couple great foils for their overall comical package. Any other team might have trouble making a face turn work less than a month after stealing the titles from the Dudleys, but I think Edge and Christian have enough charisma and popularity to pull it off.

This one would likely be the least interesting of the night, since the two teams don't have much reason to be facing off, and the division is quickly being reduced to shambles. Fans wouldn't have reason to care about the match unless the four involved were to really heat it up. But even then, the results would be mixed at best. I'd put Edge and Christian over strong, poking fun at their all too serious opponents every step of the way and forcing them to make a critical mistake because of it.

Matt Hardy vs. Jeff Hardy
Things already seem to be breaking apart at the seams for these two, with Matt's recent relationship with Lita starting to take his attention away from the interests of the team. With a little prodding, a little jealousy, a couple poorly-aimed clotheslines and the right atmosphere, the crack in the brothers' relationship could become a rift faster than you could imagine. A love triangle is probably the best way to go here, and would bring about the most vocal reaction from the audience.

I'd do this one by the book, letting the Matt / Lita thing go on harmlessly for a little while before Jeff reveals that (surprise!) he, too, has a thing for the lovely miss Lita. Confronted about it, Lita can't bring herself to choose between the two, which further drives a wedge between the brothers. They'd begin to have trouble trusting each other in the ring, leading to a losing streak and mistimed / blown spots and finishes. On top of that, each would catch the other trying to spend a little bonus time with their fiery red haired manager. Finally, push would come to shove and they'd exchange to blows in the middle of a match, one walking out on the other and leaving him to be torn apart by their opposition. Upon returning to the back, they would decide there's only one way to settle things: a match at Wrestlemania, with Lita's hand at stake. Needless to say this doesn't sit well with her, but the boys have made up their minds, and the match is booked for the big WM.

I don't think I could do the match justice with words here, but if you think these two were explosive in their later matches with Edge and Christian, just imagine how crazy this one would be. I'd play it off as even for as long as possible, before Matt would take a late advantage. Taking a peek at the prize, sitting at ringside, he thinks he sees a bit of remorse in the eyes of miss Lita and confronts her about it. She swears it's not true, and before the issue can be pressed even further, Jeff levels his brother and rolls him up for a two count. Picking up where his sibling left off, Jeff accuses Lita of being partial to his brother and Lita decides enough is enough. She leaves the ringside area and climbs the entryway, with both Hardys in hot pursuit. As they near the backstage entrance, Lita hesitates as the two try to explain themselves. Suddenly, from out of the blue, Dean Malenko rushes from behind the curtain and flattens both Hardys with his (now signature) steel chair. Lita looks at Matt, looks at Jeff, looks up to Dean and slowly, cautiously joins him under the entryway. Dean extends an arm, and escorts her to the back. Game, set, match.

Chris Jericho vs. Eddy Guerrero (For the Intercontinental Title)
This one has a relatively solid story going for it already. It was against Jericho that Guerrero injured himself several months ago, putting him out of action for quite a while. Though it wasn't really Jericho's fault, that's never stopped the bookers before... so why start now? Left to their own means, Jericho and Guerrero could put together a tidy little feud, jabbing back and forth at one another both on the stick and on the mat.

This one's short and simple; overbook it, and you kill what could be the strongest match on the card. Guerrero and Jericho are two of the best at telling a story and following it up in the ring, and if you aren't letting them do their job then why are they even around? Guerrero would get the nod at Wrestlemania, but it wouldn't be the last time these two locked horns.

Chris Benoit vs. HHH vs. Steve Austin
It makes sense with the current bookings, and you aren't likely to find a better match anywhere else in America. Benoit finally hit full stride in the WWF halfway through 2000, HHH pretty much owned the Federation in Austin's absence, and Stone Cold himself is quickly returning to his old form. It's no secret they're building Benoit up for a full time main event push, as he was involved at the top of the card this past Monday and faced off against Austin on Smackdown one week ago today. HHH and the Rattlesnake have a long, storied history that I'd be surprised to see ended this weekend at the PPV, and at this point have yet to really reach their true potential in a one on one encounter. Basically, you could mix and match any combination of these three and have an instant match of the year candidate... so if you must have a three way this high on the card, you will not do any better than this.

The story picks up nicely from where things stand at this very moment. HHH and Benoit don't have a friendship, per se, but they do have a sort of understanding. An honor amongst thieves, if you will. Helmsley and Austin are desperately after each other's blood, and that won't wrap up with one match, three falls or not. I've got their No Way Out matchup booked as a knock down, drag out slobberknocker (for lack of a better word.) They'll shed blood, sweat and tears, and they'll tear each other's limbs off, but when that third fall reaches its critical last minute, Austin's "Don't Trust Anybody" attitude will come back to bite him in the ass. With HHH calling in the cavalry to get the better of his enemy, he finds a way to render Austin helpless as he climbs to the floor and takes the third fall by means of escaping the cage

Seething over his cheap loss to the Game at No Way Out, Austin's a single-line railroad, bound and determined to deconstruct HHH and everything he's ever stood for. So eager for a no holds barred rematch with Helmsley, is Austin, that he forfeits his title shot at the 'Mania. The powers that be determine the only way to name a new challenger is another Rumble, this time dominating an entire episode of Raw, and HHH has found his loophole. He plays his cards to perfection, securing the number 30 slot in the new Rumble, and infuriating Austin to no end. Stone Cold gave up his World Title shot to concentrate completely on The Game, and if HHH wins the #1 contender's spot, a match at Wrestlemania between the two is out of the question. Helmsley reads the writing on the wall, and in the moments before this second rumble, secures a ruling that if the Rattlesnake interferes in any way, he'll never have another match with HHH... ever again. The Rumble comes and goes, leaving Chris Benoit, the Rock, HHH and Chris Jericho as the final four. Working as a unit, HHH and Benoit tear the Rock to pieces and attempt to throw him over. They succeed, but don't notice that he never hit the floor, instead rolling under the bottom rope and resting on the apron. With Benoit and the Game continuing to function as a team, they make short work of Y2J and throw him all the way into the crowd. Seeing his chance, the Crippler uses their combined momentum to his advantage, almost effortlessly tossing the off-balance HHH to the floor as well, not a full second later. Austin erupts into laughter at the announce table, while Benoit blows a couple snot rockets in Helmsley's direction and bares his gap-toothed smile. Raising his arms, he turns to face the cameras... and is met by a Rocky clothesline that sends him spiraling over the top rope and all the way to the floor. The Rock celebrates in the ring, while Benoit and Helmsley butt heads on the ground. Finally, Austin chases them away by flinging multiple cans of brew at their heads, and shares one with the people's champ in the ring.

With the time for celebrations at an end, the three head to the biggest match of the year like wild dogs, taking cheap shots at one another every step of the way. Once the bell rings, they use their combined rage to make a new definition for the word brutality. It's an ugly, ugly brawl that leaves distinct trails of blood from the ring to the entryway to the crowd, and back into the ring again. With Helmsley saved from the Crippler Crossface by Austin, (and then subsequently treated to a stunner) Austin laid out thanks to a pedigree and Benoit barely maintaining consciousness on the floor thanks to an errant chair shot, the ref begins that long ten count. At five there's a little motion from each man. At eight they're each on one knee, and by ten Austin has reached his feet. As Benoit slowly rolls in, Austin slumps back against the ropes and HHH climbs to a vertical base, the Texas crowd explodes at the sight of the Heart Break Kid, Shawn Michaels. Maintaining a poker face, HBK doesn't break stride as he slides between the ropes and climbs into the ring.

With the audience silenced, he stares at each of the three men in the ring and plays the dramatic pause for everything it's worth. Slowly, purposefully, he takes off his commissioner's cowboy hat, followed by his shirt. Pulling the fabric over his head, he's a flurry of motion as he throws the shirt down and waffles Austin with some Sweet Chin Music. Breathing a sigh of relief, Helmsley gladly opens his arms for an embrace and tastes a little chin music of his own an instant later. Michaels looks at Benoit, points at Austin and shouts "Cover him!" With no choice due to the no-DQ stipulation, the ref counts the three. HBK raises Benoit's arm, surveys the damage, and walks to the back amidst a chorus of boos.

You can probably assume where this one would go... Austin and HHH continue their feud, while Benoit and HBK take the fed by storm as a tandem. With Michaels on the stick and Benoit in the ring, the duo is unstoppable, making their eventual split that much more heated. That's right, Shawn Michaels' first match back in a WWF ring comes against one Chris Benoit.

Kurt Angle vs. The Rock (For the WWF Title)
Face the facts; nobody expects Kurt Angle to retain this Sunday night, much less to arrive at Wrestlemania with the gold still fit snugly around his waist. As the Olympic hero himself mentioned on this past Monday's Raw, the plate seems to be set for an Austin / Rock main event at the grand event and he doesn't have a thing to say about it. Now face another fact; the WWF thrives on swerving its fans, giving them something they never expected. Everything about Kurt Angle's initial run in the WWF has defied the odds. He grabbed the European title, much to everyone's surprise, within months of his debut. He carried both that belt and the Intercontinental gold at the same time, another great surprise. He took a King of the Ring tournament from right under the noses of heavily-favored Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and Eddy Guerrero. Nobody, I mean NOBODY thought he had a chance in his title shot against the Rock several months ago. Even fewer figured he'd survive the Royal Rumble with his gold.

So here's something that might spoil part of "The World's Greatest No Way Out Preview" for you (coming this Saturday night.) I'm picking Kurt Angle. Of all the matches I've booked for this card, I'd wager this one is the most likely for the "real" Wrestlemania XVII. It's just the WWF's style. For the purposes of this column, though, here's how this Sunday's NWO matchup ends up; Angle gets a clean pin. His title reign has been surprisingly lacking in credible finishes, and he's hung on by the skin of his teeth time and time again. It seems like the only clean victories he's picked up as champion have come from Essa Rios. Not exactly the best man on the roster to put over your champion as a formidable contender. So Angle squeaks out a clean win at No Way Out, and he's set for a match against Royal Rumble winner Steve Austin at the big dance, right? Not quite. (see above)

From there this stuff writes itself. Rocky pokes fun at Angle every step of the way, and Angle shoots right back, mentioning his impressive record against the Rock in title matches. The match comes to pass, and it's every bit the classic you know it could be. With Angle unquestionably the strongest heel in the WWF and Rocky the quintessential face, you'd have to try to miss with this one. By the time the bell has tolled, the Rock's kicked out of the Olympic Slam, Angle's countered the People's Elbow with a precise clipping of Rocky's leg and the People's Champ has somehow defied the odds once again to become the first six time champ in WWF history.

Following up, Rocky would grant Angle the traditional rematch at Backlash, where he'd make things official with another victory over the Olympic champion before taking on the rejuvenated Chris Benoit, with Shawn Michaels in his corner.

And that, I suppose, is that. A Wrestlemania that wouldn't disappoint yours truly. Agree? Disagree? Let me know. When it all comes down to it, I'm sure everyone has their own idea of a dream Wrestlemania roster. Who makes the cut on yours...?
until then, i remain

Friday, February 16, 2001

Ringside Shadows #162: Rebirth (The WCW Cruiserweight Legacy, Part III)

Over the last couple weeks, I've taken a look at two very different divisions of, quite honestly, two very different companies. There's no denying the WCW of 1996 is a separate beast from the 2001 incarnation, and the same can be said for the cruiserweights employed therein. I also briefly covered the grey area in between the two competitive divisions, (roughly spanning most of 1999 and 2000) without which we likely wouldn't have even noticed a changing of the guard.

However, there remains little doubt that the cruiserweights as a whole have evolved. That guard most certainly has changed, and though it may be a little early to start playing favorites I'll be damned if I'm not gonna try. I set out on this little excursion with a simple goal in mind; to introduce readers to the cruiserweights they may have missed, (both past and present) to decide which version was the strongest, and to explain why. Perhaps it wasn't such a simple goal after all.

Regardless, in our long, strange journey I've introduced you to the top ten names in each respective version of the storied WCW Cruiserweight division. I've told you what made them special, what made them fail and what they brought to the division as a collective. Now all that's left is the judging.

It's been said that a whole is only as strong as the sum of its parts, and I'll be employing that logic, however flawed, in this instance. I'll take each figurative "part" from each collective, pair them off one against the other, and tell you who's the better man and why. In the end, the division with the most victories gets the nod as the strongest. Straightforward, and right down the middle. So let's get started.

Kidman ('97) v. Shane Helms
I chose to lead off with this one because, quite simply, these two were pegged "the one to watch" for their own respective eras. With Kidman, we had a young man suffering under the crushing mental presence of Raven. It was clear he was holding something back, and the potential that he'd break something out during any particular episode of Nitro brought viewers time and time again. With Helms, the story is a bit different but the theme remains the same. Though Evan Karagias never had any sort of intimidating "mental presence" holding Helms back, he was never given the shot he deserved until the unofficial leader of Three Count was dubiously dumped. There's no question this kid's got potential, and he's only now being given the chance to make it or break it. Fans know these two are going places in a hurry, and I'd be willing to bet Helms undergoes a coming of age similar to Kidman's before this new run of cruisers comes to a close.

With both, you've got absolutely outstanding finishers, though each walks a tightrope between success (and the adoration and respect of the fans) and disaster (and the terrible feeling that a fellow worker's been injured, perhaps severely, because of your own mistake.) Both the shooting star press and the vertebreaker are absolutely breathtaking maneuvers, but carry with them a certain level of danger as well. With both guys you've also got a strong technical basis in the ring and an understanding of how to tell a story and involve the audience over the course of a five or ten minute match. Each knows how to pace a match, not only for themselves but for their opponents, and comes out of an average match looking like gold as a result.

The only thing really setting these two apart is their work on the mic. And while Helms isn't exactly what I'd call an expert in that aspect, he's head and shoulders ahead of the Kidman we saw in 1997. Call it a natural progression, call it the new rules of the game, I call it the deciding factor in this face-off. Helms gets the nod, with a game just a tad more complete than that of the Kidman that frequented ringside with Raven's flock.
Old School: 0   New School: 1

Ultimo Dragon v. Yang
Following up on the neck and neck race of Kidman / Helms, we get something of a no-contest here. In one corner, you've got a man who helped shape the junior/cruiser style, and in the other is an immature, spotty Bruce Lee clone. That's not to say the two aren't without their similarities, however few and far between those might be.

With the Dragon, you had a man that just oozed respect. He managed to maintain his integrity through everything, even one or two vintage Chris Jericho mockeries, and brought a sense of honor and professionalism to the ring every time. Yang, on the other hand, is still in the process of finding himself. His work in the ring has covered everything from a high flying lucha to a kickboxing martial art to a thin comedy act. Though he's slowly gaining experience and growing comfortable with time, (as evidenced by his strong match on Nitro against Lash Leroux) he's still not playing in the same league as the Ultimo Dragon.

Both work a lot of kicks into their offense, and have no trouble in the area of ingenuity (Dragon with his spectacular kicking combos and Yang with his run up the opponent's body in the corner, for example.) However, it all once again comes back to a matter of professionalism. No matter if he was performing the standard fare or inventing a new maneuver by the seat of his pants, the Ultimo Dragon gave us the sense he was always in control... even when gasping for air in a headlock. Yang, though, makes everything seem spontaneous and rushed. Even his standard fare seems sloppy and unplanned, causing audiences to question his ability. Put simply, without a lot of fine tuning and repackaging, Yang wouldn't have made it in the cruiserweight divison of 1997. The Dragon takes the blowout here.
Old School: 1   New School: 1

Psychosis v. Elix Skipper
Here, I've paired off two of the more overlooked members of their respective divisions, Psychosis in 1997 and Elix Skipper in 2001. While Skipper's been given many of the benefits Psychosis never enjoyed, (membership in the successful Team Canada stable and plenty of camera / mic time) the man in the mask holds a distinctive advantage of his own; two separate reigns as the Cruiserweight champion.

Neither of these guys had really been given their big shot at this point in their career, which actually seems to have fueled the flames a bit. Because they're fighting for the chance they both deserve, each is working twice as hard just for the opportunity. They're putting on stronger and stronger matches, and though it's a shame the bookers have yet to notice, they're strengthening themselves in the process.

Both were members of a stable at one point, though it took them in distinctly different directions. Psychosis joined the ill-fated LWO near the end of the original cruiserweight division, where he lost most of his individuality behind a sea of white, red and green. Though each luchadore got more time on tv and a sense of direction behind their actions, the group was just too large to manage. When Eddy Guerrero was injured in an automobile accident and the LWO was disbanded, many members were worse off than when the angle began. However, with Elix Skipper's Team Canada, the stable is evolving to suit the needs of its individual members. Instead of Fourteen members, Team Canada has four. With the smaller numbers comes the ability to focus on individual needs, advancing both the stable and its members at the same time.

And in the end, that's what it comes down to. In the ring Psychosis had the advantage, but Skipper's name is much more likely to go places because of his association with the Canadians. Psycho's two runs with the belts didn't net him half the exposure Skipper's single reign and run with Lance Storm has. It doesn't matter that Psychosis was doing it better, Skipper's doing it before a larger audience. One more for the young guns.
Old School: 1   New School: 2

Dean Malenko v. Lash Leroux
Boy, if you ever had to pick two opposites, these would be your men. In Malenko you've got an unbelievably sound worker with little to no personality, charisma or storyline advancements. He'd stalk to the ring, tear his opponent to shreds and emotionlessly return to the back. In Leroux, what you see is what you get. He's the embodiment of charisma and personality, but his ringwork leaves a lot to be desired. Leroux would rather dance to the ring, pose in a couple corners, hit his finisher and dance to the locker rooms.

I suppose it comes down to my own personal preference; professional wrestling vs. sports entertainment. Malenko is every bit the old time pro wrestler, a throwback to the days before today's elaborate angles, swerves and smart marks. He'd fit in just as well twenty years ago as he would today, and would actually have flourished in the old market. Leroux is sports entertainment in a shiny new package, complete with sideburns echoing his first and last names. He's heavy on the entertainment and light on the sports, though things could most certainly be different. He has shown fleeting moments of brilliance between the ropes, but those times are few and far between. With a little effort, Lash could become an adept worker in the ring. Granted, not on the level of Malenko, but improved from his current state nonetheless. And, I suppose, something should be said for flexibility in that right. But in my book, pro wrestling beats out sports entertainment every day of the week. I'd rather see Chris Benoit work than Buff Bagwell, a rewind to Flair vs. Steamboat over a fast forward to Kane vs. The Big Show. And, since I'm the one making the final verdict, that gives Malenko the "V" here.
Old School: 2   New School: 2

Syxx v. Billy Kidman ('01)
The tale of the refreshed talents. In the case of Syxx, you had a man that flopped around the ranks of the WWF for years after a big introduction as the 1-2-3 Kid. After that first big feud with Razor Ramon, bookers never really knew what to do with him, and he was eventually released. When WCW picked him up, it sent new enthusiasm rushing through his veins. The Kid became Syxx, and Syxx started to burn things up. He was the division's first absolute heel, and he loved every minute of it. Kidman's story is surprisingly similar. Credited as one of WCW's greatest in-house success stories, he was jetrocketed from the ashes of the cruiser division into a bigtime feud against Hulk Hogan at the head of the "New Blood" storyline. Unfortunately, that feud led to absolutely nothing, and Kidman went into a long, uncharted freefall. Recently, though, with the rebirth of the division that gave him his first opportunity, Kidman's slowly begun to realize what set him ablaze all those years ago. He's relishing the opportunity to walk that path once again, and has begun to warm things up as a result.

This call's a close one. Both are absolutely tremendous workers, both have the recognizability factor behind them all the way and both have clearly defined roles and motivations within the division. Neither's unwilling to take one for the team, lending a sense of unpredictability to their matches. They both know what goes into a good match, and have the right tools to bring it to fruition. Syxx has something of an advantage thanks to his association with the red hot nWo, but Kidman balances it back out with his experience, both within the original cruiser division and elsewhere on the card.

To be honest, this one could've just as well been decided by the toss of a coin. These two are extremely well balanced head to head, but for the purposes of this column I've got to choose a winner. For my dollar, that winner is Kidman because his supporting roster was a bit weaker than Syxx's. While it's relatively easy to produce a great match against the likes of a peaking Eddy Guerrero or Chris Jericho, the same cannot be said of the "coming of age" roster backing Billy Kidman. The great majority of his opponents haven't really hit full stride yet, but Kidman's carried on great matches with the lot all the same. It takes just a little bit more to put on a great show against Elix Skipper than it does against the Ultimo Dragon, and that little bit is what puts Kidman over here.
Old School: 2   New School: 3

Eddy Guerrero v. Shannon Moore
I don't think I'd be completely off base in comparing this to the Ultimo Dragon / Yang face-off from earlier in the column. Though Shannon Moore brings a much more refined style to the ring than Yang, his opposition is one of the all time greats worldwide in the style. While Moore is willing to take great liberties with his body to entertain the fans, Guerrero does so with style. There was just so much substance to Eddy at this point, so many ways he could beat you, that I don't think there's a man on the list who could hold a torch to him.

In this instance, it's just another case of experience overshadowing the youth. Shannon Moore is a tremendous risk taker, but he's still miles away from the Eddy Guerrero that dominated that cruiserweight division in the mid '90s. There isn't really much more that can be said here... Guerrero sweeps all the categories. He was the total package, and Moore is not.
Old School: 3   New School: 3

Juventud Guerrera v. Kaz Hayashi
Here we've got two men, held back to an extent because of the language barrier, but ultimately overcoming that by doing what they do best. In Guerrera, the division had a little ball of charisma. His ring entrance alone was enough to interest most fans, and that's saying a lot since he was one of the few on the roster without pyro thrown in for added effect. Guerrera was just that exciting on his own. While Kaz may be lacking a bit in this department, he makes up all that lost ground when the bell tolls and the match gets underway.

Guerrera gave his division much of its spunk, and Kaz is to thank for the depth of his. Both men are rather underspoken in the grand theme of things, though the feel of their particular eras would have been quite different without them. Head to head, the two are once again (and not surprisingly) very evenly matched. Though Juvi was given more than a couple big breaks and chances, something always managed to go wrong and he kept ending up no better off than before. Sometimes WCW was to blame, sometimes it was "The Juice" himself. For Kaz, though, the story is just a little bit different... he never got the chance to screw up his big shot. He's always been stuck at the bottom of the card, overshadowing the workers forced to follow him with a tremendous curtain jerker, before vanishing for a while.

That little tidbit, though, is what puts Kaz ahead in my book. While they're both outstanding at what they do, Juventud's had the blessing of the men in charge more than once and nothing's come of it. Once Hayashi blows his first big run, things may be a bit different.
Old School: 3   New School: 4

Rey Mysterio, Jr. ('97) v. Rey Mysterio, Jr. ('01)
An interesting comparison, to say the least. Mysterio's changed a lot more than his wardrobe in four short years, and not all of it's been for the better. Allow me to expand.

During the heyday of the first cruiserweight division, Rey Mysterio, Jr. was the most innovative, inventive and downright suicidal cruiserweight in the business. He'd hit every spot, come up with a few new ones, throw in a twist and turn the whole thing into a hurricanrana pinning combo. He could worm his way out of just about anything, and his size allowed him blistering speed and an almost weightless ability to take flight. Somewhere along the line though, all this torture took a great toll on his knee. Noticing the problem, Rey took the necessary time off for an operation. In his absence, the division was in the capable hands of Chris Jericho, Juventud Guerrera and Dean Malenko, but still Mysterio longed to be back into the mix of things. Unfortunately, the call of the competition was too great. Rey rushed back too quickly and promptly reinjured his knee. He'd never be the same again.

Now maskless and outfitted in devil horns, camo, jeans, a gas mask or whatever else is lying about backstage, Mysterio is a changed man. His high flying days are over, and though he still maintains a lot of the speed that made him such a thrill to watch, he's put it to use in a different way. Rey's become a man of method, very rarely shifting from his strict moveset and sticking to what he knows is safe. He'll hit the swing between the top and middle rope once a match, and will usually manage to hit his bronco buster. Quite a change from the man that rarely performed the same combo twice not half a decade earlier. Like Kidman, Rey's become more mat oriented in recent years... but that's not to say he never climbs to the top of the ropes.

He's just a different man. The new Mysterio is lacking many of the qualities that attracted us to him in the years gone by. In many ways, he's taken the "mystery" out of Mysterio.
Old School: 4   New School: 4

Chris Jericho v. Chavo Guerrero, Jr.
Finally, we get to the two that arguably led the pack. In every sense of the word, Chris Jericho gave personality to the cruiserweight division of the mid '90s. He lent it meaning, and it gave him stardom. Alternately, Chavo Guerrero, Jr. was just what the division needed in 2001 to steer it out of the nosedive in which it had been stuck.

Both started their WCW careers as watered down faces, piling victories under their belts and slowly gaining attention from fans along the way. They were good in the ring, but it was going to take something more... in both cases, a heel turn was just what the doctor ordered. In their newly discovered personalities, both wasted no time in shedding their image(s) as just another face rookie and shattered any preconceived notions fans may have had about their integrity. Jericho threw temper tantrums, destroying several David Penzer suits along the way. Chavo deserted his fellow MIA comrades, and tempted his former teammates to follow in his footsteps.

Along with their turns came a renewed interest in their matches. Jericho became more fierce, absolutely obliterating any who stood in his way and running from those that managed to sneak in a little offense. Chavo embraced the old style, relying on cheap tricks and low blows to net him an extended run with the cruiserweight title. These were two outstanding young men, doing what they did best in the right forum and getting all the right kind of attention along the way. They were similar in every category but one... and that one was Jericho's specialty.

When it came to building lasting, believable feuds, there were two categories in the mid '90s: Chris Jericho and... not... Chris Jericho. The "Lyin' Heart" was truly in a class of his own when it came to draining every last drop of rage out of the crowds that gathered to watch him work. Whether he was wearing Juventud Guerrera's mask or tearing up his fans' signs in the crowd, Jericho could find a way to turn anyone against him in the blink of an eye. Probably the pinnacle of his run in WCW came during the very first Nitro in Canada, when he thanked the wildly cheering fans for all their support... and promptly turned them on him in less than twenty seconds. In this respect, Jericho remains unmatched. He was the greatest, and I'm sorry to say Chavo can't hold a torch to that.
Old School: 5   New School: 4

(Left off the list were the "Foreign Stars" and Jamie Knoble, as it really wouldn't be fair to compare Japan, Mexico and America's absolute finest against a talent that hasn't yet gained the chance to prove himself in today's market.)

So there you have it. For my money, the old school is still the greatest. Still, that the battle was this close really says a lot for the new cruiserweights, and everything they represent. In many ways, this is still a work in progress, as the new boys are just now coming into their moment in the sun. Age is always very kind to the memory, and I'm sure quite a bit of that factored into my evaluation. But I wonder... when it's all said and done will this new generation have proven me wrong? Honestly, I'd love to see it. The matches we've been treated to on Nitro have been steadily increasing in quality for months now. Given a couple more, we could be seeing a new renaissance for the cruiserweights. It's gonna be an interesting time for these guys. Do yourself a favor and tune in once in a while... you'll be glad that you did.
until then, i remain

Tuesday, February 13, 2001

The World's Greatest WWF No Way Out 2001 Preview

It's been quite a while since the last "World's Greatest" pairing, and I'm ready to tear into this. The No Way Out event (regardless of what name it may have been going by in the past) has traditionally been a really, really hot PPV. Everyone's looking forward to the upcoming Wrestlemania roster, and workers are busting their asses to prove they deserve a spot on the next month's card. The magic is starting to fill the air, and though they're holding back more than a little for next month's big blowoff, this year's NWO looks to be a solid hit regardless.

Of course, I'd be lying if I said the card looked promising without that big Austin / Triple H match near the main event. The Big Show hasn't interested me in the hardcore division, and I'm waiting anxiously for that angle to finish up. Jericho and Benoit have met a bit too often over this past year, as have the Dudleys and Edge and Christian, dulling the impact of those otherwise-worthwhile matches earlier in the night. Kurt Angle and the Rock seem poised to deliver a memorable one, but the attention of this night isn't on the Federation Gold.. all eyes are set fixedly on the HHH / Austin bout. The possibilities are really endless, but I'll get further into that in the match description. Honestly, the WWF has given us better lineups.. however, the undeniable heat emanating from Austin and Helmsley, combined with that extra boost heading into Wrestlemania make this one worth watching all the same.

Jerry Lawler vs. Steven Richards

I've a love-hate relationship with this match. On one hand, I love the fact that Steven Richards is finally getting a chance to show what he's got in a big WWF gimmick. On the other, he's doing so in a feud against Jerry Lawler, a man I'd rather see behind the announce table than in the ring actively participating. The first time The King stood up to defend his colleague's honor against Tazz many moons ago, I thought it was a nice little segment. Little did I realize it would lead to a feud with the Human Suplex
Machine, let alone a near full-time return to the ring. But you take what you get, I suppose, and what we've got this Sunday is Lawler facing off against his natural foil, the leader of Right to Censor. If kept short and concise, I won't have a problem with this. The storyline makes sense, and the audience is interested. A swerve is almost blatant here, with the Kat making a turn on her sweetheart and joining the RTC on her own.
Winner: Steven Richards

Raven vs. The Big Show
Hardcore Title Match

As I mentioned in the introduction, I think the Big Show is a near-worthless addition to the WWF Hardcore division. With Raven slowly building a new character in the WWF through broken windows and bent steel, nothing good can come of his feud with the Big Show, save a highly unlikely clean victory over the seven footer. Raven's good, but he isn't good enough to make Paul Wight look decent, which is why this won't be pretty. The Show takes the victory here, perhaps revealing the identity of Raven's "mystery driver" along the way.
Winner: The Big Show

Stephanie McMahon vs. Trish Stratus

As most long time readers should know, I'm no fan of female wrestling. I enjoy a little T&A as much as the next guy, but there's a line between entertainment and overexposure. The way I see it, valets did better work outside the ring than inside. With that said, I can actually let this little match slide for a change. The buildup has been fun and believable (if a little over the top), and I seriously doubt Steph and Trish will carry the athletics beyond a five minute period. Though another swerve isn't entirely out of the question, I'd be surprised to see it happen here. This is a feud that should wrap up prior to Wrestlemania, and a screwjob or run-in would ensure that it goes on for another month at the least. Steph gets the nod from me, thanks more to her backup (HHH) than her expertise as a worker.
Winner: Stephanie McMahon

Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit vs. X-Pac vs. Eddy Guerrero
Intercontinental Title Match

With the inclusion of Benoit almost an afterthought, the bookers have managed to line up what should by all means be an absolutely explosive match. Though Jericho's been lagging for nearly his entire WWF run, Guerrero and Benoit haven't. X-Pac, when motivated, is among the best in the game, and this will be his first experience with Benoit or Guerrero under the hot lights of a PPV. Add to that his momentum, coming back from an extended absence, and he's got every reason to put on a show. What's surprised me the most about this feud hasn't been the action, though, it's been the ineffectiveness of the booking. With arguably the federation's top four workers all piling into one ring with the Intercontinental title on the line, you'd figure they'd make this one of the cornerstone feuds, upon which the entire buyrate is based. Instead, they've given X-Pac and Eddy almost identical motivations, Jericho has been set afloat with little direction and Benoit hasn't really been introduced to the mix.

Still, if you're looking for an exciting match between the ropes, you shouldn't have to look much further. These guys know what they're doing, and they love to prove it. Though the balance may be a ways off, as three heels are chasing the lone face champ, I'd imagine things would work themselves out once that opening bell tolls. For my money, X-Pac needs this reign the most and he's my choice for a victor here.
Winner: X-Pac

The Dudley Boyz vs. Edge & Christian vs. The Undertaker & Kane
Tables Match for the WWF Tag Titles

See last month's WWF Preview. Edge and Christian really can't do much more with the Dudleys (and vice versa), and though the match won't be something you'd like to sleep through, it's bound to be lacking some of the raw energy and enthusiasm that helped get these two sets of brothers to the top in the first place. The addition of the Undertaker and Kane to the mix actually serves as a hindrance here, with E&C playing the lightweight speedsters and the Dudleys filling out the role of the power-oriented champs.

Their act may be getting tired, but it's something that works. I fear the Taker and Kane will throw that all out the window, between their contagious no-selling and slower than syrup pacing. The Undertaker's really starting to show his age, and I don't think it'll ever be as obvious as when he's opposed by someone like Christian. I subscribe to John's idea.. the WWF is building toward a 'battle of the bros' between the dead men and the Samoans. The less talented team walks out of this one with the gold.
Winners: The Undertaker & Kane

Kurt Angle vs. The Rock
WWF Title Match

Because I don't think I could put it this well again (and because I'm incredibly lazy), I'm going to paraphrase from my recent post here. Face the facts; nobody expects Kurt Angle to retain this Sunday night, much less to arrive at Wrestlemania with the gold still fit snugly around his waist. As the Olympic hero himself mentioned on this past Monday's Raw, the plate seems to be set for an Austin / Rock main event at Wrestlemania and he doesn't have a thing to say about it. Now face another fact; the WWF thrives on swerving its fans, giving them something they never expected. Everything about Kurt Angle's initial run in the WWF has defied the odds. He grabbed the European title, much to everyone's surprise, within months of his debut. He carried both that belt and the Intercontinental gold at the same time, another great surprise. He took a King of the Ring tournament from right under the noses of heavily-favored Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and Eddy Guerrero. Nobody, I mean NOBODY thought he had a chance in his title shot against the Rock several months ago. Even fewer figured he'd survive the Royal Rumble with his title reign uninterrupted.

That's why I expect Angle to shock the critics once again and march out of No Way Out with the gold firmly in hand. Not because Rocky isn't a deserving champion, not because the WWF loves to fool their fans, but because Angle's initial run with McMahon has broken all the rules. It would contradict his character to drop it in such a predictable spot. Maybe he'll job the gold on the way to Wrestlemania, maybe he'll lose it at the event itself. Hell, he might even become the second heel to ever successfully defend in a WrestleMania main event. The fact of the matter is I'd rather see Angle / Austin than Austin / Rocky. The Olympian retains.
Winner: Kurt Angle

Steve Austin vs. Triple H
2/3 Falls Match

And I thought they didn't make matches like this any more. I'll give it up to the WWF here; they've made me almost forget the near miss of Angle / HHH earlier in the year by pushing this as strongly as they have. Everything's been handled flawlessly by the two old veterans, from the little things they've done to get on each other's nerves to the intense, head on collisions that nearly voided their contract. I'm a firm believer that a good storyline can best a flat out brawl any day of the week, and this proves my point. Had the bookers handled this like any other feud (ending Raw after Raw with a Stunner from behind or a Pedigree on a chair), it wouldn't have been nearly as special. Everyone has put so much into this feud that it would really surprise me to see it blown off in one match. Honestly, it would only serve to disappoint me. They already pulled that once this year, twice might be a little much to handle.

With Stone Cold surprising just about everyone (well.. everyone but you John, as you'll no doubt remind us..heh..) by overcoming neck surgery and returning to a form he'd abandoned years ago, it's reminded me why he's one of the all time greats. Pairing up with HHH, the man who's pretty well owned the WWF in Austin's absence, I don't see how Austin can go wrong. Mark my words, this will be one of the all time greats.. worthy of every little bit of praise and promotion it gets. I'll take the Rattlesnake, but can't rule out a surprise Helmsley victory either.
Winner: Steve Austin

In Closing...

A surprisingly stale bottom of the card is countered immeasurably by a white hot set of mid card and main event matches. This would be worth the thirty bucks for the World Title match, Intercontinental brawl and two out of three falls warzone alone. If the rest is kept to a minimum and these three face-offs achieve half of what they promise, this PPV will be a resounding success
until next time, i remain

Friday, February 9, 2001

Ringside Shadows #161: Rebirth (The WCW Cruiserweight Legacy, Part II)

Last week I took a look at the cornerstone of the WCW product in the late '90s, the widely-regarded cruiserweight division. We took a peek at the events that eventually spawned the division, the workers who made it extraordinary and the decisions that would eventually cripple it. For over a year, the once-proud cruiserweight gold was passed from mistake to mistake, taking everything the Malenkos and Jerichos had worked to achieve and sending it all back to square one. Everyone from Oklahoma to Madusa had a run with the belt, and when they appeared to have exhausted all their other options, they finally did what should've been done in the first place... they gave a motivated worker a chance.

Though he's only been champion for just over two months now, Chavo Guerrero Junior has done what nobody else had the guts to. He stopped the bleeding, and started things back in the right direction. The result was almost instantaneous. Chomping at the bit for their chance in the spotlight were two handfuls of true cruiserweight potentials, otherwise overlooked and left to rot by the promotion. In some, we'd seen the latent potential months before, while others were almost complete surprises. Every last one of them was dedicated to reviving the forgotten cruiserweight tradition.

Add that to what was left of the old days (a bruised Rey Mysterio, Jr. and a Kidman that had begun to slack off) and you had something. Though I'm sure it was more than coincidence, this re-establishment of the cruisers came about during the same months that one Eric Bischoff was being courted by Turner for a possible buyout of the federation. Almost as soon as his name was mentioned in serious negotiations, Chavo was crowned champion. As the talks became more serious, the division got more air time, a greater chance to get over with the crowd. Now that the sale is official, Bischoff has made a point of returning the cruisers to their former glory. Business is about to pick up... but are the gladiators really ready for their one big shot?

Like I said, for many of these guys it's their first real shot at stardom. They haven't yet had the time to develop into what they could be, but then again neither did their predecessors. Sure, there was the occasional international star; Rey Mysterio, Jr. was quite a name both in Japan and Mexico, as was Psychosis. Chris Jericho and Dean Malenko were both a part of the Super J Cup tournament and ECW before joining the fed. The fact of the matter is this was their first exposure with one of the big two, and they ran the length of the field to score a touchdown. It was one of those all too rare instances of being in the right place at the right time, and WCW couldn't help but run with it. None of the first generation cruisers were even a whisper under the breath of the mainstream world, but with hard work and dedication they overcame that and, in the process, carved their own little niche into the card.

So, what are the chances of a repeat performance? Better than you'd think. While this new lineup may be compiled of names and gimmicks you've never seen anywhere but at the bottom of the card, each one is a veritable diamond in the rough, ready to break out and prove himself worthy of your attention. Whether or not they're worth that attention is, in the end, your call. So let's take a look at the contestants...

The most easily overlooked of the former Jung Dragons, which stood as a pretty highly overlooked group on its own. While that would usually dog ear Yang as the underdog, heralded and praised by the internet as a whole, in this instance I think the label is fitting. Yang's Bruce Lee imitation schtick is good for a laugh the first time you see it, but quickly becomes tedious after repeat viewings. To overcome this, Yang should've done something to train himself as a formidable fighter, so that just as viewers thought they'd seen everything in his arsenal, he could take a step back and really redefine himself. And while he's tried some very innovative things with kicks, combination and whatnot, Yang just hasn't reached the point where he's anything more than a comedy act.

Given a proper training, a little ingenuity and a lot of balls, Yang could yet provide a little diversity to the cruiserweight scene. With the right build, stipulations and workers, a martial artist / pro wrestler clash could work remarkably, and with a little image tweaking, (read: a haircut) Yang could possibly fill that role. As is, he's still quite a ways from making a difference.

Jamie Knoble
Himself a former Jung Dragon, Jamie Knoble was the one most set for a push coming out of their virtually unpublicized breakup. With the momentum of a big face turn and the aforementioned split behind him, Knoble was almost instantly thrust back into a tag team situation with Evan Karagias, formerly of Three Count. Instead of propelling him to a higher slot on the card, Knoble's push landed him in an even worse situation. With the Dragons, Knoble had a rapport. Months on the road together had given the three an unspoken form of communication. Their teamwork was growing more precise as they began to mesh as a unit, and they were beginning to experiment with double team combinations and signature maneuvers. By rushing headfirst into a team with Karagias, Knoble lost the bond he'd formed with his old teammates and was forced to start from scratch with a new one. What's more, he was expected to do so within the framework of a much more emphasized triple threat tag scene (against the remaining members of Three Count and the Dragons, respectively.) Under higher pressure to perform, the Knoble and Karagias team crumbled quickly.

Of course, the real tragedy of the whole mess is we never got a chance to see if Knoble had what it takes as a singles wrestler. In the tag division, he's just another cookie cutter cruiserweight. He'll throw himself from the top rope to the floor or take a suicide dive between the ropes, but it's missing the unique flair that sets the superstars apart from the also-rans. To make the kind of impact I know he can, Knoble needs to find himself. He needs something that makes fans sit up and take notice, a vehicle similar to Jeff Hardy's Swanton Bomb. Something that's often imitated but never duplicated. Once he discovers that, the rest should fall in line on its own, as he's got the basics down pretty well.

Billy Kidman
Since the end of the first cruiser regime, Kidman's been in a sort of wild freefall, occasionally producing a good match or heartfelt interview, but generally going absolutely nowhere. He's eliminated what was his trademark, the shooting star press, from his arsenal and has limited a lot of the high flying style that thrust him to our attention in the first place. Where Kidman would thrill us by topping himself week after week in the late '90s, today his matches seem uninspired and downright dull. I suppose one can't blame him, as his high profile feud with Hulk Hogan led only to several consecutive jobs and a cheap victory that did absolutely nothing for his credibility. More than anyone else on this list, Kidman needs a boost, a jolt, something to get him going again.

Case in point: the limits he's placed on his style. However understandable his decision to cut back on the high flying may be, the fact of the matter is he hasn't replaced it with anything to keep our attention. When Jushin "Thunder" Lyger was forced to dramatically decrease his own aerial game due to knee problems several years ago, he didn't just cut down his moveset and carry on with business as usual... instead, he took some time off and organized a completely new plan of attack. While his knee recovered, Lyger was developing and mastering a highly technical, psychology-strong assault. When he made his big return to New Japan, fans were watching a new worker. It was his ability to entertain and risk it all that got him where he is today, but it's his adaptability that keeps him there. Kidman could stand to learn a lesson or two from his story.

Lash LeRoux
LeRoux remains one of the untapped talents in WCW, which is more than likely where he'll remain for some time. Though he's got all the personality you could ask for in a worker, (some might say too much) more than a little charisma and better than average skills on the mat, LeRoux just can't seem to get a break. He's floated from a bad gimmick to a bad stable, back to a bad gimmick. His on screen character is uninspiring. His personality is just so goofy, fans can't take him seriously, even when he's whuppin' a little ace in the ring.

I'd say a repackage would be the answer here, but he'd be too easy to recognize. And once the audience makes that recognition, the floodgates have opened and the gimmick's as good as dead. What Lash really needs to do is concentrate on his game. He needs to put on a serious face and just get to the ring, get the job done, and head to the back. Given some time, fans will accept this new attitude and he might just make it out unscathed. If that happens, the sky's the limit. LeRoux has talent, but I'm willing to bet he'll continue to waste it for the rest of his career.

Kaz Hayashi
An absolutely exceptional talent, left out of the loop because he can't speak English. I suppose I could call him the Essa Rios of WCW, except Kaz is about twleve times more talented than Essa on his best day. It's really too bad they won't give Hayashi a shot, because he's proven time and time again how easily he can get a crowd up and on its feet through body language alone. He knows how to build a killer match, bumps extremely well and can make just about anybody look like a million bucks. His only disadvantages are his height and that language barrier thing. Fans want to like this guy, but WCW just won't let them.

Now, if we've learned the right lesson from last week's post, we'll see Hayashi's big shot could be coming right up. Bischoff isn't the stickler Russo was in terms of cutting a promo. If he can tell the story in the ring better than he can on the mic, Eric's cruiserweight division is where he belongs. Barring injury or downright bad luck, Kaz could be getting his turn sooner rather than later.

Shane Helms
I'll put this bluntly; Shane Helms could be the future. It's little secret how much I like this guy, and if you watched his performance in the Cruiserweight gauntlet match on Thunder a couple weeks ago, you know why. His pseudo-finisher, the vertebreaker, is one of the most vicious moves in American wrestling today. He wrestles a balanced game in the ring, never relying too heavily on spots and giving his opponents a straightforward pace they have no problem keeping up with. Polishing off the whole mess is his quickly developing mic presence, and the gimmick he and Shannon have absolutely nailed since Karagias was dumped.

Helms is just about perfect for the cruiserweight division. He's not too big to keep up with the little guys, but he's also not small enough to rule out a future run into the upper midcard or main event. But that's looking quite a ways down the line.

What makes Shane so great is his ability to work a consistently good match with just about anyone, be it Chavo Guerrero, Jr or that fat woman who accompanied Mike Awesome to the ring many moons ago. Because he understands pacing, the crowd isn't left to suffer through extended rest holds and boring splotches. They're instead treated to an entertaining matchup from start to finish, and respond accordingly. While he's still just a tad green, Helms is on his way to big things in a hurry. Here's hoping the experience of a couple cruiser veterans rubs off on him.

Elix Skipper
A nice hybrid of styles, though I couldn't tell you which ones. Elix is relatively unrefined, and with a little extra training / tightening up, could go places. Teaming him with Lance Storm was one of the wisest decisions WCW has made in the last six months, as the two have great chemistry together and lift each other to heights otherwise unreachable as singles. With the "Team Canada" gimmick working for him, Skipper has the most heat of all the new cruisers and he hasn't exploited it. He doesn't flaunt the gimmick, like Kevin Nash or Hollywood Hogan would the nWo, we know he's affiliated with Storm's Canadians, and he doesn't have to keep reminding us about it.

Between the ropes, Skipper's solid but not extraordinary. He's got some inventive stuff and a spot or two, he knows how to get back and forth, but the opponent selection has a lot to do with how his matches turn up when push comes to shove. His personality is strong, though borderline annoying, and his promos get the point across. Skipper runs par for the course for the new generation.

Rey Mysterio, Jr.
Mysterio's transformed quite a bit over the last couple years. From the most inventive flyer in the game to a more well rounded, however gimmicky, small fighter. I don't like some of what he's done with his ringwork (notably, the devil horns and the bronco buster), but the basic intrigue is still there. He remains the eternal face, both due to his size and his anything-but-sinister face, and he'll still fly if the situation calls for it. A lot of what Rey does has fallen into repetition, which is a bad thing. For example; every match he manages to slip in that "swing between the middle and top ropes" snapmare reversal. He's slowly being overtaken by the same disease that made X-Pac no fun.

Shannon Moore
The spottier of the two remaining members of Three Count, Shannon Moore is also the biggest risk-taker. I don't think I'd be going too far in calling him Jeff Hardy to Shane's Matt. While Shannon hasn't developed nearly as much as his teammate, he's making up for it by trying things with his body that Shane wouldn't even dream of. Add to that the nice, fluid teamwork the two have stitched together and you've got a winning combination. Shannon's got potential, but I fear he may be overshadowed by Shane in the longrun.

Chavo Guerrero, Jr.
Hands down, the centerpiece of the division. For some time, Chavo was stuck in the same trap that's snared his former MIA teammate, Lash LeRoux. Remember the "Eddy Guerrero is my favorite wrestler" gimmick? Pepe the toy horse? Chavo's been through some utterly disturbing gimmicks in his time, but after a couple months' worth of serious work and character redefinition, he's a Cruiserweight champion. Not to mention his outstanding heel turn. Chavo Jr. has come a long way since his days playing the inept, lovable face, and it took a dynamic heel run for me to realize that. Everything he does screams "old school heel," from his adapted style in the ring to his attacks from behind after a match, and I'm loving every minute of it. Chavo's been taking notes from his Uncle Eddy, and the result is a thing of beauty.

His continued angle with Ric Flair's group has ensured that the cruiserweight division will remain in the spotlight for the foreseeable future, at least long enough to establish itself, and that's all it really needed. Chavo's the most worthy champion in WCW (which, admittedly, isn't saying much), and his reign at the top bodes quite well for the future of the cruiserweight division.

Check back next week for the final chapter, and head to head comparison. Which division was the most entertaining? Which held the most potential? Which walks out the better of the two? I'll answer all of your questions, plus a couple more when I wrap things up this same time next week.
until then, i remain

Friday, February 2, 2001

Ringside Shadows #160: Rebirth (The WCW Cruiserweight Legacy, Part I)

The WCW Cruiserweight division has come a very long way in its relatively brief history. Once the finest collection of juniors, light heavies, cruisers and luchas in the world, the gold became tarnished in the late '90s. Where the Chris Jerichos, Dean Malenkos and Ultimo Dragons had spent years building, expanding and maturing the division into what many consider the strongest division in wrestling history, it took Vince Russo, Kevin Sullivan and company less than six months to completely destroy any credibility these huge names had mustered with their combined talents.

Granted, the division wasn't exactly at its most healthy when Russo and Ferrara took over in October of '99... many of the big names had either bolted to another promotion or been handed their pink slip in the months before. With the departure of Eric Bischoff, the division was completely at a loss. There's little denying his introduction of a lightweight division was one of the most consecutively worthwhile decisions he'd ever made, and I'm sure its success with audiences owed quite a bit to his work behind the scenes, allotting time for matches and recruiting the biggest names in the business. When Eric was unceremoniously dumped from his seat of power, his pet project, the cruiserweight division, was certainly hit the hardest. Chris Jericho read the writing on the wall and fled to the WWF while the option was still open, but the luchador population was slowly trimmed back to nothing. Still, the cruiserweight gold was far from a premature demise before Madusa, Evan Karagias and Oklahoma gutted it from the inside out.

Now that Bischoff has returned, there's been something of a fire lit under the division once again. New faces have popped up to claim the spots abandoned by their predecessors, while many old ones have returned to breathe in the nostalgia and once more do what they do best.

The cruiserweights of 1996 are completely different than those we're seeing today, and that's a good thing. Without a slight evolution, things wouldn't have been given a chance to even get off the ground. Hey, the audience today is a different beast than that of '96. Gone is the international flair of the original cruisers, but in its place is a heavier emphasis on storytelling, personalities... sports entertainment. As I covered in my last column, the cruisers are no longer nearly as bound to their division as before; crossover between the weight classes is becoming more and more frequent. In many ways it's a whole new world with a whole new set of rules. Chavo Guerrero, Jr. couldn't cut it in the division six years ago, while today he's at the very forefront of the new revolution. For the first time in years, there's the feeling that something's happening in the cruiserweight division, something worth watching.

What I'm going to do with these next three posts is jump to a conclusion. I'm going to compare the potential of the new generation to the legacy of the old. I'm going to put Shane Helms next to Psychosis, tell you who's better and why. I'll compare the positives of the '96 division against the negatives of the new breed and vice versa. More importantly, though, I'll tell you why this new lineup is reason enough to check out WCW's programming once again.

To kick things off, a history lesson. What I've listed below are the names of ten athletes who gave the 1996-'98 division everything they had, advancing it beyond anyone's expectations. Some of these names might not look familiar to you, others you watched on television this past Monday. They're all important, and I'm about to tell you why.

I: The Past

Of all the cruisers, Kidman did the most coming of age during the original lineup's heyday. He went from a dirty, itchy member of Raven's flock to a well rounded contender in white to a cruiserweight champ, developing before the fans' very eyes. He gave us something to grab hold of, a prospect to keep our eyes on. Fans could relate with him, and they erupted when he finally stood on his own two feet and left the flock. In a division that was almost overrun with flashy costumes, bizarre masks and suicide planchas, Kidman stood out because he was everyday. His K-Mart jean shorts and run of the mill white wife beater were of stark contrast to bright neon tights, shoulder pads and a mask with three sets of horns. Add to that a compelling underlying story thread and a heap of talent, and the result is a success story.

In the ring, Kidman could more than keep up with his opponents, which was pretty much essential at the time. During the division's prime, Kidman was probably among the four top workers alongside Rey, Juventud and Eddy. It's of little surprise, then, that he came out victorious in what became the swan song of the old division. That Starrcade '98 match featured a three way for the belt between Kidman, Rey and Juvi that went nearly 20 minutes, followed immediately by a one on one between Kidman and Eddy. Kidman showed a lot of heart, not to mention endurance, by going the whole half hour segment without rest spots. Hell, he even hit an insane shooting star press from the top rope all the way to the floor halfway through the first match. In a way, that match pretty well sums up what Kidman's all about. Properly motivated, as he was in that last great cruiser match, he'll give anything for the success of one match. Definitely somebody I'd like on my team.

Probably the most overlooked of the luchadores, many have forgotten Psychosis was a two time cruiserweight champ. With very little English in his vocabulary, he wasn't the most talkative of workers, but where his language put up a barrier his wrestling would tear it back down again. Possibly the most important aspect of Psychosis' involvement with the cruiser scene never came to pass, though. As Rey and Kidman were distancing themselves from the division in favor of more mainstream feuds, bookers were starting to look toward Psych as the leader of the next wave. They gave him a trial run as champ, which gathered a decent response from fans, then put him in a hair vs. mask match against Kidman that was to serve as a sort of torch passing. He lost the mask and soon thereafter gained the belt in its place.

Announcers started the hype machine rolling, but only a few short weeks later the cruiserweight title was nowhere to be found. Psychosis watched his chance sail out the window as the rug was literally pulled out from under the whole division in the wake of the Bischoff departure. It's a shame too, as Psychosis was ready, willing and able to pick up where the last crew had left off.

Dean Malenko
As strong an example of what made the original roster function as you're ever gonna see, Dean Malenko was, is, and always will be a man of little words and pure technical proficiency. Malenko, as well as the majority of the early roster in the cruiserweight division, was all business in the ring and rarely bothered involving himself in the goings-on outside. Fans at the time were quick to pick up on this particular trait and embraced them all the same, paying as much attention to cruiser matches as they did the latest nWo segment.

Like I mentioned, Malenko was the be-all, end-all of technical wizardry between the ropes. You name the body part and he could instantly call up two dozen different holds affecting the area and string them together with uncanny fluidity. He was compatible with just about anyone, but worked particularly well with the faster, smaller cruisers. His matches were the kind that would leave you open mouthed through the duration, and his finisher was just about perfect for the character he was portraying. The Texas cloverleaf remains one of my personal favorite finishers to this day, and building towards it in a cruiserweight match made all the sense in the world. Think about it; if somebody's dominating you with their speed and high flying maneuvers, the most efficient way to destroy their offense is to ground them with a systematic deconstruction of their legs. Malenko scattered little tidbits like this throughout each of his matches, giving the impression that he always planned ahead and knew exactly what he was doing.

Ultimo Dragon
When the cruiserweight division was still in its youth, the one thing it arguably lacked was someone with a real reputation, somebody to give it prestige. When they landed the Ultimo Dragon, Yoshihiro Asai, that slot was almost instantly filled. For those who knew of his incredible legacy, the arrival of the Ultimo Dragon was all the proof they needed as to WCW's legitimacy in the game. For those who didn't, they need only take a look at the man, the way he presented himself, and the eight belts he carried to the ring with him. It wasn't long before he captured the cruiserweight gold as well, bringing his total to nine and arriving front and center at the top of the division.

Of course, his ability in the ring needs no explanation. Asai was a trendsetter of the style, and many of the men he was competing against in WCW owed much of their development and inspiration to him. Indeed, the same holds true of almost all cruisers still active today, from Taka Michinoku to Evan Karagias. Asai was a tremendously important worker, and he knew it, but never let it go to his head. When the time was right for him to job, he jobbed in such a fashion that it made the man who topped him look great. His head was always in the right place, and that's probably why his influence has been so long-reaching, even now that he's been retired for several years. With the Ultimo Dragon, the cruiserweight division really arrived in the eyes of the critics.

For those who weren't with us in the years before Wrestlemania 14, Syxx is also known as Sean Waltman, the WWF's X-Pac. During his tenure in WCW, Syxx made the link, however brief, between the cruisers and the hottest angle in wrestling, the nWo. What's really important is that this link was established before the faction grew too large and unwieldy for its own good. WCW thought the division was deserving of such attention, and that alone speaks volumes. Also worth mentioning is Syxx's stance as a heel. Up until this point, the cruiserweights were all tweeners, with little or no alignment one way or the other. Pulling in his associative heat as a member of the nWo, Syxx rode the wave for all it was worth, cementing himself as the resident heel champ of the division and setting the standard that Eddy Guerrero would follow in the years after his departure.

Oh, and incidentally, Waltman was just on a tear during his WCW tenure. He burned the house down in feuds with Chris Jericho and Eddy Guerrero, earning the reputation that precedes him even today. Though he's slowed down considerably and has become something of a shadow of his former self in the WWF, the X-Pac that ran with the WCW wolves was in his prime.

Foreign Stars
For his cruiserweight empire, Eric Bischoff actively pursued the biggest names in the industry, be they from the north, south, east or west. He formed an agreement with New Japan Pro Wrestling, securing Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit and Eddy Guerrero along the way. He brought in the biggest names in Mexico's lucha libre hierarchy and toured Japan's hottest juniors with WCW. With Turner's money to spend, he had clout anywhere in the world and athletes were eager to showcase their skills in the hottest division on Earth. Thus, Eric created what's considered by many to be the first true international title, with defenses and title changes occurring all over the world. A quick point of reference, Shinjiro Ohtani was the very first cruiserweight champion... winning the title in a tournament held in Nagoya, Japan. The man he defeated in the finals, Wild Pegasus, went on to wrestle under his real name in America: Chris Benoit.

As I mentioned, the best of the best were chomping at the bit to tour with the cruiserweights in WCW, both for the competition and for the big payday, and Bischoff wasn't about to say no. Everyone from the Mexican sensation (and my personal favorite luchador) La Parka to the legendary Japanese junior, Jushin "Thunder" Lyger toured America from within WCW's ranks. It was the first time anything of this broad a scale had gone down on our continent, and it remains a high water mark for wrestling in the west.

Eddy Guerrero
What I said about Syxx's stance as the resident cruiser heel a couple paragraphs above? Guerrero took all that and amplified it a hundred times over. When he first entered the federation, Eddy was the virtuous face, adored by the public and never really desiring any sort of personality on his own. When Syxx was sent to the sidelines with a neck injury, (and later fired for taking too long in the recuperation process) Eddy took over his spot relatively quickly. However much fans had loved him as a face, they hated him that much more when he turned heel. Guerrero was absolutely flawless in this respect. His slightly larger build gave him the appearance of a bully, competing in a division of smaller athletes just to look tough. His slightly modified moveset gave fans even more reason to despise him, and the arrogant, cocky, dickhead personality he busted out was just icing on the cake.

On top of all that, he was almost unstoppable in the ring. His European uppercuts were lethal, and his frog splash was a thing of beauty. You couldn't deny it, he was damn good... and it made you hate him that much more. Though he later ran into tough luck with injuries, there's little denying Guerrero could've rode the momentum of his run as the monster heel of the cruiserweights all the way to the main event, perhaps even farther. Instead, some poor decisions in the WCW hierarchy have given him reason to take his act elsewhere. There's little question in my mind he'll be main eventing WWF pay per views in only a few years' time, and it all started building in the WCW cruiser division.

Juventud Guerrera
Like Kidman, Juventud came of age during the cruiserweight heyday. With the mask, Guerrera was your standard, run of the mill luchadore. He had an strong repertoire of high risk maneuvers, some basic mat skills and more than a few big spots. Once Jericho took the cloth from his face, though, he unveiled a facet of his character that had gone unnoticed in the months before. This guy was incredibly charismatic! Pessimists were silenced the evening after his PPV loss to the man now known as Y2J, as he came out with the same intensity, a new attitude and a whole new grasp of the game's psychology. It's like there was a whole different person waiting to come out from under the mask, and all he was waiting for was an excuse to make his presence known. Jericho gave him that excuse, and Juventud hasn't been the same since.

Rey Mysterio, Jr.
In many ways, Rey Mysterio Jr. has been the heart and soul of the cruiserweight division since its very inception. He's been with it every step of the way, and continues to support it even today. While he's always been somewhat spotty, Rey's more than made up for that with an ingenuity that's second to none. Most of his early spots were too extraordinary to describe with words, you truly had to see them to believe them. Everything was a David vs. Goliath battle with Mysterio, and fans embraced him as a result. It's a natural tendency to cheer for the smaller guy, the underdog, and Rey exploited that tendency every time he came out to work. There really isn't much more I can say about the man. If you've seen him work, you know what I mean. Rey Mysterio, Jr. is a cruiserweight's cruiserweight, plain and simple. The straightforward definition of the term.

Chris Jericho
Jericho's story runs almost parallel to that of Guerrero, except there's no doubt in my mind he wouldn't be anywhere if he hadn't made the jump to the WWF exactly when he did. With the cruisers, Jericho was at his very greatest. There's no denying the fact he was over the weight limit for the division, so he had that "bully" thing going for him, but he managed to succeed in the one area that Guerrero had trouble with; telling a good story with the mic. It seemed no matter who WCW decided to throw at him next, Jericho could come up with an unbelievable set of promos in the weeks leading up to the big showdown that had audiences screaming for his blood. He destroyed Rey Mysterio, Jr.'s leg on the way to his first title reign as a heel. He mocked Dean Malenko's heritage and managed to get the most boring personality in the fed over like the second coming of Christ. And, in what's probably the highlight of the first cruiserweight division's heyday, he took Juventud Guerrera's mask.

In the ring, Jericho was a mastermind. It seemed any maneuver could be reversed into the Liontamer, and once he had it locked in there was nowhere to go. Though he was heavier than his opponents, Jericho had no problem keeping up with them. He would even manage to beat them at their own game, going over the top rope to the floor or landing a lionsault right in the middle of the ring. Without the work of Chris Jericho, the cruiserweight division would have likely slipped right by many casual viewers. He was the cornerstone, around which the entire division was crafted and he more than lived up to the expectations. For my dollar, Chris Jericho was the biggest name in the first cruiserweight revolution, and he's just what today's lineup is in need of.

Check in next week for part II, covering the present cruiserweight lineup, then again in two weeks for the head to head comparison and verdict. It's going to be a long, strange journey and I hope to see you around for the rest of it!
until then, i remain