In 1996, World Championship Wrestling introduced its revolutionary Cruiserweight division. The WCW gathered the best talents from all around the world to make sure its new mid-card division would be a success, and it paid off. All-time greats like Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Último Dragón and so many others put on countless classic matches. Unfortunately, WCW began misusing and under-appreciating its smaller talent and the best of them began seeking their fortunes elsewhere. Some went to Japan, others went to the competition, and the division suffered for it. By 2000, WCW’s Cruiserweight division was a shell of its former self.
Despite its hard fall, the WCW Cruiserweight Championship is remembered as the groundbreaking showcase for talent that it started out as. When the WWE purchased the WCW in 2001, they got the Cruiserweight division and its championship with it. After a feud with WWE’s own Light Heavyweight Championship, the company unified the titles and wisely chose to keep the Cruiserweight Championship. Out of all the titles unified at this time, the Cruiserweight Championship was the only WCW title chosen over its WWE counterpart.
In 2002, SmackDown! drafted the now WWE Cruiserweight Championship during WWE’s first brand split, and a new Cruiserweight division was born. Though not as memorable as WCW’s Cruiserweight division, SmackDown! had a solid roster and they maintained the division a lot longer than WCW did. Despite its eventual death on a leprechaun, the title had a good run on SmackDown! and helped launch some great careers.
WWE has a new Cruiserweight division now and with it, a new Cruiserweight Championship. Though the new Cruiserweights are having a rocky start on Monday Night Raw, I do think they’re starting to come into their own. They’re starting to get the fans behind them. With the WWE taking their second crack at a Cruiserweight Championship, I thought it would be cool to look back at their first run and see who carried the titles best.
5: Matt Hardy
When Matt Hardy was traded to SmackDown!, he repackaged himself as “Matt Hardy Version 1”. Matt had held singles gold in the past, but he always had Team Xtreme backing him up. He needed a good singles title run to prove himself as a strong singles star, and he got one with the Cruiserweight Championship. Matt Hardy’s time with the title was memorable for many reasons. He wasn’t really much of a Cruiserweight. His run with the title started with some very funny segments involving him struggling to lose weight to qualify for the title with the help of his MF’er (Mattitude Follower), Shannon Moore.
After winning the title, Hardy helped build the new division as its top heel. His shining moment with the gold came at WrestleMania 19, where he opened the show in a match with Rey Mysterio and retained his title. He would continue his feud with Mysterio and eventually drop the title to him in the main event of SmackDown! It was this feud that established Rey Mysterio with the WWE audience and got people talking about the SmackDown! Cruiserweight division.
With Matt and his brother Jeff done with TNA, rumors of the now Broken Hardys returning to the WWE have begun to surface. As interested as we all are in seeing how Broken Matt Hardy would fit in with today’s WWE, many of us will always look back fondly at his original over-the-top character and his awesome early 2000’s entrance video.
4: Spike Dudley
Spike Dudley was a smaller wrestler in a time when smaller guys didn’t go very far in the WWE. He got his start helping his brothers with their matches and getting the crap kicked out of him by main event talent like the NWO. Despite his size and his humble beginnings, Spike had a fantastic run with the WWE. He won the Tag Championships, the European Championship, and the Hardcore Championship 8 times. However, his greatest title run was probably his last one in the company with the Cruiserweight Championship. What made this run so good for him was that for the first time in Spike’s career, he wasn’t the underdog.
Shortly after winning the gold, Spike turned heel alongside his brothers Bubba Ray and D-Von, and inexplicably became the leader of the group. During this time, you’d often see the runt of the Dudley family barking orders at his bigger brothers. It was a different dynamic than we had ever seen from the trio but it worked really well, especially for Spike.
His in-ring style was different from what fans usually got from the Cruiserweight division – in a good way. He had an aggressive, grounded style with some good old fashion heel tactics. His best matches with the title were with Rey Mysterio and Paul London, where the contrast in styles worked so well. His time with the championship added some much-needed variety into the division. Spike was an underrated talent who achieved far more than many people probably expected him to, and his time with the Cruiserweight Championship and as the “boss” of the Dudley Boyz was a great way to go out.
3: Chavo Guerrero
Upon signing with the WWE, Chavo Guerrero joined his uncle Eddie and formed the tag team Los Guerreros, the second best tag team in SmackDown! history. After breaking away from Eddie and fighting him in an epic feud, Chavo turned his focus to the Cruiserweight Championship. After beating Rey Mysterio for the title, Chavo went on to successfully defend his gold at WrestleMania XX in a 10-man Cruiserweight open. In his first run, he defended his title against some of the best Cruiserweight talent of all time, including Rey Mysterio and Último Dragón. During his first run, he had the help of his father, the late, great Chavo Guerrero Sr, who added some extra heat to his matches.
He was WWE Cruiserweight division’s top bad guy and its most consistent competitor. He went on to win the Cruiserweight Championship in WWE four times before dropping it one last time to a certain leprechaun.
2: Rey Mysterio
When Rey Mysterio made his WWE debut, he had a lot of hype. He dropped the “Jr.” from his name, miraculously grew his mask back, and was ready for the next chapter of his career. Shortly after hitting the scene, Mysterio set his sights on the Cruiserweight Championship, engaging in a great feud with the then-Champion, Matt Hardy. Mysterio’s chase for the title culminated in a match with Hardy in the main event of SmackDown! in Mysterio’s hometown of San Diego.
He held the title three times before moving on to the main event. In his time in the Cruiserweight division, he had awesome feuds with the likes of Spike Dudley, Chavo Guerrero, and Tajiri. When it was all said and done, he was the biggest star that the WWE Cruiserweight division had produced. The only thing that keeps him from the top of this list is that his work in the WCW Cruiserweight division was so much better, and it’s difficult not compare it. His work in the Cruiserweight division was great, but Mysterio’s best work in the WWE was with the Heavyweights.
With a unique offense and one hell of a Buzzsaw Kick, Yoshihiro Tajiri was one of the most entertaining WWE Superstars of his time. Tajiri has the honor of being the first WWF and WWE Cruiserweight Champion; being the person holding the title when both name changes occurred. He was able to get over as good or bad without having to change much about his in-ring style. His matches with Billy Kidman, Rey Mysterio, X-Pac, and others were the best the WWE Cruiserweight division had to offer. Tajiri also held the Light Heavyweight Championship, the WCW United States Championship, and had two runs with the Tag Team Championship. He was also part of the best tag team in SmackDown! when he joined Eddie Guerrero to fill in for an injured Chavo.
He held the Cruiserweight Championship three times, and the title always felt important when Tajiri was involved with it. It didn’t matter if he was defending the championship or competing for it; if Tajiri was in the match, the Cruiserweight Championship meant something. Tajiri has recently returned to the WWE to take part in their new Cruiserweight division and if he can help bring the same energy and purpose as he did in his first run, the division has a bright future.
Who was your favorite Cruiserweight Champion? What was your favorite Cruiserweight Championship moment before it died an undeserving death-by-leprechaun? Let us know in the comments.