sportingnews: Recently, news came out that Vince McMahon was washing his hands of “205 Live” and ceding creative control to Triple H, which was finally an admission of what many knew all along: this thing just wasn’t working.
McMahon’s vision of the cruiserweight show was apparently wacky stories about Alicia Fox being crazy and 18 segments a week featuring Enzo Amore talking and/or Drew Gulak doing Powerpoint presentations. Given the overwhelming positive reviews and support for the Cruiserweight Classic tournament that launched the division, it makes it all the sadder to watch the show rot away and turn into the graveyard for the careers of guys like Austin Aries and Neville.
But let’s face it, it’s not like the show was created out of any great spark of creativity — it was clearly WWE’s low-rent answer to companies like ROH and New Japan doing great things with the little flippy-floppy guys. (Some of whom wear masks!)
Oh wait, come to think of it, this wasn’t the first time we went through this.
Back in 1995, WCW was fostering relationships with both super-hot Mexican promotion AAA as well as New Japan, both of which were known for the incredible talent they had working under 225 pounds. Thanks to a talent exchange deal struck with AAA, we got the amazing When Worlds Collide PPV featuring major U.S. exposure for previously unknown guys like Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit.
The show was such a sensation that ECW owner Paul Heyman immediately brought in AAA booker Konnan and others and gave them a major push, leading to WCW signing them all with promise of trips to Japan. They even created a new version of the 225 pound title for them and called them “cruiserweights,” which frankly sounded better than previous lingo like “Junior heavyweights” or “Lightweights.”
Pretty soon, “Monday Nitro” was filling its two hour time slot with super-hot matches featuring a mix of the best American, Japanese and Mexican cruiserweights (you may have heard of that Rey Mysterio kid they found in Mexico) and distinguishing itself from “Monday Night AW” and its slower-paced matches and silly cartoon characters.
Clearly Vince McMahon was not going to be shown up by WCW in this area, and something had to be done.
But what can you do when the competition has an exclusive deal with the best Japanese talent and the best Mexican talent? Easy, just sign whoever’s left over.
The first crack at copying WCW’s cruiserweight division came in late 1996, as AAA was falling apart due to WCW essentially strip-mining all their big name talent. McMahon signed a deal with AAA promoter Antonio Pena to use the leftover luchadors at Royal Rumble ’97 in San Antonio, which included ancient Mil Mascaras and Fuerza Guerrera, as well as younger guys like Heavy Metal and Hector Garza. Nobody cared. They were put on “RAW” and left to die in front of indifferent audiences, mostly because lucha libre is vastly different than American wrestling and the WWF made no attempt to either educate the audience or adjust their own style to make it easier for the luchadors.
Midway through 1997 the various luchadors returned south of the border and quietly disappeared from WWF TV. Also, they took the fake Razor Ramon and Diesel to Mexico with them in exchange, so really it was win-win for everyone.
But Vince wasn’t licked yet — he had still another whole hemisphere to raid, namely whatever hemisphere Japan is in. The eastern one, I’m assuming. This time, ECW proved to be the breeding ground for McMahon’s creativity, as Heyman brought in some lightweight wrestlers from Japanese independent promotion Michinoku Pro for a six-man match on Barely Legal 1997, which introduced North America to the sensational Great Sasuke.
Sasuke had been tearing up the junior heavyweight scene in Japan and Mexico for a few years prior under other identities, most notably the “Best of the Super Juniors” for New Japan in 1994 where he was the star of the tournament. Vince immediately signed him to be the feature star of his newly rebooted light heavyweight division, and this time we thought they couldn’t possibly screw it up.
We would of course be proven very, very wrong.
Things started out OK, as Great Sasuke debuted in the WWF on the Canadian Stampede show in July 1997, facing some kid from Japan named Taka Michinoku who was only there to lose and then leave again. Sasuke was booked to win the match, and then a tournament for the newly created Light Heavyweight title would commence, with Sasuke winning that as well. However, after beating Taka at the PPV show and then again on “RAW” the next night in a rematch, Sasuke spoke to the Japanese press and made some ill-fated comments about how he would bring the WWF Light Heavyweight title back to Japan with him if he won it, and leave it there. And that proved to be the end of his career in the WWF, as he was not given a contract, and that kid Taka Michinoku was signed instead.
Taka got over and became a big star, but unfortunately he had nothing to work with. Their idea of “high flying stars” were stiffs like Scott Putski, or jobbers like Scott Taylor, or Memphis comedy acts like Brian Christopher. Just because someone is technically within the weight limit doesn’t make them effective in the role, which we quickly learned thanks to the tournament becoming a complete farce that ended with Michinoku beating Brian Christopher to win the belt.
And then they had absolutely no idea what to do with Taka, the title, or the entire division for that matter. So they went back to Japan again and brought in the rest of Taka’s teammates, which would be a foolproof way to guarantee success for the division as long as they didn’t do anything stupid with them.
And next time, we’ll detail what stupid things they did with them.
Source: Published by sportingnews