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Opinion

How the WCW Cruiserweight Division Changed Wrestling

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Hi, my name is Ite Lemalu, I am from Auckland, New Zealand, and I grew up watching wrestling from the late 1980s. My favourite wrestlers growing up were Greg Valentine, Bret Hart and Jake Roberts. When I first started watching wrestling (WWF Superstars of Wrestling); I was drawn to the gimmicks and the interviews where the wrestlers would drop their iconic catch phrases, and I enjoyed watching wrestlers like Randy Savage and Jimmy Snuka fly off the top rope.

But then I began to notice how certain wrestlers took pleasure in making their moves painful for their opponents which is why I liked watching Greg Valentine ‘break’ his opponents legs. Anyway, I watched wrestling through primary school, high school and even at university when I would go back to my flat regardless of time of day to watch WCW. I don’t watch WWF/WWE as intensely as I used to. I still keep tabs on what’s happening, my wrestling viewing is now devoted to Impact Wrestling and MLW Fusion. I have all of my wrestling from the 20th century backed up, and as long as I have that, I’m good.

Every so often (like Monday just gone, Queen’s Birthday weekend for NZ) I would watch WWF or WCW, and although I grew up watching the WWF, there is still a lot of material that I have still yet to see. In this case, I was in the mood to watch something that I’ve seen before: WCW’s Halloween Havoc 1997. The usual WCW per-per-view in the middle of the 90s featured an A list of names that headlined the events, the A listers were supported by a youthful and talented group of wrestlers, most of whom were smaller in size to their established ‘elders’ and had wrestled extensively outside of the States prior to being lured to WCW for lucrative deals. These young lions of the 90s never failed to deliver a fantastic undercard. These pre-main event matches produced wrestling styles that were rarely seen by the mainstream audience.

My favourite match from Halloween Havoc ’97 (and a favourite of many other fans) is the Rey Mysterio Jr. vs. Eddie Guerrero: Mask vs. (Cruiserweight) Title match. Usually when I watch my favourite matches I’d pick up a detail that I probably hadn’t noticed before, and I did find something new and significant regarding this classic match. When I first saw Rey/Eddie 20 years ago, the Lucha libre genre was still fresh to mainstream wrestling, and although the WCW Cruiserweight Division was over a year in existence, only a top few Lucha Libre stars were slotted in one featured singles match at every pay-per-view. As more Lucha libre stars were brought into WCW, the fans’ awareness of the culture grew as they learned about the traditions and the extravagant theatrics. To ensure that the viewers watching at home understood the Lucha libre culture, WCW announcer Mike Tenay – an enthusiast in Lucha libre (and Japanese “Puroresu” wrestling) would sit in during the Cruiserweight matches and supply the viewers with stories about the wrestlers, the Lucha customs, Spanish or Japanese translation of holds, and the family lineage of the wrestlers – most of whom had fathers, uncles or grand fathers who wrestled. The use of Tenay’s valuable commentary gave the fans a backstory to each Lucha star and this helped to integrate the Lucha wrestlers into the WCW product.

There were already some high profiled bouts for the Cruiserweight Titles shown on pay-per-view before the Rey/Eddie of Havoc ’97: Rey Mysterio .Jr/Dean Malenko from Halloween Havoc ’96, Dean Malenko/Ultimo Cruiserweight/J Crown Unification from Starrcade ’96, Chris Jericho/Ultimo from Bash at the Beach ’97. I believe that Rey/Eddie – Havoc ‘97 is what made the Cruiserweight Division an influential part of the US wrestling scene, and even if it were by accident, WCW found the perfect hero and villain to sell the genre to the mainstream fans. Rey/Eddie was the first major storyline of this division that gave the fans a reason to invest in the Cruiserweights: As the match is taking place, Eddie Guerrero’s change of attitude is supported by Mike Tenay’s endorsement when he speaks in detail about Eddie’s past as one half of the notorious Los Gringos Locos tag team. Tenay adds fuel to the fire; highlighting previous accounts of Eddie desecrating the Lucha libre tradition of the mask while in the match Eddie is pulling away at Rey’s mask. Rey Mysterio .Jr is given an equally glowing backstory as Tenay explains that Rey had wrestled under a different name for three years before earning the Rey Mysterio identity that was handed down to him by his uncle Rey Mysterio .Sr. Tenay adds that Rey has successfully defended his mask in nine other matches, making this defence against Eddie, his tenth. Rey’s gear and mask have been altered for this specific event; he appears in a full body suit with his mask is attached to it. The suit is inspired to resemble the Phantom superhero, and before he starts the match, Rey gives a replica like mask to a fan sitting at ringside. This indicates the Americanising of Rey and other Lucha stars and WCW beginning to capitalise off the popularity of Rey and his Lucha peers through marketing and merchandise. Of the overall Halloween Havoc event, Rey/Eddie were of three Cruiserweight matches on the card (matches were slotted, one after the other with Rey/Eddie going third); this again supports that WCW were taking the necessary steps to push the Cruiserweights.

It’s from these details that I find that Rey/Eddie from Halloween Havoc ’97 elevated the Cruiserweight Division and changed the American wrestling scene. This match also surpassed the reputable Ultimo/Malenko unification. Although Ultimo/Malenko gave the Cruiserweights some credibility, it did not accomplish near to Rey/Eddie for the reason that Ultimo/Malenko lacked a definitive hero or villain, or that Malenko wasn’t a strong enough hero; this led to a lack of emotion from the crowd. By default Malenko being American had the home crowd, unfortunately the audience were confused as to who they should fully support. That atmosphere felt like very competitive and interesting exhibition. Malenko/Ultimo contributed a respectable international flavour, however the placing of this match seemed like a “cut and paste”, as if Malenko/Ultimo was not a WCW match but – but an import from New Japan Pro Wrestling. Basically, the match was out of place and didn’t belong to WCW. Rey/Eddie – Havoc was blended in as part of the WCW presentation. It had a genuine hero and villain and it supported Eddie’s actions; his malicious efforts end Rey Mysterio Jr.’s career and desecrate the sacredness of the mask, thank you Mike Tenay.

Two month before Starrcade ’96, the first Cruiserweight Title defence on pay-per-view was at Halloween Havoc ’96, the challenging antagonist Malenko against the heroic champion, Rey Mysterio .Jr. This, a brilliant story explored Reys perspective where he faced the difficult task of fending off Malenko who was a well-schooled mat based technician and a superior wrestler to Rey. Even with Malenko disrespecting Rey’s mask and winning the Cruiserweight belt, their matches together weren’t as memorable. Dean and Rey were an odd pair and for the good of the division it was probably best that they wrestle opponents that would complement their respective methods. Dean was a tremendous wrestler, though he did not possess the charisma to match his impeccable grappling skills. Dean was also regarded as a ‘must’ for the Cruiserweight gold, as well as Eddie and Chris Jericho, however it didn’t help the Cruiserweight Division when these three began floating in between the United States, Television and Cruiserweight belts.

In some weird analogy; I see parallels between Rey and Malenko to Hulk Hogan and Bob Backlund. Backlund was a magnificent wrestler and champion while Hogan gave the WWF the charisma and the electricity to go nationwide and mainstream. Respectfully, Malenko paved a necessary path for the Cruiserweight Division, and Rey Mysterio … more specifically the Rey Mysterio Jr/Eddie Guerrero classic from Halloween Havoc 1997 was what elevated the Cruiserweight Division. I would even suggest that this match may have turned the Cruiserweight Division into a sought after genre with fans and wrestlers who have competed in similar styles throughout the last 20 years.

That’s me for now, will see you again.

https://twitter.com/Ite_Lemalu


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Opinion

AJ’s Thoughts: Five Potential Returns

With Trips in charge and already starting to bring back some people that didn’t work in Vince’s picture, AJ got an idea. Who else could we see on the horizon radar?

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With Trips in charge and already starting to bring back some people that didn’t work in Vince’s picture, AJ got an idea. Who else could we see on the horizon radar?

With everything going on with WWE, the one thing we have all been hyped about are all of these returns. Dakota Kai made her return at SummerSlam alongside Io and Bayley and now on last SmackDown, Karrion Kross and Scarlett made their returns in a big way against Drew McIntyre and showed the Hourglass to The Bloodline.

With all of that, there have been things in the pipeline saying Triple H’s foot isn’t off the pedal so these are 5 returns from either NXT, main roster or even Try-Outs that I would love to see happen with the new regime.

1. Johnny Gargano

Now this is a name that people have been saying, “Maybe Impact or MLW” but, what about a return? Gargano didn’t renew his contract, most likely to be with his family which is a valid and amazing reason, will never disrespect that. If he were to return, there would be a handful of great reasons. Maybe a singles run with the Intercontinental or United States but with Ciampa getting limelight in the main roster from RAW, what if we get a tag team reunion?

WWE is hurting for Tag Teams and what better than to scare off The Bloodline, loosen  the stranglehold of championships with some Do It Yourself action. DIY reunion could be amazing, especially with newer faces showing up to get championship aspirations like Kross and Ciampa. Want to break the hierarchy? Do It Yourself.

2. James Storm

This one is a little bit weird and off. On one hand, who doesn’t love the Tennessee Cowboy, Jimmy James Storm? On the other, he is 45 and getting some nagging injuries as of late. So why would I say Triple H should bring James Storm back and give him something for the main roster? One of the things I said for Gargano, we have a lack of something and The Usos might need to watch two things in the rearview.

Watch your Money and your Alcohol.

Beer Money showing up in WWE would be amazing in my personal opinion. The Bloodline jump Roode, someone in a hoodie or jacket comes up and jumps them to even the fight and as soon as one Uso remained in the ring, the figure goes down and the old stomping goes off and we hear “BEER…” and Roode looks around and gets hyped up and shouts, “…MONEY!”

3. Big Cass



Since his departure from WWE, he has done something I have said since they split him off from Enzo. Take him through the Kevin Nash School of How To Big Man. ROH and Impact are great examples that he actually cleaned up and worked on what he has to do to be good in the ring. He can work the microphone, he can work the ring so we got a new big boy to take on the WWE once again.

Now I could have said Enzo and Cass to rejoin but, I’m sure the antics of Enzo will get Cass in deep water along with the fact that I already made two tag team predictions, we don’t need another. Cass brings a lot to the table and was kind of unproven in WWE because he was just the big enforcer to the more charismatic Enzo. Give this man about six months in the ring and you have your next MASSIVE problem in the IC or US Championship scene or even more.

4. Bronson Reed



The big man from down under is a former NXT North American Champion. He looked to have a good push going with that championship but he got release. If you wonder where he went… he actually made a pit stop in Impact Wrestling as JONAH with the most fire theme song in recent history I swear… I will link the theme song and Trips… please. Get rights to this theme song. I will be a bigger Bronson Reed fan.

Bronson to me is the weird man in all of this but, I think with Triple H involved, he could get something going for him with a good singles champion run or a big threat to go through like a gatekeeper of sorts. Big boy with a great amount of athleticism? Can’t really hate on that considering the last time we saw athletic bigger people were Keith Lee and… what was that one guy? Sherman Tank with a Ferrari Engine…?

5. Bray Wyatt

And the last one is the obvious one in all of this. Yes… we have Judgment Day as the somewhat supernatural dark group but we know the true successor of the supernatural and that is “The Eater of Worlds”, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt. This time around, I don’t think we will get the Jekyl and Hyde, Mister Rogers gimmick. I believe this time around we get full darkness and mayhem. We get the darkness and the theory of reverting back to your prime.

To make a refresher… Miz went back to being the cocky narcissist after fighting The Fiend. Finn turned back to the Prince and much more. With guys like Edge returning, maybe we see the return of the Heel Ultimate Opportunist, maybe a Fiend fight with AJ Styles to get the TN-AJ perhaps. Possibilities are endless and with a great mind like Wyatt for character and execution, I think Hunter will pick up the phone and Let Him In.

– There are clearly others that I could say, or maybe even didn’t think about, but hey, that’s the Chairshot way of Always Using Your Head. Those are just five returns that could happen and hopefully you read this before RAW or SmackDown and who knows if I get any of these right, maybe I missed an obvious one or maybe we get a giant signing that nobody thought possible. Let me and all of Chairshot know!


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Opinion

King’s Greatest Hits Of Jeff Hardy

As he battles his demons, Chris King looks at some more positive moments in Jeff Hardy’s career!

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Jeff Hardy WWE Smackdown

I’m sure by now you’ve heard the disturbing news that former WWE superstar and recent AEW signee Jeff Hardy, was arrested again for multiple charges including a DUI.  Hardy has had a hard and tragic road of recovery throughout the years in multiple wrestling promotions.

Not too long ago, Hardy walked out on WWE after they were rumored to have offered the former world champion to go to treatment for his substance abuse issues. Hardy refused and said that he was better but, as we saw the demons are still lurking and got the best of him again.

I have seen some nasty comments and even some distasteful memes about the AEW superstar and felt compelled to go against the grain. Instead of kicking a man when he’s down, I’m going to put together a greatest hits for the “Charismatic Enigma.”

Jeff Hardy & The TLC Match

Everyone can say that Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon helped innovate the iconic ladder match and you are right, but Jeff Hardy and his death-defying stunts changed the concept of the match forever. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. Edge & Christian and their iconic TLC match should have their wing in the Hall of Fame. The risks all six superstars took for the adoration of the crowd could have ended all of their illustrious careers. In the words of Vince McMahon, It’s such good shit!

Jeff Hardy Earns The Undertaker’s Respect

On the July 1st, 2002 episode of Monday Night Raw, Hardy delivered the performance of a lifetime nearly winning the WWE Undisputed Championship from The Undertaker in an incredible ladder match. The young up-and-comer was faced with his greatest task yet, challenging for the most prestigious title in sports entertainment. Hardy showed that without a shadow of a doubt he deserved to be in the main event scene, but came within minutes of defeating Taker. At the time of the match, Hardy was still finding his footing as a singles competitor and earned the respect of the champion and legend.

Swanton Bomb From The Heavens

When I think of the daredevil Jeff Hardy, I can’t help but think of this one crazy-as-hell stunt. At WWE One Night Stand 2008, Hardy faced off against the juggernaut Umaga in a falls count anywhere match. This match was so insane as both superstars fought into the parking lot. Hardy is one of the craziest and bravest superstars, hit a Swanton Bomb off a damn stage truck onto Umaga. It’s one of the wildest things you’ll ever see.

Hardy Wins The WWE Championship 

In 2008, Hardy finally made his way to the main event title picture alongside partner Triple H. HHH was Hardy’s mentor in some sort of way which led to the daredevil achieving his lifelong dream of becoming WWE champion. At the 2008 Armageddon pay-per-view, Hardy would face HHH and longtime rival Edge in a triple-threat match for the title. In what was a great match between all three superstars, Hardy delivered a Swanton Bomb to Edge to win the illustrious championship.

Straight Edge Problems For Hardy

The following year, Hardy found himself in the way of young-up-and-comer CM Punk who is looking to make an example out of him. Punk had won the Money in the Bank briefcase for the second year in a row and took advantage of Hardy to win the world title. What started as mutual respect between both superstars changed drastically, when Punk started throwing jabs at Hardy for his drug and substance abuse real-life issues. Punk would form his infamous stable known as the Straight Edge Society. This is a very underrated feud and you should go back and watch it in its entirety. The promos are gold.

The Hardy Boyz Return To WWE

Both Matt and Jeff Hardy found success in multiple other wrestling promotions including Ring of Honor, and TNA during their time away from WWE. Both brothers were struggling with their vices and made poor life choices but straightened up their act over the years. In 2017, the Hardy Boyz would face longtime rivals The Young Bucks in ROH. The following night the adored tag team would make their incredible return to WWE at WrestleMania 33. Matt and Jeff would be named the final team in the Fatal 4-way ladder match for the Raw Tag Team Championships. The pop these two received was insane and very much deserved. They would go on to win the match and win the titles to capitalize on their momentum.

Jeffery Nero Hardy Makes AEW Debut

From 2017-to 2022 Jeff Hardy would find himself pigeonholed in the mid-card title picture. He would have feuds with a plethora of superstars including Samoa Joe, and Randy Orton. Orton and Hardy had a nasty Hell in a Cell match back in 2018. Earlier this year, Hardy was seen running around after the 24/7 Championship, which was disappointing to see. After being genuinely unhappy in WWE, Hardy would make his AEW debut on the March 9th episode of AEW Dynamite. Hardy would come to the aid of his brother and longtime partner.

This week news broke that Hardy had been arrested for multiple charges including a DUI. While it’s easy to beat a man while he’s down, how about we uplift and try to encourage him to get the help he needs.

As a longtime wrestling fan, I have the utmost respect for Hardy and wish him the best of luck in his battle with addiction.


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