World Championship Wrestling (WCW) had their fair share of bright moments – and unfortunate ones – in an 11-year span before their acquisition by Vince McMahon in 2001. Some of their most exciting matches were in the cruiserweight division – a group of competitors who weighed under the 225-pound limit (for this particular promotion). We take a look at some of the best wrestlers to hold the cruiserweight championship, including a couple of them who went on to hold the most prestigious title in all of sports entertainment.
Chris Jericho: If you think Jericho was obnoxious during his heyday with the WWE, his promos and his character altogether could come off as nauseating in WCW. That is what made him so great – you loved to hate him. He was a very talented competitor in WCW, having great matches with the smaller guys and was able to keep up with the juggernauts. Jericho held the belt four times and one must wonder why WCW did not acknowledge Jericho as one of their top superstars. The answer may be easy since Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff and Kevin Nash pulled the strings and with that being said, Jericho was never able to rise above the lower-level or mid-level position he held with WCW for years. As soon as WWE picked him up, he was introduced through a segment with The Rock. Vince McMahon’s genius speaks volumes on that reversal of roles.
Syxx: Since Syxx was a prominent member of the NWO, the chip on his shoulder made him seem larger than life or at least larger than he was, since he was one of the thinnest guys on the roster. Formerly known as The 1-2-3 Kid and later known as X-Pac, Syxx would lure other cruiserweights into his web and make them intimidated by his much larger teammates, including The Outsiders (Scott Hall and Kevin Nash) – his good friends in The Kliq. His martial arts style was easy to transition into great matches when he used it, against fellow cruiserweights or the top draws in the company. He fought everyone from Eddie Guerrero to Ric Flair, and when he walked into WCW, his whole persona changed – making fans forget about his previous gimmick as an innocent babyface.
Brian Pillman: The first ever cruiserweight champion and former NFL and CFL football player, Brian Pillman was primarily a high-flyer, looking like one of the long-lost brothers of The Rockers. He later became one half of The Hollywood Blonds with Steve Austin but before that was a fan favorite that everyone loved to watch. Truly an underrated talent that was gone too soon, we later saw he had all of the aspects of a great wrestler. In the late eighties and early nineties, when airy maneuvers where hard to come by, Pillman was one of the better wrestlers in WCW that had the look complete with the moves to be the playboy type of wrestler, and he made quite the transition into a ferocious, grunge-type of being in the WWE. Still, his matches with Scotty Flamingo (better known as Raven) were monumental for this title (known then as the light heavyweight championship).
Juventud Guerrera: One of Mexico’s biggest stars, Juventud Guerrera was a fan favorite in WCW however he never really grew out of the same old shtick – maybe that was a good thing. He was a relatively popular wrestler in WCW and had his own moves, including the Juvi Driver and Juvi Lock, not to mention the “450 Splash” which he was best known for. Unfortunately for Guerrera, he may be remembered mostly from his feud with Chris Jericho, where he was forced to remove his mask in a match he lost which he had to follow the consequential stipulation (an insult to masked wrestlers, and WCW was not fair to other masked competitors that make appearances in this piece).
Ultimo Dragon: Ultimo Dragon could be easily forgotten about and looking back, his ring attire was kind of ridiculous yet he had some memorable matches with a list of athletes, including Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio and Jushin Liger. He will be remembered for walking to the ring with Sony Onoo, with almost a dozen titles wrapped around his waist and arms – some from the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance), NJPW (New Japan Pro Wrestling), Michinoku Pro Wrestling. He was a gifted technical wrestler, who had aerial capabilities that matched his usually great in-ring skills. The two-time cruiserweight champion will mostly be remembered for his time as WCW’s Television Champion, rather than his time at the forefront of the 225-pound division.
Psychosis: Psychosis will be remembered for his long-running feud with Rey Mysterio all over the globe, from Mexico to Japan to ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling). He was one of the most famous masked wrestlers in the 1990’s, and he was a premiere figure for the company. He had some solid matches, as well as some filled with botches, but what set Psychosis apart was his natural ability to become a face one night and a heel the other. He never really had a clear-cut stance on his character being good or bad – although that might have been something out of the blue that came out positive from WCW’s lackluster booking.
Eddie Guerrero: The late, great Eddie Guerrero was already a start in Mexico and built his name in North America in ECW – therefore by the time he reached WCW, he was already a stud in the ring. He had great matches with a number of fellow cruiserweights on the list, as well as members of The Four Horsemen (from Chris Benoit to Arn Anderson) and had a great angle with WCW, being upset that Bischoff never gave him a chance to shine. He formed the LWO (Latino World Order) to show that the Latino wrestlers were not being given a fair shake in the promotion and it was definitely true. Guerrero also brought out the best in his opponents, as his nephew Chavo Guerrero Jr. was made a popular figure in WCW because of his uncle. Guerrero really knew what it took to work a mic and a promo for that matter, and he had a great wrestling mind too advanced for his time. That is what made his WWE Championship run so special.
Dean Malenko: Tired of this man being mentioned on the list? Look no further, because “The Man of 1,000 Holds,” Dean Malenko was an amazing talent that was worth all of the praise. Naturally gifted for a smaller competitor, he had epic encounters with Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio and Ultimo Dragon, mixing technicality with tenacity and being remembered as one of WCW’s best well-rounded wrestlers. He had moments where he could have been primed for a breakout and Malenko did not necessarily job for other guys although he could have been more than just a cruiserweight star. Malenko was a great submission specialist and for his stocky-built figure, he was able to excel in matches that required him to perform using the top ropes with Mysterio and Dragon to name a few. Apart from his time with the Four Horsemen, he was able to showcase his talent with more technical competitors such as Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. The cruiserweight division should show a lot of gratitude towards Malenko, who had hands down the title best matches with numerous wrestlers.
Billy Kidman: Ever since he emerged as the young kid out of Raven’s Flock, Billy Kidman instantly became a star in the cruiserweight division. His familiar blue jean and white cut-off undershirt was made synonymous with his character, as he looked like a dude who came straight out of a frat party but actually had great wrestling abilities. He put the “Shooting Star Press” on the map, having rarely botched the move and had the natural ability to be likeable by any demographic – from youngster to lifelong fan. He became bigger in size as his career progressed yet fans will remember him for breaking out of Raven’s shadow, feuding with Diamond Dallas Page and for his relationship with Torrie Wilson. Kidman had spectacular matches with a number of wrestlers on this list, including feuds with Hulk Hogan and Jeff Jarrett – which proved his appeal was not only limited to men in the division. He was also a member of numerous factions besides The Flock, with The Filthy Animalz and The New Blood. He also went on to win tag team titles in both WCW and WWE with Rey Mysterio and Paul London, respectively.
Rey Mysterio Jr.: The truth is when we think about cruiserweights and the eventual induction into the WWE, Mysterio was influential for the smaller guys and he is the first name that comes to mind when we start brainstorming about the best competitors in the division. He made his mark with WCW and his matches with Dean Malenko were some of the best ones in the history of the company. Mysterio was used regularly as a punching bag for guys like The Giant (The Big Show), Kevin Nash and was easy to brutalize since he was almost the same size as a young teenager. His size was actually what appealed to fans – being the best high-flyer on the roster, everyone had a soft spot for Mysterio, who was well able to hold his own. Being a five-time cruiserweight champion, Mysterio was already a veteran entering WCW at a young age of 22; he had a memorable feud with Juventud Guerrera in the AAA (Asistencia Asesoría y Administración) promotion in the early-nineties and if it was not for Paul Heyman giving guys like Mysterio a chance to shine for ECW in the early stages of their careers, who knows where he could have ended up. Becoming a world champion under WWE, he still wrestlers to this day and although his constant knee injuries have been a problem for the past couple of years (as well as the wellness policy test failures), he is still one of the biggest stars in the history of both WCW and WWE.