WWE excited fans aching for a higher octane brand of in-ring competition with the inception of the inaugural Cruiserweight Classic tournament this past summer. Surprisingly, the WWE would place a heavy amount of investment into the tournament, from scouring the globe in search of prime talent to compete, to the sports-like presentation and commentary, to even sharing detailed profiles and backstories of every competitor. All this meticulous planning and detail paid off as the CWC became a great hit.
Fans are cautiously optimistic about the reintroduction of the cruiserweight championship and division to the RAW brand, hoping this time around it’ll have some staying power. They certainly have reason to be since history has shown the WWE to have brief moments of appreciation for the division and its smaller but phenomenally talented competitors to outright not giving a crap about the cruiserweights and making the entire division to be a joke.
WWE first brought cruiserweights into the limelight with the introduction of the Light Heavyweight Championship in the late 90s. Once WCW merged with WWE, the WWE took the Cruiserweight Championship made famous by WCW programming and made it their own. WWE would have several up and down periods with the division before finally burying it in 2007. As the WWE universe prepares for the current incarnation of the cruiserweight division, we will take a look back at the best and worst competitors and champions in the history of WWE’s previous cruiserweight run.
15 Best – Taka Michinoku
We start this list off with the inaugural champion for the WWE’s Cruiserweight division back when it was known as the Light Heavyweight Championship. Taka Michinoku was a young Japanese star who dazzled international crowds with his in-ring ability and quickness to the point the WWE took notice.
Hoping to bolster their roster with diverse talent to compete in the Monday Night Wars with WCW, the WWE introduced the new championship for smaller weighted competitors and signed the Japanese prospect to be the face of the division. Taka would win a tournament to become the first ever WWE Light Heavyweight Champion and would successfully defend the championship for an impressive 10 months.
Taka was small but he was exciting in the ring and belongs on this list as WWE’s cruiserweight pioneer, giving WWE fans their first look at cruiserweight competition.
14 Worst – Jacqueline
In 2004, the WWE had a serious hole in the depth chart when it came to cruiserweights and it was largely because at that point in time the Cruiserweight Title had taken a dip on their priority list. This was apparent when Chavo Guerrero, who was champion at the time on Smackdown, made an open challenge and long-time WWE Diva Jaqueline answered the call.
A smug Chavo underestimated his competition and Jacqueline would capture the gold. The reign would be short, lasting only ten days as Chavo would win the championship back at the Judgment Day 2004 PPV in ridiculous fashion. The stipulation would be that Chavo would have one arm tied behind his back since he was wrestling a female but would resort to cheating tactics to regain the Championship.
The fact that a woman was competing and won in a division that already carried an unfavorable reputation from size-lovers like Vince McMahon made the whole situation at the time an insult to both Cruiserweight competitors and fans.
13 Best – Dean Malenko
Though he was better known for his various impressive title reigns and contests as the Cruiserweight Champion in WCW, Dean Malenko was turned to in the WWE to give the Light Heavyweight Title some legitimacy. Malenko would capture the Light Heavyweight Championship twice while in the WWE, with his second reign being a lengthy 322 days, ending in upset fashion to career underdog Crash Holly.
Dean Malenko’s serious demeanor and technical wrestling expertise earned him nicknames like Ice Man and The Man of 1,000 holds and despite being a smaller statured competitor his performance and intensity in the ring made him a feared wrestler that opponents couldn’t afford to take lightly. A highlight of his reign was a memorable contest with Scotty 2 Hotty at a Backlash PPV which surprisingly stole the show.
12 Worst – Juventud Guerrera
Juventud Guerrera was a standout star amongst the cruiserweights in the WCW so picking him up to freshen up the division in the WWE sounds like a no brainer doesn’t it? It didn’t end up going so great though as Juventud had one of the most bizarre stints ever when he finally arrived to WWE along with one of the quickest exits for a newly signed star.
In 2005 Juventud, along with fellow lucha-libre cruiserweight veterans Psychosis and Super Crazy, debuted into the WWE as the Mexicools and aimed to make an impact on the Smackdown brand. Juventud would capture the Cruiserweight championship on two separate occasions but both were short forgettable reigns.
The likely reason for the disappointing reigns was Juventud’s backstage attitude and blatant disregard for the rules. This would also be the reason he’d be released from the company.
11 Best – Tajiri
The Japanese Buzzsaw was technically the first Cruiserweight champion of the WWE since he held the WCW cruiserweight championship at the time when it was unified with the WWF Light Heavyweight Title. Tajiri’s unorthodox style made him stand out amongst the WWE roster and treated fans to some enjoyable contests against the likes of Paul London, Rey Mysterio and Jamie Noble.
Tajiri held the title three times, with his first reign being his longest of 162 days before dropping the belt to Billy Kidman. Tajiri was always a solid hand in the ring and when he wasn’t the champion he was a respectable challenger who had classic rivalries for the title against more notable cruiserweights. His feud with Rey Mysterio over the championships stands as one of the highlights of the Cruiserweight Era in WWE.
10 Worst – Funaki
Sho Funaki holds the distinction of being one of the longest tenured WWE superstars on the roster to the surprise of many. As WWE would conduct its yearly spring cleaning of releases, Funaki would often be spared and stay on the WWE payroll despite doing nothing of any significance on WWE TV programming for years at a time.
Funaki wasn’t remarkable and as a career WWE jobber, didn’t have a great body of work to show that he was Championship material. Funaki would get an opportunity out of nowhere when he won a battle royal on Smackdown in late 2004 to earn a title shot against reigning Champion Spike Dudley.
It was a shocking win and even more shocking was Funaki capturing the Cruiserweight belt against Spike at the Armageddon PPV, starting a 70 day title reign. Perhaps it was WWE throwing their long-time employee a bone for years of loyal service?
9 Best - Jamie Noble
Before he was one of Seth Rollins stooges on the Authority as part of J and J Security, Jamie Noble was a Cruiserweight champion who held the championship for a lengthy 147 days in 2002. Noble debuted on the roster with a redneck gimmick along with his girlfriend Nidia. Both possessed great chemistry as an act and this led to Noble getting more screen time and becoming a worthy challenger for the Cruiserweight Title.
Noble would capture the Cruiserweight title mere weeks after his debut against Hurricane Helms. The near 5 month title reign would be the only reign Noble would have with the Championship but during his run he produced some great rivalries with the likes of Hurricane, Rey Mysterio , Tajiri and Billy Kidman. The division needed a solid heel and with his gimmick he provided just that in a short but entertaining stint.
8 Worst – Nunzio
ECW alum Nunzio was usually relegated to being enhancement talent but he surprisingly captured the Cruiserweight Championship twice with his first reign coming from defeating the much more popular Paul London.
The win came out of the blue because of circumstance. Paul London lost the title because of backstage problems with management in regards to his in-ring work. The WWE had banned high-flying moves like the shooting star press and 450 splash after wrestlers were getting injured in matches. London spoke up about it and losing the title was the price he had to pay for complaining and not falling in line.
Nunzio would drop the title quickly and would gain it back for another super short reign. Nunzio wasn’t terrible in the ring but given the other cruiserweight talent WWE had at their disposal, he definitely didn’t deserve to be in the spot. Nunzio being champion dragged the division down.
7 Best – Paul London
Paul London was a breath of fresh air to the cruiserweight division upon his signing in 2003 but he at first started out in the WWE as part of tag teams with Brian Kendrick and then Billy Kidman. It wasn’t until 2005 that he would finally have his sights set on singles gold as he nabbed the gold on the March 31st, 2005 episode of Smackdown by winning a battle royal.
London was innovative in the ring and gradually grew in popularity and it looked like WWE had money on their hands with London as he came up successful in various title defenses during his 126 day reign. The reign could have been even longer but as noted previously, London confronted management over his displeasure of moves being banned and he lost the belt unceremoniously to Nunzio.
Unfortunately that one reign would be the only time Paul London would hold the Cruiserweight Title but his run did create some excitement for the stagnant division, rejuvenating it briefly.
6 Worst – Chavo Classic
Chavo Guerrero Sr was a respectable wrestler in his hayday but in 2004 he had no business being in the WWE ring, much less being the WWE Cruiserweight Champion. He would do just that, showing the world just how far the Cruiserweight Title’s stock had dropped in management’s eyes.
Chavo was hired onto the roster as a manager for his son Chavo Guerrero Sr. Both made a hilarious tandem as Chavo Classic would help his son keep his Championship by cheating for him during title defenses.
Chavo Classic would be placed in a triple threat match against his son and Spike Dudley and he would accidently win the championship via fluke after accidentally falling on his son and getting the pin. Chavo would hold the belt for a month before losing it to Rey Mysterio on a June 17th 2004 edition of Smackdown.
5 Best – Billy Kidman
Billy Kidman is another one of those stars who was more recognized for his cruiserweight championship runs in WCW where he made himself a household name than his runs in WWE but his WWE stint was still fairly successful and brought a respectable veteran to the Cruiserweight division to give it a boost.
Kidman’s first reign was a short one as he defeated Tajiri in a title match on an episode of RAW only to hot potato the title back to Tajiri 19 days later at the Backlash PPV in an entertaining contest. Kidman would capture the title a second time when he’d defeat Jamie Noble for the championship and hold it for the rest of 2002, dropping the title to Matt Hardy at No Way Out 2003.
While Kidman’s title runs weren’t as significant as his star-making cruiserweight title victories in WCW, he did improve the depth chart in the Cruiserweight division in WWE when they sorely needed stars who could work.
4 Worst – Gillberg
If it wasn’t for Hornswoggle, Gillberg would hold the title of being the worst Cruiserweight Champion in the company’s history.
In 1998 with WWE in a heated battle with WCW in the Monday Night Wars, WWE relied on comedy, gags and shock value to keep viewers tuning in and avoiding the competition. As a result, the WWE Light Heavyweight Championship took an enormous hit, largely used as a prop for career jobber Duane Gill who was competing in the WWE as Gillberg, a parody of WCW’s shining star Bill Goldberg.
Goldberg was known for his entrance and grunts and growls and especially his long undefeated streak. WWE countered that with the parody and had Duane Gill capture the Light Heavyweight Championship via a fluke victory over Christian involving a ton of ringside shenanigans.
Gillberg would parade around with the championship for comedy gags for a whopping 453 days, hardly ever defending it. Once he finally dropped the belt to Essa Rios in 2000, he’d be gone from the company.
3 Best – Matt Hardy
One of the most underrated runs in the career of Matt Hardy is when Hardy reinvented himself as Matt Hardy Version 1. Matt Hardy was finally a singles competitor on Smackdown and decided he wanted to go after the Cruiserweight Championship. The problem was that he didn’t meet the weight requirements.
Hardy, with the help of his Matt Follower (MFer) Shannon Moore, would hilariously go on a mission to cut weight to make the 220lb weight limit so he could challenge for the Championship. Once successful he would defeat Billy Kidman for the title.
Matt Hardy would have a memorable reign mainly because of the personality and charisma he brought to his gimmick, making it a highlight of Smackdown at the time. Hardy would have a classic rivalry with challenge Rey Mysterio as they would have an excellent showdown at Wrestlemania XIX. Hardy would make history in his title loss to Rey Mysterio on Smackdown, making it the only time a Cruiserweight Championship match would main event a show.
2 Worst – Hornswoggle
It’s quite fitting that the Cruiserweight title was retired in 2007 while Hornswoggle was the champion because he essentially did kill the division and the prestige of the Championship once and for all with his title victory.
In 2007 the WWE had once against treated the Cruiserweight Championship and its division as an afterthought. Chavo Guerrero was holding the championship in a unspectacular reign when he got into a comedy rivalry with Hornswoggle. This would culminate into a Cruiserweight Open match where Chavo would be defending against five other competitors when Hornswoggle, who wasn’t booked in the match, emerged from under the ring and scored a pin to capture the belt in nonsensical fashion.
Hornswoggle would hold the belt for 65 days, rarely ever defending it since he was mainly featured in comedy bits. The belt would then be discontinued for no apparent reason. For nearly 10 years the Cruiserweight title was no more until 2016’s revival which hopefully wouldn’t suffer the same fate as when Hornswoggle held it.
1 Best - Rey Mysterio
While Rey Mysterio also is one of those instrumental stars who put the Cruiserweight Championship and division on the map in WCW, he was the best holder of the Cruiserweight Championship in WWE as well.
Rey Mysterio is definitely in a class of his own as a competitor as he has brought to the squared circle a style that had never been seen before him and his small stature made him beloved by the fans as everyone’s favorite underdog.
Mysterio held the Cruiserweight Championship in the WWE 3 times as opposed to the 5 reigns he had in the WCW. His first reign came from defeating Matt Hardy in a memorable victory on Smackdown in 2003. Mysterio would drop the belt to Tajiri and then be engaged in a memorable rivalry with the Japanese Buzzsaw where he would regain the gold. Mysterio would win the title once more against Chavo Classic.
Mysterio would have excellent matches for the Cruiserweight Title against the likes of Tajiri, Billy Kidman, Chavo Guerrero that made the Cruiserweight division must-see on WWE programming.