I’m going to take a moment to talk about one of the best and most important entertainment events to occur in our time: the Cruiserweight Classic now airing on the WWE Network. Now, I know some of you are rolling your eyes. After all, it’s wrestling, it’s fake, who cares? Well, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Professional wrestling is an integral part to culture worldwide. If you go to Canada, Japan, Germany, or the UK you will find wrestling. Each of these places has their own traditions and styles but for so long we in America have only been exposed to one or two of these styles. Outside of the true fanatics who traded tapes across vast distances over the ’80s and ’90s these styles were unknown. But, now they are mainstream and this is important.
For years hardcore wrestling fans have had very choice words for the way Vince McMahon has determined who can and cannot be successful in the WWE. Vince like big guys who worked slow and had very few big moves. When WCW acquired talent from Europe, Japan, and Mexico they took a large leap over WWE in the ratings. Sure, the New World Order got that started but people tuned in to watch Jericho, Benoit, Malenko, and Guerrero. This was the big “it” moment for many of us. The world was a big place as this was no more evident than when Ultimo Dragon appeared on Nitro with 6 belts from various Japanese promotions and the WCW Cruiserweight belt. But, WWE remained deaf. Despite Shawn Michaels and Owen Hart proving that smaller guys could be big draws the top names were still larger. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, and The Rock brought athleticism and heightened impact to their matches but none of them could fly like Jericho, who had honed his style across the world. Through the 2000s we watched and smaller independent wrestlers tried to break through the glass ceiling to no avail.
Through the ’80s wrestling went through an era of big, comic book style wrestlers and austentatious spectacle. The ’90s brought us more raw attitude and stripped away the comfortability that the show was in control. The 2000s were the transition period; fans wanted smaller, more athletic competition and in time we got it in the form of TNA and Ring of Honor. Each of these decades see the culture of the time reflected in professional wrestling. Over time it has become more obvious that we, as a society, are less enthralled with spectacle and prefer substance.
That brings us to the modern era and the CWC. Half of the wrestlers in the CWC aren’t fluent in English and none of them are monsters. They eschew the commonly held logic of wrestling and you see this reflected on the main roster. Gone are the days of barely mobile goliaths and here are the days of athletes. Now, look at the music of the day. Larger than life acts have a certain following but they have by and large fallen to the wayside in favor of artist collaborations and talented singers. The box office no longer rewards movies whose only saving grace is the name of its big star. Unknown actors who turn in a great performance are more beloved than the mammoths of the ’80s and ’90s. In politics the big story is the “tell it like it is” platform of Donald Trump. People no longer desire the smoke and mirrors and with the CWC there are none.
In the Cruiserweight Classic it is all in ring artistry. No storylines, no promos, just wrestling. Each of these matches is 20 minutes of pure storytelling. To those of us who have been watching wrestling for years these physical stories are on par with Shakespeare. They are taking basic stories of good and evil and are telling them in ways that don’t require language and transcend racial and national lines. These days that is important.
When you turn on the news the leading story is that of division: black vs. White, UK vs. Europe, USA vs. Mexico, Jews vs. Muslims. This is bleak, but it is untrue. You see beyond all the stereotypes and strawmen are just people. The Cruiserweight Classic isn’t just giving wrestling fans what they have clamored for. The CWC and the WWE are bringing the world together. The CWC brings true diversity to the wrestling world and, as a reflection of the world we live in, is a spark of optimism. Before we had Star Trek showing us that it doesn’t matter where you come from and this generation has professional wrestling. The best part: this is just the tip of the iceberg. NXT is the breeding ground for new innovative wrestlers and is the home of the current Women’s Division explosion. I’m sure everyone associates Women’s Wrestling with bra and panty matches and pillowfights. Do yourself a favor and go watch Bailey vs. Sasha at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn from last year. Women’s wrestling is many times better than men’s wrestling.
So, yes, wrestling is predetermined. It is theater. It is also a reflection of the times and so far, the times look pretty bright.