Earlier this year, I had a chance to interview Rey Mysterio Jr., in advance of his debut with Lucha Underground. It was a brief conversation, but an enlightening one, because the modern day legend seemed both happy and healthy for the first time in years. He was excited about the future, extremely pumped about what the new gig could mean, and he was legitimately jazzed at getting to work with young talent. He saw a roster where some guys could dwarf his own abilities.
One question I asked him was about the stigma that sometimes gets attached to the term, "cruiserweight." It was the division that helped revolutionize both ECW and WCW, and it gave rise to names we treasure today, but may otherwise never have known. What I wanted to know, from someone with as much knowledge and perspective as Rey, was whether or not a cruiserweight division was a good thing in 2016.
My thoughts increasingly pointed to the way these performers were treated in WCW once they were booked against heavyweights. It was a very select few that ever got the opportunity in the first place, and even less that did anything more than serve as bump monkeys for the bigger guys. Watching Rey's own ascension in WWE, his star burned bright enough to leapfrog any classification. He was a WWE superstar, and he could tell a story with Eddie Guerrero, but could also do compelling business with the likes of The Big Show.
As the business has moved from size to skill, at least in most promotions, the idea of a cruiserweight division might now be outdated and unnecessary. Adding the adjective could just reinforce a "but" at the end of the sentence. For example, "Wrestler X is just unbelievable. The moves, the speed, the agility, the mind is incredible, but he's a little small." If it weren't mentioned, it could further sell a wrestling world where tangibles weren't singularly defining characteristics.
I was pretty set in my opinion that it was a bad idea, and admittedly even may have framed the question in a way where I was sure Rey would agree with me. Much to my surprise, he didn't, and in the process he changed me from a skeptic to a supporter. His reasoning was sound, using Conor McGregor's status within UFC and sports in general to show that fans didn't care about size anymore. It wasn't that the bigs couldn't get the job done; it was that the smalls could as well. He also talked of Lucha Underground and other groups that push smaller guys to the main event. The gist of the answer was optimism in where we are today, compared to where we used to be.
On Monday night, when Stephanie McMahon revealed the new WWE cruiserweight division, I was (and am) interested in where it could lead, and what workers might end up getting jobs through its implementation. However, I still haven't entirely been able to shake off the possibility of it being a negative for some guys, even though it will undoubtedly help others. It all comes down to whether or not you could ever find yourself saying something like the following:
Sure Finn Balor is technically a cruiserweight, but he could be a main eventer. I hope they don't stick him in there.
If any of those two sentences could conceivably come from your mouth, stop and think for a minute about what it means. Other combat sports have always had various weight classes, and it's long been understood that this was how things were done. But, professional wrestling hasn't been that way, and fans have gotten used to seeing talent like Rey performing alongside everyone else. What the above comment reflects is the inherent, trained belief that in pro wresting, there's a ceiling for the cruiserweights. The WWE Cruiserweight Championship will never be treated like the WWE Championship, and those victories won't have the same effects.
Without giving you my final feelings on the matter, as they continue to evolve, I'd just like for you to ponder it for a few days and come to your own conclusions as to what a WWE cruiserweight division is, and whether it's a net positive, or something more complicated, with pros and cons. Rey's point about McGregor makes plenty of sense, but maybe we have to actually see what RAW is set to bring us before we can answer.
If you're worried about Balor, Neville, or anyone else being labeled a cruiserweight, you may well subconsciously see the division as a detriment to certain career paths. It's perfectly logical to think that way. Maybe the division will just be one place those guys can be showcased in WWE, but not the only door open for them. Does it have to be all-in, or can it be some kind of mixture that resides between dimensions?
I imagine I'm not the only one curious to see how it's positioned and how it's used. I'm thrilled for the paychecks it creates and for the unique stage it builds for versatile professional wrestlers. WWE is the one place where size still counts for a lot, because the man in the two-toned tie believes in the drawing power of those shopping in the Big and Tall section of a department store. Reception and response to the Cruiserweight Classic is a promising sign, and may leave the odds ever in the small guy's favor.
It might be a steeper climb, but I choose to remain positive. What Rey said is hard to forget, and even though there's a giant cynic within me - and he can be obnoxious as hell - that dude just doesn't know as much as Mr. 619. Plus, I really want that masked superhero to be right on this one. We'd all be better off if he is.