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The Cruiserweight Renaissance

Updated: Apr 3, 2020

Last Friday, New Japan held the sixth night of their Best Of The Super Juniors Tournament in Korakuen Hall. The 25th annual tournament brings some of the best Jr. Heavyweight wrestlers around the world to compete in a three-week tour in with eight men split in two blocks. The Friday show offered matches from the B Block which featured junior heavyweight legend Jushin Liger against one of the premier luchadores in Volador, Jr. Yet the match that has everyone talking was the main event with two critically-acclaimed high-flyers in Ricochet and Will Ospreay.

In 20 minutes, these two had the Tokyo crowd in the palm of their hands doing some of the most creative, athletically insane spots in picture-perfect execution. It was truly a showcase of the two premier high-flyers trying to upstage one another and it got over huge with the audience there and many others who watched live on the New Japan World app. After a series of moves that would take a chapter to name, a number of “This is Awesome” and “Holy Shit!!!” chants, and a huge DDT counter, Ospreay defeated Ricochet in what many are considering an instant classic. Even casual or non-wrestling fans were in awe of the gifs and vines circulating through social media of their aerial antics. However, there were quite a few that didn’t think the same way.

Former WCW World Champion, WWE Competitor, and Japanese Gaijin Standout Big Van Vader expressed his criticism of the match, though admitting that he only watched a gif of the match:

Blantant acrobatics,no story,is there anything done in this video that relates to winning u could get 2 high school gymnast and put ona show — Big Van Vader (@itsvadertime) May 29, 2016

The comments drew a number of retorts from the wrestlers involved and William Regal, explaining that times have changed and pro wrestling as an art form have many different styles. With Vader saying that a match as wonderfully laid-out as Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay is ‘killing the wrestling business’ is completely asinine, especially since he didn’t watch it in full. It only sounds more and more like an older dude who has lost touch forgot that this business does change and there were moments where people before him would say a new, faster-pace style was killing wresting or deemed ‘unbelievable’. First and foremost, it’s fucking pro wrestling; while it is an athletic art form it is also pre-determined entertainment and stories can be told in unique and versatile way. After all, we went through the likes of ECW and the Attitude Era: filled with death matches, supernatural gimmicks, and bra and panty misogyny. I think we all went past the killing the business part a long time ago.

The negative criticism from the likes of Vader and older generation workers harkens eerily to similar disapproval for the Golden State Warriors in basketball and Young Thug in Hip-Hop. It’s very relative to me being a fan of all three pastimes and I recount veterans calling the Warriors overrated and calling the three-point shot a mockery. It’s also mind-numbing to see hip-hop names like Lord Jamar and those doused in ‘preserving the culture’ question the eccentric personality of Young Thug and don’t even listen to a full body of work from him. All three have this similitude in each revolutionizing their respective art forms and it has every one talking. That in itself matters most and for those that are unfamiliar/casuals that are amazed by that unique style, then something is being done right.

For Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay, their match from Best of the Super Juniors not only defines how modern pro wrestling is continuously changing, but it is also the peak of how Cruiserweight/Jr. Heavyweight wrestling is returning into the mainstream. You can take this match and show it to people that haven’t watched wrestling since their youth or who have been fair-weather for years and they’ll be blown away. This is especially worth it with women, who often find matches with aerial athletics to be cooler than the serious approach American wrestling can take sometimes. This also rings true with viewers of Lucha Underground, a wrestling show that works more as a comic book soap opera with Lucha Libre influence.

Of course, WWE has taken notice of this and is looking to add their mark into this Cruiserweight Renaissance with their Cruiserweight Classic starting in July. To pour salt in the bitter wounds of their critics of Jr. Heavyweight wrestling, the tournament will feature competitors who work completely different styles from all over the world. Those critics can watch the business die with technical hybrids in Zack Sabre Jr., Drew Gulak, and Noam Dar work with hard-hitting strikers in Tomasso Ciampa and Akira Tozawa, and high-flyers in Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and Kota Ibushi. While their blood will boil to produce the next incoherent Twitter rant, fans that enjoy good wrestling will have fun watching throughout the summer.

As something it took many in the industry to accept, the style and workers are becoming faster and smaller which is akin to how the popularity of smaller weight classes in Boxing and MMA skyrocketed over the years. Even heavyweight workers of the WWE are working a harder, fast-paced style against smaller wrestlers or equally big heavyweights. It may not be your cup of tea, but there’s always a place for styles that tell a different story. Those are the stories always worth revisiting.

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