It saddens me to admit that modern pro wrestling has held very little for me over the last decade. As a fan since the late 1970s, it's been hard to watch WWE, especially Raw, for a long time. I have found quite a bit of joy, and even passion, in being a historian of pro wrestling, often discovering new nuggets of gold in my journey such as the pioneer era of wrestling and the rich history of lucha libre.
As time has gone by, I often wondered to myself if the story of pro wrestling had simply been told. All good stories have an ending, and even TV shows eventually have a series finale. Had professional wrestling outlived its ability to tell a meaningful story?
Then, to my amazement, the promotion I expected it the least out of surprised me the most with this summer's WWE Cruiserweight Classic tournament.
Know that I am not a workrate mark. I cut my teeth on Ron Fuller against Bob Armstrong, and Jerry Lawler verses the monster of the month as these programs had far more to do with interesting storytelling than in-ring action. I was hooked on larger than life characters telling stories of athletic conflict through ring battles for championship belts and personal pride.
In the modern era, these elements have often been missing, replaced by seemingly endless monologues about heel general managers, and silly, often never followed up on, stipulations left me empty and uninspired. I just want to see two people fight over something they feel is important enough to fight over. In general, pro wrestling and storytelling is not that hard -- simply a conflict over something important. But, modern pro wrestling often forgets that "something important" part.
Then, along comes the CWC that is full of people I've largely never heard of. Going into it, I figured it was modern "flippy floppers" doing largely three minute matches without any psychology. I became amazed that a company that endlessly pushed Roman Reigns down people's throats and produces the never ending Raw every week put together such an utterly perfect show.
For starters, the show is the perfect length.
I get just the right amount of pro wrestling in an hour that leaves me wanting more. The CWC is the first pro wrestling show in decades that has left me excited and anticipating the next show. There are no endless monologues taking up valuable time, no dead crowds draining the life out of the show, no commentators being force fed soundbites for the next video game release. Rather, it is excitement literally from bell to bell; an atmosphere of fun and energy with modern graphics and style.
The Cruiserweight Classic has done a tremendous job getting me to care about people I had never heard of previous to seeing them on the show.
I have been told seemingly forever that it takes years to make a pro wrestling star and to "get over" as the verbiage goes. Yet, I know from nearly 40 years of wrestling experience that I can immediately think of dozens of big stars who took only a few years or less to be giant stars like Lex Luger, Nikita Koloff, Sting, Magnum T.A., Bill Goldberg, the Road Warriors, and so many more. A simple video package before each match tells me all I really need to know about each person. By the time episode five aired, I cared more about Cedric Alexander than Reigns by at least a million times over.
The diversity of wrestling styles on this one show is amazing and refreshing.
I have long struggled to enjoy the "WWE style -- a bland one-size-fits-all formula made to fit nicely into a three to five minute TV match. But on the weekly CWC show, I have seen such diverse styles as the amazing Jack Gallagher with his escape artist moves, Gran Metalik and his full fledged lucha libre style, Kota Ibushi and Akira Tozawa with their strong style influenced wrestling, and more mainstream wrestlers like Brian Kendrick nicely added into the mix.
And then, there was episode 5.
This was one of the best single episodes of a pro wrestling show I have ever seen. The story of Alexander was perfect, and the best example I have seen in years in how to get someone over by losing. Even though he was eliminated, I was on my feet at home cheering him and chanting along with the crowd to sign THE PERSON WHO LOST THE MATCH. Thank God there is still someone writing wrestling that understands how to do this. When Triple H came out, hugged Alexander, and gave the crowd a thumbs up, it was one of the most emotionally charged moments I have seen on a wrestling show in years.
Keep in mind that was only the second time I had ever seen Alexander wrestle in my entire life. What an absolutely great job.
I would be remiss if I didn't brag about the commentary of Daniel Bryan and Mauro Ranallo. This duo has done a straight up excellent job calling this tournament without hyperbole or pretentiousness. I have actually learned a lot about the wrestlers and the psychology of the matches from listening to them. Imagine that!
I am very happy to say that I finally have faith in modern pro wrestling again. All it took was the WWE Cruiserweight Classic to do it.