The WWE is known for being the leader in professional wrestling and sports entertainment. With that entertainment comes different types of talent. In the nineties, we saw a surge of smaller superstars that were known for their high flying abilities and risk taking maneuvers. In 1991, the Cruiserweight Championship, formerly known as the Light Heavyweight Championship, was created for superstars that weighed no more than a maximum of 225 pounds. The first wrestler to win this prestigious title was “Flyin’” Brian Pillman. The professional wrestling world has been abundant in decorated cruiserweight level superstars such as Rey Mysterio Jr., Billy Kidman, Jeff Hardy, Gregory Helms, Paul London, and Brian Kendrick.
The modern day array of cruiserweights are found throughout major and Indie promotions alike. Although the title has been defunct in WWE since 2007, it is currently being revived in the form of the upcoming WWE Cruiserweight Classic Tournament. The upcoming participants are billed at no more than 205 pounds. Promotions such as NXT, Evolve, Revolution Pro Wrestling, and Progress Wrestling will have superstars involved in the event.
The 32-man tournament will take place on June 23, July 14, August 26, and September 14, 2016. More notable names of entrants include Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Rich Swann, and Zack Sabre Jr. While there are 32 talented participants, only one can emerge as the first inaugural champion. Let’s take an in depth look at 15 of the participants that need to be on your radar for this summer’s blockbuster event.
15. Kota Ibushi
Kota Ibushi is a decorated superstar with over 12 years of in ring experience. His rise to fame started when he joined DDT (Dramatic Dream Team) in 2004. In 2007, Ibushi made a name for himself by winning the vacant Independent World Junior Heavyweight Championship. In 2009, Ibushi tag teamed with Kenny Omega and were dubbed the Golden Lovers. They went on to win the KO-D Tag Team Championships by defeating Harashima and Toru Owashi. He and Kenny Omega would go on to have excellent in-ring chemistry as they would team up constantly throughout the early part of his career. In April 2014, Ibushi and Omega would go on to win the KO-D Tag Team Championships again by defeating Team Drift, who was comprised of Keisuke Ishi, Shigehiro Irie, and Soma Takao. While in the promotion, he became a three-time singles champion and a five-time tag team champion. In February of 2016, Ibushi resigned from DDT. Back in April 2016, he was seen ringside at NXT Takeover in Dallas. Aside from competing in the upcoming Cruiserweight Classic, it is rumored that he may be signing a developmental contract with NXT.
14 Cedric Alexander
The man known as “The Lumbar Legacy” made an impact when he first started wrestling for Ring of Honor (ROH). In 2011, he formed a tag team with Caprice Coleman called C&C Wrestle Factory. They went on to wrestle a number of tag teams, mostly ending in losing efforts. He has been known for taking numerous bumps in the ring. One such time was in 2011 in a match against Roderick Strong, where he suffered a legitimate separated shoulder injury. Alexander has also been known for using dirty tactics. On May 16, 2015, Alexander broke Moose’s undefeated streak by striking him with a wrench. He attempted to revive C&C Wrestle Factory with Caprice Coleman, but ultimately disbanded due to Coleman disapproving the use of the wrench by Alexander. Despite having many losses throughout his career, Cedric Alexander will attempt to prove his worth in the ring by competing in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic. He managed to secure a place by defeating Clement Petiot on June 23.
13 T.J. Perkins
T.J. Perkins is Filipino professional wrestler best known for his stint in Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling. He wrestled under the ring name of Manik, which was loosely based on the character of Suicide. Perkins is known for training at the young age of 13 years old to become a pro. He debuted as a masked wrestler in 1999 at the age of 14, using the nickname “Pinoy Boy.” In 2001, he began training for Los Angeles’ New Japan Pro Wrestling developmental platform alongside Bryan Danielson, better known as Daniel Bryan. Perkins holds the record for being the youngest non-Japanese competitor to work for the promotion. He started wrestling as the masked wrestler Puma in 2003 and started teaming with decorate superstar Tiger Mask IV. In 2004, he went on a singles run as Puma, defeating opponents such as Tony Kozina and Brad Bradley. In 2005, he ditched the Puma persona and wrestled unmasked again as TJ Perkins. In his Ring of Honor stint, he went on a losing streak, being defeated by known wrestlers such as Jay Lethal, Mike Bennett, and Jay Briscoe. In September 2012, Perkins was released from his ROH contract, claiming the promotion was holding him back from participating in other independent circuits. It was during his TNA stint in 2013 that he donned the persona of Suicide, defeating Petey Williams and Joey Ryan. He is currently competing in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic as T.J. Perkins.
12 Rich Swann
Rich Swann is currently signed to NXT, but his career has spanned across such promotions as Dragon Gate, Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW), Chikara, Evolve, and Full Impact Pro. The origin of his rise to wrestling fame was not a happy one, however. During his teenage years, his father was murdered and his mother had died, causing a downward spiral. He began using cocaine and involved himself with gangs. When his supplier died, his aunt helped him overcome his addiction and he embarked on a positive path. He has cited influences such as Eddie Guerrero, The Hardy Boyz, Rob Van Dam, Rey Mysterio, and Super Crazy. On May 9, 2009, Swann made his debut in CZW, losing in a dark match against Sabian. On June 13, he made his main card debut with a victory over Chris Halo. During his tenure with CZW, he failed to win any major championships. On July 24, 2010, Rich Swann debuted for Dragon Gate, defeating Scott Reed at the Enter the Dragon PPV. In September 2011, he also made his debut for Evolve Wrestling, losing a six-man match which also involved Johnny Gargano. On September 13, 2014, Swann got his shot at the Evolve Championship, but was soundly defeated at the hands of Drew Galloway. Swann recently defeated Jason Lee in his first round match on the WWE Cruiserweight Classic.
11 11. Ho Ho Lun
Ho Ho Lun is the founder of the Hong Kong Pro Wrestling Federation. He has performed in countries such as Japan, Taiwan, China, and Singapore. His wrestling career began in 2007 when he joined China Wrestling Entertainment. After travelling back and forth from Guangzhou to Hong Kong every week for two years, Lun decided to open a wrestling gym of his own in his homeland of Hong Kong. It was there he founded Hong Kong Pro Wrestling Federation in Shatin, Hong Kong. Ho Ho Lun also traveled to the UK in 2010, training under the 4 Front Wrestling promotion. His most notable match in 2011 was against The Professor in a losing effort. Ho Ho Lun wrestled in Japan for the first time in 2012, competing in the ZERO1 Tenkaichi Tournament. He was defeated in the first round by Irish wrestler Sean Guinness, however. In 2014, he continued his tour in Japan under the esteemed Michinoku Pro Wrestling promotion, founded by the legendary Taka Michinoku. As such, he has adopted the Michinoku Driver as a finishing move, along with the Shining Wizard, as originated by The Great Muta. Lun won his first match in the ongoing WWE Cruiserweight Classic, defeating Ariya Daivari.
10 Jack Gallagher
Jack Gallagher is best known for his appearances at Futureshock Wrestling and Grand Pro Wrestling where he has won the FSW Championship and GPW British Championships respectively. He is also an accomplished tag team competitor, winning the Futureshock Tag Team Championship with Alex Cyanide as Lethal Dose. Gallagher made his professional wrestling debut as Jack Toxic on November 4,2006 at Futureshock 11. From the beginning of 2007, Jack Toxic and Alex Cyanide would continue to team up and eventually became the team known as Lethal Dose. They became a regular attraction at Futureshock, appearing on many shows, domination competition. It was at Futureshock 27 that Lethal Dose won their first FSW Tag Team Championships, defeating three other teams. They lost the titles to the DoGooders at Futureshock 29. Throughout the rest of 2009, they made sporadic appearances and saw little championship success. In 2011, using the name Jack Gallagher, he won the FSW Championship by defeating Dave Rayne. He held the title for a gruelling 14 months, ultimately losing it to Davey Richards. He reclaimed the title for the second time, defeating Sonjay Dutt at Futureshock 74. He is currently making waves in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic. He defeated Pete Dunne in his qualifying match and also defeated Fabian Aichner in his first round match.
9 Noam Dar
Noam Dar is the only Israeli-Scottish professional wrestler competing in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic. He is known for his tenure in TNA Wrestling. Dar has appeared for promotions such as Dragon Gate, Revolution Pro Wrestling, Westside Xtreme Wrestling, and Global Force Wrestling. Dar is a former two time Insane Championship Wrestling Zero-G Champion and a former Preston City Wrestling Cruiserweight Champion. He is known for adopting the Fisherman Buster as his finishing move. Noam Dar debuted on the British independent circuit at the age of 15, working for Scottish promotions like British Championship Wrestling. On May 1, 2011, Dar captured his first championship by becoming one half of the PBW Tag Team Champions with Liam Thomson. They held the titles for over 11 months, with an impressive six title defenses before losing them to the team of Lionheart and Wolfgang. In 2011, Dar began working higher profile matches, aiming to win the BCW Heavyweight and Openweight Championships. Dar achieved success in 2013 by finally capturing the BCW Openweight Championship from Andy Wild. Dar would hold the championship for over a year before losing it to Kenny WIlliams in April 2015. In the current WWE Cruiserweight Classic, Noam Dar defeated Josh Bodom in his qualifying match. In his first official match of the Classic, he defeated Gurv Sihra, hitting him with two Fisherman Busters before claiming the pin fall.
8 Brian Kendrick
When it comes to cruiserweight talent, Brian Kendrick has always delivered. He is noted for his tenures in WWE and TNA. He has won a vast array of Championships over several years, including the NWA Junior International Light Heavyweight Championship, TNA X-Division Championship, WWE World Tag Team Championship, WWE Tag Team Championship, and the Zero-One United States Openweight Championship. He is also the head trainer of his own school, Brian Kendrick’s School of Pro Wrestling. While growing up, Kendrick’s favorite wrestlers included The Ultimate Warrior, Owen Hart, and Koko B. Ware. He was personally trained by Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels and WWE veteran Chris Jericho. He established a successful tag team run with long time friend Paul London while in the WWE. His professional debut took place in 1999 against American Dragon which ended in a 10 minute draw. In 2002, he adopted the nickname Leonardo Spanky due to his resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio. He made his WWE debut on the January 11, 2003 edition of Velocity. However, it wasn’t until 2003 that he actually secured his WWE contract by defeating Shannon Moore. It is known that he has achieved more success in independent promotions rather than in the WWE and TNA.
7 Akira Tozawa
This Japanese sensation is known for his time in Dragon Gate from 2005 to 2010. He has also wrestled for promotions such as Chikara, Dragon Gate USA, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. He was actually the third member of Dragon Gate to debut. He went through a 10-match trial in which he unfortunately lost all 10 and was sent back to the Dragon Gate Dojo to train more. On May 7, 2010, Tozawa made his debut for Dragon Gate's international expansion Dragon Gate USA as a member of the heel group Kamikaze USA. He also made his Pro Wrestling Guerrilla debut in May, teaming with Yamato. However, they lost against the widely popular Briscoe Brothers. On September 5, 2010, Tozawa entered Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’'s Battle of Los Angeles, defeating El Generico in his first round match. The following night, Tozawa was eliminated by Chris Hero. Despite losing, this was considered his breakout performance and gained the attention of the Dragon Gate office. Tozawa had a brief tag team stint with Kevin Steen, known as Kevin Owens in the WWE. They eventually became the revered tag team known as The Nightmare Violence Connection and ran through several tag teams in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s DDT4 Tournament. In the finals, however, they were defeated by The Young Bucks, Matt and Nick Jackson. He won his first match in the ongoing WWE Cruiserweight Classic, defeating Kenneth Johnson.
Yoshihiro Tajiri is a very well known name in the Japanese and American wrestling circuits. He had a decorated career in Extreme Championship Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment. He has had over thirty years of in-ring experience and is considered a legend. He has been dubbed “The Japanese Buzzsaw” and has been managed by the likes of William Regal and Torrie Wilson. He has held over twelve different titles during his career, including the BJW Junior Heavyweight Championship, the BJW Tag Team Championship, the CZW World Heavyweight Championship, the CMLL World Light Heavyweight Championship, the ECW World Television Championship, the ECW World Tag Team Championship, the Fight Club Finland Finnish Heavyweight Championship, the IWA Hardcore Championship, the WCW Light Heavyweight Championship, WWF Light Heavyweight Championship, WWE Cruiserweight Championship, WWE Tag Team Championship, and World Tag Team Championship. He is considered to be one of the most decorated and talented Japanese superstars of all time. He is also noted for using the Mist originated by The Great Muta. He is also an adept user of the Shining Wizard and his signature Buzzsaw kick. He is currently competing in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic and defeated Damian Slater in his first round match.
5 Johnny Gargano
Johnny Gargano is currently signed to WWE NXT alongside tag partner, Tommaso Ciampa. He has previously worked for various promotions on the American independent circuit, including Chikara, Evolve, Dragon Gate USA and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. He has also made appearances for Ring of Honor and TNA Wrestling. Gargano is a former two-time Open the Freedom Gate Champion. His first reign lasted an astonishing record of 873 days. He got to experience a taste of the ring at the young age of eight years under the supervision of Cleveland All-Pro Wrestling owner, J.T. Lightning. At age 16, he officially began training under Lightning and Josh Prohibition. Gargano has reportedly cited influences such as Y2J, Johnny Saint, and HBK. After his ROH tryout, it was discovered that Gargano had a hairline fracture in his back caused by his left leg being shorter than his right leg. His doctor then advised him to rethink his career choice. Gargano, however, returned to the ring six months later to resume action. He is currently in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic. To everyone’s surprise, he defeated former tag team partner Tommaso Ciampa in his first round match.
4 Gran Metalik
Gran Metalik (Mascara Dorada) is one of the few Mexican Luchadors participating in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic. He also currently works for Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL). It was reported that Finn Balor actually extended the invite of the Classic to Metalik. He is a one-time CMLL World Super Lightweight Champion, two-time CMLL World Trios Champion, and four-time CMLL World Welterweight Champion. He made his debut in the CMLL on July 14, 2005. From 2007 to around 2010, Dorada spent most of his time in mid-card feuds. In 2010, Dorada created a tag team with fellow CMLL Luchador Atlantis and went on to compete in the National Amazing Pairs Tournament. On February 10, 2010, they defeated the team of Negro Casas and La Mascara to win the tournament. While in New Japan Pro Wrestling, he combated against famous Japanese wrestlers such as Taka Michinoku, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, and Dick Togo. Gran Metalik stated that he only plans to work in the Cruiserweight Classic aside from CMLL. He defeated Alejandro Saez in his first round match.
3 Drew Gulak
Drew Gulak has been a prominent figure in the CZW. He is a one-time CZW World Heavyweight Champion, two-time CZW World Tag Team Champion, and one-time CZW Wired TV Champion. He has also wrestled for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Evolve, Westside Xtreme Wrestling, Chikara, and Dragon Gate USA. Gulak made his CZW debut at the Chris Cash tribute show, defeating 20 opponents by throwing them over the top rope. He captured his first tag title in 2009, alongside Andy Sumner. Gulak would go on to win the CZW Wired TV Championship and hold it for a very length 429 days. During his stint as TV Champion, Drew Gulak began to portray himself as a political leader and activist of sorts within the company. He spoke out against ethical issues of violence including the usage of detailed violence and rough handling of their referees. Eventually, after losing the title to AR Fox, Gulak disappeared from CZW indefinitely. In 2013, he won the Style Battle Tournament for Evolve and also defeated Tommaso Ciampa in a Submission Match. In the current WWE Cruiserweight Classic Tournament, Drew Gulak defeated Harv Sihra in his first round match.
2 Tony Nese
Anthony “Tony” Nese is an American professional wrestler known for his brief run in TNA. He has also gained notoriety in a few independent circuits. Nese made his wrestling debut in 2005 for the New York Wrestling Connection promotion in a Number One Contender's Battle Royal Match for the NYWC Interstate Championship. On November 11, 2005, Nese made his in ring debut and was defeated by Spyder and Amazing Red in a triple threat match. Nese joined the X-Division of TNA in 2011 and was showcased in the X-Division Showcase Tournament, but lost to Jack “The Dragonslayer” Evans and Jesse Sorensen in another Triple Threat Match. Nese was released from TNA on May 17, 2012, after asking permission to work a limited schedule. He was granted his release and returned to the independent circuit. Being a current competitor in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, he defeated Anthony Bennett in his first round match. He has adopted the use of the high risk maneuver known as the 450 Splash.
1 Zack Sabre Jr.
Sabre is the current titleholder of the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla Championship and A former NWA United Kingdom Junior Heavyweight Champion. Sabre has had various battles throughout his career with wrestlers such as Go Shiozaki, El Generico, and Prince Devitt. It is likely that he is best known for his 2008 match with "The American Dragon" Bryan Danielson in Triple X Wrestling. He is known for his strong, aggressive offense and hard-hitting strikes. His professional debut took place in October 2005 in a victory against Falcon to win the NWA United Kingdom Junior Heavyweight Championship. In 2014, he made his debut in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. He teamed with Chuck Taylor and Kenny Omega to defeat The Young Bucks and Adam Cole. Ultimately, Sabre would win his first ever Pro Wrestling Guerrilla Championship by defeating Ring of Honor alumni Roderick Strong. Sabre is currently competing in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic. He gained entry by defeating Morgan Webster and defeated Tyson Dux in his first round match. He is also known for utilizing the Kimura Lock.