In professional wrestling, a cruiserweight is a wrestler who competes in a Cruiserweight division. The term was first coined in United States in 1996 by World Championship Wrestling. Prior to this, the terms "Light Heavyweight" and "Junior Heavyweight" were more commonly in use. The older term junior heavyweight is still favored in Japan, where many titles for lighter-weight competitors are called junior heavyweight titles. Prominent titles include New Japan Pro-Wrestling's IWGP, Pro Wrestling Noah's GHC, and All Japan Pro Wrestling's World championships.
The weight limit used by World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Japanese promotions is "up to 225 lbs" (100 kg), while WWE currently uses 205 lb (93 kg) as its weight limit. Due to the scripted nature of professional wrestling and that the billed weight of wrestlers can be changed, weight classes usually are not strictly enforced as they are in professional boxing and mixed martial arts. New Japan and Noah also have junior heavyweight tag team titles, for teams composed of junior heavyweights. WCW tested such a format with their own title shortly before the company was purchased by the World Wrestling Federation. In 2016, WWE relaunched its Cruiserweight Championship using a 205 lb weight limit, and also introduced a dedicated weekly program, 205 Live, focusing exclusively on cruiserweights.
Cruiserweight divisions and championships have risen to much greater prominence in wrestling promotions in Japan and Mexico than the United States. While there have been various wrestling companies over the years that have promoted cruiserweight/junior heavyweight titles and divisions in the U.S., they have had comparatively little prominence when compared to World Heavyweight champions.
Cruiserweight wrestlers are generally shorter and possess less muscle bulk than heavyweights, a build which lends itself to a high-flying wrestling style. While there are many cruiserweights who specialize in alternate wrestling styles, cruiserweights are strongly associated with moves performed from the top rope and moves requiring a degree of speed, agility, balance and torque. Cruiserweight wrestling is often associated with lucha libre, where similar moves and match pacing are used, but Mexico uses a different weight class system and the actual term "cruiserweight" (crucero, in Spanish) is rarely used in favor of Light-Heavyweight (peso semicompleto in Spanish). Cruiserweight wrestlers tend to be wrestlers of average human height and weight.
The high spots often performed by cruiserweights are visually impressive but carry a varying degree of risk. Cruiserweight matches are not limited to such moves and due to the greater speed and agility of the wrestlers can involve more technical grappling than that seen in heavyweight divisions. A match with little to no transition between the spots is known as a spotfest. While spotfests do occur featuring heavyweights, the term is typically more used for cruiserweights, arguably because many of the fast-paced exchanges do not lend themselves as well to ring psychology as the more deliberately paced power moves and holds common in a heavyweight match. Some fans and wrestlers alike use the term "spotmonkey" to describe wrestlers whose matches consist primarily of high spots. In the United States, the term is generally meant as an insult and derogatory criticism, suggesting that the wrestlers have to rely on risky spots to get a reaction from fans due to a lack of charisma, personality and understanding of psychology.
Championships contested by cruiserweights cannot be held by wrestlers who are not cruiserweights, but cruiserweights are normally eligible to compete for heavyweight championships (e.g. Rey Mysterio winning the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania 22 despite being just under 200 lbs).
The term was popularized in World Championship Wrestling, when WCW President Eric Bischoff in 1996 re-established the light-heavyweight division as the cruiserweight division and reactivated the WCW Light Heavyweight Championship as the WCW Cruiserweight Championship. Bischoff renamed the division because he felt that "light-heavyweight" was a pejorative term. During Bischoff's stay in the company, the smaller wrestlers gradually became less important. As a result, in the declining years of WCW, the cruiserweights were seen more as comic relief to the heavyweight wrestlers. As one of the top wrestlers in the division, Rey Mysterio would go on to voice his disdain in regards to Bischoff's business sentiment:
The division kicked off to a certain point but they never put us on top, and when they unmasked us it all came tumbling down. Those in charge of WCW had the mindset that only big men could draw and didn't create new superstars. But wrestling now has changed so much. Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Jericho have all been world champions, but back in WCW they were mainly cruiserweights. Also the top guys in WCW were scared that fans were more interested in watching luchadore action and high-flying moves than big men just going out there and stomping on each other for 10 minutes. The heavyweights were getting into Eric Bischoff's ear, saying: "We can't let these guys be on top. They're small and wrestling has never been about this, we've got to keep the tradition going." It was stupid for Eric Bischoff, who was running a huge company like WCW, to listen to other people. Vince McMahon runs his own company and does what he wants to do, as did Paul Heyman. Wrestling is about what the fans want, not what the boys want.
In 1965, while operating under the name of the World Wide Wrestling Federation, the WWWF Junior Heavyweight Championship was created. Initially, the title was used from September 1965 until sometime in 1972. During this period, the title was held four times by Johnny De Fazio and was vacated after his retirement in 1972. The championship was reactivated in January 1978 with the first new champion being Carlos Jose Estrada. By this time, the company had renamed itself the World Wrestling Federation and engaged in a cross promotional agreement with New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Three days after Estrada won the vacant title, he was defeated by Tatsumi Fujinami. Going forward, the title was almost exclusively used by New Japan while the WWF retained ownership. The title was vacated and retired for the final time on October 31, 1985, as a result of New Japan and the WWF ending their working relationship.
In early 1981, the company created the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship, though unlike the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship, the Light Heavyweight Championship was used primarily in Mexico due to a working agreement with the Mexican promotion Universal Wrestling Association. New Japan Pro-Wrestling also recognized the championship and the title was used as part of several cross promotional cards between New Japan and the UWA. The WWF's working agreement with the UWA came to an end in 1995 and the title was returned to the WWF by 1997. The WWF did not sanction the reign of any of the previous champions, adopting a revisionist history tactic with the company claiming that the title was created in 1997. The title remained activated from December 7, 1997, until it was retired in late 2001.
After the World Wrestling Federation acquired the intellectual property of WCW in 2001, the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship was abandoned in favor of the WCW Cruiserweight Championship, and the title was renamed the WWF Cruiserweight Championship; however, the title was eventually retired, with Hornswoggle serving as the last champion before being stripped of the title for his own safety.
None of the preceding championships were particularly prominent in the company; however, over the years the notion of lighter wrestlers becoming main event stars has become more accepted in WWE due to many of the top talents over the past 15 years arguably falling into the cruiserweight category. As a result, a very substantial portion of WWE's roster are billed at, slightly less, or slightly more than 220 lbs. Many lighter wrestlers have achieved main event status within WWE and, over the years, have won several world heavyweight championships. For instance, the billed weight of former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan is 210 lbs. Other lighter wrestlers who have risen to prominence as main eventers and world heavyweight champions include Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, Dolph Ziggler, Christian, Rey Mysterio, Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, CM Punk, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, A.J. Styles, and Kofi Kingston.
In 2016, WWE began to re-launch its cruiserweight division by producing the Cruiserweight Classic—a 32-man tournament with participants billed as being under 205 pounds (93 kg), the lower limit of cruiserweight in MMA. The Cruiserweight Classic was won by T. J. Perkins, who became inaugural holder of the new WWE Cruiserweight Championship. The new championship was initially part of the Raw brand, and does not share the same title history as the previous Cruiserweight Championship that was retired in 2007. In November 2016, WWE Network introduced a new weekly program known as 205 Live, exclusively featuring cruiserweight performers. The championship was defended on both Raw and 205 Live until 2018, when it became exclusive to the newly created 205 Live brand.
In late-2019, WWE began to merge 205 Live into the NXT brand and creative, including renaming the championship the NXT Cruiserweight Championship, and allowing NXT cruiserweights to appear on 205 Live and vice versa. At New Year's Evil in January 2022, following a relaunch of NXT that reverted it back to being a developmental brand, the NXT Cruiserweight Championship was unified with the NXT North American Championship and retired.
In 2002, TNA established the "X Division"—an openweight class and championship focused on crossover between traditional wrestling styles with faster-paced, high-flying moves associated with cruiserweights. Despite this, almost all of the X Division champions have been high-flyers, with Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, Abyss and Lashley being notable exceptions. In August 2011, the division was given a 225 lb (102 kg) weight limit before returning to being an openweight division by June 10, 2012, when the 280 lb (130 kg) Samoa Joe was allowed to challenge for the belt at Sammiversary. In 2013, the weight limit returned, only for it to be repealed in August of that year after the new rules were rejected by fans. Due to their initial affiliation with the National Wrestling Alliance, many NWA territories have started sanctioning their own X Division championships, with some territories explicitly replacing existing cruiserweight competitions with the new division.
The following is a list of all titles equivalent to a cruiserweight championship. Title names vary, but may include the terms cruiserweight, lightweight, midweight, middleweight, flyweight, welterweight, featherweight, junior heavyweight, or X Division. It is worth noting that each of these class listings are separate in boxing and amateur wrestling, but are almost interchangeable in professional wrestling.
*Contested under 225 lb weight limit from March to October 2012; no official weight limit before or since that period, though in practice most champions tend to be cruiserweights.
**Contested under 205 lb weight limit