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Dean Malenko and the Greatest Cruiserweights Ever

In honor of Dean Malenko’s birthday (August 4), I thought we could step away from the issues surrounding the WWE and professional wrestling and concentrate on pure brilliance. Malenko was one of the subtle wrestlers who got it right and rarely wrestled in a bad singles match.

Malenko is best known for his time with Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Malenko was known by the nicknames “The Man of 1,000 Holds” and “The Iceman”, the former in recognition of his technical wrestling ability, and the latter for his cold and calculating demeanor. Although never a world champion, Malenko achieved significant championship success in ECW, WCW and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE), holding multiple titles in each organization. Pro Wrestling Illustrated named Malenko the top wrestler in the world in 1997.

As a cruiserweight, he helped bring star attraction and some of the best matches to WCW and helped create the division that wrestlers like CM Punk, AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan now own.

Here is a look at the best cruiserweights to ever set foot in a ring, in my opinion. These are in no particular order.

CM PUNK
What is there to say about Punk’s brilliance that has not already been said? A master manipulator, a great heel and one of the best antagonists of our generation. And when you get past all of that, he is a dynamic wrestler.

He is titled in the company as “the longest-reigning WWE Champion of the modern era”, having held the title for 434 days from November 20, 2011 to January 27, 2013. Punk is officially recognized as the sixth-longest reigning WWE Champion of all time.

In professional wrestling, Punk is a seven-time world champion, having held the ROH World Championship and ECW Championship once each, WWE’s World Heavyweight Championship three times, and the WWE Championship twice.

DANIEL BRYAN
I do not think I have ever seen a wrestler rise to the level of cult hero and fan favorite as quickly as I witnessed with Bryan and for the sake of reality, it could still continue once he returns to the WWE.

Danielson is a four-time world champion: a three-time WWE Champion/WWE World Heavyweight Champion and a one-time World Heavyweight Champion. He is also a former United States Champion, had a 245-day reign as WWE Tag Team Champion as part of Team Hell No, and is a Money in the Bank winner. Danielson has headlined several major pay-per-view events for WWE, including WrestleMania XXX, and was awarded the 2013 Superstar of the Year Slammy Award.

EDDIE GUERRERO
We all miss Eddie. The heart and soul of the Guerrero Family and the greatest Latino wrestler to come through the WWE. Guerrero won 23 titles during his career, which encompassed the WWE Grand Slam Championship. Guerrero’s gimmick was that of “Latino Heat”, a crafty, resourceful wrestler who would do anything to win a match. His catchphrase became “I Lie! I Cheat! I Steal!,” which was used in one of his entrance themes. Guerrero partly used this phrase in his autobiography Cheating Death, Stealing Life. He wrestled in Mexico and Japan for several major professional wrestling promotions. In the United States, Guerrero wrestled in Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWW).

AJ STYLES
I would love to see how Styles works in the WWE, but he is currently working with New Japan Wrestling and ROH. Styles is TNA’s greatest success story. While in TNA, Styles held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship three times and the TNA World Heavyweight Championship twice. He was also the inaugural TNA X Division Champion, a title he has held six times. Styles has also won the Television Championship twice, during which he also held it during its phases as the Legends Championship and the Global Championship. Styles is also a decorated tag team wrestler, having been a seven-time World Tag Team Champion in his career – winning the NWA World Tag Team Championship four times, the TNA World Tag Team Championship twice, and one reign with the ROH World Tag Team Championship early in his career.

JEFF HARDY
Even today, Hardy is still one of the best. As a tag team wrestler, Hardy is a seven-time World Tag Team Champion (six WWF/E World Tag Team Championships and one WCW Tag Team Championship) – all with his brother Matt. Hardy has also experienced success as a singles wrestler and is a six-time world champion, having held the WWE Championship once, the World Heavyweight Championship twice and the TNA World Heavyweight Championship three times, a four-time Intercontinental Champion (also the youngest champion to win the title), and has held the Light Heavyweight, and European Championships once each. He is also a former Hardcore Champion, having held the championship on three occasions. Between WWE and TNA, Hardy has won 22 total championships.

CHRIS BENOIT
Forget about the controversy of his death. When Benoit was on, he was one of the best ever. Benoit was a two-time world champion: a one-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion, and a one-time World Heavyweight Champion in WWE. Both of his world title reigns were represented by the Big Gold Belt: Benoit is one of four men to have held the Big Gold Belt in both WCW and WWE, alongside Bill Goldberg, Booker T and Big Show. He is also a record-tying five-time WCW/WWE United States Champion, having held the championship twice in WCW, and three times in WWE. The twelfth WWE Triple Crown Champion and seventh WCW Triple Crown Champion, he is the second of four men in history to achieve both the WWE and WCW Triple Crown Championships.

CHRIS JERICHO
If you want to get over and work with one of the best ever and the most underrated ever, take a look at Jericho. Jericho has won 30 championships between WWE, WCW, and ECW – the three most prominent American promotions in the 1990s and early 2000s. He is credited as being the first Undisputed WWF Champion, having unified the World Championship (formerly the WCW Championship) and the WWF Championship by defeating The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin on the same night in 2001. He is also the fourth WWE Grand Slam Champion and is currently the only Grand Slam Champion to have held every title in the WWE.

BRIAN PILLMAN
He was taken from us too soon. Pillman was a combination of everything that was right about this business. And his talent was never ranked amongst the best, although it should have been. Pillman had a legacy as “The Loose Cannon”, a wrestling gimmick that would see him do a series of worked shoots that would gain him a degree of infamy for his unpredictable character. He was also known for being extremely agile in the ring, although a car accident in April 1996 from which he received extensive ankle injuries limited his in-ring ability.

SHAWN MICHAELS
Yes Shawn Michaels was a cruiserweight. Billed at 225 pounds (with a lot of coughing to go along with that) Michaels is the best of our generation, period. I used to think Ric Flair was the greatest ever, but Michaels gives him a run for his money. Michaels is a four-time world champion: a three-time WWF Champion and a former World Heavyweight Champion. He won the 1995 and 1996 Royal Rumbles and is the WWF’s first Grand Slam Champion. He has won the PWI Match of the Year Award a record eleven times.

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