By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Taka Michinoku vs Brian Christopher 12/7/97
WWF Light Heavyweight Title Match
It perhaps isn’t all that surprising that an attempt to launch a Light Heavyweight division in the WWF wasn’t entirely successful in 1997. With Vince McMahon’s propensity towards bigger, more muscular wrestlers, the amount of time, money and focus that the new division was likely to have wouldn’t necessarily be enough to make it work. This move came about as more of a desire to challenge WCW’s Cruiserweight division in terms of fast paced, high flying action, but with about a tenth as much talent on show. WCW’s connections with New Japan and the world of lucha libre had left WWF running to catch up and failing.
That isn’t to say that there wasn’t some good to come out of this project. At Canadian Stampede, the Great Sasuke and Taka Michinoku contributed a fun contest to a show that has rightly gone down as one of the best WWF shows of all time. This match was designed to try and get Sasuke over with the fans in preparation for a run with the company. However, the Great Sasuke would eventually baulk at the idea, leading to the push going to his protégé, Michinoku, who had more than held his own in the aforementioned match.
The main problem was that the promotion just didn’t have the right working parts to make the division a success. With the main heel of Brian Cristopher a natural heat magnet but skirting that fine line between genuine heat and actual disapproval, the practically unknown (in the US) Michinoku was due to be the leading light of the division. Throw in wrestlers such as Aguila, Devon Storm and Flash Flanagan, there just wasn’t the same level of ability or name value as what WCW could offer.
It would be Christopher and Michinoku who would meet in the final of the tournament to crown the first ever Light Heavyweight Champion. Michinoku defeated Storm and Aguila en route to the final, whilst Christopher would take care of Flanagan and future teammate Scott Taylor, albeit via Kane’s destruction of Taylor before the match could even begin. With an easier road to the gold and the partisan commentary of his father, Jerry Lawler, ringing in people’s ears, it looked like Christopher was primed for the belt.
Initially, Christopher would show off his advantage in terms of power with a slam and an armdrag, only for a ‘Jerry’s Kid’ chant to visibly frustrate him and take his eye off of the contest. Michinoku didn’t instantly take advantage, but a Christopher German suplex attempt saw Taka land on his feet, unleash several kicks that had Too Sexy rolling to the outside, only to eat a no hands top rope plancha – an insanely impressive aerial move for 97 WWF.
Christopher’s own attempts to fly off the top rope failed as he collided with the guardrail, yet Taka’s attempted crossbody in retaliation also missed. Christopher’s face was covered with blood as the metal had split his lip open legitimately, giving his look an even more crazed aura. Taka landed a huracanrana and a moonsault to the outside which prompted Lawler to go and check to see if his son was fine. Initially, even his father’s concerns had little effect as Michinoku’s quickness and reversals were too much for Christopher, but a full nelson facebuster slowed Taka’s momentum down completely.
A sitout powerbomb with a lackadaisical cover almost cost Christopher as Taka turned it into a pin for a nearfall. Still, Christopher was clearly on top as he smashed Michinoku in the back of the head with a missile dropkick before nailing a rocker dropper. With blood still gushing from his mouth, Christopher toyed with Taka, berating him and slapping him hard several times in the face, with a sequence of reversals then seeing Too Sexy dump Michinoku on his head with a German suplex.
Things changed almost in an instant. A powerslam off of an Irish whip set up Michinoku for the Tennessee Jam legdrop off the top rope, only to miss. Instantly, Taka planted him with the Michinoku Driver for the victory and the title. As a means to get over the Driver, it was a neat finish – he had a unique weapon that was a legitimate match ender.
The division never really took off though. Michinoku would hold the belt for nearly a year before losing it to Christian. Three years later, the WWF Light Heavyweight Title would be deactivated, with the more richly historic WCW Cruiserweight Title getting the rebranding treatment. The WWF’s attempt at this time at a Light Heavyweight Title was admirable, but never really stood a chance.