Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ultimo Dragon

When I was a kid, the nWo had just recently made a big splash in the professional wrestling world and WCW was on the rise in popularity. One of my buddies in elementary school, who was a big wrestling fan in his own rights, let me borrow one of his VHS tapes with Halloween Havoc ('96 if I'm not mistaken) recorded on it. I was hooked instantly and have been a pretty consistent wrestling fan ever since.

One of the things that I remember most fondly about WCW, other than the nWo storyline, were their cruiserweight wrestlers. These were always the best matches on the card for me and was actually the first thing that really drew me into wrestling. Yes, nWo was popular at the time and I knew all about them before long. On that Halloween Havoc tape though, Dean Malenko put on a great show with Rey Misterio Jr. and that was the whole reason I fell in love with wrestling. Malenko was always a very technical wrestler while Rey's high-flying style really blew my mind as a kid!!! I really liked a lot of the cruiserweights but one guy really stood out from the others...

Maybe it was because I always thought Dragons were awesome and this guy's outfit was pretty bad ass. Or maybe it was the fact that the guy came out with about 10 different title belts that was so much, he needed his manager's help to carry them all!!!

This guy walked out like he was some kind of royalty. Not to mention, you'd never seen anyone do what this guy could do in the ring. Ultimo Dragon would do extended headstands on the turnbuckle whenever opponents would Irish whip him into a corner. Truly an innovator, he combined technical wrestling grapples and power moves with lucha libre-style planchas and holds. The speed with which he moved about the ring was as impressive as the way he could chain-link his moves like a gamer sets up his combos. Dragon was as impressive outside of the ring as he was inside of it, popularizing the "Asai Moonsault".

Hitting his signature "Asai Moonsault"

Ultimo Dragon put on many spectacular matches with the likes of Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, and Rey Misterio Jr. were amongst many other top Cruiserweights. Always emphasizing a fast-paced and action-packed match, Ultimo Dragon never put on a bad show for the audience. Dragon would go on to have some of the most memorable matches against Rey Misterio Jr.

While his matches against Rey would see them battle in and out of the United States, over multiple titles, he would eventually capture the WCW World Cruiserweight title from Dean Malenko at Starrcade '96.

Ultimo Dragon would also go on to capture the WCW Television Title and the Cruiserweight title again before a botched surgery caused him nerve damage and forced him into an early retirement. Dragon served as a trainer until 2002 when he would undergo surgery in an attempt to repair the damaged nerves, so he could return to wrestling.

After only watching him wrestle for about 2 years in the WCW, it's amazing the impression he left on me. I was so excited to hear about his WWE debut after the Invasion storyline but it was nearly impossible to catch one of his performances on TV and his contact was up before I knew it. While it sucks that he was never made a bigger character in the WWE, his short stint made him a playable character in at least one of the Smackdown games!! So while Ultimo Dragon never became a household name, he will always be a big reason why I'm a wrestling fan today. I think it would be awesome if the WWE would release more of WCW's Cruiserweight matches on DVD. Until then, I will be scouring the net for more clips!