The widely lauded and infamous Attitude Era produced controversial moments that pushed the envelope and legendary rivalries that redefined ring competition. It saw the rise of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock and D-Generation X. The period even revolutionized extreme brawling with the advent of the Hardcore Championship. But one lesser-known aspect of WWE’s late ’90s boom period was the Light Heavyweight Championship.
Perhaps it is fitting the title for competitors who weighed less than 215 pounds had a relatively lighthistory in WWE. Only 11 Superstars became lucky enough to hold the championship during its less than four-year lifespan, during which the lineage developed consistent patterns. The title created stars and gave smaller competitors a goal in the chaotic landscape of The Attitude Era.
Although it was officially established in WWE 15 years ago on Dec. 7, 1997, the title’s spiritual history actually goes back much further. In 1981, WWE created the title in partnership with Mexico’s Universal Wrestling Association. UWA went out of business in 1995 and the title moved to New Japan Pro Wrestling, where it became part of the J-Crown — a unified championship consisting of eight different organization’s lightweight titles. In a unique piece of sports-entertainment history, Ultimo Dragon defended the J-Crown on WCW programming as champion. That means in the heart of the Monday Night War, one of WWE’s titles unofficially appeared in its rival’s ring.
Due to the success of WCW’s Cruiserweight division, WWE began inviting lightweight stars to compete in preparation of their own sect of high-flying stars. In 1997, Japanese Superstars The Great Sasuke, the first-ever J-Crown Champion, and Taka Michinoku competed against each other in their WWE debuts at In Your House: Canadian Stampede in a spectacular match. They wrestled each other again the following night on Raw in another fantastic contest, giving tremendous promise to the burgeoning division. Over the following months, more light heavyweight battles were held, including Taka battling a young Tajiri.