BANK STATEMENT #16 - Devlin vs Escobar: NXT Cruiserweight Champions
I know it’s been awhile, but life has been wild. Holiday shopping for my family and working has been on the itinerary, but finally, I’ve been able to sit down to watch some wrestling. And this past Tuesday night, I had a burst of inspiration for my Bank Statement:
The apparent end of the NXT Cruiserweight Championship.
It was announced a couple weeks ago on NXT 2.0 that at New Year’s Evil 2022, NXT Cruiserweight Champion Roderick Strong, representing the Diamond Mine, will face off with NXT North American Champion Carmelo Hayes in a “Title Unification” match.
To me, this is a bittersweet end to the championship based around the smaller athletes within WWE.
When the WWE Cruiserweight Championship made its return to the promotion in 2016, it was after a phenomenal Cruiserweight Classic, a 32 man tournament based out of Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL. The promotion scoured the globe, securing 32 of the most diverse performers to represent light heavyweight wrestling.
After 31 matches through 8 weeks of programming via the WWE Network, TJ Perkins became the winner of the Cruiserweight Classic, and, thanks to a surprise from Triple H, became the first WWE Cruiserweight Champion in 9 years.
Over the following five years, there were a total of 17 different champions over 9 different reigns. Although the wrestling was top notch, seemingly every 6 months, there was a new directive on the creative direction on how the division was to be presented. From the initial beginnings of 205 Live and being a part of Monday Night Raw, to the Enzo Amore “character driven” era in 2017, to a reboot with a Cruiserweight tournament in 2018, to finally settling in within the NXT Universe in October 2019, the Cruiserweight division never seemed to hit a groove.
However, by January 2020, the Cruiserweight Championship began to be recognized. With the addition of a second hour of television once NXT started to air on USA Network in October 2019, the Cruiserweights fit like a glove. Angel Garza and Lio Rush were having phenomenal battles every week on TV. It seemed as if the Cruiserweight title finally had some purpose.
At Worlds Collide 2020, NXT UK made its impact on the division. During a four-way between champion Angel Garza, Travis Banks, Isaiah “Swerve” Scott, and Ireland’s Jordan Devlin, the “Irish Ace” Devilin won the championship. Devlin, a phenomenal high-flyer mixed with great strikes, shocked a lot of NXT fans with his win.
Ultimately, Devlin brought the gold back to the United Kingdom, to defend it on NXT UK television. The plan was for Devlin to be brought back during WrestleMania 36 weekend in Tampa, FL and defend during NXT TakeOver in April 2020. The plan looked like a lock and would make for some interesting television.
And then…March 2020 happened and changed the world forever.
With the COVID-19 pandemic in full effect, WWE was in complete lockdown mode. Borders were closed and no one was allowed into the country. Devlin, living in the United Kingdom, was stuck in limbo. Not only was he not wrestling in the US, the United Kingdom wasn’t allowing wrestling events to take place, thus he was figuratively out of sight, out of mind.
NXT, needing to keep the television product going in the US, sadly had to reset the Cruiserweight division again. In late April, NXT began a 8 man Round Robin tournament to crown an interim Cruiserweight champion. Four men were placed in Block A and the other four were put into Block B. In Block B, the mysterious El Hijo del Fantasma, a masked luchador, outlasted Akira Tozawa, “Swerve” Scott, and Jack Gallagher to advance to the finals, while former 205 Live General Manager (and, at the time, released from his contract) Drake Maverick went to a 1 match playoff and beat Kushida and Jake Atlas to win Block A and look for a chance to become a champion.
In the tournament finals, Fantasma overcame the feisty and hungry Maverick to become the interim Cruiserweight champion on June 3.
The following week, one of the biggest swerves in NXT history took place. Fantasma, after an in-ring segment with Maverick asking for a rematch, stood by as two masked men, who were attacking Cruiserweights throughout the tournament, jumped Drake in the ring. The two men unmasked to be NXT talents Joaquin Wilde and Raul Mendoza. Instead of stopping the attack, Fantasma, a masked competitor for over a decade in wrestling, joined in on the attack, then unmasked as well. The entire NXT fan base was in shock.
From that night forward, Fantasma was rechristened as “the Emperor of Lucha Libre” Santos Escobar. Subsequently, the trio formed Legado del Fantasma, and the goal was to protect Escobar and his newly won Cruiserweight championship.
Over the next few months, Escobar absolutely dominated the division. With Legado watching his back, Escobar ran the Cruiserweight division with an iron fist. Even without fans, the Capitol Wrestling Center housed the reign of Escobar.
All the while, back in the United Kingdom, Jordan Devlin was seething.
Once buildings in England started opening again, NXT UK was back in business. On October 15, Devlin was able to sit down in front of a camera at BT Sport Studios in London and vent out his feelings towards NXT and WWE. He noticed minute things, including WWE management subtly removing the “interim” tag during the reign of Escobar on NXT television. Devlin was able to say that he was the TRUE champion, and that anyone else claiming to be Cruiserweight champion was a fraud.
On both sides of the Atlantic, two men were proclaiming their dominance. Starting in November through the beginning of 2021, Escobar successfully defended his belt against Jake Atlas, Gran Metalik, and Curt Stallion at the Capitol Wrestling Center, while at the BT Sport Studios, Devlin successfully defended his gold from Amir Jordan, Oliver Carter, Ben Carter, and Trent Seven. The NXT fans were clamoring for the impending battle.
Who was the REAL Cruiserweight champion?
On St. Patrick’s Day 2021, we got our answer.
A week before, NXT officials announced that “the Irish Ace” was returning stateside to confront Escobar. The borders had started to open up, and WWE was able to procure a flight for Devlin to come over from the UK to return to the Capitol Wrestling Center.
Devlin and Escobar finally had their face-to-face confrontation. Legado del Fantasma had Escobar’s back, but their leader had them stand down. Once in the ring, “the Emperor of Lucha Libre” made jokes, stating that you’re only still champion because “people forgot you had it”. Escobar told him to bring himself to NXT TakeOver: Stand and Deliver and to prove his claims of being the real champion, if he had the guts. Devlin responded physically, cracking the face of Escobar with a headbutt, following up with a ripcord belly-to-back suplex. Wilde and Mendoza entered the ring, but Devlin escaped unscathed. Escobar was left lying with a bloody mouth from the headbutt.
The following week, NXT official Shawn Michaels made the ”silent” suggestion that on Night 2 of TakeOver: Stand and Deliver, Devlin and Escobar would face off for the Undisputed Cruiserweight championship…in a ladder match!
“The Irish Ace” vs “The Emperor of Lucha Libre”: Who would be the King of the Cruiserweight division?
This battle opened up Night 2 of TakeOver on April 8, 2021 at the Capitol Wrestling Center in Orlando, FL. Both Devlin and Escobar kept it close to the mat surprisingly and told a great story on the mat prior to going to the air with the ladders.
At one point, Devlin, with picture perfect precision, climbed to the top of one of the ladders and delivered a moonsault!
Near the end of the battle, Escobar tried to utilize Legado del Fantasma to his advantage, but Devlin persevered, fighting his way back into the ring and delivered a breathtaking Spanish Fly off the ladders, crushing “the Emperor of Lucha Libre” on the canvas below.
Finally, with Escobar and Devlin fighting over the championships, “the Emperor of Lucha Libre” gave Devlin a receipt from St. Patrick’s Day and headbutted “the Irish Ace”, causing him to fall down onto another ladder platformed on the turnbuckles! Escobar pulled down both belts and became the Undisputed Cruiserweight champion!
This feud was the peak of the Cruiserweight championship in WWE/NXT from its return in 2016, to me. It was a realistic rivalry, made due to real life situations, and strong to both men’s convictions of being the rightful Cruiserweight champion. It’s a testament to the fans, creative team, and both Santos Escobar and Jordan Devlin for making this work.
I will miss the Cruiserweight championship tremendously. Despite the ups and downs of the division since returning in 2016, NXT in 2019 gave it stability. This rivalry between Escobar and Devlin made magic. Sadly, once New Year’s Evil commences on January 4, 2022, the end of the Cruiserweight championship will symbolize another portion of the old NXT going by the wayside, and the further NXT 2.0 will be the standard going forward.
Thank you, Cruiserweights. We will miss you. I will miss you.
BANK ON IT.
Happy New Year everyone.