‘On This Day’ is a commemorative article series. It is dedicated to specific events, matches, and occurrences in wrestling history. We revisit those key moments and look back at how they went down and what they meant to the wrestling industry. Shinjiro Ohtani vs Dean Malenko is that match.
On May 2nd, 1996 Shinjiro Ohtani defended the WCW Cruiserweight title vs Dean Malenko. It was a simple enough WCW Saturday Night match. It involved then-champion Shinjiro Ohtani, managed by Sonny Onoo. His opponent was the man of a thousand holds Dean Malenko. Ohtani came into the ring with a great deal of fan animosity towards him. The jeers he received from fans was actually quite loud. Ohtani was the inaugural champion as he won the title after winning a tournament. Malenko had lost in two matches. His exit was in the double-elimination portion of the tournament. He would now be granted a title match against Ohtani. The fans were chanting USA in the MGM Disney Studios World Wide Arena. Tony Schivone and the American Dream Dusty Rhodes were on commentary.
At the match begins, Ohtani and Malenko begin a feeling out process of one another. They lock up with Malenko taking Ohtani taken down with a side headlock. Ohtani counters with a headscissors causing the break. The champion regains control with a rear chinlock that turned into a clutch and grab of the face.
WCW Cruiserweight Championship Match
Ohtani vs Malenko
Malenko regained control and tossed back into the ropes. It looked like an accident that he really worked to play off well. Once back in the ring, Malenko scoop slammed Ohtani and then locks in a reverse chinlock. It was the first title defense for Ohtani and the first in the championship’s history. Ohtani temporarily regained control but Malenko caught him. A Northern Lights suplex with a bridge led to a pinning combination by the challenger. Malenko nearly had the match won at that point. Malenko then has a whip to the corner countered by Ohtani. Ohtani makes the pin but to no avail. It was clear that time was of the essence in this matchup. As the match continued on it was about quick pacing in order to tell the story they did.
He then hits a dragon suplex on Malenko again for only a count of two. Ohtani attempts a spin heel kick but Malenko ducks the attempt. The pins and counters here are quite steady throughout. Ohtani fights off a full nelson attempt. He climbed the top turnbuckle but is caught by Malenko and locked into the Texas Cloverleaf. It was almost instant that Ohtani tapped out to Malenko.
The winner and new WCW Cruiserweight Champion was Dean Malenko vs Shinjiro Ohtani .
There were a number of quick moves taking place throughout the match. Neither man were being given a great deal of time. When considering, this was a television match it is understandable why things were sped up. The television program was only an hour in length. It was important to tell as an impactful of a story as possible. Malenko capturing the championship in what was essentially five minutes could have been more. In 1996, Cruiserweight wrestling was just beginning to catch on in North America let World Championship Wrestling. At a time when heavyweights were typically a focus and the new World order would capture everyone’s attention, Cruiserweights were beginning to gain attention.
If we equate this five-minute championship television match to today, it is clear to see how appreciated it happens to be today. Malenko has long been known for classic encounters. His matches with Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero were among them. What is special to note about this match however is that it was the first-ever title defense for the WCW Cruiserweight Championship. That first-ever title defense was in the United States and aired on television. What is unfortunate that the match didn’t appear on an episode of Monday Night Nitro. If fans never had the opportunity to see these two face each other these should give this match a watch.
Viewers are encouraged to take into consideration that this laid the foundation for the future. Malenko, however, has had far more memorable matches but this was his first championship win in World Championship Wrestling. Readers could watch the match in its entirety by clicking the YouTube link below.