Santos Escobar last night failed to recapture the NXT Cruiserweight Championship from KUSHIDA in a great Two Out of Three Falls match. Having debuted in the NXT Cruiserweight Title Tournament last year, following then-champion, Jordan Devlin, being unable to compete with COVID-19 restrictions preventing his entry to the United States from his native Ireland, he quickly endeared himself to the NXT viewership. No fans were in attendance to gauge the reaction but the consensus online was that WWE NXT had found a gem. Then El Hijo del Fantasma (the “Son of the Ghost”), the masked luchador had already built a solid reputation as one of the best. Across Mexico, where he had captured titles in both AAA Lucha Libre and Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL), he was a respected talent. Then came Lucha Underground, where he made a name for himself in the United States as King Cuerno – a hunter-type character descended from Aztec Gods. No matter the mask or role, the man behind the mask was, simply, awesome.
The Birth of Santos Escobar
His year in NXT has been nothing short of sterling. El Hijo del Fantasma captured the NXT Cruiserweight title at the culmination of the aforementioned tournament last year. Defeating Drake Maverick in the final – who had embarked on an emotional quest to capture the title, having been named among the lengthy list of released talent weeks prior – it looked as though El Hijo del Fantasma was a noble champion. However, one week later, any notion of this was soon forgotten. After receiving a humble congratulations from Maverick in the ring, Fantasma turned. With two masked men (Joaquin Wilde and Raul Mendoza) assisting Fantasma in circling Maverick, a beat-down was delivered and Santos Escobar was born. Masks were ditched, attitudes changed, the Cartel was formed and a memorable 313 day title reign was well and truly underway.
The Cartel would soon become Legado del Fantasma (Ghost Legacy) and as have many trios in pro wrestling past, they would dominate. Their first big win together would come on July 1 2020 when the trio defeated a vengeful Maverick who had enlisted the support of Breezango (Tyler Breeze and Fandango). Whereas many trios have perhaps existed as three top, near equal competitors (NWO and Shield), Legado del Fantasma clearly exists to further the prospects of their leader, Santos Escobar. Wearing fancy suits, cutting good promos whilst Wilde and Mendoza stand behind him, the group dynamic is clearly more Legacy (Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr.) than Shield (Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins). Speaking of promos, Escobar has established himself as a pro. Whereas many Mexican born luchadors signed to WWE in the past have suffered from a language barrier, Escobar speaks with a confident and fluent grasp of the English language like any other member of the roster. His facials are excellent; it is almost a shame he wore a mask for so long. He is, in short, a well-rounded competitor with plenty to offer.
A Year in NXT and Unification
It is only natural that a man with the talent of Escobar has consistently good-to-excellent matches. His matches with Isaiah Scott, the former Lucha Underground contemporary Killshot, stand out among the bunch as some of the finest examples of wrestling in NXT throughout 2020. It was Isaiah Scott, along with Breezango, who handed Legado del Fantasma their first defeat on the September 9 2020 episode of NXT. This would not matter in the grand scheme of things, however. In addition to a win over Scott in August, Escobar would also defeat Scott at NXT TakeOver 31, in a solid 15 minute bout. Though his title defenses were often spread out, sometimes months between, his matches as champion felt special. He brought a level of prestige to the title not experienced since the reign of Neville (now PAC) as the self-proclaimed “King of the Cruiserweights” almost five years earlier. Further successful defenses against Gran Metalik and Curt Stallion would follow, as well as impressive showings against current NXT Champion, Karrion Kross. There was just one match that desperately needed to happen.
Jordan Devlin, as mentioned, had been NXT Cruiserweight Champion before being unable to defend it; a result of the pandemic. The Irish high-flyer, despite Escobar’s win, would rightfully be referred to as the lineal Cruiserweight Champion by the announcers, as he never lost the belt (though technically Enzo Amore remains the lineal champion). Escobar would regularly cut promos, questioning the whereabouts of Devlin – stranded in Ireland – whilst proclaiming himself the rightful, defending champion who actually turns up to do his job. Devlin, who cut some recorded promos, continued recognizing himself as the Cruiserweight Champion. Much like the Fight of the Century – the 1971 fight between Muhammad Ali (who had been forced to vacate the heavyweight title following his refusal to be drafted into Vietnam) and Joe Frazier – a unification bout was dawning. On the March 24 2021 episode of NXT, Devlin returned to action to defeat KUSHIDA and send a message to Escobar. Unfortunately for Devlin, at NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver, Escobar defeated Devlin in a ladder match – becoming the undisputed NXT Cruiserweight Champion and ending months of speculation as to who the true champion is. At long last, Escobar was the cruiserweight. Though not for long.
KUSHIDA Captures the NXT Cruiserweight Championship
KUSHIDA is similar to Escobar in that he, too, made his name outside of the WWE. A veteran of New Japan Pro Wrestling most famous for his six runs as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, KUSHIDA is something of an international legend within pro wrestling. However, until his win over Escobar, his NXT run had been nothing short of disappointing. Yes, the match quality was there. Yes, he was the same KUSHIDA – managing to hold onto his name, look, and attire. He also has a natural babyface charisma. Something was missing, however: championships. Given his reputation as one of the greatest cruiserweights/juniors in Japan, it was criminal that he had failed at every turn to capture the NXT Cruiserweight Championship after the fanfare surrounding his signing. There were fears that he’d go the same way as KENTA; a big, Japanese star whose NXT run failed to live up to the hype.
On April 13, just five days removed from his becoming undisputed champion, KUSHIDA accepted an open challenge from Escobar. Little over eleven minutes later, in a shocking win, KUSHIDA was NXT Cruiserweight Champion – ending the dominant reign of Legado del Fantasma’s leader. This brings us back to the present. On last night’s (May 11) episode of NXT, Escobar failed in his bid to recapture the title from his Japanese nemesis, leading many to question what’s next for the Mexican cruiserweight. A run on the main roster is a looming possibility; especially with recent rumors that Vince McMahon is looking to build the WWE’s next, big Mexican star. Perhaps he will remain in NXT, in a valiant attempt to recapture his former gold. Who knows. One thing is for certain, however; wherever he goes, Santos Escobar’s name will continue to be uttered.
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