The dream of becoming the first openly gay WWE champion led Jake Atlas to sign with the company in January, and now the talented grappler is getting his first shot at WWE gold. NXT’s latest addition will compete in an 8-man tournament to crown an interim NXT Cruiserweight champion.
Unlike WWE’s traditional single-elimination tournament format, Atlas and his fellow competitors will compete in a two-stage tournament structured similarly to New Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual Best of the Super Juniors tournament or the World Cup.
The eight wrestlers will be split into two round-robin groups of four with the winners of each group facing off in the championship match. Atlas will have to contend with former NXT Cruiserweight champion Tony Nese, 2-time Impact X Division champion Drake Maverick and former 6-time NJPW Junior Heavyweight champion Kushida in group A. Group B features former NXT Cruiserweight champion Akira Tozawa, Isaiah “Swerve” Scott and the debuting El Hijo del Fantasma.
Atlas debuted on NXT two weeks ago in a losing effort against Dexter Lumis, but he was still able to show flashes of the athleticism and skill that put him on WWE’s radar. Now, in his second televised match, he’ll start a weeks-long journey that is sure to raise his national profile.
While that is important, Atlas also recognizes the caliber of talent within his group and can’t wait to mix it up with his well-accomplished opponents. “In all honesty, being in this group with astounding talent is an honor. I can’t wait for these match-ups,” Atlas tweeted. “There is not one I favor over the other because I know each one will require different preparation, but all will push me to my limit. This is why I came. Let’s go!”
The need to crown an interim NXT Cruiserweight champion is yet another aspect of the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on WWE’s business. Current NXT Cruiserweight champion Jordan Devlin is currently home in his native Ireland, preventing him from entering the United States due to international travel restrictions.
WWE previously had to move all televised events, including WrestleMania 36, to a closed set at the company’s Performance Center in Orlando, Fla. due to the pandemic. The company had been mass recording episodes of its weekly Raw, Smackdown and NXT programs until it made the controversial decision Saturday to resume live broadcasts of those shows beginning this week.
The company also revealed over the weekend that an on-air talent who isn’t a wrestler contracted COVID-19 in March. According to WWE, the unnamed person was quarantined and has fully recovered.
The interim NXT Cruiserweight championship tournament gets underway on NXT this Wednesday.