In a couple of hours, the Cruiserweight Championship will be defended on the Wrestlemania Kickoff show as champion Neville takes on Austin Aries. This will be the only match featuring the Cruiserweight division at The Show of Shows, therefore no Cruiserweights will be on the main card and it’s not surprising that they aren’t. This is because from the moment they appeared on Raw, the Cruiserweights have been treated as an afterthought. It’s clear that the writers have little to no time for the division and the fans find it hard to root for them because of this.
In this article I will take a look back at what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong in the Cruiserweight division in a chronological review to see why the division’s presence at Wrestlemania is minimal.
The Cruiserweight Classic (CWC) tournament took place over the summer of 2016. It was a 32-man tournament which showcased the best high-flying independent wrestlers in the world. It was highly regarded for providing some of the best matches WWE has produced since the turn of the decade. Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa and Kota Ibushi vs. Cedric Alexander particularly receiving high acclaim.
Alongside the ongoing tournament, the main roster brand split was put in to effect. On the July 25 episode of Raw, it was announced that the red brand would be the home of the new Cruiserweight division and that certain competitors from the CWC would be featured. 17 competitors signed full-time contracts with the WWE, with 3 more having already been signed before the tournament took place.
In September, the tournament had narrowed down to four semi-finalists: Gran Metalik, Zack Sabre Jr, Kota Ibushi and TJ Perkins, and by this time the contract agreements were all but settled. Two major names that turned down contracts were Zack Sabre Jr and Kota Ibushi, with Sabre outright refusing and Ibushi not being able to come to terms on a deal. Ibushi and Sabre lost their semi-final matches to TJ Perkins and Gran Metalik respectively (both of whom had signed for the company full-time).
On September 14 2016, Perkins defeated Metalik to become the Cruiserweight Classic winner and as per what Triple H announced earlier that evening, the CWC winner became the new Cruiserweight Champion. The Cruiserweight division was now ready to go. Five days later on Raw, the Cruiserweight division was unveiled by then- Raw General Manager Mick Foley, and from then problems were beginning to surface. Foley had stumbled through a lifeless promo to “hype up” the Cruiserweights, and then began to read four names off a piece of paper and there they were: Cedric Alexander, Brian Kendrick, Gran Metalik and Rich Swann.
Each entered the arena to a completely silent crowd with little to no fanfare. They just showed up and had a match, with no attempt by the Creative team to introduce the fans to the characters and gimmicks. Foley reading their names and descriptions off a piece of paper showed that he didn’t make much attempt to remember them either, so why should the crowd? It was as if Creative just assumed everybody watched the Cruiserweight Classic on the WWE Network and already knew who they were. Why not even run promos on Raw a few weeks before to profile these guys?
Champion TJ Perkins showed up the next week and started a rivalry with Brian Kendrick who was the #1 Contender. The rivalry was actually intriguing at first as it looked to make TJP out as the main babyface of the Cruiserweight division. Kendrick played up the fact that he was in the latter stages of his career and needed a win by any means necessary. Kendrick proved to be a real gem in this feud, however TJP was underperforming in the top babyface role. The self-confessed video game nerd had real potential to reach out to the younger fanbase, and his rise to the top from once being homeless is a story everyone can get behind. However, be it TJ’s underwhelming promo skills, lack of attention and development from Creative, his clean-cut babyface nature or all of the above, Perkins’ time at the top was not to be a successful one.
At Hell in a Cell, Perkins lost the Cruiserweight Championship to Brian Kendrick, and despite still being in the title picture he was now in the back seat. The next babyface experiment would now be Rich Swann. Swann was also a guy who came from nothing, at least that’s what the announcers kept telling us. Swann would find more success as the Cruiserweights’ lead babyface, with his energy and charm coming across well to the fans.
Rather than being in well-developed storylines, the rest of the division were being shoved on screen with no build or character, participating in go-nowhere six-man tag team matches that lasted for less than 10 minutes. The main victims of this booking were (and still are) Drew Gulak and Tony Nese.
Seeing the internet’s dismay at their terrible use of talented wrestlers, WWE gave the Cruiserweights a new, one-hour show called 205 Live to explore the wrestlers’ characters and develop storylines, or that was the intention at least. 205 Live seems to just feature longer versions of pointless tag matches and tame, half-baked storylines which barely receive airtime. On the first episode of 205 Live, Rich Swann beat Brian Kendrick and became the new Cruiserweight Champion to a timid crowd. It wasn’t their fault the crowd wasn’t in to the match, it was decent enough and they told a good story in the ring. The reason the crowds every week seem to be timid is because producers film 205 Live right after Smackdown and it’s visible that half the crowd are leaving and people are peppered in between empty seats. They’re also not half as excited as they are for Smackdown, as the division is considered an afterthought.
More cruiserweights were coming to the fore and finding their characters after 205 Live began to air. Noam Dar is fantastic as a slimy, pervert heel vying (successfully) for the affections of Cedric Alexander’s ‘girlfriend’, (all together now) “THE BEAUTIFUL ALICIA FAAAAAAUUUUWWWWKKKKSSS!” and Gentleman Jack Gallagher upholding Victorian upper-class etiquette has gotten hugely over with fans. However, these two are exceptions to an otherwise bland and vanilla division.
At Fastlane in December, Rich Swann retained the Championship against TJP and Brian Kendrick and we witnessed the return and the beginning of a renaissance for a superstar who should’ve been a part of the CWC, Neville came to the ring and immediately clocked Swann, signalling his intentions for the title. Neville did in one night what the rest of the division couldn’t do in three months; become the star of the entire Cruiserweight division. Neville’s heel turn was a shot in the arm to a wrestler languishing at the lower card and a division that’s the same. Neville would go on to win the Cruiserweight Championship at the Royal Rumble.
Whilst Neville became must-see, the rest of the division remained lifeless, Dar and Alexander’s feud was one that harkened to a bygone era, and the rest are stuck with nothing to do. Even the return of Tajiri hasn’t helped the division, with the Buzzsaw barely present on 205 Live at the moment. As we head on to Wrestlemania, the Cruiserweight division is falling in to a purgatory of sorts, where fans don’t feel compelled to pay these excellent competitors any attention.
The addition of Austin Aries to the 205 Live roster will hopefully turn things around, as A Double is inventive and charismatic enough to be a top face of a division, as we saw in his Impact Wrestling tenure. Aries and Neville are set to face off for the Cruiserweight Championship at Wrestlemania, and I for one hope that they can shock some people and make the division what it should be; must see.
Overall, the Cruiserweight division in WWE doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose, it’s just something that’s merely there and no attempt is made to promote feuds, characters or even 205 Live. I also thought there would be more cross-over with NXT, but the two brands barely interact.
The division reminds me of WWE’s ECW brand where it had the potential of building new stars based on their athletic ability while veterans are there for name recognition. However much like the ECW brand, the Cruiserweights are being pushed down by a Creative team that can’t seem to fashion a good program for them and producers that give them around 5 minutes to demonstrate their entire move arsenal. I fear that unless more people rally behind the division that the plug will eventually be pulled.
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