As posted in a previous blog entry, one of the universally acknowledged greatest things of 2016 eminating from the WWE was the Cruiserweight Classic - a fantastic showcase for some truly talented wrestlers, in an attempt to ressurect a forgotten decision. Once the first champion - TJ Perkins - was crowned and the fairly lurid Cruiserweight belt was revealed, murmers of worry began to emerge from the IWC about how WWE (a company famed for uninspired booking decisions and panic endings to storylines) would utilise this momentum. Vignettes began to appear introducing the Cruiserweights to the WWE flagship show RAW - good start! Then the debut happened...
To say that this fell flat is akin to saying that arson is a little bit naughty (Randy Orton.) The audiences could not have cared less, the wrestlers looked directionless, there were no stories, no reason for us to care about whether a character was a heel or a face, but most importantly - for some indecipherable reason - the WWE stopped the wrestlers wrestling in the same way that had gotten them over in the first place! Gone were the flips, moonsaults and incredible aerial prowess, instead, we were regularly subjected to six-man tag match after six-man tag match decided by submission moves. Now don't get me wrong there's nothing wrong with a submission move; Ric Flair's Figure Four Leg Lock and Bret Hart's Sharpshooter are amongst the most iconic moves in wrestling history, but these are moves that we tune into the main roster for! I'm not tuning into the Cruiserweight division to see submission moves in the same way I don't tune in to see powerslams and hardcore violence!
Seeming to understand that they have made an obscene faux-pas, WWE had the oppurtunity to hit reset at Survivor Series 2016, when they had the oppurtunity to send the Cruiserweights to SmackDown Live - a show with infinitely better writers, and where the wrestlers would have a better chance of connecting with audiences and developing their characters. This could be the best thing that happens to the division...
RAW kept the Cruiserweights and announced that they would have their own show whilst appearing on RAW.
Erm...okay, the show sounds good, when is this?
Weekly... after SmackDown Live
This confusing stream of conciousness seemed to bamboozle every wrestling fan as the Cruiserweights were now not only having to travel hundreds of miles to attend both RAW and SmackDown Live, but the show would be filmed AFTER the latter, a show that has been almost unanimously understood to be the better of the two main shows, a show that exhausts its audience, an audience that cannot invest in an hours show off the back of half-hearted characterisations hashed out as filler on RAW.
The Cruiserweight division in short, is not at its strongest in any capacity.
However, over the past few weeks, 205 Live and its Cruiserweight roster have slowly but surely been putting on more interesting and engaging shows, which has led to the following entry; 3 Of The Best & 3 Of The Worst Of 205 Live - I do however want to prelude this by saying if I'd completed this blog entry during the first 10 episodes of the show, I'd have genuinley found it difficult to find 3 positives about it. Nevertheless, found them I have and here they are, I'll even put the positives first!
3 of the Best
Neville - The Heel Champion
Neville, hands down, has been the best thing about this division. The man truly is King of the Cruiserweights and seems to be revelling in his tremendous heel turn. A criminally underrated wrestler since being promoted to the main roster, he was seemingly forgotten after breaking his ankle in a match with Chris Jericho, destined to roam the lower mid-card with the likes of R-Truth and The Shining Stars. Why he wasn't drafted to the Cruiserweight show from the get go is still a baffling question that is yet to have an answer as the internet commiunity was clamouring for it.
Not only is this man an absolute artist in the ring, his Red Arrow is a thing of absolute beauty, but he can help other performers, performers who may not be as used to the WWE style as Neville is. Look at the matches he has put on with Rich Swann and Jack Gallagher, both absolute classics in my opinon! His promos are flawless and the way he carries himself shows that he is going from strength to strength. He needs to continue carrying this title for an extended period of time, engaging in feuds that make us want to tune in to 205 Live, just like his impending feud with Austin Aries has done. Let him lead from the front and draw even more fans to a show that could potentially be on the cusp of turning itself around.
The Brian Kendrick
Brian Kendrick, similar to Neville, is a vastly under appreciated talent. The man was quite honestly, bar Jack Gallagher who should consider himself quite unlucky not find himself on this part of the list, the best thing on 205 Live until the WWE finally understood what was best for business and brought Neville in. Kendrick's feud with Perkins was good, but was only really good due to Kendrick's character work.
His 'man with a plan' tag line is brilliant, and he was the first person on the current 205 Live roster that the audience really connected with, shown most prominently when he took the belt from Perkins at Hell in a Cell, with an apathetic crowd giving him praise, even though he was supposed to be a heel. Even after losing the belt, Kendrick continues to provide us with entertaining angles, as his feud with Akira Tozawa is plainly demonstrating. This man almost single-handedly held up the division whilst the other talents were establishing themselves, and before the much needed interjection of star power, speaking of which...
From the outset, the franchise itself suffered from a lack of established starpower. Sure, 205 Live was set on developing its own stars, hence the belt being put on Rich Swann and TJ Perkins, but the characters hadn't had time to develop their characters or establish themselves with the crowd. With the vast expanse of potential Cruiserweight talent that the wrestling world possess and even WWE has in it's own roster, something desperately needed to be done...step forward A double.
This man oozes charisma and is the perfect foil for the outstanding Neville - who in truth was in danger of being that good that he buried the rest of the division. From his commentary with a now infamous banana in his pocket, to his scathing remarks to his fellow commentators, to that incredible interchange with Neville when Aries announced himself to the roster this man has crowds around the globe in the palm of his hand. An established star with a wealth of wrestling experience already behind him, the crowd connected with him immediately and brought some much needed credibility to the roster to balance out the 'greeness' of some of the current talent. The man has it all, an explosive wrestling style that's incredible to watch, charisma to fill a bathtub and the ability to hold the entire audience in his hand with a single promo. I'm going to go out on a limb right now and make a prediction that his forthcoming Cruiserweight title bout with Neville will be a dark horse to be match of the night in Orlando come April. Who would have thought a Cruiserweight match would even come close to that accolade even a month ago?
3 of the Worst
The Live Crowd/Straight After SmackDown
This may seem the most obvious point to make, but if you want an audience to care about your product, then don't showcase it in front of an exhausted audience! When the WWE announced that the Cruiserweights would be getting their own show and that it would be filmed live straight after SmackDown, the collective wrestling community scratched their heads. Yes, obviously it makes sense if you have the venue to squeeze every last drop of revenue possible out of it and sure, it means that the Cruiserweights are performing in bigger venues, but these venues are emptying rapidly as an exhausted audience leave after SmackDown. Think about it, in the last few weeks, SmackDown Live have had a triple threat for the WWE Championship between Bray Wyatt, AJ Styles and John Cena and a match of pay per view calibre between Randy Orton and AJ Styles for the number 1 contendership for Bray Wyatt's Championship as main events. The audience were incredibly invested in both matches and were therefore burned out by the end. Would you want to stop for another hour of wrestling between wrestlers you have barely heard of?
Do you think NXT would have had the same level of success if it was tagged onto the end of a 3 hour RAW? No, absolutley not!
Having its own venue and most importantly, being taped, has worked wonders for NXT, effectivley turning it into its very own brand, this could be a potential life saver for 205 Live. Film it in a smaller venue, a venue you know you can fill and the atmosphere changes. If the rumours are true and WWE want to turn 205 Live into a touring brand, then this really must be the only way forward.
Lack of Storylines/Directions on RAW
This is only a short point really, but the whole reason I love wrestling, is due to the complex storylines and how everything links together. 205 Live does not do this. At the moment, the program seems to be random people fighting random people with the most basic of phantom stories pushed to the background. When stories do rear their heads, they are the most bizarre of angles that we just cannot invest in, for example the current feud between Noam Dar and Rich Swann over the affections of Alicia Fox. Yes a love storyline is a tried and tested storyline for the WWE and hell, some work extremely well, this however seems rushed and put together without any thought, and that is nothing against the competitors, after all, they can only do what is put in front of them. It all just seems rather uninspired, and that remains an issue to this day in 205 Live, with the only real storyline bar the Alicia Fox angle and the humorous interchanges between Kendrick and Tozawa, being the title match between Neville and Austin Aries. Looking at it, that's an awful lot of competitors with very little to do, and with no real justification for doing what they are doing.
It still vexes me that the Cruiserweights stayed on RAW after Survivor Series. With 205 Live being on Tuesday night after SmackDown, it just seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Cruiserweights would go to the blue brand. But no...whether it be a Stephanie McMahon muscle flexing activity, or whether it be WWE refusing to acknowledge that they completely dropped the ball after the CWC, leaving them to fester in the lower mid card for the audience to ignore, or whether it be to add some filler to RAW's gargantuan 3 hour time slot, the red brand has done nothing for these athletes. Countless vignettes announcing their arrival did indeed garner some initial excitement, but after match after match of dull six-man tag matches with no consequence or reason, the audience switched off. Even now, the only thing RAW is doing is attempting to advertise 205 Live with ill-placed matches which no-one cares about. It seems as though the writers aren't terribly concerned with the division and this is a shame - all it would take is a low level WWE creative writer to take on the Cruiserweights as their own and really run with it, showing it the care and attention it deserves, allow the time on RAW to mean something as opposed to just being needless filler, for it to really begin to build up a head of steam.
TJ Perkins - Thief of Moments
Some people may think that this is incredibly harsh. After all, this man is the first Cruiserweight Champion of the current generation and his in-ring ability has never been in question, this lad is technically fantastic. However, it is the WWE's use of him that places him on this list. Winning the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016 seemed to be a great stepping stone for TJP, even though reports revealed that he may not have been the first choice as victor, and the final of Gran Metalik and Perkins was only established once it was discovered that Zack Sabre Jr. wasn't going to be signing with the WWE and Metalik and Perkins were. Nevertheless, Perkins was selected as the face of the Cruiserweights going forward. However, after a series of head-crushingly mundane, obviously scripted and listless promos in which we got no idea about his character or his motivations, after announcing himself to the main roster by dabbing his way to the ring and after being depicted as a gullible fool in his feud with former friend and infinitely more charismatic The Brian Kendrick, it seems baffling how the WWE expected him to connect with the WWE Universe. Depicting the face of the division as a millennial, and even worse a boring millennial, was not the way forward.
It seems to have done him considerable harm as well, as his matches are met with neither enjoyment or boos, but merely silence, which is even worse. Look at his bout with Nakamura at NXT 381 (home of the worst promo of the modern day where Perkins announced himself not to be a thief of moves, but a thief of moments, delivered in a way that even Keanu Reeves would describe as dull) the match was excellent and both competitors told a good story, did the audience care about Perkins? When he dabbed to the ring did they cheer? No, the audience aren't bothered in the slightest. I genuinely hope that Perkins renovates his character soon, because as stated, he has excellent in-ring ability, but his run at the beginning of the Cruiserweight division and on 205 Live set a terrible precedent and unfortunately, set the WWE on the backfoot straight away.