Some people are going to disagree with the premise of this article, but I feel the Cruiserweight division is being underutilized and poorly booked to such an extent that by this time next year there might not even be a division. Vince is already said to be upset with how the division is being received , which is funny, because him and Kevin Dunn are overseeing the division, not HHH and Ryan Ward, the creative minds in charge of Smackdown. This could explain the reliance on the same old booking that is happening and the lack of in ring freedom that the Cruisers need to succeed.
The shadow of the WCW Cruiserweight division looms large
Looking back, WCW did alot of things right that get overlooked due to the many, many, many things they did wrong (Arquette as champion, finger poke of doom, pretty much anything involving Vince Russo) that occurred during the Monday Night Wars. One that ranks up there with the best in my opinion is the Cruiserweight division. Bolstered by names poached and borrowed from ECW, NJPW, and various Mexican federations, it was a rare occurrence where they were far ahead of their time. Chris Jericho, Ultimo Dragon, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerero, Chris Benoit, and Rey Mysterio Jr. are just some of the few names that made this division one of the most stacked in history, with many going on to succeed in main roster spots and become legends in the industry. Many times they even stole the show at PPVs, with the most notable being Eddie Guerrero vs Rey Mysterio JR. at Halloween Havoc 97, which is still in my top 10 favorite matches of all time. I’m using this division as a template for what I think WWE is doing wrong, and right, and explain why I think right now the Cruiserweight division in the WWE is headed in the wrong direction.
The CWC was perfect, almost…
When the first ever WWE Cruiserweight Classic was announced, I was so excited for it that I thought I might be having a fever dream, they are finally acknowledging the hottest wrestlers in the world, the new guard if you will. The days of the lumbering 300 pounders are headed to the graveyard. Well, it was close at least. In many cases it was the most entertaining hour of WWE programming every week while it was running. They had international stars well known to smarks like Noam Dar, Zack Sabre JR., and Kota Ibushi. Plus veteran indie guys like Cedric Alexander and T.J. Perkins. The more sports oriented presentation was a welcome change, using vignettes to introduce the contenders to the audience, making it feel like you were watching the pre show of an NFL game. It was great. It also produced one of the matches of the year and one of the best moments of the year between Cedric Alexander and Kota Ibushi, with the crowd chanting “PLEASE SIGN CEDRIC!!” causing HHH to come out in an unscripted moment. All these made it feel like a big deal, but there was one major problem, the best cruiserweights were NOT in the tourney. The most glaring omissions were Will Ospreay and Ricochet/Prince Puma. They had contractual obligations that prevented them from appearing, but as much as I loved the tournament I couldn’t help but have that nagging thought in the back of my head that,” yeah these guys are great talents, but man if Ospreay and Ricochet were in this it would be officially over the top”. Then it was made obvious that only guys who signed deals would be pushed to the finals, so instead of everyone’s penciled in tournament final, Ibushi vs Sabre, we got the somewhat disappointing T.J. Perkins vs Gran Mettalik. While the two did put on a solid finals match, it wasn’t the blockbuster showdown it could have been.
Wait, they’re on after Smackdown, but wrestle on Raw?
Nothing about the 205 Live process makes sense to me. They are booked on Raw, getting lost in the shuffle of part timers and comedy acts, stale booking, and lack of originality, but wrestle they’re exclusive show after Smackdown….what? Smackdown has already shown itself to be the true land of opportunity, utilizing their talent and reinvigorating the careers of people such as The Miz, and Ziggler. This all goes back to something I mentioned earlier, HHH and Ryan Ward book Smackdown, while Vince is calling all the shots on Raw. So basically they’re being booked by a man who doesn’t understand the appeal of smaller wrestlers, and has never felt they can draw to begin with(Daniel Bryan, anyone?). They are getting around 5 minutes of airtime, including entrances, and have had their move sets restricted. Leaving audiences underwhelmed and sitting on their hands. To make matters worse, the network exclusive show 205 Live is being filmed after Smackdown each week, to half empty arenas. Think about it, to the casual fan after seeing John Cena, AJ Styles, and Ambrose over the course of 2 hours, most don’t care about Tony Nese vs Drew Gulak. This was just the start of the problems.
Now let’s get to the heart of the matter, the booking. Right off the bat it was apparent Perkins was a lame duck champion. The crowd didn’t gravitate towards him like was hoped, and they had to quickly move to set up a program with The Brian Kendrick to get the belt off of him. Noam Dar, one of the biggest signings of the whole Cruiserweight division sputtered for months, having no real direction until finally being put into a program with Cedric Alexander, another under utilized star, over Alicia Fox. That feud was conceived by Vince because he thought it was funny the way Dar’s accent makes Fox sound like Fucks. Seriously… The show was also missing some of the breakout stars and favorites of the tournament. No Akira Tozawa. No Gran Metalik. No Tajiri. But hey, Jack Gallagher is here, and now he has an umbrella ( Marty Scurll must be pissed, more on him later). On top of all this, they treat it like a sideshow. The ropes are changed, the lighting is changed,the ring mat is changed and the announcers are swapped out. It does have a certain visual appeal, but it comes off to the viewer as being a separate part of Raw, not good enough to be part of the main show. So, poor booking, lack of understanding of the appeal of the division, misuse of talent, and restricting moves sets have left the crowd apathetic towards the division as a whole. Even a charismatic champion like Rich Swann only garnered a moderate response from the fans. This almost has the feeling of the old Divas division, a bathroom break moment. All hope is not lost though, it can still be saved, and I have a few ideas how.
Cut the checks and let this be more than a sideshow
The WWE has already started to right the ship in one major way, the rebirth of Neville as the top heel of the division as the self proclaimed “King of the Cruiserweights”. Putting the strap on him was the right move and hopefully a sign of things to come. Some other things I would do are quite simple. First and foremost, give these guys some airtime! A good 10-15 minute match, where they have taken the move restrictions off of these guys would help a great deal.Next, and I’m not gonna spend much time on it, but ditch the rope and lighting change, let it feel like a part of the show. Let’s face it, when casual fans think cruiserweights they think flippy shit, so give it to them. Not everyone in the division is a high flyer and it will help contrast the different styles of the division if you have a handful of guys basically putting on a Lucha Unerground match every week. Then when the eyes are on it more attentively you can build up stars like Gulak, Nese, Daivari, and have a solid mid card to help bolster the division. Once that is done I’d let these guys wrestle out of the division. Cedric Alexander can be an Intercontinental or US champion if given the chance, the guy has star written all over him, especially if you are familiar with his ROH days. So allow them some freedom, build up the mid card, let some guys also compete outside of the division, and ditch the rope/lighting changes. Well is that it? No. They need to use all that to build up the trust that they will be properly utilized to sign the top cruiserweights in the world. Kota Ibushi turned down multiple offers because of the exclusivity of the deals, but I’m sure many are sitting back and watching what they do with the division, just like many Japanese talents are seeing how they handle Nakamura. So use that as a way to entice top talents like Marty Scurll, Zack Sabre JR., Ricochet, and Will Ospreay JR. The pound for pound best cruisers in the world. Also, if you can manage to sign these guys, treat their signing like the big deal it is. Have a few weeks of buildup with vignettes using footage from PROGRESS, EVOLVE, even ROH if you can work out a deal(NJPW is off the table, they’re gearing up for war) since they have working relationships with those groups. It would also be smart to bring some of the UK tournament guys over to help with the depth of the division. Finally, and most importantly, take the booking out of VInce McMahons hands. He doesnt get the appeal and never will. Let HHH and Ryan ward take over and book it just like the CWC and the UK tourney was and you will see an instant uptick in excitement for the division. After all, if Vince sours on something, it’s not long before we get this…..