Back in the summer of 2016, WWE held the Cruiserweight Classic, which showcased some of the best talents across the globe in the 205 weight class. Each week, fans were treated to competitive, back and forth physical matches which pulled no punches. There were memorable moments and even more memorable matches. One of the standouts was Kota Ibushi’s match with current Cruiserweight champion Cedric Alexander. The winner of the entire thing was TJ Perkins, who impressed heavily, especially in his final two matches of the tournament against Kota Ibushi and Gran Metalik in the Finals. He even had a purple chest from all the sharp chops he took in the final match to showcase his battle scars and what a battle the Cruiserweight Classic was.
However, the winner of the tournament didn’t just receive bragging rights and a claim of being the winner of this massive tournament. They went home with a purple Cruiserweight Championship and as top dog of the Cruiserweight division that would be exclusive to the RAW brand in the fall. Many fans were beyond excited to see the same superstars that were tearing it down in the Classic to be on weekly television. On the surface, it seemed like an ingenious move to give the brand split an extra kick. Every time the Cruiserweights would wrestle on RAW, the ropes would change to purple, to seemingly give them an identity and have them stand out from the heavyweights. Everything looked right. But something was off. The crowd wasn’t being receptive to the matches. The stories were often dull. The promos were lifeless. Chants of “boring” were common. How could such a successful venture in the summer end up so badly?
There are a number of reasons people use for their lack of success out of the gate. Many said the Cruiserweights couldn’t succeed because they weren’t being allowed to work to their full potential as a result of being held back. Others attributed it to a lack of engaging storylines. Many believed it lacked star power. Whatever the one specific reason you want to point at it, the CW’s struggled out of the gate, and TJ Perkins didn’t help matters. TJ is a great in-ring performer. The problem was that he absolutely sucked in about everything else. The running gag with him was that he wouldn’t stop mentioning the fact that he grew up homeless, as if he was the only superstar to grow up with rough backgrounds. He never spoke with conviction, the crowd couldn’t connect with him, and while the 8-bit video game entrance with a dab gave him a personality (I guess?), it didn’t make people want to see him.
The next CW champion was a respected long-time veteran in the wrestling business, The Brian Kendrick. TBK was actually a member of WWE’s roster in the late 2000’s before being released, and he believed his stint in the CW Classic was his second chance. He took advantage of TJ’s stupidity at Hell In A Cell, and he won the title, but in underwhelming fashion. This was made even more apparent because his reign lasted a little over a month before Rich Swann won it from him on an episode of 205 Live. This division simply wasn’t going anywhere. None of these characters possessed the star power or charisma to make the CW divsion worth watching. There was no backbone. But it seemed the division was set for a change when a certain superstar returned from injury. Neville made a return, but in heel fashion, laying waste to everyone in sight. Neville isn’t the biggest star in the world, but one thing he had going for him was credibility. He was an NXT Champion, and arguably the most nimble guy on the roster. Instead of coming out in a cape and making everyone smile, he’d make everyone hate him. He’d torture people, destroy them in the ring, and most importantly, forced others to reach his level.
He won the title at the Royal Rumble on his first try and basically held it until the fall. His new attitude at least made the face of the CW division something worthwhile. Neville always wrestled like a cruiserweight, but at least he had some personality to match his ring acumen. It was made all the better with his feud with Austin Aries, who had been injured for a while due to an orbital socket injury. Many said that Neville and Austin had one of the best matches at WrestleMania despite being on the pre-show. Everything seemed to be making a turn. Then, another step back was taken when the decision was made to give the title to Enzo Amore. A man who could speak on the microphone, but couldn’t translate that to competence in the ring. This was what actually facilitated Neville’s decision to leave WWE. After allegations of misconduct in the locker room and on the road, Enzo was released from his contract in early 2018, and I doubt many miss him. But I’m sure you are all aware that sometimes, you can have addition via subtraction.
With the loss of Amore, WWE went back to its roots by giving them another tournament. A new general manager in Drake Maverick (known as Rockstar Spud in Impact Wrestling) was also appointed as well. The tournament featured some pretty hard-worked matches and fans started to take note of that. Some of the standouts of the tournament included Mustafa Ali, Drew Gulak and Buddy Murphy. The series of matches that Ali and Murphy would have with each other in the past couple of months were actually my favorites, especially their no DQ match. The finals of the tournament ended with Cedric Alexander defeating Ali at WrestleMania to win the title. Cedric has emerged as a prominent face, while Mustafa was representing the future of sorts. While the match wasn’t anything otherworldly, it felt very important to me.
Even past the tournament, we are being treated to hard-worked, competitive matches on a weekly basis. Did you see that tornado tag match between Buddy Murphy, Tony Nese and Lince Dorado with Gran Metalik? It was incredible. I’ll be completely honest in saying that I don’t really pay attention much to the actual storylines, simply because between 5 hours of RAW and Smackdown on Mondays and Tuesdays, I’m completely drained and need to reboot. But if I feel like there’s a good match in store, I’ll tune in for an extra hour. The biggest difference I’ve noticed in 205, especially this year, is the culture. If you haven’t noticed, the Cruiserweights are no longer featured on RAW weekly, and only make sporadic PPV appearances at big events if the situation calls for it. Otherwise, they are exclusive to 2055 Live, and they are starting to resemble the Cruiserweight Classic week after week. The problem in the past was that those on 205 Live were being brought to WWE without much context. People weren’t given a reason to care about any of them because they weren’t watching the shows and therefore have no idea who the people are, what the storylines entail, and why they are wrestling.