What Is Up With the WWE Cruiserweights?
To me, the Survivor Series pay-per-view last night was downright awesome. The more and more I thought about it, the more I realized that a lot was done to truly enhance stories and add layers to character depth. I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of what happened last night.
The Goldberg vs Brock Lesnar 90 second match NEEDED to be done. Lesnar getting embarrassed only adds intrigue to his character and another layer to his persona, while Goldberg’s ferocious attack showcased his drive and fury for one last spear and Jackhammer, as he promised. The SmackDown v Raw tag team match emphasized the importance of brand supremacy, while continuing the stories that were being told throughout the weekly television product. Hell, even the Miz and being a “chickens**t” champion continues to showcase entertainment and a “Honky Tonk Man” style hatred from the fan base. Overall, I LOVED last night’s pay-per-view.
However, and that’s a big HOWEVER, there was only one thing that drove me nuts: the Cruiserweight Championship match last night between Raw’s THE Brian Kendrick and SmackDown’s Kalisto.
If you have listened to any of the #HardwayHQ Podcasts involving the Cruiserweight Classic with Nicholas F. Reigota and I or even our “History of Cruiserweights in American Wrestling” Podcast from Nick and Jon: “Live” in New Jersey, Cruiserweight wrestling has never truly been given the love by mainstream wrestling companies. Save WCW in 1995-1998, light heavyweights have always been lumped in as the workhorses of a company, yet never having an opportunity to rise into the upper tier of those companies.
With the structuring the way it is now, more performers that would be considered “junior heavyweights” in the late 1990s-early 2000s have now become World champions. CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Rey Mysterio, and AJ Styles are only a few of the talents that have ascended to the top of the #1 company on the planet as “the guy”. With that said, the Cruiserweight division would be null-and-void, as the premier talents emphasizes the mere basics of what light-heavyweights are about: work-rate and flying all over the place.
Yet, WWE, in the summer of 2016, instituted the Cruiserweight Classic on the WWE Network to bring back the innovative division and showcase the best flyers around the world. The concept for what it was, in spite of its feelings to Nick and I, was to bring in more of the hardcore, die-hard internet wrestling fan base to the WWE Network to watch world-traveled, top-shelf independent wrestling talent all under 205 pounds. The aesthetic with the purple, silver, and black mixed in with the fight-club environment made for a great wrestling show. Creatively, there were a few hits and misses, but the wrestling was incredible. The Cruiserweight Classic was a success.
One of the big creative missteps of the Cruiserweight Classic was the announcement during the day before the WWE Draft on the July 18th Raw. Right after the first week of the CWC, Stephanie McMahon announced that the Cruiserweight division would be coming to Raw. Hindsight being 20/20, that was an extremely rough move to make. Going off of which performers were being promoted for the division combined with the creative behind the show, WWE programming showcased the counter-productive nature of how “on the fly” this concept was. Why consistently build Brian Kendrick’s CWC run as his last chance to win the whole thing and gain a second chance in WWE while he’s being promoted for the Cruiserweight division on Raw conflicted and killed some of the buzz for the stories being created. Almost immediately off the bat, the Cruiserweight division, to me, was off on the wrong foot.
A lot of critics and fans have felt the Cruiserweights on Raw have not lived up to expectations, from a ratings and creative perspective. Since debuting the Cruiserweight championship on September 14, 2016 with no build-up to the finals, the division has suffered from a lot of tough placement on the card, combined with a true lack of development of characters for the division. I mean, TJ Perkins, the man who WON the Cruiserweight Classic and Championship on 9/14, was NOT on Raw the night the division DEBUTED on September 19! From that alone, it has been a rough go.
So when the announcement of 205 Live was announced for November 29, 2016, combined with a Raw vs SmackDown match signed for Survivor Series between Kendrick and Kalisto, where if SmackDown won, the entire Cruiserweight division would move to Tuesday nights, I thought it would make a lot of sense. With SmackDown being the extremely liberal, story-telling and character enhancing programming compared to Raw’s work-rate and lack of depth creatively with characters, the division would be a great counter-balance to what was going on with the blue brand. Combine that 205 Live would go on the air FOLLOWING SmackDown, it just made perfect sense and helped set-up the next chapter of the Brand Extension.
Instead, Baron Corbin ran in and attacked Kendrick and Kalisto and cost SmackDown the shot of gaining the Cruiserweights, keeping the division on Raw and really making things a mess. I got up, furiously, and left the room. My girlfriend, who is not a die-hard, passionate fan of the wrestling industry as I am, just stared at me in disbelief for how upset I’ve got at such a miniscule match, in her mind, on the card.
There are just some things I cannot control, and this match really peeved me to the point from frustration. Why am I frustrated? It is simply because the WWE has ZERO clue on what they are doing with the Cruiserweights. It annoys me. Here are three things that have set me off on this.
RAW IS #1 AND WILL BE PUSHED AS SUCH: In spite of the fact that WWE fans have really started to latch on to the story-telling and simple philosophies of SmackDown on Tuesdays, WWE has proved that Raw was, is, and forever will be the #1 focal point of the corporation. That point was proven during the “Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman” documentary released in 2014, as Heyman stated that, even in 2002, “SmackDown was the b**** of WWE.” Vince McMahon has even stated during promos on Raw that, “If you gain control of Raw, you basically have control of WWE.” In character or not, lines like that are embodied with enough realism to hold that fact. Not making the obvious switch to Tuesday nights and further helping build the growing audience of SmackDown on Tuesdays to instead further a Raw branded property, while pushing Talking Smack back an hour, makes no sense from either a business or creative standpoint. Raw, in spite of the obvious, will always be #1, and SmackDown will continue to be put into a tough situation in all aspects of the company.
KEEPING THE CRUISERWEIGHTS ON RAW DOESN’T DIFFERENTIATE THEM FROM THE MAIN EVENT: On a cerebral level, I’ve always felt that the Cruiserweights haven’t risen above on Raw for the simple fact that, as I alluded to earlier, the styles are too similar. Guys like Rollins, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, Cesaro, and Roman Reigns are all phenomenal in-ring talents that, in the main event, wrestle the same exact way as the Cruiserweights do. With the hard impact, high-flying style they implore in the main event scene, the Cruiserweights aren’t as special on Monday nights, as they wrestle with the exact same mindset. The infusion of Cruiserweight wrestling is to make them stand out, not make them look the same with the in-ring style, just in smaller body frames.
SAVE BRIAN KENDRICK, NO REAL CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Going into 205 Live, the Cruiserweight division are phenomenal athletes. There is no disputing that. However, with the exception of Brian Kendrick, every other Cruiserweight seems to lack any true motivations as characters. Drew Gulak, Tony Nese, and Ariya Daivari are great wrestlers, but what has gotten them to WWE other than the Cruiserweight championship? What do they see themselves as Cruiserweight champion ultimately meaning? What makes them stand out and showcase their talents on Raw? Do they want the winner’s purse? Do they see worldwide exposure as being the first step towards revamping Cruiserweight wrestling, and wrestling in general, into their own vision? As a fan, I’m big on characters. I just wish to see more of it, and hopefully it will on 205 Live. The only guy I’m into as a Cruiserweight is the aforementioned Kendrick. He doesn’t think with his body; he uses his smarts and psychology. As the wily veteran of the group, it is ingenious to see. I wish WWE would take more steps with that as it comes to finding the motivations and intentions of the rest of the Cruiserweights.
Unabashed, I LOVE the Cruiserweight style of wrestling. I truly hope that the division comes through and gets a true chance at adding another dimension to their performers. They are great inside the ropes. I just hope, sooner rather than later, that WWE takes them and does more with them as multi-faceted characters, not just wrestlers.
Sorry for the long winded piece, but once I get going, I can’t help myself.