Neville Saved the Cruiserweight Division
Back in November, I had written a blog in the Professional 3 called “What Is Up With the WWE Cruiserweights?” It was a piece based around the seeming failure around the Cruiserweight reboot on WWE television throughout the Survivor Series 2016.
Throughout that time, the Cruiserweights were not connecting with a WWE fan base. Granted, while performing in fantastic wrestling exhibitions, the wrestlers were not gaining an opportunity to develop their characters further, either with a microphone in front of a live crowd, or backstage, save Brian Kendrick. Survivor Series was supposed to be the switch of the division to SmackDown, while the Intercontinental championship was supposed to go to Raw. Instead, the Cruiserweight match was a throwaway, leading to Raw-branded material to be broadcasted live AFTER SmackDown on Tuesday nights.
Surprisingly, with the debut of 205 Live on November 29, 2016, it got even worse. The build for Kendrick to be the pillar of the WWE Network Exclusive show was killed abruptly for Rich Swann to win the championship on the very first show. Although the wrestling was, again, top-notch, the lack of character development was astounding. Mix that with a tired live arena spent after watching two hours of SmackDown, you have an unmotivated show that’s completely lackluster.
Seeing that, I legitimately believed the Cruiserweight division was a complete failure. It looked as if one thing after the other was destroying a concept that had a lot of promise with the Cruiserweight Classic. It seemed that with each passing week, the Cruiserweight reboot was a MISTAKE.
Then, NEVILLE took his throne as the “King of the Cruiserweights” and single-handedly saved 205 Live.
Neville came into WWE the day after WrestleMania 31 on March 30, 2015 after a run in NXT, becoming one half of the first ever NXT Tag Team Champions and winning the NXT Championship. Developing his style and career during his run in Japan as a member of Dragon Gate, Neville immediately stood out above the rest as WWE’s most innovative high-flyer, taking air and smashing down with his Red Arrow, a corkscrew shooting star press.
A humble performer, Neville consistently stole the show on WWE programming, but never actually won the big one. Neville lost a few chances at becoming WWE World Heavyweight champion against Seth Rollins and lost in the finals of the 2015 King of the Ring against winner Bad News Barrett. Neville even received multiple United States championship matches against John Cena and Kalisto respectively, but couldn’t get the job done. Neville was certainly 2015’s “Breakout Star of the Year” Slammy Award winner, but didn’t have any individual championships to truly put him over the top as such.
Three weeks out from WrestleMania 32, on March 14, 2016, Neville tried to slide underneath Chris Jericho during a one-on-one contest on Raw, but got caught on the canvas and fractured his ankle. Neville was out of the Intercontinental Championship ladder match at the “Showcase of the Immortals” and was out for months. Once he came back to WWE television, Neville seemingly was at a proverbial crossroads: putting on great wrestling exhibitions, but not really moving up the ladder of success. It had to be frustrating.
So when Neville came out to the ring at Roadblock: End of the Line on December 18, 2016 after Rich Swann’s successful defense of the Cruiserweight championship against Brian Kendrick and TJ Perkins, it seemed a little odd that a non-205 Live competitor was coming out to congratulate the winner post-victory instead of in the locker room. Needless to say, it was all for naught, as Neville became a complete supervillain, brutalizing both Swann and TJP with a ruthless assault. It seemed that Neville’s roadblock at the crossroads was barreled over with a tractor-trailer and destroyed.
Ever since 12/18/16, the Cruiserweight division has become Neville’s world. The self-proclaimed “King of the Cruiserweights” has showcased a true mean streak, using his anger to propel him to the Cruiserweight championship. It seems that on 205 Live and Raw, it’s Neville and everyone else. He is on another level. “The Man That Gravity Forgot” is now the man that the Cruiserweights hate to remember. He is truly THE man on 205 Live.
In my opinion, he saved the entire division.
What has led me to make a blunt statement such as this? I have THREE distinct reasons on why I believe Neville has put the Cruiserweight division on his back and carried it consistently uphill from the depths of purgatory. Without further hesitation…
USING THE MICROPHONE - Neville, unlike the other Cruiserweights, has had the opportunity each week to showcase his aggressive side on the microphone. CM Punk once said during an in-ring interview that, “The microphone means power.” For a global audience, hearing you speak helps them gain an emotional investment in you. From the second Neville became a villain, he has had the opportunity to speak on the microphone every single week. Whether it is a “State of the Cruiserweights Address”, a Championship Coronation, a contract signing, or even a 30-second promo hyping up 205 Live on SmackDown, Neville has grown leaps and bounds just by using a microphone.
You feel his aggression and anger by venting on how WWE has mistreated him. You feel his passion when Neville says he’s the “King of the Cruiserweights”. Most of all, you get him. Neville using his speaking ability makes you want to see someone knock him off of his throne. The microphone has been a tremendous asset for the Cruiserweight champion.
ADAPTING HIS IN-RING STYLE – When Neville first came onto mainstream WWE television, he was an dynamo in the high-flying district. Second-rope Phoenix splashes, 450 splashes off the barricade onto the concrete, suicide dives, and the Red Arrow were of the norm throughout 2015. He was the “New Sensation”. However, with his new aggressive side coming out as “the King of the Cruiserweights”, Neville has completely rejuvenated his performance inside the ropes. Instead of immediately going to the air, “the Man That Gravity Forgot” got more intense, found gravity, and attacks more with strikes and high-impact maneuvers.
Neville has really mastered the Superplex, which was created and perfected by British wrestling icon the Dynamite Kid. He has also worked on stretching opponents in the Rings of Saturn, a submission that simultaneously injures the shoulder, rotator cuff, and pectoral area. These simple additions to the vastly talented Neville have made him above and beyond the #1 junior heavyweight in WWE.
REALISM – There is no doubt in my mind that Neville’s proverbial crossroads in the summer of 2016 was a legitimate one. WWE allowing Neville to showcase his frustration in the ring with a character twist is kudos to both behind the scenes and the performer itself. Neville showing that belief in himself as the self-proclaimed “King of the Cruiserweights” is a definite dose of realism. Seeing the anger and drive that might have lacked in the first year of his WWE run has brought out the absolute best in Neville. In the days where fans want a legitimate vibe to performers in and out of the ring, Neville is on the top of the list of “real” characters on television.
I’m extremely happy to see Neville get an opportunity at WrestleMania this year as the Cruiserweight champion against Austin Aries. His late December/first quarter of 2017 has single-handedly saved 205 Live and the Cruiserweight division out of possible obscurity. “The King of the Cruiserweights” has the total package right now, and there is nobody better. Neville is 205 Live, and as long as he’s on top of the division, the Cruiserweight division will continue to surge back into the hearts of mainstream wrestling fans.