Every Tuesday night, after SmackDown Live goes off the air on the USA Network, a devout portion of WWE fans clamor to their streaming devices to fire up 205 Live on the WWE Network. And despite the fact that they are promised, “The most exciting hour on television,” they are gifted a rather monotonous, WWE-style, cruiserweight division that has seen the wrestlers on the brand succeed in the past, largely because they haven’t been cramped by the WWE.
It was the summer of 2016 and the Cruiserweight Classic was set to be aired. The company had brought in 32 of the best wrestlers in the world that weighed less than 205 pounds to compete in a tournament to crown a new Cruiserweight Champion; there was no promise of a weekly TV show, or even their appearance on either of the two main brands. Some wrestlers were there for one-offs, while others flipped their performance into a contract.
The odds-on favorites to win the tournament at the time appeared to be either Kota Ibushi or Zack Sabre Jr. Neither man came anywhere near taking home the belt during the Classic, stepping aside for T.J. Perkins, who became the inaugural Champion, and immediate face of the division.
First, the cruiserweights became property of the Raw brand. Perkins and The Brian Kendrick feuded over the title, as the formation of a new division began to take shape. But missing from that division were many of the high-profile performers that wrestling fans expected to take center stage first at the Cruiserweight Classic, then at least upon the creation of a full-time division; it never came.
It’s less than a year into the advent of 205 Live and the cruiserweight division in general, but the WrestleMania match for the division’s championship will feature Neville defending his purple-belted gold (or silver, in this case) against the returning Austin Aries. Aries has been one of two color commentators for the show over the past handful of months, never so much as having debuted on the show beforehand, as he was injured at NXT and conspicuously made the transition.
Neither Aries or Neville was a member of the Cruiserweight Classic less than a year ago. There’s little question the division will have to move past the tournament that put them on the map, but while Neville/Aries is the best match they could put on at the biggest show of the year, Neville has spoken countless truths about being the “King of the Cruiserweights.”
Neville and Aries have saved a division that without them would be stuck with a multi-man match at WrestleMania, which would have likely been a spot-fest of aerial assault. As the company works their way through whether they want 205 Live to be that style of spot-fest on a weekly basis or a storyline-based hour-long show — or simply something in-between — they’ve placed the two best wrestlers available in a match.
As the weekly television show continues to be an hour-long show of nearly the same matches with no general direction, it’s time to propose a new system: following WrestleMania, a rankings system would begin to determine the No. 1 contender to the belt, a la UFC rankings. During 205 Live, wrestlers would jockey for position (without the WWE storylines) to move up and down the ranks, with wins moving particular wrestlers up, while others move down. Rather than the current mess of faces, heels, Alicia Fox and Jack Gallagher’s umbrella, the matches can take the spotlight back, which is what made the CWC so successful in the first place.
Building and expanding the division is the only way forward for the purple brand. In addition to the aforementioned Ibushi and Sabre Jr., an infusion of life could come in the form of Mark Andrews, who was one of the breakout stars of the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, and more recently, had a stellar showing against Pete Dunne on NXT. Andrews is another high flyer who would match up well against the likes of Perkins, Rich Swann, and even someone like Mustafa Ali.
In addition, the duo of Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano are currently shredding up the NXT tag team division. The two faced off in the CWC over the summer and have since gone on to become the NXT Tag Team Champions, which bodes well for them sticking together as a team in the future. But if the WWE is serious about putting the best cruiserweight talent in the world on 205 Live, it would be an insult to ignore Ciampa and Gargano.
Just because the idea of a cruiserweights-only show has stumbled out of the blocks does not mean it has been ill-conceived. Like many things since the WWE reintroduced the brand split, there has been a copious amount of trial and error. Going forward, the cruiserweight division is only going to get better. The WWE just has to go all-in.