It’s becoming the elephant in the room on Monday nights. That glaring awkward thing that everyone can see, but only a few are acknowledging it. The Raw Cruiserweight Division.
And the horrible thing is, it isn’t even the fault of any of the performers. The in-ring action from Cruiserweight Champion TJ Perkins, his challenger Brian Kendrick, and regulars Rich Swann, Cedric Alexander, Tony Nese and Drew Gulak (amongst others) has been superb. Not as full out as their Cruiserweight Classic stuff in a lot of cases, but far better than Raw is used to. And it was coming off of a red hot Cruiserweight Classic tournament that was the talk of the summer. It seemed like the perfect time to kick of a rejuvenated Cruiserweight Division.
But somewhere along the way, things have gotten awkward. Something feels off. A series of little things are starting to pile up and create one big thing. And if that big thing becomes too much of a big thing, it may no longer even be a thing.
PROBLEM #1: THE ‘FANS’
Over the past few weeks, there has become a trend to chant “CM PUNK” during all of the Raw Cruiserweight Division matches. For whatever reason fans are doing it for, they need to stop. If they have a modicum of respect for the indie talent style breaking through in the WWE right now, they have to stop. For years, fans have been fighting for the smaller, more athletic indie talent to get their big breaks on WWE’s flagship show. CM Punk championed that very ideal – that’s why he was the Voice of the Voiceless. He was speaking for the fans who preferred the athleticism and drive of the smaller guys over the hulking docile brutes the WWE stereotypically produced. In essence, CM Punk paved the way and was talking about the very wrestlers that the Cruiserweight Division is showcasing. So if you’re chanting “CM PUNK” to honour his contribution, then do it by trying to get casual fans to chant for the new guys. Chant for Swann. Chant for Gran Metalik. Get fans passionate about them. Chanting CM Punk’s name to non-indie fans leads them to believe that you’re against them. So they’re chanting it in the only way you’ve programmed them to think – that chanting CM Punk was a backhanded slap to Vince McMahon and WWE programming. And that’s how WWE management looks at it as well. So be careful what you chant for. By applauding CM Punk’s influence, you may actually end up killing the very Voice that the Voiceless were hoping for.
PROBLEM #2: THE BOOKING
Kudos to the slowly more involving storylines emerging this past week, with Brian Kendrick mysteriously hiring Tony Nese and Drew Gulak into being his bodyguards. At least there’s some substance creeping in. But Cruiserweight matches, even if it’s both of them, should be in the first hour. Their matches are the kind of matches that warm a crowd up. As they’re starting to get amped, the big spots and slick moves energize them for the bigger angles. Putting a match in the third hour, the 6-man tag team featuring great Superstars, was a rough call. Not only did they have to compete with the ‘CM Punk” chants, but with a crowd emotionally exhausted after nearly 3 hours and reserving anything left in the tank for the impending return of Goldberg after 12 years away.
PROBLEM #3: THE COMPLETE LACK OF CASUAL APPEAL
Let’s be honest. Brian Kendrick is not the fish hook that WWE thinks he is. He’s still fantastic, but he’s probably just vaguely more familiar to the casual fan than Tony Nese. In fact, I’ll bet more people think Nese is Sandow under a new gimmick than remember Kendrick. Kendrick was one of the feel-good stars of the CWC, but the audience for that was significantly smaller than Raw. And judging by a lot of the younger people’s reactions, online and in the stands, maybe he’s not as remembered as they thought he would be (but should). They tried to give it a boost by adding Sin Cara to the division, but he wasn’t exactly the most popular of the Lucha Dragons (he‘s over on Smackdown Live for some reason instead). With virtually no rhyme or reason to any of the matches, and a nearly complete lack of character development, the largely WWE-centric fans in the audience have no innate reason to care if these new unknown guys win or lose. It will come, sure, if they continue to add more life into the stories like they did this past Monday, but it’ll be a slower boat ride with Kendrick and Sin Cara at the helm as far as being it’s biggest name draws.
PROPOSAL: RAISE THE DIVISION BY ADDING ESTABLISHED SUPERSTARS
One of the biggest arguments whenever someone online suggests that some of the current Raw Superstars who make the Cruiserweight Classic weight limit of 205 lbs. (the assumed cut off of the Raw Cruiserweight Division) should participate in the Division’s matches, they’re immediately cut off with the response that it would somehow “lower” the Superstars for doing so. But why not look at it more from the point that they would actually have the opposite effect and instead elevate the entire Division. Here’s a quick look at who on Raw meets the weight allowance and how they could help make the Raw Cruiserweight Division a force to rival WCW’s in its prime.
XAVIER WOODS, 205 lbs.
Xavier Woods can actually wrestle. Despite being reduced to the mouthpiece with the trombone in the uber-over New Day – or the man to take the pin in most non-title matches – Woods can actually wrestle. Sure, his charisma is his bread and butter, but Woods has put on some good performances in a few of his rare singles match-ups over the past year as well. Woods is a natural magnet for attention – he is a large part of why the New Day is so successful. Lending his shine to the Division would instantly draw eyes from the most casual of WWE fan. He would fare well against the arrogance of Tony Nese.
ENZO AMORE, 205 lbs.
Let’s be honest. Amore is a funny, funny man, but I think most people agree that Big Cass is going to be the Edge of this duo, and Amore is going to be like a goofier Christian by the end of the road. But that’s not to disrespect that he isn’t talented and able to get over with just about anything. But he’s not likely to be holding any lengthy runs as Intercontinental Champion either. But much like Woods, Amore is an attention seeker who can garner eyes and ears whenever he shows up. Him versus Drew Gulak would be the Chris Jericho vs. Dean Malenko of the New Era.
NEVILLE, 195 lbs.
Usually the first name most people start with when even discussing other guys taking part in the Raw Cruiserweight Division, Neville is a natural. He would be equivalent to Eddie Guerrero‘s role in the WCW Cruiserweight Division in the mid-90’s. It wasn’t unnatural for Guerrero to float between the WCW US Title scene, Television Title scene or Cruiserweight Title scene without it every appearing he was “lowering” himself. He had great feuds in all three and it showed that the Superstars define the Division and not the Division that defined them. And that’s where Neville fits in. Much like Eddie, he could define what the Cruiserweight Division is really all about. As PAC on the UK and European indie scene a decade ago, his influence shaped a lot of what we’re seeing now. Letting him a little looser on the reigns with guys like Cedric Alexander or Gran Metalik would be jaw dropping. The WWE Universe wouldn’t know what they were seeing.
PRIMO, 210 lbs.
Ok, so he’s five pounds over. If Cedric Alexander can drop 30 or so pounds for the CWC, Primo can cut five for story’s sake. Now I’m sure a lot of people are booing this call, but Primo is a veteran of the Puerto Rican version of Lucha Libre. Lucha Libre trained wrestlers always excel against other Luchadors. There’s a fluidity and grace between the two performers that requires both to be in the same rhythm. A big part of the reason why so many great Luchadors have failed in the WWE hasn’t been the lack of trying – but sometimes the style doesn’t work well with some of the more traditional American wrestling. Primo would be a natural heel to work with guys like Gran Metalik or Lince Dorado. And no, not because they’re Mexican. Primo would bring out the best that these guys can offer, as well as showcase he can go a little bit better than what he’s shown in Los Matadores or Shining Stars.
SAMI ZAYN, 210 lbs.
If Primo can lose five pounds, so can Zayn. He could very well be one of the icons of the Raw Cruiserweight Division and would probably do more long term for it’s success than anyone on the roster. But he can’t be chasing Kevin Owens or bullies his whole career, and it seems to most fans anything less than a title race feels like he’s being misbooked. And while he should definitely be in the Intercontinental title picture, maybe even flirt with the World title, he could easily stay relevant and focused by chasing the Cruiserweight title when the other belts in other programs. His winning it, with a decent length reign, would go a long way in giving the belt some instant prestige. And the list of guys Zayn would have 5-star matches with is bigger than anyone else on Raw – Johnny Gargano, Rich Swann, Cedric Alexander, Tony Nese, Gran Metalik, not to mention Perkins or Kendrick. If anyone could adapt to any of the wrestlers in the Raw Cruiserweight Division, it’s Zayn.
FINN BALOR, 190 lbs.
I know, I know, it’s a little far fetched to think that Balor would be a part of it upon his return. But he easily makes the weight limit. Now while I don’t think he should stay in it for long periods of time, a few one off feuds – the kind that are just a one match a PPV filler between bigger angles – with some of the other guys would be special event draws for the entire Raw Cruiserweight Division. He’d be their Brock Lesnar so to speak.
The Raw Cruiserweight Division is a diamond in the rough for the WWE right now. Rumours of a potential weekly program in the CWC time slot after NXT has lead to some thinking that perhaps the WWE is second guessing the Cruiserweights being on Raw (I think most people agreed it made more sense on Smackdown Live, but that’s another story) and they may move it to it’s own show. Perhaps the larger Universe wasn’t quite ready. But it’s going to take patience for everyone involved. From the fans who support it, from the people in WWE Creative, from Vince McMahon and from the wrestlers themselves.
Because the Raw Cruiserweight Division is an incredibly stacked line-up of some of the indie scene’s finest from the past year. And if it fixes it’s wobbly wheels – and the fans remember more of the “Please sign Cedric” chants than the “CM Punks” – it could be a much needed breath of fresh air on Monday nights.
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