Armchair Creative: Reviving the Cruiserweight Division

Matthew Rago, Editor-in-Chief

On the heels of 2016’s critically acclaimed Cruiserweight Classic, WWE decided to ride the momentum of the tournament by reviving the then-defunct cruiserweight championship. The idea was to offer the shiftiest, quickest high-flying wrestlers in the world a platform to showcase their talent under the WWE banner, thus depriving rival promotions of one of their foremost advantages against WWE. WWE then crowned the since-departed T.J. Perkins as the inaugural champion, marking a new era. 

However, a series of miscalculations rapidly sunk the brand. First, WWE overestimated the appeal of the cruiserweights, designating an exclusive brand named 205 Live as the new home of cruiserweight wrestling. Unfortunately, with the titleholder predominantly appearing on RAW, 205 Live became viewed as a supplementary brand, meaning viewership was non-essential. In order to rectify this problem, WWE made the cruiserweight championship exclusive to 205 Live, subsequently making the title invisible to those who do not subscribe to the WWE Network. 

The second misstep came in the decision to record 205 Live after Smackdown, meaning that audience members had little reason to stick around for the broadcast. WWE’s various attempts to incentivize fans in attendance to stay after Smackdown was unsuccessful, as fans departed in droves following the conclusion Smackdown’s main event. Furthermore, television ratings plummeted as WWE essentially asked fans to stay tuned in for the equivalent of a preshow that followed the actual main event. 

Nevertheless, the cruiserweight division still managed to stay afloat thanks in part to strong performances from Cedric Alexander, Ali, and Buddy Murphy. WWE then made the fatal mistake of promoting each of these competitors to the main roster, thus introducing the perception that a move from 205 Live to RAW or Smackdown was a promotion based on merit rather than weight class. As a consequence, any subsequent move in the opposite direction was viewed as a relegation. 

As of this writing, 205 Live in on life support. Rather than saving major developments for 205 Live, the most recent cruiserweight championship title change happened on NXT programming. It seems likely that WWE will pull the plug on 205 Live in the near future, siphoning the cruiserweights to the more established brands. However, if WWE wishes to salvage its cruiserweight division, it will require a concerted effort from WWE Creative and management to successfully remake the division as a premier brand to wrestle under.

First, WWE needs to declare who is eligible to compete in its cruiserweight division. Right now, WWE has a motley crew of indie stars masquerading as WWE-caliber talent monopolizing the division. It would be wise to shed deadweight performers like Ariya Daivari, Gentleman Jack Gallagher and Akira Tozawa. While none of these performers are offensively incompetent, their presence makes the cruiserweight division seem like a caricature of its full potential.

Instead of reserving the cruiserweight division for competitors too small to compete against the heavyweights, WWE must present it as a fusion between middleweights and bantamweights. Former Universal Champion Finn Balor weighs 190 pounds, meaning he is technically a cruiserweight by WWE’s standards. Furthermore, former WWE Champion Rey Mysterio weighs 175 pounds. Following Mysterio’s match against WWE Champion Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series, each of these men will have contested for a top title at a big four pay-per-view against “The Beast Incarnate.” 

Meanwhile, Daniel Bryan weighs 210 pounds while Seth Rollins weighs in at 217. Each of these competitors could feasibly shed enough weight to qualify for the cruiserweight division should they choose to do so, though WWE balks at the prospect of exploring such an avenue. 

Imagine a division spearheaded by Rollins, Bryan, Mysterio, Balor, Murphy, Alexander and Ali.  Imagine former NXT UK champion Pete Dunne (5’10, 205 pounds) facing off against Chad Gable (5’8, 203). Imagine Ricochet (5’10, 197) versus Tyler Bate (5’7, 175) in a high-stakes contest.  In fact, the highest-rated match in WWE history, per, occurred between Andrade Cien Almas (5’11, 180) and Johnny Gargano (5’10, 170), two cruiserweights who were presented as legitimate superstars, unencumbered by their height or weight limitations.

Finally, WWE should introduce an emboldened cruiserweight champion looking to shed the division’s perception of inferiority. The company had a prime opportunity to execute such a storyline when Neville (now AEW’s PAC) was its cruiserweight champion. Instead, they wasted his excellent heel turn, subsequently alienating the performer. 

Have Tommaso Ciampa (5’11, 195) capture the cruiserweight championship from current champion Lio Rush. Ciampa, arguably the hottest heel in all of wrestling, could purposely instigate fights with bigger opponents. Using his in-ring savvy and chiseled physique to overcome larger opponents. A push for Ciampa as cruiserweight champion can dispel current perceptions that plague the cruiserweight division. Fans love an underdog story, even when the good guy is arguably a bad guy. 

The narrative would be fascinating, as Ciampa would inevitably challenge middleweight performers to shed excess body fat and come down to his division. Ciampa would then flash his trademark cavalier smirk, establishing the idea that 205 Live is a brand for motivated and versatile wrestlers rather than a dead-end for minuscule performers. 

WWE will face an uphill battle while attempting to persuade fans into reinvesting in the floundering cruiserweight division. However, by crafting a capable roster, prioritizing top cruiserweight storylines and affording fans a champion they can support, WWE can revive a brand that has been left for dead.