Tonight WWE goes Extreme! Or so they say. There really hasn’t been that much excitement around the WWE product recently, with a series of subpar shows and autopilot booking making Raw and SmackDown pretty bland. The match I’ve picked is one that I think typifies the repetitive nature of WWE programming in recent weeks, and it also allows me to take a look at a division that I haven’t really touched on in this column for months. I’m talking about the Cruiserweight Championship match.
The last time WWE’s purple division was the focus of one of my Spotlights was in the very early days of the division, with the featured match being TJ Perkins vs The Brian Kendrick. Oh how times have changed since then. We have seen more talent added to 205 Live including Tozawa, Noam Dar and Neville; we saw Rich Swann inserted into the title picture, win the championship, lose it to the resurgent Neville and fall out of contention again.
But still the Cruiserweights as a group are really struggling for momentum. It’s one thing to say give it time, but by this point the women’s revolution had started to take off and become a focal point of Raw and SmackDown. Right now, the Cruiserweights are a tired part of a bland show.
Let me make this clear, this is nothing against the talent involved – Neville is fantastic at everything he does, Jack Gallagher is one of the most entertaining characters and smoothest wrestlers in WWE when given the chance, and nobody is doubting the ability of the likes of Rich Swann, Cedric Alexander, Tozawa, TJP, Austin Aries and Gran Metalik. But they just haven’t got the connection with the WWE Universe that you might have expected them to by this point.
That’s more on WWE practically setting them up to fail than it is the individuals. The Cruiserweight Classic last summer was my personal favourite WWE show of 2017, and that was because it felt different, they gave you character backgrounds in a clear way, and every match meant something.
Rules of who is in the Cruiserweight division appears to be completely arbitrary, as Kalisto – who I’m fairly sure is the smallest male active wrestler in WWE – doesn’t mix with the cruiserweights, in the same way Finn Balor, Sami Zayn and Hideo Itami don’t. Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa were both key performers in the CWC, but while teaming on NXT were inexplicably absent from 205 Live.
There is also the very obvious issue of taping 205 Live after SmackDown. That is so obviously a negative and has been documented to the extent that I don’t really think I need to go into it much here. Similarly the storylines – and often lack thereof – that are featured on Raw are so blatantly hurting the talent that I don’t need to elaborate. Really, the way they’ve been featured, the Cruiserweight Championship would feel more at place being defended on TakeOver shows than Raw PPVs.
And I think especially this month, it’s tough not to draw comparisons with New Japan’s equivalent division. Their Best of the Super Juniors produced two better matches in the first two nights than I have seen from WWE’s smaller superstars since they debuted on Raw and 205 Live became a thing. Actually scratch that, they put on two matches in the first two nights that were better than nearly everything WWE has put on in 2017 – AJ Styles vs John Cena at the Rumble was the only thing that came close to Will Ospreay’s battles against Marty Scurll and Ricochet.
A summer lull isn’t an unfamiliar phenomenon for WWE. But now maybe more than ever, it is crucial that they can stop the rot somehow, because there has never been as many other wrestling companies that are so easy to watch than now. Within minutes searching on YouTube, you can find a better wrestling match than WWE has produced in months from an indy company.
And none of this even really touches on the match at hand tonight – Austin Aries vs Neville. Again, this column is nothing against the abilities of either man. They had probably the best wrestling match of the night at Wrestlemania, but tonight the excitement around the Cruiserweight Championship match is hurt by a couple of different elements.
For one, this is the third PPV in a row that we are seeing this duo do battle for the purple belt. They have also been in matches against each other regularly via tag team matches in the intertwining weeks, so there’s not exactly a great demand to see them wrestle again – though I do thinks a strong part of that is the apathy towards the division as a whole that I mentioned earlier.
The other aspect that hurts this match is a common one for tonight’s card. It’s called Extreme Rules. The way this match between two fantastic all-round performer gets “extreme” is by making it – a submission match. Big whoop. It makes sense in that both guys use a submission finisher, but it seems a bit weak for the supposed one night a year WWE gets hardcore.
For me, the only reason to go to the trilogy of matches the way they have is if Austin Aries is going to walk out as champion. As always, if given time to tell the story they can these two could put on a great match. But I will be sad to see Neville’s run on top end, and I’m not sure where either man would go next. If Neville wins, then it will be very interesting to see what they do with Aries next. Either way, we’ll just have to wait and see how things turn out.
But yeah, in closing, check out Will Ospreay’s Best of the Super Juniors matches. They are regularly and consistently better than most of WWE’s offerings.