The rise and fall of the WWE Cruiserweights

Updated: Aug 29


(WWE)

By: Joseph Casciaro


In 2016 after nine long years, the World Wrestling Entertainment decided to bring back the cruiserweight division for some of the best wrestlers in the world 205 pounds or lighter. The big return started with a tournament that was broadcasted over the 2016 summer, called the “Cruiserweight Classic.”


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The tournament featured some very big names including, TJ Perkins, Gran Metalik, Zack Sabre JR., Kota Ibushi, Tajiri, Johnny Gargano and even Tomasso Ciampa. Not all men were signed to WWE, but they still all went out and delivered greatly.


This was some of the best wrestling seen in the WWE in quite some time. Some of the best matches were Gargano vs Ciampa, Ibushi vs Cedric Alexander, Ibushi vs. Perkins and then the amazing final between Perkins and Metalik.


The finals were used to crown the brand-new WWE Cruiserweight Champion and it was TJ Perkins achieving this honour. He then led the cruiserweights to their new home of Monday Night Raw, and that is when things started going wrong.


Once on Raw the inevitable happened and the cruiserweights were lost in the shuffle. They did not get much television time and they were not given much character so the fans lost interest.

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WWE’s plan to solve this issue was to give the cruiserweights their own show called 205 Live, but with this show being aired at 10 P.M. after Smackdown nobody watched. They also did not do much to solve their original issues, the character work was too minimal.


It was quite some time of bad shows until finally at the pay-per-view Roadblock: End of the Line, there was some light at the end of the tunnel for the cruiserweights. After Rich Swann retained his title, we saw the return of the man that gravity forgot, Neville.


Neville came back on fire attacking Swann and by the 2017 Royal Rumble, he dethroned Swann for the Cruiserweight Championship. He then became the self-proclaimed “King of the Cruiserweights,” and for about half a year he was one of the best heels in the whole company.

The success of the division did not stop at Neville, he ended up dropping the title to Enzo Amore and he gave the division some much-needed character. Amore was known to be one of the best promo workers in the company and he elevated the cruiserweights to the main event of multiple Raws.


However, Amore’s reign was ended when criminal allegations were presented against him and he was released from his WWE contract. Despite the success, Amore was bringing the cruiserweights, this may have been a blessing in disguise.


With Amore now gone WWE appointed a new general manager of 205 Live, Drake Maverick, and with his charisma he made for a great manager. His first move was announcing the Cruiserweight Championship tournament to crown a new champion at Wrestlemania 33. Another important fact here was that the cruiserweights were now no longer on Raw, they would only be on 205 Live.

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The tournament featured many new names like Mark Andrews, Buddy Murphy, Roderick Strong, Tyler Bate and Hideo Itami. Along with the new names, there were some originals still left like TJ Perkins now going by TJP, Cedric Alexander, Drew Gulak and Mustafa Ali.


The tournament had the best wrestling on television leading into that year’s Wrestlemania and it made a lot of stars while running its course. Superstars like Buddy Murphy, Mustafa Ali and Cedric Alexander became fan favourites.

Some of the best matches of the tournament were Murphy vs Ali, Alexander vs Strong, Ali vs Gulak and then the final at Wrestlemania was breathtaking. Cedric Alexander ended up being the new champion by defeating Mustafa Ali.


This led to the age of Alexander on 205 Live and we saw some great wrestling over the next little while. All of Alexander’s title defences were top quality and there was an amazing feud over the 2018 summer between Buddy Murphy and Mustafa Ali.


However, once Alexander dropped the title to Murphy in October 2018 in Australia, we saw 205 Live go back to its old ways. Murphy continued to produce good championship matches, but that was all they really had and the show lost viewers. The roster was also very limited and they were always putting on the same matches.


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This remained the problem with the cruiserweights for just over a year, but in late 2019 some big changes were made to the division. The cruiserweights were no longer a part of WWE’s main roster and they were now a featured division on NXT. This meant for new feuds, a new title and the creator of NXT, Triple H, calling the shots for the division.


The division got so many new stars like Drake Maverick, El Hijo del Fantasma, Isiah “Swerve” Scott, Lio Rush, Jordan Devlin, Travis Banks and KUSHIDA. The NXT era of the Cruiserweight division kicked off with quite the champion in Drew Gulak.

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Gulak started this new era with a title defence on the October ninth episode against Lio Rush. These men put on the match of the night and Lio Rush came out on top becoming the new NXT Cruiserweight Champion.


Then the cruiserweights lost some value once again, as the title then bounced around between three men in the span of a couple of months. Angel Garza took the title off Rush in December and then Jordan Devlin took the title from him in January.


However, we never really saw Devlin as the champ because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Devlin lives in the United Kingdom and could not get into America, so he had to relinquish the title.


With a vacant title once again, we are now seeing the cruiserweights reach their full potential in NXT. There are a lot of great matches and stories happening within this new division in NXT.


The vacant title was decided in a tournament and the two stars of this tournament were Drake Maverick and El Hijo del Fantasma. Maverick was on a redemption tour since he was released from the company and he was fighting for a new contract.

Fantasma on the other hand was involved in this kidnapping story, as some luchadores have been abducting different cruiserweights in NXT. Joaquin Wilde and Raul Mendoza were among the men that got abducted and had been off television for quite some time.


So, therefore the two men that ended up in the finals of this tournament were in two great storylines. We ended up seeing Fantasma come out on top in a great match and he was the brand-new NXT Cruiserweight Champion.


Despite Fantasma going over, Maverick got all the spotlight because the fans fell in love with him. To close the NXT after the finals matchup the world saw Triple H meet Maverick on the stage and give him a new contract.


The following week the stories continued to build up, Maverick came out to congratulate Fantasma and ask for a rematch. Fantasma accepted and then the two were surrounded by the luchadores that had been abducting superstars the past few weeks.


They attacked Maverick and instead of helping, Fantasma ended up joining the beat down. Fantasma and these other men then unmasked themselves and Fantasma announced himself as Santos Escobar. His two sidekicks were Raul Mendoza and Joaquin Wilde, the two men that had been abducted, proving that it was all a work so nobody suspected them.

We now have a very heated feud building up between Escobar and Maverick. They now have a stage to showcase this feud on NXT. I am looking forward to seeing where this goes and how the cruiserweight division continues to redeem itself over on its new home.


205 Live is also still around, but I do not see this staying for much longer since most of their feuds are shown on NXT. It makes more sense to cancel this show and keep them on Wednesday nights.


The cruiserweights have had many ups and downs for four years and they now have reached another high point. Now only time will tell if NXT is the perfect place for this division to be showcased.