Monday, March 6, 2017

Phantom on Wrestling: The Universe vs. The Cruiserweights

By Phantom Troublemaker

Note: I will reference the WWE main roster several times. While the Cruiserweight division is part of that roster and also its own product depending on the situation, let’s not kid ourselves – these guys are not on par with Kevin Owens and AJ Styles. Not to the general audience in a star power way. So when I refer to the main roster, I mean the talent that is exclusively referred to as being on RAW or Smackdown Live.

From Facebook:

“What are your thoughts on the cruiserweights?”

Good question! I almost answered before realizing that I could get a whole post out of it.

Last year WWE held the Cruiserweight Classic, a global tournament to determine the best wrestler in the world in the 205-under weight classification. It received almost universal praise, and rightfully so as I consider it to be the best tournament I have ever seen. There were no storylines, no lousy scripted promos (aside from necessary biographical stuff), and the announce team of Daniel  Bryan and Mauro Ranallo was tremendous. Additionally, the matches were very different from anything else in WWE. Even the best NXT talents weren’t delivering matches like the CWC competitors.

We all knew that WWE was going to follow this tournament with a new Cruiserweight Division, but the big surprise at the end of the tournament was that the winner would be crowned WWE Cruiserweight Champion and then go on to compete on the main shows.

The cruisers ended up part of RAW, but the success of the tournament also got them their own, separate show – 205 Live. Today I’m going to write about the individual talents and the shows that they appear on.

The Cruiserweight Classic was fantastic and if you haven’t watched it, you should. It’s far better than anything the division is doing now.

Yeah – as I expected, the Cruiserweight division is having some trouble standing out. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it, I absolutely do. But when WWE brought all of those talents on board full time, they watered everything down to some extent or another. There has been a noticeable period of adjustments as the dynamic performers have had to figure out how to adapt to the WWE working style – one that is somewhat safer than the “get yourself over at any cost, including your body” style of the indies. Some are doing better than others. I am, by the way, in favor of the safer style.  I’d rather these guys get themselves over with personality than 720 atomic moonflip triple lindys off the top turnbuckle onto the floor.

As far as how these cruisers are presented, I like the unique look of the actual 205 Live show, but when they put the purple ropes out on RAW it makes it seem like we’re watching a lesser product. This might just be me projecting my feelings about how WWE has traditionally presented smaller athletes, but it feels like they’re saying, “These aren’t the real stars – note their special purple ropes”.

I don’t honestly think WWE is doing that at all, but I think it would be better if they left the set dressing alone. Not to mention that they have to fill time while they’re switching the ropes out, which means less potential time for actual wrestling. Maybe it also seems like they’re trying a little too hard. “Look at how special they are!”

That being said, I do appreciate the separation from the regular roster. These guys have their own stories and personally I think they’ve been getting them over quite well in most cases. When they do come out on RAW, it feels like business is picking up, especially with Austin Aries lighting up commentary.

Speaking of commentary, the 205 Live team of Corey Graves, Mauro Ranallo, and Austin Aries is very good. I miss Daniel Bryan’s personal insight on the matches and competitors, but the Smackdown Live GM can’t very well call a RAW band product. Losing Graves has hurt NXT noticeably, but the cruiser show needs him more.

Side Note: Graves is by far my favorite WWE announcer. At his best he reminds me of Jesse Ventura, but with less of a personal agenda.

205 Live is very good. I watch every week, but rarely in the titular live format. I like to save it and NXT for later in the week when I’m not burned out on five hours of WWE two nights in a row (or eight or more three nights in a row in a PPV week). Most of the superstars have made solid progress in advancing their individual characters and I’m definitely invested in some of these guys to a much greater degree than much of the main roster. Let’s check ‘em out:

Akira Tozawa – My favorite from the CWC. Everything he does looks legit and he’s crisp as can be. He’s got a great look. I’m happy to see that the WWE audiences are picking up on his mannerisms and yelling along with him during matches. He’s hot right now and I hope WWE capitalizes on it.

Ariya Daivari – I love Gallagher, but he wouldn’t be as over as he is without Daivari. This guy is a consummate heel and is one of the MVPs of these early days of the cruiser division. WWE could use more heels that are as effective and talented in the ring.

The Brian Kendrick – Future Hall of Famer. Kendrick has been a personal favorite of mine for a long time now. His low-key brand of evil is unique in WWE and is a refreshing take on the traditional chickenshit heel. Kendrick makes me realize just how similar most of the other heels on the roster are, and how ineffective many of them have been. I like his more ground-based technique, but at the same time I think he needs to pick up the pace just a bit.

Cedric Alexander – During the CWC the live audience started a “Please sign Cedric” chant, at which point HHH himself came out of the locker room, shook Alexander’s hand, and nodded to the audience. It was a wonderful moment in wrestling, staged or not. The audience loves this guy and so do I. He for sure has “it” and as long as he continues to improve and work on his character I have no doubt he will transition to the main roster at some point.

Drew Gulak – Solid heel that I liked quite a bit during the CWC but that seems to be getting lost in the 205 Live shuffle. I like his roughneck style and the bits of personality we’ve seen, but I think his character needs more exposure. So far I haven’t seen the potential greatness I glimpsed in Gulak last year.

Gran Metalik – There’s no denying this guy is exciting in the ring, but he hasn’t done anything to truly stand out to me. That’s a shame since he was in the final match of the CWC against TJ Perkins. To be honest, I thought there were much better matches preceding that one.

Gurv Sihra & Harv Sihra (The Bollywood Boyz) – I like these guys a lot! They come across really well in interviews and are entertaining in the ring, though I think Harv is slightly better at connecting with the crowd. I don’t know how far the Bollywood gimmick can take them, but I’m always happy to see them on my TV.

Ho Ho Lun – I was excited to see this guy, as he’s supposed to be China’s top talent. As of now I have no interest in seeing any other talent from China.

Jack Gallagher – Gallagher is one of the most delightful wrestling talents I’ve seen in a while. I fully acknowledge that some of his shtick is fucking ridiculous and exposes the business, but he’s different and fun and as long as he doesn’t overuse his more gimmicky tricks – which he hasn’t so far – I think Gentleman Jack will have a long and interesting WWE career. Some argue that his stuff undermines his opponents and makes them look weak, but to this I say – go watch his match against Tozawa. Gallagher tied him up in that ridiculous knot thing, but when Tozawa made his comeback nobody was thinking about that knot. They were thinking about Tozawa yelling and kicking the shit out of Gallagher. If you know what you’re doing, you can recover from any fake fighting move.

Lince Dorado            - I want to see more of the Golden Linx. He seems to connect with the crowd – or with me, anyway – in a way that Metalik doesn’t. He’s a little more energetic and a little better at projecting a personality from under the hood.

Mustafa Ali – I’m glad that his heel turn was aborted because Ali’s energy feels very babyface to me. He’s a very good worker that the crowd seems to like. I’m honestly a bit surprised that WWE is letting a guy that looks like him and that works under that name be a babyface. Good for them and good for him.

Neville – Neville has been outstanding as a heel, playing off of his criminal underutilization on the main roster. We don’t often see bad guys that win simply based on their skills (like He Who Shall Not Be Named), but I love it when it happens. The “I am the best, prove me wrong” attitude is a refreshing change and Neville wears it well. I just wish he could have gotten his first name back, too. Regardless, he’s a solid Cruiserweight Champion and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

Noam Dar – Gets the “Most Improved” award for the division. Dar has gone from being a guy that sort of annoyed me to being one of the most charismatic heels in WWE. I would pay money for the privilege of booing him, and that’s what it’s all about. And I honestly don’t know that it’s fair to say he’s improved, I think he’s just found his groove as the weird, sort of creepy guy that’s good at baiting (and beating) babyfaces.

Rich Swann – Pure magic. Swann needs time on a show like Talking Smack to develop his character, but otherwise he has “It” as much as anyone else working in WWE right now. The audience loves him and so do I. He’s dynamite in the ring and has all of the tools. He just needs the opportunity to be more of a character than “dancing overcame adversity guy”.

Tajiri – Also a future Hall of Famer. Tajiri is one of the best ever in the business. It’s a delight to see him working in the WWE again and I hope it lasts a good, long time. The cruisers are lucky to have him among their ranks. After all, he was the one guy that got over with me at the only live ECW show I ever went to.

TJ Perkins – I look at Perkins and I see money. He needs time to work on character just like the others do, but the way he carries himself says “future top talent” in a way that most of them don’t. He has a gimmick that is tailor made for the kids to love him, but I can also see him being a killer heel. I fully believe the sky is the limit for Perkins.

Tony Nese – Finally, we’ve got possibly the best pure athlete of the bunch. Back in the day when a guy was bland but great in the ring, JR would call him a “pure athlete”. Nese has a valuable mean streak, but I just haven’t seen enough out of him yet.

WWE has already surpassed my expectations for the 205 Live brand. The cruisers are developing in both their characters and in figuring out ways to be interesting in the ring while still working a safer style. Many of them are standing out even compared to amazing talents like Seth Rollins and Mr. Ziggles. Even on RAW their segments are being given time and are standing out as something special and different. The live audiences don’t seem to have fully embraced the cruisers yet, but the best of them like Tozawa, Gallagher, Kendrick, and Neville are definitely grabbing people’s attention.

If you’re not paying attention to these guys, you’re missing out.

Phantom Troublemaker has drawn money without ever being listed on a card, taken bumps without ever being booked in a match, and has worked in the business without ever receiving a check. He was the announcer for Monstrosity Championship Wrestling, Platinum Championship Wrestling, and is the current Voice of Dragon Con Wrestling. None of that makes him right, but it is nice to see at the bottom of a post about wrestling.

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