I’ve got a story for you. Back when I was on the Indies, I lived in South Carolina, and one of my roommates at the time was an above-average worker. He was at one point on the TNA roster, but was well-known throughout much of the country and found success in Puerto Rico as well. He was a big-time athlete, standing 6’6”, a former tight end, around 260 pounds. One of the first things I ever saw him do in a wrestling ring was a springboard moonsault in Greenville. He used a top rope leg drop as his finish, but was capable of so many special things once the bell rang.
I recall him once telling me of how many times he had executed a springboard 450 splash in training and in some of his earlier matches, and how easily he could still do the move whenever he wanted. My question, as I was extremely green, was why on earth was he NOT doing that kind of thing now. I told him it would make him stand out, and the people he wanted to take notice...would take notice.
His response to me was one of the more illuminating things I’ve ever heard in any of the time I’ve been associated with professional wrestling, whether working in it, writing about it, talking about it, or simply being a fan of the art form. He made it clear that it would be selfish of him to do that kind of thing, and that at that stage in his career, he knew better than to snatch it away from his colleagues.
He put it in this way:
“If I go out there and do all this shit, who would care when someone much smaller came out and did it?”
He went on to rail against Brock Lesnar for his Shooting Star Press, calling it a tone deaf choice from someone who doesn’t care about anyone but himself. From that moment on, my opinion on these things changed, because I realized he was right. If Rob Gronkowski could do a 450 and did one at Wrestlemania, I wouldn’t give a damn what Tony Nese did earlier or later in the night. That’s no slight to Nese, but let’s be real, when we see a lineman catch a touchdown pass, it takes a little bit off the wide receiver who makes a routine grab a few minutes afterward.
The only caveat is when that catch is one-handed, or otherwise incredibly impressive. Nese can do things my roommate couldn’t, but a 450 would give the impression that this guy MIGHT be able to do anything Tony might have in his repertoire.
Toss out anything having to do with the character development, which has been putrid, or even who you think should be a part of the division, and stick strictly with what happens in the matches themselves. Long before we knew much about Rey, Eddie, Psicosis, or Dean, we could see their prowess in the ring. It separated them from much of the rest of the roster, and those matches became appointment television because of the pace, the precision, and the passion with which they glided across the ring.
The flips, the dives, and the risks were always prevalent, but Malenko and Guerrero also had the two best powerbombs in wrestling in 1997 and 1998. Everything was so fluid, the storytelling so genuine, and the action to hold ratio exquisite. It was impossible to miss the sheer talent on display during many of these Cruiserweight bouts.
As WCW events continued, once the Cruiserweights were done, you weren’t likely to see flip dives from Curt Hennig and Diamond Dallas Page. If it wasn’t a no disqualification match, you probably weren’t going to see much out of the ordinary. There was very much a “stay in your lane” concept behind the structure of those shows, and what it led to was an entertainment experience featuring varying styles, varying speeds, and varying sizes.
WWE today has taken all the tricks away from the Cruiserweights. Even though we’re seeing some of the same spots we watched during the Cruiserweight Classic, we’re now seeing it in a world populated and bookended by bigger guys doing moves that at least fall within the same classification. How many matches on RAW can you name on a weekly basis that DON’T feature some sort of suicide dive, or spot from the ring to the floor?
Even if the Cruiserweights do those moves better, or with more flash, we’ve still already been inundated with it all night long. Thus, back to my friend’s accurate argument, why would anybody care about these guys? Add to it that very few of them are particularly strong promos, and you have a recipe for abject disaster, or even worse, complete disinterest.
What the Cruiserweight Division is today is smaller guys, with vague characters, doing many of the same spots, at the same pace, of everyone else on the show. It’s not even usually being done any faster, but even watching Rich Swann do a quick handspring into a picture perfect dropkick just doesn’t have the effect it would have in late 1996. I still love watching these superstars, but even I admit I’m tuning out of a lot of this stuff.
Am I alone?
It’s tough for the Cruiserweights to stand out in WWE on a good day, much less when they’re handcuffed by a promoter that doesn’t understand the style, doesn’t value the content, and has no qualms in negating all of their efforts by placing almost no restrictions on what everybody else can do in their matches.
Before their music ever hits, they’re at an extreme disadvantage, because there’s so little of a chance for them to prove they’re transcendent, mind-blowing performers. That’s a big problem, and I don’t see it changing. Vince would rather just give up on it and move on than try to fix what’s wrong, even if he understands how badly it’s been executed.
So, unless a miracle happens and Vince realizes his mistake, the best bet is for a Cruiserweight specific show, where what they do isn’t duplicated by guys half a foot taller, or with more marketing muscle behind them. And, that’s a huge indictment of WWE, because it’s inexcusable that a company that size can’t figure out the value of variance and unique content. I get tired of vanilla ice cream after a while. A little mint chocolate chip not only assists the taste buds, it also makes the vanilla a bit more delicious.
On the Cruiserweight Classic, everyone was together and the entire ship rose as one. However, on the WWE stage, they’re presented as different, but aren’t given a chance to actually BE different.