A lot of people had high hopes for WWE’s cruiserweights back in 2016.
The Cruiserweight Classic tournament was a success, prompting the signing of Mustafa Ali, Cedric Alexander and others. Buzz from the CWC drove interest in the launch of 205 Live, a standalone series focused on the division. That show, and the purple Cruiserweight championship it was built around, was featured on Raw at its launch, and seemed to hold at least a portion of the fanbase’s attention for the first year or so of its existence. But as the audience came to realize WWE was treating 205 Live as literal pre-show material, interest from all sides waned to the point the show’s become “NXT Dark” - but with less promotion than AEW’s YouTube shows.
What happened? Some would argue there’s just not enough interest in a show about smaller workers, regardless of their skill level. Maybe they’re right. But in an interview with Chris Van Vliet, Tony Nese’s insight as someone who was a part of WWE’s most recent cruiserweight scene for most of its existence paints 205 Live as failing because of Vince McMahon and Triple H’s competing visions.
“We would always say that we were in this wrestling purgatory. Even though I was there, when it comes to the company’s decisions, I’m on the outside looking in. This is all speculation, but it seemed like they had an idea for the show. It was Triple H’s idea, it was his baby. He wanted the show to have a yearly tournament, win/loss records, all that stuff. He wanted it to have a different feel. As soon as it was announced that the cruiserweights would be a part of Raw, that was where Vince was like, ‘No, it’s my show now.’ All that other stuff went out the window. We even joked about it. We said, ‘This is Raw lite.’ We got our backs against the wall after all the stars competed.
“So Vince had control, but after a while, he was like, I’m done playing with this toy. He gave it back to Triple H, who was like, you’re Vince’s boys now. You are tainted to me. This is my speculation, but it feels like Triple H didn’t care about it either. We were in this limbo of the show, it had to be booked, but they were just like, whatever, put whatever on and just move on. No matter how much we would fight, they were just like, have a good match and that’s it.”
Would Triple H’s initial vision for the purple brand have been a hit? It’s impossible to know, but I’d argue it would have had a better chance at success that the “Raw but with smaller guys” product we got... especially in a pre-AEW world where there wasn’t another easily accessible show offering things like win/loss records and workrate-first matches.
It’s also interesting to view Nese’s account of and speculation about what happened to 205 Live in light of what’s going on this year with NXT. With a live, two hour television spot, it seems unlikely everyone in power at WWE will give up on their third brand. But who knows?
Let us know what you make of all this, Cagesiders.
H/T: WrestlingNews.co for transcription