Professional wrestlers come in all shapes and sizes. In order to present themselves as just as legitimate as other combat sports, many promotions throughout history have begun dividing their rosters into weight divisions. From dividing the roster into over and under a certain weight to places like CMLL in Mexico which has multiple weight classes each with their own championships to compete in, this is a tried and true way to organize a roster. So how come WWEthe biggest wrestling company in the world, never managed to get away with it properly?
In early 2022, the company’s modern incarnation of the Cruiserweight Championship was disbanded and unified into the NXT North American Title, ending a very checkered existence since its rebirth in 2016. With a roster of world-class talent sitting under their 205-pound limit, it might seem like a real wonder that the belt is gone. But, just looking at fairly recent history, it’s no surprise that the title came out with a whimper.
The first Cruiserweight Championship had incredible promise but fell apart
WWE had started to properly tinker with the idea of a firm weight division in the late 1990s, introducing the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship and crowning TAKA Michinoku as its first incumbent. The title started life with huge potential, but the company quickly lost interest. Following the acquisition of WCW in 2001, the Invasion angle featured a war for all the gold. The WCW Cruiserweight Championship held a much higher position in its original company, which led to the belts being involved in the dispute. A testament to how the WWF viewed its own light heavyweight championship, the belt was quietly retired after a unification match was called off. Now they had the new WWF Cruiserweight Championship and a chance to restart the division.
The division got just that with the brand split in early 2002, with the Cruiserweight Championship becoming exclusive to Smack down!. When people look back and praise the blue brand’s in-ring quality during the era of ruthless aggression, heavyweights were a big part of it. The roster was absolutely stacked with some of the best cruiserweights of all time, from familiar WWE stars like Matt Hardy to the influx of ECW and WCW talent like Chavo Guerrero, Tajiri and Billy Kidman, to later acquisitions. like the legendary Ultimo Dragon and of course, Rey Mysterio.
With some of the company’s top competitors in the ring vying for the Cruiserweight Championship, you’d think the Cruiserweight Championship might have become one of the hottest belts out there. But, the title and the division as a whole have had their ups and downs in presentation. During his five years in WWE, the title only appeared twice at WrestleMania. Theoretically, the showcase of the best in the business, any title considered to have some weight would surely be on the chart. This isn’t an indictment of the division’s talent at all, but rather a very telling story of how WWE looked down on its cruiserweights. Infamously, the final nail in the championship’s coffin was when it fell into the hands of Hornswoggle. Although a great talent in his own right, his reign would fade, with the belt missing in action for months before being declared missing.
Once again, the Cruiserweight Championship is mismanaged and falls apart
The revival of the Cruiserweight Championship received a lot of buzz, quickly becoming one of the most exciting things in the business when it was surprised to return as the prize for the Cruiserweight Classic ttournament. After the summer series received massive praise, the cruiserweight division officially became part of the BELIEVED brand with the revamped brand split. The split seemed more or less doomed from the start, with an awkward intro where newly crowned champion TJ Perkins wasn’t even present. Despite three whole hours to fill, BELIEVED would feature cruiserweights very little, if at all. But, their time on BELIEVED is really a footnote to the division given its own show, 205 Live.
One more time, 205 live felt like something that was mishandled from the start. Where the Classic Cruiserweight had found great success as a wrestling-focused product in front of Full Sail University’s smaller crowd, the heavyweights were floundering BELIEVED in front of an audience who came to see the big stars. So tape 205 live after Smack down! in front of a tired arena felt like a death knell. Despite the rough hand they were dealt, the cruiserweight division still found ways to shine. Neville was a shining star, finally with a platform to present himself properly. Enzo Amore’s time as champion was a pretty noticeable downturn, but the months since his departure have been truly great, with the emergence of Buddy Murphy, Mustafa Ali and Cedric Alexander as key players.
The cruiserweight division started to get a little complicated with the transition from the belt to NXT. In theory, the champion was now supposed to appear on both NXT and 205 livebut in practice it was heavily biased towards the old. While the title was very well presented in NXT, 205 live has since gone through an identity crisis, bringing out talents of all kinds, making his very name completely redundant. Now, with the development system seemingly stripped of all things Triple H, the championship is no more.
In every incarnation of WWE’s weight classes, from the Light Heavyweight division to the most recent incarnation, it’s been a story of enormous potential so carelessly wasted. They literally had some of the best talent in the world, and they couldn’t make it work. The cruiserweight division failures are just another example of the performers giving it their all, with the powers that be not seeing what they had.
Tag team wrestling was strong in the decade of the 2000s, and those teams have to be grateful for that.
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