WWE is currently looking to give a much needed shot in the arm to their struggling 205 Live Cruiserweight Division, going as far as releasing a poll asking fans what they’d like to see regarding 205 Live exclusive events, Superstars and title matches.
To locate the biggest problem with the Cruiserweight Division, and the WWE as a whole, look no further than the lack of characters. WWE has always thrived on being a male soap opera. That is, the in-ring wrestling is a critical part of the product, but the fans tuning in are looking for compelling characters and storylines as well.
For years, WWE has struggled to get any of this formula correct. Look no further than the 2008-2009 period, when the PG Era initially took over. In the last few years, due in part to the increasing influence of Triple H backstage, WWE’s in-ring product has grown by leaps and bounds. NXT is quite possibly the hottest property in the wrestling world outside of New Japan and Ring of Honor, and that’s mainly because it’s a Triple H exclusive and the man lets people wrestle.
While the wrestling in WWE has undoubtedly come a long way, characters and storylines still leave a lot to be desired. Jason Jordan as Kurt Angle’s son immediately comes to mind. So, that begs the question; what happened to the storytelling in WWE?
That’s a multi-faceted question. You could point to WWE not having any relevant or competent competition since WCW. You could also place a lot of blame on the excruciating 3-hour RAW format. But the truth of the matter is that WWE is a land of inconsistency, and has been for years now.
That’s not to say the ‘E would benefit from going to the other end of the spectrum. Longtime WWE fans will wince remembering the years of names like The Goon, Repo-Man and Duke “The Dumpster” Droese, in the cringe-worthy era of blue collar jobs being turned into wrestling gimmicks.
What it does mean is that WWE fans respond to personalities. Think of the biggest names in the history of pro wrestling. The Rock. The Undertaker. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Triple H. Men with distinctive personalities and characters that leapt off the screen.
The double-edged sword of the WWE’s “New Era” (and can someone tell them that it’s okay to stop using the word ‘era’ for everything?) is that you often end up with Indy Wrestler A vs. In Ring Technician B. And, for all the talent leaking out of the WWE roster, and there’s a metric ton of it, casual fans don’t always have a lot to remember these guys by.
This is the problem with almost the entire Cruiserweight Division. Aside from Enzo Amore, who in that division has any defining characteristics? Kalisto is a Luchadore. Drew Gulak uses Powerpoint. “Gentleman” Jack Gallagher has a mustache and carries an umbrella.
Nothing about any of these talented gentlemen stands out. Allow me to take that point to an extreme.
Nia Jax is big. Alexa Bliss is short. Bayley is unlucky. Becky Lynch is ginger. Charlotte’s last name is Flair.
All of the wrestlers I just listed are exceptionally talented and have unique personalities and characteristics that are either completely unutilized or thrown so far onto the backburner that no one can see them.
Think of the wrestlers connecting best with the crowd at the moment. AJ Styles is Phenomenal. Finn Balor is the Demon King. Matt Hardy is WOKEN. Tye Dillinger is a Perfect 10. Elias is a weekly “The Rock Concert” segment.
Not everybody needs a ridiculous gimmick or a crazy over the top personality, but one of the most grievous sins committed by today’s WWE Superstars is a failure to maximize minutes. Even if you’ve only got two and a half minutes of television time, make them count.
Mr. Perfect got himself over like crazy in several Royal Rumble appearances without ever winning one, simply because he made sure the camera stayed on him as much as possible. It made him and every person who wrestled him look good and that, at its essence, is the art of getting over.
If WWE wants the Cruiserweight Division, and the rest of their Superstars, to get over, they can start by not force feeding them scripts (I’m looking at YOU, Roman Reigns) and letting their performers showcase just a smidge of personality.