Monday Night Raw’s addition of the cruiserweight division provides fans with a delightful homecoming of the division that helped legitimize wrestlers that did not possess the Greek god build of so many former world heavyweight champions. It helped bring guys like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio to the forefront and be seen, by WWE creative and fans alike, as being worthy of consideration to be faces of the company.
Years prior to them, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Dynamite Kid, and others like them were guaranteed workhorses for WWE who also happened to be undersized. When current workers are asked about those that influenced them to get into professional wrestling, one of these legendary names is most likely to be mentioned.
This tradition continues today, as Seth Rollins and AJ Styles, like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan before them, are the premier in-ring generals of the company who also happen to be somewhat undersized. Over the past handful of years, at least one of these men where involved in a plethora of Match of the Year candidates.
As lucky as we are to be able to once again observe the high-flying delight that is the cruiserweight division, we also must also realize that performers of similar size, speed and all-around in-ring talent have been frequent world champions not only in WWE, but also in TNA, Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling and other major promotions.
This, therefore, begs the following question: Why is there a need for a cruiserweight division?
In 2016, WWE has made it abundantly clear that it has learned its lesson from denying CM Punk his rightful spot and failing to accept the notion that Daniel Bryan was the face of the company. This year has been a complete and utter attempt to make amends, and the results have been excellent.
Kevin Owens and AJ Styles are your current heavyweight champions, a fact that runs parallel with WWE’s (or Triple H’s) clear recognition that there is superior talent available on the independent wrestling circuit. NXT’s major shows are frequently viewed as being of better quality when sharing a weekend with a WWE pay-per-view (which includes WrestleMania and SummerSlam, mind you). Daniel Bryan is back on television, while John Cena and Randy Orton have received reduced on-screen roles.
The addition of the cruiserweight division is another clear transparent response to the wishes of the diehard fans, as more WWE programming time will be devoted to in-ring generals who deserve to have their talent recognized. However, the overall impact of the return may be fresh and whimsical at the moment, but this whimsy will soon fade. Having a cruiserweight division implies that those in that division require their own specific division rather than simply being a welcome addition to the main roster.
Each of the aforementioned legendary names have proven that there is no need for a cruiserweight division, but rather a need for others to enhance their own game to fade into the obscurity some once found to be where these names belonged.
Go back in time and tell Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho that they should have had their own division. Say that same thing to Finn Balor, AJ Styles, and Seth Rollins now. I dare you.
This past week on Raw, the addition of Brian Kendrick in the Fatal 4-Way match against Rich Swann, Cedric Alexander and Gran Metalik. The three other competitors are just as good (if not better) than he is, but Kendrick was trained by Shawn Michaels, headlined for almost every major independent promotion, and was once half of a tag team with Paul London that had one of the longest tenures in the history of the WWE Tag Team Championship. His inclusion in the match implied that he is exclusive to the cruiserweight division.
But Kendrick and other members of WWE’s reincarnation of the cruiserweight division are capable of so much more. Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Swann, Alexander, Metalik and others have proven themselves all over the world to be on par with anyone in the ring. Their predecessors showed that they were worthy of far more than just a spot in the cruiserweight division, and are recognized as the figureheads responsible for many of the up-and-coming talents we see in the right today. Rather than simply be recognized as cruiserweights, WWE needs to refer to these men as wrestlers, just like everyone else on the main roster. These are talents than can wrestle circles around most the current main roster members. They need to receive the respect they deserve.