It appears panic might already be setting in for Vince McMahon with regard to the cruiserweight division on Monday Night Raw for the last month. Already WWE has begun resorting to the standard formulas it has used for years now (to various effects) in trying to get the mass WWE audience to care about the new division.
It became evident on the most recent episode of Raw which featured a backstage segment between the cruiserweight champ TJ Perkins and Brian Kendrick as they continue their current feud. It was about as black-and-white a babyface-heel dynamic as you can possibly get as Perkins walked in trying to sympathize with Kendrick and be forgiving of his recent actions, bringing upon fond memories of their times together in the past and offering a cordial handshake to settle matters. Kendrick accepts, but just as Perkins begins to turn away Kendrick tries to get in the cheap shot, immediately countered by Perkins.
Kendrick is left shaken up and cowering on the floor as Perkins looks on and expresses his disappointment in Kendrick.
Talk about a complete lack of subtlety. WWE is going bare-bones in its effort to establish the Perkins and Kendrick characters; making Perkins the kind, empathetic, strong babyface and Kendrick the cowardly, spiteful heel. It is about as traditional, cheesy, and unoriginal as you can get in a face-heel setup.
Of course though, the reason for all this is because the cruiserweights have not been getting much of a reception since debuting on Raw. After an incredible 10-week tournament that was the Cruiserweight Classic, held in front of the Full Sail crowd where NXT makes its home and aired on the WWE Network, the cruiserweights transitioned and have since garnered more of a whimper than a pop.
What a shocker.
It was a losing situation from the get-go. The cruiserweights’ original audience were the hardcore fans. You had the passionate, dedicated Full Sail crowd, and the wrestling fans loyal enough to not only subscribe to the Network, but also take the time to watch the CWC each week.
The CWC played out, both in atmosphere and match-style, much like the indie wrestling promotions many of its participants came from. Aside from being on the WWE Network, the tie to WWE was almost nonexistent under the booking of Paul Levesque and the NXT crew with a group of non-WWE trained wrestlers from around the world doing the in-ring work.
Here’s where your problems come in. Because in moving the cruiserweights to the main roster, you’re talking about almost an entirely different audience. The group that watched the CWC is but a fraction of the mass WWE audience who attends and tunes in to Monday Night Raw each week. WWE’s weekly audience in large had no idea who any of these new guys were, nor why they should care.
On top of that, it was established before the cruiserweights even debuted that once on the main roster, the match style would be toned down. The safety of the wrestlers is of concern, with the harder, more action-packed style these guys were wrestling in other promotions and the CWC not being for the best in that regard. WWE cannot have the cruiserweights going out there and completely outshining all its established stars every week with the matches they are capable of putting on.
So now not only do you have the vast majority of the audience ignorant to an entire new division debuting on the program, but the wrestlers also have to tone down the very style which sets them apart from the rest of the WWE roster. Thus far, the result has been a lackluster response each week for cruiserweight matches and its competitors, aside from a few good pops here and there for a couple cool moves.
Again, give the circumstances, what a shocker.
Instead of letting the division grow in its own way though — allowing it to slow-cook — McMahon is panicking and resorting to his old, worn tricks to get the cruiserweights more over with the crowd. That begs the question: What was the point of the cruiserweight division being featured on Raw if they are simply going to be turned into the same thing as everything else on the main roster?
Rumors have already began spreading that WWE has plans for a weekly show specifically for cruiserweights in the same vein as its weekly NXT show. At the rate McMahon is handling the cruiserweights now, wrestling fans better hope the rumors are true.
The CWC was such a smash success among hardcore fans because it largely existed outside the world of WWE where it could fully breathe. The only way the cruiserweights were going to fully succeed on the main roster was to give it time and patience for the overall WWE audience to learn and care about the new slew of wrestlers.
Rather than letting the new division age like wine, McMahon has started throwing the Kool-Aid powder into the pitcher for a quick fix. WWE’s transition of beginning to use the same character development formulas as it does for everyone else is doing nothing but effectively closing the gap between the cruiserweights and the rest of the roster. It is undermining the whole reason they were being brought to Raw in the first place — to bring fresh excitement and variety.