Like many fans of the cruiserweight division, I was worried about the WWE’s handling of its debut on Monday Night Raw. Not only did the company fail to feature its champion, but it only allotted a singular segment to the entire division. Now more than a week removed from that abominable start, it appears as though the WWE has learned from its mistakes.
This can be highlighted in several ways. Whether that is giving TJ Perkins bigger and better platforms, allowing for several cruiserweight segments on Raw, or how the announcers are doing a better job discussing the competitors, are all worthy things to point to as to how the company is doing a better job.
However, none were more prominent than Tony Nese’s Monday Night Raw debut.
Yes, Nese lost. That is usually an important aspect when discussing a performer’s debut, as losing in a match that will be the first time many fans would have seen him is less than ideal, but everything about Nese vs. Perkins was what should be right with the division itself.
It starts with Nese and Perkins themselves, but let’s fast-forward a bit. Let’s take a look at how Corey Graves helped to make Tony Nese instantly credible despite taking the loss.
Part of Nese’s gimmick is being (self) coined “The Premiere Athlete” in wrestling. Graves would question this early during the match, but as time went on he would approve Nese’s self-appointed praise. So much so, in fact, it likely helped casual fans realize how special of a match Nese was putting on.
That’s the biggest aspect of this, too. Nese — with help from Perkins, obviously — put on a stellar match. While the live audience attempted to hijack an incredibly entertaining match with unwarranted CM Punk and Randy Savage chants, Nese was performing move after move that the casual wrestling audience has never seen before.
As important as that, the WWE gave the two wrestlers enough time in the ring to tell a story and put on the great match. Both got their offense in, both were allowed to show their resilience by kicking out of insane moves, and the match itself — at least by the time it was over — was executed in such a divine fashion that if it were slotted on a WrestleMania card, few would blink.
Because of all of that, Nese didn’t look weak in a loss. It was the exact opposite. During his debut, against the champion, he leaves his debut looking stronger after taking the “L” because he was so transcendentally special during it.
This, then, sets the tone for the rest of the division — especially early on during the infancy stages of it being introduced to the WWE Universe. Overly casual might not know who any of these men are, and there may be little or nor build to each wrestler’s first big time platform, but we all now know that excellence is what should be expected and what will be awaiting for us when anyone from that division sets a foot inside the squared circle.
Who knows where Tony Nese goes from here? Perkins still needs to finish his incredibly entertaining feud with Brian Kendrick, there are a bunch of other worthy cruiserweights who will deserve a title shot after that angle runs its course, and he may never again get such a lengthy platform as he received on Raw.
But what I do know (and this is admittedly hyperbolic) is that Nese helped to define the division in one match on a random Raw. Because of him, even if only indirectly, the division officially “belongs” on each edition of Monday Night Raw.
Who knows? We might look back on Sept. 26 as the real debut of the cruiserweight division. While that’s not factually true, it is sure as hell what it felt like. And while many others played a hand in making this work, a debuting Nese might have played the biggest role of them all.