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The end of the cruiserweight era

Pro Wrestling

The end of the cruiserweight era

RIP the Cruiserweight Championship, the top prize of a division that never found its footing in WWE.

With NXT’s New Year’s Evil came the end of the Cruiserweight Championship. Its champion, Roderick Strong, faced North American Champion Carmelo Hayes in a title unification match with the winner taking home the big red belt only. 

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The Cruiserweight Championship, at least this iteration of it, had a short and weird history in WWE. It’s only fitting that, as Triple H’s vision of pro wrestling and WWE’s ability and responsibility to lead its path has given way to the inevitability of Vince McMahon’s will, the Cruiserweight Championship is now over, too. 

During the summer of 2016, Triple H spearheaded the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC), a 32-man tournament that featured wrestlers performing at 205 pounds or less. The winner of the tournament won a trophy and was crowned the new WWE Cruiserweight Champion. 

It’s clear to see this now as Triple H operating with a clear vision and momentum. He saw WWE as an umbrella that could operate and work with other companies, leading the way to the future. With NXT as the engine, Hunter saw this as a way to bridge the gap and get WWE out of its isolationist past.

And then Vince McMahon found out about the lil’ guys. 

The Cruiserweight Classic occurred around the same time of the 2016 WWE Draft. And because Raw is an hour longer than SmackDown, Stephanie McMahon drafted the entire Cruiserweight division to Monday Night Raw. So already it was taken away from Hunter and into the hands of Vince, somebody with a poor track record of pushing cruiserweight-sized talent. 

And now he had an entire division to get over at once. Which is what they tried to do. With purple ropes, completely isolated from anything else going on from the show, as if this Cruiserweight division were special attraction circus freaks. 

It didn’t work, to say the least. When the CWC was announced, many fans looked back fondly on WCW’s cruiserweight division, then looked forward with much anticipation. But that was a completely different era. Unlike WCW’s main eventers, the heavyweight wrestlers of today wrestle a mixed cruiserweight style, which made a lot of the strictly Cruiserweight wrestlers—and the weight class itself—obsolete.

Wrestlers that are truly Cruiserweights—as in 205 pounds or less—work much better with heavyweight wrestlers because of the mix-match of their styles and ability to tell the most interesting stories. After all, that’s what pro wrestling is all about: storytelling. The idea of a weight class in pro wrestling limits your ability to tell the most fundamentals of storytelling: David vs Goliath. Speed vs strength. Power vs wrestling. 

The only wrestlers who truly benefited from being a part of the division were Neville, Cedric Alexander, Mustafa Ali, and Enzo Amore. Neville has left, now performing as PAC in AEW. Cedric Alexander found his footing as a member of The Hurt Business until the group spontaneously combusted — now he chases the 24/7 title around. Mustafa Ali had all the momentum in the world three years ago before planting him in the center of months-long, dead-end sports entertainment storyline that just never went anywhere. And the less we say about Enzo, the better.

As for the rest of the division, it slowly began evaporating from the main roster. Hunter moved the Cruiserweight Championship to NXT, but by that point it made his roster bloated. Not to mention, nearly the entire NXT roster was wrestling at around 200 pounds, so practically everyone was eligible for contention under Cruiserweight rules. What was once a novelty became convoluted. 

And now it’s over. As sad as we all are about the death of Hunter’s NXT, maybe he missed the boat with the Crusierweight division. With the style of today’s heavyweight wrestlers, maybe there’s no place for weight classes in North American pro wrestling.

Or maybe it was just one last time for Vince to bury the little guys.

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