Every week following SmackDown Live, the WWE Network has treated us to 205 Live, a programme dedicated exclusively to the Cruiserweight division. The show has gifted us a consistently good quality of matches as well as turn a spotlight on such great talent as Jack Gallagher, Neville and Austin Aries. With early critics of the show complaining that WWE was failing to provide substance and character development to the show’s superstars, many have started to come into their own and show a unique and personal side to themselves.
With that said, then, why is it that rumours of terrible WWE Network ratings are rife at the moment? F4WOnline’s Dave Meltzer has suggested that viewership of the show has been so bad that it is being surpassed by weeks old episodes of NXT and months old Pay-Per-View events. It’s also been painfully clear, especially in the last few weeks, that fans are piling out of the arena after SmackDown Live goes off the air, leaving very visible gaps in the audience. To combat this, WWE have taken to moving fans into better seats and turning out the lights on the cheap seats but this does not negate the issue at hand.
What’s the problem?
As a huge fan of the Cruiserweight division, I personally struggle to understand why the fandom is not getting behind the brand. Fans have been clamouring for years to be given a wider variety of match and more athletic calibre of wrestler but now they have it, they’re not interested. Despite my passion for the division, though, there are a number of reasons that the WWE Universe may not be all in on the Cruiserweights like I am.
Firstly, as much as I love Mick Foley, his introduction of the main talent of the division back on RAW last year, was dire. Foley showed no enthusiasm for the wrestlers and tripped over their names like a pensioner on an obstacle course. Couple that with the lack of time the Cruiserweights have been given for their matches on Monday Night RAW and you realise that WWE has failed to use its flagship show to enthuse the audience about their new product. The Cruiserweights have become the new Divas division; it’s given fans 3 minutes to go to the bathroom because they know that the match is a throwaway, not worth anything.
Secondly, WWE took too long to establish the stars of its division. It wasn’t until January when Neville returned from injury that story became more character driven, rather than the tired trope of two guys fighting to see who the better man is. This has improved with Austin Aries, Jack Gallagher, TJ Perkins and Akira Tozawa, amongst others, starting to get more development but there are still examples of WWE dropping the ball on this, e.g. it’s taken two months to establish that Noam Dar’s defining attribute is that he can lie about sending gifts and hold out the letter O for a really long time.
Finally, and this is the most heinous and damaging of all the errors, in my opinion, the powers that be in WWE made the decision to bump the Cruiserweight Championship match between Neville and Aries to the WrestleMania Pre-Show. This was the first WrestleMania on which the Cruiserweight division was to be represented and rather than celebrating it on the main show, in a prominent position, WWE chose to relegate it as a warm up match. If we’re to believe that Neville and Austin Aries are amongst the top guys on the roster, the best in the world at what they do, why is it they’re not on the main WrestleMania card? They’re just filler and warm up so I don’t need to watch them. This is the attitude elicited in fans by the mismanagement of their talent and it’s a damn shame.
Saving 205 Live
As a weekly television show, aired live, 205 Live is at a crossroads. Should audience ratings and audience attendance not improve, it is unlikely that WWE will still commit to a live offering, instead taping the show before SmackDown Live or maybe even at Full Sail University alongside NXT. It’s not too late to resurrect the brand and I have some suggestions for WWE that may just get the show back on track.
Move the show’s timeslot – This is a challenging but achievable suggestion. Even if audiences begin to buy-in to the product more, we’re still going to see a share of them walking out of the arena after SmackDown Live. After fully investing their energy in person for two hours as well as three hours watching RAW on television the previous night, fans are burned out and happy to miss 205 Live to head home and rest. WWE have two options here: 1) Negotiate with USA Network about moving SmackDown an hour later, this will put it in line with RAW’s second and third hours and leave time for 205 Live to be broadcast before SmackDown (they could also move the programme before SmackDown as is but this would be a very early start for the event and fans may not be completely in the arena anyway). 2) Replace RAW’s first hour with 205 Live. It’s widely accepted that RAW is too long anyway and may be a way of rectifying that without breaching any contracts with USA Network. This, in my opinion, is the best option.
Have Cruiserweight segments on both brands – Assign the Cruiserweights to RAW and SmackDown and have Cruiserweight matches on both. Rather than two short segments as we’ve had on RAW, give them the time to put on a high quality, exciting match that will draw people to watch 205 Live regularly. There doesn’t need to be a match on both RAW and SmackDown each week, the key here would be quality over quantity. Furthermore, allow the Cruiserweights to compete against the heavyweights; Neville was successful amid the giants prior to his injury, Daniel Bryan (at 210lbs but close enough) became Heavyweight Champion in the absence of a division for wrestlers of his size and WWE are promoting Finn Bálor as a main event attraction amongst the heavyweight talent. Giving the Cruiserweight talent some focus and notoriety on the main roster would encourage fans to follow their favourites to 205 Live.
Continue to develop characters – Nobody wants to see a match between two generic guys with no chemistry or reason to fight. The recent heel turn of TJ Perkins shows they’re capable of making people interesting, they just need to keep it up.
Introduce an authority figure – This is especially important if the Cruiserweights are indeed spread across both brands. A General Manager of 205 Live would answer to the Commissioners of RAW and SmackDown but would be responsible for making matches and settling disputes on 205 Live. Ideally, this General Manager would be a prominent WCW or WWE Cruiserweight from the previous incarnation of the belt.
More to fight for – Having only one championship belt on 205 Live is insufficient. Between the show’s hour and the 20 minutes of Cruiserweight action on RAW, there isn’t enough prestige to be gained from the WWE Cruiserweight Championship alone. Introducing Cruiserweight Tag Team Championships would solve this problem and would also provide opportunity for singles storylines where tag team relationships dissolve. This would also give creative something to do with The Bollywood Boys and make it impossible to not promote DIY to the main roster.
Equal footing with the main roster – Probably the most important point of all; the Cruiserweight Championship is important – or, at least, it should be – and therefore it needs to be featured in high profile matches. Never again should it be relegated to the pre-show of a Pay-Per-View. Instead it must be defended in high quality competition, which means giving the talent time to tell a story within the match rather than force a ton of highspots into four minutes. If WWE shows the audience that they care about the Cruiserweight division, then the audience will in turn.
Make or break
The next few months are key in deciding whether 205 Live survives to celebrate the first anniversary of the Cruiserweight Classic. Am I naive enough to think WWE will actually listen to my suggestions? Of course not. But what is undeniable is that some radical changes need to take place to ensure the survival of the brand; the ball is in WWE’s court.
What do you think of 205 Live? Do you have any suggestions for how WWE can improve the Cruiserweight division? Let me know in the comment section below or tweet me directly with your thoughts at @thejezshow