Beauty in Wrestling: State of the Cruiserweights

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STATE OF THE CRUISERWEIGHTS

What is the state of the cruiserweights in WWE? The division, the wrestlers themselves, the championship. Their past, their present and their future. The WWE Championship, the World Heavyweight Championship, the Intercontinental Championship and frankly all singles titles for that matter have a destiny. An idea of who holds the division, who will be the successors and future stars. Who will be feuding for the belts and who may be next. It is more difficult to tell with the cruiserweight division. Not only the predictions of what will come but predictions of what -- if anything -- will come. There are predictions of doom and of rebirth. Of cancellation and renewed interest.

Mighty confusing, isn't it? You'll see what I mean as I continue. Maybe it would be best to put all the cards on the table. Instead of doing this in a basic chronologial (over the past few months) form, I'll break it down into topics. Let's begin with our champions and their defenses...

--CHAMPIONSHIP REIGNS--

In March of this year, then Cruiserweight Champion Chavo Guerrero fractured a bone near his eye. This prompted Smackdown booking to give the belt to Paul London on the March 31st episode of Smackdown. Wrestlemania was right around the corner, but WWE decided to pass on a Cruiserweight Championship match. There was room for Christy Hemme but obviously not Paul London. This was not a good sign for the cruiserweight division. Last year, at Wrestlemania XX, there was the Cruiserweight Open match. Wrestlemania XIX had Rey Mysterio vs. Matt Hardy. If the Cruiserweight Championship isn't defended at the most important show of the year, not to mention the event with the most amount of time to fill, it can't spell good things for the division.

London had to wait until Judgment Day on May 22nd for a Pay-Per-View title match. He retained against Chavo Guerrero. Unfortunately, since then, the Cruiserweight Championship has not only taken a back seat, but it has been pretty much locked in the trunk. The Great American Bash on July 24th had no title match. Some might argue that the match on Sunday Night Heat before the show was close enough. No. It wasn't. It was an afterthought. GAB had time for a completely thrown together Mexicools vs. Blue World Order match but no time for the Cruiserweight Championship.

On the August 6th episode of Velocity, Nunzio captured the Cruiserweight Championship to end London's sadly forgettable four month reign. A good amount of time as champ but almost no exposure. Summerslam came next month with no cruiserweight match in sight. Nunzio's reign, so far, has even less spotlight. In fact, it is being booked exclusively on one show:

--VELOCITY--

Smackdown's b-show, Velocity, has been the best source for cruiserweight action for a long time. It featured a great series between Paul London and Akio, various cruiser tag matches and even title defenses here and there. This is a blessing for those of us who like a good solid hour of cruiser action but a curse for the wrestlers themselves. Not really a great way to show off your talent. Velocity is overlooked by and large. Maybe that's why the Smackdown writers "forget" to put the Cruiserweight Championship on Pay-Per-View.

Earlier this Summer, former Major League Wrestling head Court Bauer, recently signed to WWE, was put in charge of booking Velocity. I saw some MLW episodes and while I didn't think all that much of the promotion, it was probably a good idea to hire someone with a wrestling background instead of more talk show writers. Velocity became a pretty strong show. It featured a fantastic match between Chris Benoit and William Regal, the debuts of Big Vito and former TNA star Frankie Kazarian, liberal use of indy talent and even the aforementioned cruiser title change. If the cruiserweights were going to be confined to Velocity, at least it was going to be a fun show, right? That was my reaction at first, but then I started thinking about the way the title was being used. Practically as a Velocity exclusive. Meaning little to no way it will be used on Pay-Per-View or even get an occassional big defense on Smackdown.

What is Bauer doing? Was this his plan or was he simply following orders? Bauer is creating storylines specifically for Velocity. London is doing some kind of whining ex-champion angle and Nunzio is reforming the FBI. In doing so, the top cruiserweights, London and Nunzio, are nowhere to be found on the big shows. Their b-show exclusivity has anchored them to a sinking ship. One can only assume Bauer is trying to impress management with his writing skills so that he can one day be brought up to the big leagues, but I wonder about the effects of his Velocity booking.

Bauer could be trying to do all he can on Velocity while it lasts because this show is well on the way out. All indications are it will be scrapped this Fall. WWE is switching from Spike TV to USA Network in October. The official press release claims that USA will have Raw and a "one-hour weekend RAW-branded program" which clearly means Sunday Night Heat. No sign of any one-hour weekend Smackdown-branded programs. Velocity will be gone from Spike TV to be replaced by TNA's new hour-long show. This leaves one wondering what, if anything, WWE will be doing about a Velocity substitution. Could they be given a shot on Smackdown? Are the cruiserweights going to be forced into a sink or swim scenario?

--LOSSES--

About a month and a half ago, WWE, in some belated Spring cleaning, released nineteen wrestling personalities from its roster. Four of them were part of the Smackdown cruiserweight division. In fact, at the time, before new cruisers debuted shortly after, it left the division hosting about four or five cruisers altogther. One released wrestler was Akio, the man who had put on said critically-acclaimed series of matches with then Cruiserweight Champion Paul London. Akio was brought into WWE as part of a Japanese stable led by Tajiri. The stable did not last long and Akio had become one of Velocity's premier attractions since, reigning in Hell rather than serving in Heaven. Despite his pleasing performances, WWE sent him packing.

Also released was Billy Kidman. He felt like the veteran of the division. He's only thirty-one, but he has accomplished a lot in the cruiser ranks in his career. Six-time WCW Cruiserweight Champion, WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team Champion and WWE Cruiserweight Champion. He reinvented himself in one of my favorite heel turns in recent history. He had a good feud with London that didn't have the blowoff that we'd hoped. One could speculate Kidman was cut because he has been a name in wrestling for so long that his contract would be considerably higher than new talent, and sometimes it seems like WWE sees a lot of their cruisers as indistinct anyway. So, out with the "old."

Shannon Moore, who honestly was not doing much of anything, was understandably cut. I often feel that Moore's style is too generic. He tried for a unique look with his Prince of Punk gimmick, but that was the extent of his appeal. Finally, Spike Dudley was let go. Dudley, arguably the best talker of the four released cruisers, had this to say following his termination: "Does it sting? Hell yeah. Especially since I've always been one of their model employees. It makes sense that I was released. I don't bitch, moan, groan or suck. I just didn't fit in with what the WWE puts on TV."

A more recent cruiserweight departure from WWE was Frankie Kazarian. "The Future" just couldn't wait for the present to catch up. Kazarian was displeased with his lack of push, threatened to quit, was given a Velocity winning streak that still didn't make him feel wanted, was told to cut his hair and refused and was eventually not recognized by one of the writers. Kazarian thought WWE would not give him a chance, packed up and went home. It seemed a little premature for Kazarian to quit before even getting his shot on Smackdown. However, to play devil's advocate here, cruiserweights can't possibly have high morale right now and could make their decisions out of frustration.

--GAINS--

At a glance, it looks as if WWE has hired three fairly recognizable cruiserweights in the Mexicools: Super Crazy, Psicosis and Juventud. Although, looking a tad closer, these cruiserweights have not participated in their division all that much since their arrival. Rumor says that McMahon is happy with the way the audience has received the Mexicools and is personally pleased with their excitement. Is that why they have been "elevated" from the cruiserweight division? I'm sorry to use that term, but the way the division is seen right now, it is both insulting but also accurate. The Mexicools have not done much in the cruiser division.

Instead of feuding with London like many of us suspected, they were thrown into a feud with the Blue World Order and have a six-man tag on Pay-Per-View. Meanie is no cruiser and Nova/Dean and Richards are not part of the division either despite the fact they are relatively lean. The Mexicools, specifically Juventud who is laughingly the mouthpiece of the stable, could have made a run for the Cruiserweight Championship. Instead, the continually show up, perform random run-ins (Regal, Christian, etc.) to a good response but then go nowhere. I honestly do not know what WWE is planning to do with the Mexicools but they are certainly not being used to rejuvenate the division.

More recently, WWE has signed former employees Spanky and James Gibson (formerly and soon-to-be-again known as Jamie Noble) to new contracts. Spanky left WWE under reasonably good terms and has been welcomed to return. Noble was released due to a steroid issue becoming public knowledge, but now that it has basically blown over, WWE is giving him another chance. He'll finish his independent commitments and return soon. Do these returns signify renewed interest by WWE management to push the cruiserweight division? I will believe that when I see it. This could go the way of the Mexicools with Noble and Spanky being "too big" for that. Noble, for example, feuded outside of the division when he faced off against the likes of Billy Gunn and Nidia (remember that?) on PPV's. So, I think I am justified in having a little skepticism here.

--CURRENT EVENTS--

Due to a couple "almost injuries" due to top-rope moves, WWE has banned the use of certain manuevers. Most notably the 450 Splash and the Shooting Star Press, both of which are Paul London's signature moves. One could argue that WWE must care about their cruiserweights after all because they are creating measures to protect them. However, these moves are usually only unsafe when performed in sloppy fashion like Juvi's recent botched attempt. This has cruisers worried about being limited in the ways they can get over with the crowd.

Word has leaked about a confrontation between London and Vince McMahon about the new rules. I heard it on the internet first and then read it in the Observer today. The story goes that London argued that it is difficult for cruiserweights to get over working the way heavyweights do. He makes a good point. WWE is not ROH. There is a lot going against shorter wrestlers already. To add new rules can create even more challenges. McMahon defended the ruling and told London to learn how to work. I'm not a Vince basher by any stretch, but if true, that is ridiculous. Especially if he means London specifically and not cruisers in general. London has great all-around ability. Speculation is that London arguing with McMahon led to the recent Cruiserweight Championship switch to Nunzio. It could only be a coincidence but one must admit it looks suspicious. London has been given a whining ex-champion gimmick, and as of late, has been noticeably absent from both Smackdown and Velocity. The Observer goes on to say that this is basically the kiss of death for Paul London.

Smackdown aired this week without much in the way of cruiser action. Two of the three Mexicools wrestled but they did so against Christian and Booker T. Funaki was crushed into a fine powder by Ken Kennedy. On Velocity, Cruiserweight Champion Nunzio accompanied Vito to ringside but did not wrestle. Scotty 2 Hotty, quite possibly the most over cruiserweight on the Smackdown brand, was taken apart by William Regal and Paul Burchill.

--THE FUTURE--

When I started writing this, I felt it would be a fairly balanced look at the state of the cruiserweight division. However, as I go through topic after topic, I realize that the situation is more dire than I thought. It was not my intention to write such a negative piece, but I can't deny what I see is happening.

Where is WWE going with the cruiserweight division? Here's my take on it and it is very simple: They don't know! For the life of me, I can't imagine there being any serious, long-term plans for the division. The rehiring of Noble and Spanky could lead one to believe that WWE has future plans for the division, but how many times have we considered that in the past when others were brought in? Rey Mysterio, Ultimo Dragon, the Mexicools and plenty in between. Velocity is saying goodbye. Even if there is a replacement show, it still won't be the big leagues. I can't imagine McMahon pushing the cruiserweight division on Smackdown over the larger midcard. I want to believe WWE will give the cruiserweight division some real attention, but history would disagree with me. I do not think that is pessimistic. I think it is realistic. I think, at best, it will be something that is largely in the background as it has been for years.

I hope I am wrong.

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Photo in banner by Mary-Kate Grosso

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MAILBAG -- THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

First off, great piece. It is not often that I read a column that really gets stuck in my head. You speak the truth on both parts.

I do watch wrestling for the moments that make me forget about the politics, diva searches, racist gimmicks, jbl matches, and angles that insult our intelligence. When Benoit made Tripps tap, I never cheered so hard in my life. It wasn't just that I saw a great match, I saw a work of art, a piece of history, and created a lasting memory that was and felt real. Unfortunately these times are few and far between.

At times I feel empty, I just turn the channel to wrestling while I surf the web. It doesn't attract my attention like it used to, partly due to me just being older and more mature. I have friends that ask me, "Why do you watch that crap", after seeing the mexicools riding on their "juan deers" while I myself am Mexican. Honestly, I can't give them an answer to justify why I watch. I can't simply say,"well there was this Benoit match that was really good a while back". To me wrestling is kind of like being divorced, you don't know why the hell you married that person but something had to click for their be a union at all. I myself will probably never quit, but at times its really hard not to.

- Pablo Basilio