Just over a year on from one of the finest series of wrestling World Wrestling Entertainment has ever produced, it was always going to be hard to live up to a bar set so high.
Fourteen months on from the end of the CWC, 20 of the 32 cruiserweight combatants remain, holding some form of contract with the E; but who’s having the best go of it?
Let’s rank the remnants of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic.
20/ SEAN MALUTA
More an honorable mention than anything else, Good Brother Uce has made various appearances across 205 Live and NXT as enhancement talent. Despite the enhancement label, Samoan Sean has been impressive in his role; I for one hope to see him move up this list in the coming years.
19/ RAUL MENDOZA
Early days for this dude. Only recently signed to an NXT contract, he made a statement when he debuted against Johnny Gargano on the show, and if his guts and glory battle against The Kendrick in the CWC is anything to go by, NXT have a star in the making. Just too early to call it anything more…
18/ LINCE DORADO
Potentially the most underutilised cruiserweight thus far, The Golden Lynx just hasn’t found his niche quite yet, performing mainly as enhancement talent; a sacrifice for other’s gains. Hopefully, a blossoming tag team with Gran Metalik will help raise his stock.
17/ FABIAN AICHNER
Much like Mendoza, it’s still early days for Signore Aichner. But much like Mendoza, he had a tremendous showing in his sole match at the CWC, and was eventually awarded a contract, where he has had one more match (2) than Fat Dog. A spirited showing against Kassius Ohno reminded us all of what he could do, but it was a shock victory over Johnny Gargano that showed us that this Italian Stallion could have a big future.
16/ GRAN METALIK
What was I saying about Dorado being the most underutilised cruiserweight? Yeah, scratch that. Metalik was the runner-up in the CWC, and in the year since, he has done approximately… Nothing of note. He’s looked good in the ring, but with a growing alliance alongside Dorado being the most notable advance for him, the luchador has only been given the chance to flop thus far.
15/ GURV SIHRA/SUNIL SINGH
I think it’s strange to put The Singh Brothers this high, but they’ve been in the main event picture of Smackdown for months now, and their stunts are often the best part of Jinder Mahal’s matches, or at least a highlight (unpopular opinion, but I love you, Jinder). Gurv/Sunil is just the mildly less entertaining of the sacrificial siblings.
14/ HARV SIHRA/SAMIR SINGH
I think it’s strange to put The Singh Brothers this high, but they’ve been in the main event picture of Smackdown for months now, and their stunts are often the best part of Jinder Mahal’s matches, or at least a highlight (unpopular opinion, but I love you, Jinder). Harv/Samir is just the mildly more entertaining of the sacrificial siblings. And those table bumps…
13/ TONY NESE
Character development is character development, and you take what you can get on 205 Live. Nese’s character may have already been ‘buff dude who talks about it’, but he has concentrated that into it’s own niche, and found a reasonably unique way of showing it off, complete with moveset. A solid addition, 2 Buff Tony has merely lacked highlights throughout the year, hence his second-half position on this list.
12/ ARIYA DAIVARI
Solid. That is the word I would use to describe The Prince of Persia’s first year on 205 Live. I don’t think anyone had expectations for him coming in, so that has allowed him to blossom with no pressure. His gimmick work has been strong, if mildly generic, and his in-ring work has been up there with the best on the show. A solid heel who has shown that when the main event calls, he can answer; but much like Nese, a lack of highlights dampens his rise.
11/ CEDRIC ALEXANDER
This felt odd, but weighing up everyone’s contribution, Alexander didn’t quite measure up. An outstanding technical performer, Cedric feels like the guy that everyone wants to win, but then they don’t miss him when he’s not there. An injury lay-off didn’t help his positioning here, but his constant excitement and variety in matches against the likes of Ariya Daivari and Noam Dar (their ‘I Quit’ match was froot as feck) boost him up, but no matter how impressive that dimension of Mr. Alexander is, there’s still only one of them.
10/ NOAM DAR
Arguably my favourite person in the world. Dar’s matches do not lack quality, (even if his style took a while to gel with the crowds) but importantly here, neither do his stories. Goofy or serious, Dar pulls it off, and an (objectively) entertaining storyline with Alicia Fox was the highlight of the show for months, producing stellar bouts with the likes of Rich Swann and Cedric Alexander. Dar manages to keep himself relevant with the ‘youngest star’ shtick, and I hope that propels him, but as of right now, it seems like they’re waiting to pull the trigger on him. Which, for the ‘youngest star’ seems counter-intuitive now that I think about it…
9/ DREW GULAK
I do not like putting him this low. In recent months, Drew Gulak has been the most entertaining part of 205 Live, if not WWE programming. His powerpoint presentations and pseudo-political promos have landed, and he is running with it, cutting a promo with Enzo and coming off better. Pair this with an ongoing alliance with Tony Nese, as well as several quality bouts and feuds with Mustafa Ali and Akira Tozawa, and you got a guy whose star is on the fade-in, not the fade-out.
8/ TJ PERKINS/TJP
The dabbing dynamo, the Fil-Am Flash, the first ever (new-gen) cruiserweight champion. What’s going on with him? I like him as the annoying, grating, dabbing heel, but nobody seems to know what to do with him, which saddens me; he’s a tremendous hand in the ring, and has come so far since he started on 205 Live regarding promos and character work. His storyline with Neville was strong, and arguably the best heel vs. heel match of the year on WWE-TV, add that to his story with Rich Swann that could have been better executed, but was still strong, with a weak payoff that seemed like TJP was being written off of television altogether. Here’s to hoping he comes back with a vengeance, but they can’t keep calling him the Fil-Am Flash and book him as the Fil-Am Flop.
7/ JACK GALLAGHER
The Mancunian highlight reel. Highlights, highlights, highlights; I think back to Gentleman’s Jack year and I remember his duel with Daivari, his Royal Rumble flight, a showdown with Neville, his United Kingdom hook-ups, and the least gentlemanly heel turn of the year. While the championship has evaded him, he’s a shoe-in for it one day, and as long as he keeps doling out memorable segments like they’re going out of style, the new and improved evil gentleman will follow in William Regal’s footsteps in more ways than one.
6/ MUSTAFA ALI
Close between Ali and the gentleman here, but Ali being the most exciting newcomer edges him ahead. His vast improvement in promos and in-ring work has seen him become the most-exciting high-flyer on the roster, and looks to be the breakout star of the brand. Outstanding matches with Neville, and a stand-out feud with Drew Gulak has only added fuel to his fire, but he has to be commended for not sticking with a gimmick that leant on his ethnicity, even if it was in a positive way; he mentioned it once at the start of his 205 run, and has never looked back.
5/ RICH SWANN
He is electric, no doubt, but people can handle him. The E went down the tried and tested route of harrowing personal life when Swann dethroned The Kendrick to win the Cruiserweight Championship, and it was nicely done, if not so smooth, which is kind of Swann’s M.O. While always entertaining in-ring and one of the focal points of the show, Swann has been just a tad one-note in promos and execution, with only his championship win edging him above others on this list. It’s hard to get tired of his sick flips, mind.
4/ THE BRIAN KENDRICK
I love The Wizard Of Odd. Everything he touches turns to gold for me. Even the whole dodgy clown shtick from a few weeks back. Dressing up as Gallagher and proceeding to wrestle as him worked better than it had any right to, as well. After an amazing run in the CWC, The Kendrick turned into the entitled vet who accused the younger stars of disrespect and has twisted that tried and tested angle to his own tune. A deserved Cruiserweight Championship win, an immense lesson-learning feud with Akira Tozawa, and a long-game story with Jack Gallagher has allowed Kendrick to call on his experience and individuality over his year back on the roster to leave compelling segments in his wake. If this man’s plan was to remain the most universally relevant member of the roster, then he is pulling it off with aplomb.
3/ AKIRA TOZAWA
I didn’t think Neville was ever going to lose his title. Hence, the most surprising title change of the year. While Neville was the real beneficiary of this, a title win for Tozawa was just a cap on a cracking year. A brilliantly entertaining run in the CWC was followed by immense anticipation surrounding his debut before the superb feud with The Kendrick fed into his recruitment into Titus WORLDWIDE and a championship win. A charming filler feud with Drew Gulak has followed, allowing both men to up their stock. He seems to remain constantly over, something that can’t be said about the majority of the 205 roster, and here’s to hoping The Man Who Ah!’s carries on his merry way.
2/ TOMASSO CIAMPA
Now that you’ve read #2, I’m sure you can guess who #1 is, but how could these two not be at the top? No longer strictly part of the cruiserweight division, their year on NXT has been classic, but they were already tearing it up before and during the CWC as well. Instant classics against The Revival and The Authors Of Pain lead to one of the biggest ‘FUCK YOU’ moments in wrestling history, when this man, the psycho killer scrapped DIY, and instead did it himself. A scathing promo followed, and since then… Disappearance. Obviously, he’s recovering from injury, and it’s exactly what this feud needs to build anticipation (not that it needed to, but it helps). Ciampa’s turn was one of the most shocking moments of the year and will remain one the most shocking of all time, and I’ve no doubt that the resulting feud will be one to remember.
1/ JOHNNY GARGANO
Who else? Copy and paste Ciampa’s bit essentially, but Johnny Wrestling has proven he is exactly that, being the MVP in many a match, as well as holding a ring with just about anyone. His skill, his adaptability, his vastly improved mic skills and promo work have lead to Gargano being a huge name in NXT and around the world. Whether they see him as the next Daniel Bryan-figure (a technical wrestler who flies and is smaller than the stereotypical WWE superstar) or his own brand of hot-sauce, the future is bright for Johnny-boy. The aforementioned stellar tag matches along with quality against Andrade Almas leads to him robbing the top spot from his former tag team partner as he’s been out with injury, something that will obviously add more fuel to the fire of their surely fantastic feud.
THERE YOU HAVE IT.
As you can probably see, a lot of these guys are on the same level; other cruiserweights have come in and stolen the spotlight of the original CWC competitors, some rightly so (*ahem* Neville *ahem*), and some less deservedly (*ahem* Err…. Actually, we’re doing alright on that front *ahem*), but the worst thing is that in one year, the character development is not at the point it should be. Several are adapting fantastically and are gradually growing into fantastic performers, but the E hasn’t given them enough of a stage to show off what they can really do, isolating them over to the side. Just take a look at the top two on this list; nowhere near 205 Live; they interact with folk outside of their weight class and are better for it. Cedric Alexander weighs more than Finn Balor, but will we ever see them compete against one another? Not in the near future anyways. We see that fixed, we see a far-more competitive bout for the head of this list.
Also, a shoutout to Damian Slater, HoHo Lun, Jason Lee, Kota Ibushi, Tyson Dux, Alejandro Saez, Tajiri, Clement Petiot, Zack Sabre Jr., Kenneth Johnson, Anthony Bennett and Da Mack for being the entertaining san o’ ma gans that you are. I think myself and countless others would like to see you on a big stage again soon.
Keep it streets ahead,