On a personal level, the year 2016 was a bit of a rocky year for me mentally. Most days I found it difficult to be productive or even pull myself out of bed. I was struggling at work and was sent home numerous times due to panic attacks and general exhaustion. Why am I telling you this? Because throughout the summer of that terrible time in my life, I was able to find a modicum of solace in two things: Pokémon Go and the WWE Cruiserweight Classic tournament.
I’m sure every wrestling fan has their own story of how their love and passion for it has been able to help them through some rough patches and this is just one of many examples of how wrestling has been there for me. The CWC was a safe haven from everything else, even if it was just for an hour a week, I was able to tune out the rest of my qualms and focus on some phenomenal wrestling. What I didn’t realise at the time was just how much of a game changer the Cruiserweight Classic was and how the wrestling industry was set to evolve from then on.
Now household names like Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Mustafa Ali and Drew Gulak all found their big break as part of the inaugural under 205lbs tournament. Unlikely signings were made from a variety of different counties and promotions, putting the spotlight on local heroes that many indie fans had been rooting for years prior to this occasion. Suddenly, the wrestling world grew exponentially, with WWE letting go of their insular attitude as they opened up their doors to the stars of PWG, PROGRESS Wrestling and other big international brands.
What was little surprise to many, the guys involved in the tournament absolutely killed it. Several of the CWC matches went on to become some of the most critically acclaimed of that year, with the clash between Cedric Alexander and Kota Ibsuhi stealing the entire affair and claiming several ‘Match of the Year’ awards in the process. The two finalists, TJ Perkins and Gran Metalik, were instantly turned into two of the most talked about wrestlers in the world upon respectively defeating two of the biggest stars in the tournament – the aforementioned Kota Ibushi and ‘The Technical Wizard’ Zack Sabre Jr – laying the foundations for the renewed Cruiserweight division within WWE and what would eventually become 205 Live.
Overall, the Cruiserweight Classic was a roaring success for WWE and proved to many of sceptical wrestling fans that, when given the time and resources, they can tap into something unique and change their entire outlook on what makes good professional wrestling content. This was the first time that WWE had ever given younger, smaller guys a huge platform to compete on, with as much marketing and value given to them as they’d typically give to NXT. The majority of the competitors were kept on and regularly featured on TV, some finding success and others just happy to have finally made it.
On occasion, WWE have returned to the more intimate, repackaged style of the CWC, having hosted two Mae Young Classic Tournaments since the CWC to equal success. Although, those female-only tournaments have seemed to have vanished since Toni Storm’s win in 2018 and it seems almost a crime that they haven’t returned to the roots for a sequel to the CWC since. There’s no better time for WWE to once again tap into the many independent promotions and cherry pick the best of the best to help reinvigorate the Cruiserweight division and add a little more global flair to their summer programming.
Now, of course WWE would find it pretty tricky pulling this off with the current global crisis, but once things return to normal, many wrestlers are going to need something to help provide a little stability to their lives and there’s no better company than WWE to help rejuvenate careers and indie scenes by throwing money at them. By featuring a new crop of light-heavyweight stars, not only could WWE sign on some new exciting talents to help fill the void left behind by their recent departures but it would also give exposure to a bunch of different wrestling styles and independent promotions across the globe.
WWE love a good monopoly and having branches across the world would help pull the ratings war back in their favour by bringing in some fresh talent. There are plenty of performers that I’m sure you readers will credit as being some of the most applicable stars for a second CWC and I’m doubly sure that there’s a tonne of stars currently signed to WWE/NXT that are seeking their first dose of exposure on the WWE Network. The CWC could be a great way to kick-start a new era for WWE following the pandemic.
Should we see a second CWC, WWE need to be strict on returning to its special format. Originally held within Full Sail University, the same venue that NXT TV broadcasts from, the CWC episodes felt like a totally different brand of pro wrestling. The use of a more ‘legitimate’ feel to the matches, including the honourable handshake, the tale of the tape style introductions and using wrestling aficionados Daniel Bryan and Mauro Ranallo as the play-by-play team made for a very unique product under the WWE umbrella. I occasionally return to an episode of the CWC to help remind me that WWE can indeed put together an hours worth of decent wrestling and it was the presentation of the show that went a long way in ensuring that.
Tournaments always go down a treat for wrestling fans and if my woeful tales were anything to go by, the world needs something like this to give them a retreat from whatever problems their facing in life, caused by the pandemic or otherwise. The CWC could be a fantastic reboot for the 205 Live division as well as bringing in new talent and fans back to the product in a way that’s very rarely attempted.
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