If you believed everything you read online, WWE very rarely give the fans what they want. In fact, since 2013 in particular, it’s been hard to go a single PPV broadcast without social media chatter being filled up with a vocal minority saying how they are never going to watch WWE programming again. After the introduction of WWE Network in 2014, most of those comments turned into claims that people would unsubscribe in protest that their favourites didn’t win a feud, or retain a championship, or something seemingly far more worse.
All that silliness aside, there is certainly a fair case to be made that WWE often do ignore some very sensible shouts from their audience. Case in point is Daniel Bryan, who they did their best to keep down, but the clamour for him to become a top star in the company was so great that they had to concede, ultimately giving Bryan one of the greatest Wrestlemania moments that has ever been witnessed in sports entertainment. Bryan was in fact an exception though, and WWE‘s stubbornness has perhaps often denied them a lot of dollars.
Following the Cruiserweight Classic, which unquestionably provided a number of Match of the Year candidates, a lot of die hard fans were hesitant to see the ‘cruiserweight division’ move to WWE RAW. That hesitance was based on some very fair beliefs that the flagship show, under the management of Vince McMahon, would not allow the stars from the Cruiserweight Classic to wrestle the incredible styles that they were allowed to do so in the three month WWE Network series. It also didn’t help that big names such as Kota Ibushi and Zack Sabre Jr chose not to sign full time contracts with the company.
By mid-October 2016, when the cruiserweight’s had been on RAW for only a handful of weeks, many were claiming that their worst fears had been realised. The cruiserweight division was labelled a flop.
If you looked deep into the darkest corners of the internet wrestling community at that same time, and in the month or two following, you’d have seen many people discussing one man: Adrian Neville (or just Neville, as we have been forced to call him for the past 1.5 years). Given he had done very little on the main roster since his promotion from NXT in 2015, and even less since recovering from his unfortunate injury in the first half of 2016, it was felt by many that he would be best served competing in the 205lb’s and under division. It was frustrating for many when it seemed that WWE had no such plans to bring Neville in, instead focusing their attention on building up new talents they’d signed exclusively for the division.
At the tail end of November 2016, a brand new show debuted in the form of 205 Live. It launched as a WWE Network exclusive series, airing live right after WWE Smackdown Live on Tuesday nights (the suitability of that timeslot to the live audience in the arena, however, is a discussion for another time!). As was written here at Talk: Pro Wrestling at the time the series was announced, the creation of this show was an exciting one, and demonstrated a change in tactics by WWE‘s management. As mentioned by Triple H in early December 2016, the intention behind 205 Live is to launch a whole new touring brand, giving fans yet another option when deciding what kind of professional wrestling they want to keep a close eye on.
In this writers opinion, 205 Live was a success in its first three weeks. We saw a tremendous WWE Cruiserweight Championship match in episode one, which resulted in Rich Swann taking the belt from The Brian Kendrick, and the following two weeks saw T.J. Perkins insert himself into the feud, setting up a triple threat championship match at WWE Roadblock 2016: The End of the Line.
Up until that triple threat match, it’s fair to say that WWE had done a decent job of building some new recognisable stars in its cruiserweight division. T.J. Perkins was unquestionably becoming a favourite with younger audience members (the guy screams merchandise, no question!), and The Brian Kendrick was enjoying more focus than he’d ever truly enjoyed as a singles superstar in his previous run with the company. Swann was also enjoying some focus, as well as Cedric Alexander and Noam Dar, who began their own feud on the new television series.
Unfortunately for WWE, all of these stars were new faces to the crowd and audiences at home. For sure, some viewers would’ve seen these names on the indies, but that number would have been very low, and the Cruiserweight Classic likely didn’t draw a huge audience on the WWE Network. TJP had a decent WWE look, and Swann had a nice story that fans could appreciate, but none of these talents offered people a reason to make 205 Live must-see television. Quite frankly, there were too many new talents for not only WWE to introduce, but also too many new talents for its audience to accept.
And then came Roadblock: End of the Line, where WWE appeared to realise the same thing its fanbase had: they needed Neville.
After successfully retaining his WWE Cruiserweight Championship, Swann’s music was cut short, as Neville’s hit. The wrestler, from the United Kingdom, soon came out, and marched to the ring. Given Neville had previously been a babyface, his next actions came as a complete shock to everyone in the arena and at home, as he soon destroyed Rich Swann, and put a swift end to an attempt by T.J. Perkins to help the champion.
The beatdown of Swann was lengthy and, more importantly, made for great television.
The following night on RAW, and the night after on 205 Live, Neville continued his assault on the Cruiserweight division, declaring himself the “King of the Cruiserweights,” and vowing to beat up every single person on the roster. He also turned on the fans, blaming his lack of success to date on his attempts to pander to them, saying that it had achieved nothing and just caused him to be overlooked. And then he took a shot at WWE management, disgusted at their decision to hold the Cruiserweight Classic without his participation, and at their launch of a cruiserweight division that lacked his involvement.
Neville’s comments about this past summers tournament may have been a bit of kayfabe, given Neville was in fact nursing an injury at the time, but the believability of his statements was right there. He had been overlooked since he stepped up from NXT, and he was destined to float around the company for the next few years, contributing very little other than decent matches for RAW whenever they needed to fill time.
Despite a lack of accomplishments on WWE‘s main roster, Neville had succeeded at one thing: he’d made the audience familiar with him. His finishing move, the Red Arrow, was regularly highlight reel material, and his tag team match with Stephen Amell (lead actor, Arrow) got him some mainstream attention. Quite frankly, the hard work had been done with Neville: the crowd knew who he was, something not true of the rest of 205 Live‘s roster.
Not only has 205 Live gained something it didn’t have until now, which was a recognised star, it’s grabbed someone who has a chip on his shoulder. He may be playing up his heel persona, but don’t doubt for one second that there is some truth behind the words Neville is using in his promos. One would suspect he also intends to show he can put on some of the best matches in the company too.
Neville’s return, combined with the promos and matches that followed it, have got people talking. 205 Live now has someone that interests them, who makes them want to tune in each week to see what he’s going to do. He’s also taken a win over the champion too, not even needing to hit Swann with his finishing move to do so.
At this point, the best thing WWE can do is put the WWE Cruiserweight Championship on Neville, and continue his dominance over the division. Compared to the other talents on the show, Neville is built like a beast, and there’s a damn lot of money to be made in building the whole show around him for the immediate future. And if you don’t believe that a Rich Swann, a T.J. Perkins, or a Jack Gallagher, will get more over being on the same show as a dominating Neville, then you don’t know how this business works.
After launching as something of an ensemble piece, 205 Live finally has its lead star, and Neville is going to carry this entire brand into 2017 and beyond.