If a WWE champion retains his title against the former champ in a fantastic back-and-forth bout, but half the paying crowd has already left the arena, do the competitors make a sound?
“The Outlandish” Rich Swann successfully defended his newly won title against Brian Kendrick in the main event of a recent installment of 205 Live – a new weekly WWE Network show featuring the promotion’s new cruiserweight division. Earlier in the night, Cedric Alexander and the “Scottish Supernova” Noam Dar both made their 205 Live debuts and Ariya Daivari avenged two straight losses against “The Extraordinary Gentleman” Jack Gallagher.
In the main event, Swann pinned Kendrick after a vicious spinning heel kick. The referee handed the purple-strapped belt to an out of breath Swann who was resting against the bottom ring ropes. Behind the champion, the first two rows of fans stood and applauded the effort of both competitors. Past those attendees was pitch dark, the house lighting dimmed to mask a near-empty coliseum.
Mike Damante, a journalist with the Houston Chronicle, attended 205 Live at the Toyota Center. Damante confirms that the hour-long cruiserweight program that started after the upper-tier show ended played to a half-filled arena.
“A good portion of the crowd left after Smackdown was over,” Damante says. “It was a shame because the 205 matches were all good, especially Rich Swann and Brian Kendrick, which was the best match of the entire night.”
NXT has launched the WWE careers of several top main event stars in the company by being a showcase for combatants before reaching the main shows Raw and Smackdown Live. Before its debut on November 29th, Triple H, Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative and the creator of NXT, described 205 Live as “a showcase for the cruiserweight division, with its own distinctive feel and style compared to other WWE programming.” An NXT for 205 pound competitors and under.
This programming idea came fresh off the heels of the fantastic Cruiserweight Classic. The qualifying matches took place in various indie promotions like Revolution Pro Wrestling and Evolve, and grapplers from around the world were given the chance to qualify for the 32-man tournament. The CWC took place over four events and TJ Perkins emerged as the champion.
The title has changed hands twice since the conclusion of the Cruiserweight Classic with Brian Kendrick taking the belt from Perkins at Hell in a Cell, then dropping it to Swann on the inaugural episode of 205 Live. A title change that occurred in front of a nowhere-near-capacity crowd.
The few episodes of 205 Live have been solid affairs from top to bottom but is the WWE putting the show behind the 8 ball already? For the show to succeed, the fans in attendance need to be fully vested in the action. The live crowd reactions tells the audience in their living “yes, what you just saw looked just as awesome live.” But the crowd had just seen two hours of wrestling and a main event.
“WWE has a large younger fan base and these kids have to get up for school in the morning,” Damante adds.
Critics and fans have pleaded with the company to cut Raw down to two hours (killing the constant recaps would easily trim 60 or more minutes) because such a large chunk of time is a big ask of people, and not only for WWE Network viewers, but fans in attendance.
The WWE needs 205 Live to be as big a success as NXT for a myriad of reasons. It’s another venue to establish stars before they hit the Raw and Smackdown rosters. Storylines can be given more time on an hour long show instead of breezed through in the short segments allotted to the cruiserweight competitors on the USA network shows. The network needs more original wrestling programming – and not just tape libraries, live chat shows and scripted shows about wrestlers traveling in cars.
For 205 Live to be as paramount as its older brother NXT at building and branding future WWE stars, the show must follow the same blueprint. This includes the show having its own night and possibly its own venue. NXT is taped at Full Sail University in Florida and airs Wednesdays exclusively on WWE Network.
As with any new venture, tweaking is inevitable, but in this case its not the in-ring product that needs work but the scheduling of the show.