It was said many times before, but it should be repeated, competition is a critical part of the professional wrestling industry. That competition brings options, both for fans and performers. According to multiple reports, former WWE Cruiserweight champion, Neville quit the company prior to Raw last week. As of this writing, the WWE hasn’t officially acknowledged his status.
Neville, formerly known as Pac prior to his WWE arrival, signed a contract in 2012 before he debuted in NXT early the following year. After he began wrestling in 2004 in his native country of England, Pac quickly made a name for himself as one of the best aerial wrestlers in the world, which prompted an offer from Dragon Gate in Japan in 2007. He worked almost a full-time schedule in Japan, as well as around the global on the independent scene until he signed a WWE contract.
At the time, I was surprised that Pac inked a WWE deal, because his style didn’t seem to fit the playbook often seen on Raw or Smackdown. As we now know, he was one of the first hybrid athletes that was used to usher in the “new era” style that is now common place. Despite his international success previously, “the man that gravity forgot” earned his stripes in NXT, working the developmental league for two and a half years before he debuted on the main roster.
After the novelty of a new face on TV wore off, Neville was mostly lost in the shuffle of the “new era” agenda on television. Without a substantial storyline or any noticeable character development to help him progress, the Neville persona was relegated to mediocrity. It certainly didn’t help his momentum when he broke his ankle in 2016 during a match with Chris Jericho and was sidelined for a few months. Midway through the year, he returned to TV, but wasn’t booked for anything worthwhile. It’s still puzzling that management seemed to bring him to the main roster simply to have a surprise debut on the post-WM Raw when it appears that they had no plan for him after that. However, make no mistake, Neville is one of the most talented performers in the industry today.
In late-2016, a heel turn provided him with an angle with some substance that could be used to get his character over. Unfortunately, it was linked to the 205 division, which continues to be a disaster. Nobody was surprised when the Cruiserweight division was underutilized, but the best chance the division had to be relevant was based around the “King of the Cruiserweights” heel turn. The push was minimal at best and neither the championship or the division as a whole were emphasized. In fact, the CW title was defended on the WM 33 kick off show and it was the first match of a seven hour event, making it mostly forgettable at the conclusion of the show. A few months ago, Neville briefly dropped the title to Akira Tozawa before he won it back again, a series of title changes that were illogical and did nothing to help the credibility of the championship.
Fast forward to the past several weeks on Raw and it’s easy to see why Neville decided to walk away. Enzo, the former partner of Cass, made headlines for all the wrong reasons recently. The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer reported that Enzo was kicked off of a WWE bus prior to Summer Slam, and the incident was acknowledged on the network’s “Bring it to the table” series. Essentially, Enzo was reprimand for disrespecting the industry and treating it like a joke. Considering that athletes much more skilled than him risk their health to make a living in the business, it’s understandable why he was kicked off the bus.
Listen, there’s a clear line in the sand, the point of the wrestling business is to make as much money as possible to be able to retire as healthy and as financially secure as possible. Nobody can blame someone for taking the money on the table and the opportunity to move up the card to make more money. Dedication to the business alone doesn’t pay the bills, but that dedication to the industry is the recognition that performers have a responsibility to the audience to try to entertain the best that they can for those that buy tickets. The understanding of that responsibility sets a standard for what is acceptable effort to give the audience their money’s worth, and that thus allows performers to make a living in the industry. For Enzo to disrespect the business or see it as just a way to become famous disrespects the paying fans and other athletes that are trying to make a living in the industry.
So, Enzo was buried on television, smashed by Cass on a weekly basis until an ACL injury sidelined the big man. Amore continued with the same repetitive rhetoric on WWE programming until the crowd reaction began to dwindle. Those that did chant along with his catchphrases seemed to do so more out of habit than anything else. The announcers rightfully pointed out Enzo’s annoying presence and eluded to his unpopularity behind the scenes.
However, the popularity of the original Enzo/Cass team made the duo one of the company’s better merchandise sellers, which meant management had to find something for Amore to do. The previously mentioned 205 division was a show with nearly no real consequence, and it was directly said on TV that Enzo was there because no other brand wanted him on its show. Basically, this told the audience that 205 live didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. And because 205 was seem as a B-show, Enzo, one of the least coordinated on the roster, won the championship. The promos that followed consisted of Amore highlighting the perceived lack of marketability of the rest of the division. I have to say, where does the rest of the CWs go from here? How can the division or any of the competitors be taken seriously again?
As I said earlier, Neville is one of the most gifted aerial wrestlers in the world, why should he lower himself to work with an uncoordinated goof? Clearly, Enzo sees WWE as his way to become famous, but he obviously doesn’t realize that his star power fall would off as cliff without if management released him.
This is where competition is extremely important, and in this case, it gives Neville the option to walk away from a dismal situation to seek a better opportunity elsewhere. New Japan Pro Wrestling is in the midst of a banner year and has more exposure in the United States today than any other time in the history of the promotion. A combination of the New Japan World streaming service and a working agreement with Ring of Honor give more accessibility to the Japanese product. No longer is Japanese pro wrestling a fringe concept to the American audience that only a collection of diehard fans know about, but rather a product that is viewed as a fast-paced, edgy alternative. The WWE has its brand of entertaining competitors that draw its target audience, and that’s a very profitable formula. The New Japan product is different by design and ultimately, it gives fans more options. The traditional position of WWE is what creates the platform for a group like New Japan to gain momentum, and the bottom line is, it allows for more great wrestling from both companies to be seen by more fans.
For Neville, his style seems to lend itself to either Ring Of Honor or New Japan. The WWE TV exposure will give him steam to start the next chapter of his career, and he will undoubtedly have the chance to work with major names on a much bigger stage than 205 Live depending on where he decides to sign. Again, competition is what gives Neville the chance to earn a good living outside of the WWE, and it’s another example of how important options are in the industry.