PWP Nation editor, Zack Heydorn, details why Neville vs. Austin Aries for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship is the premiere story going today in the WWE.
Ignore the pigs flying above your head and prepare yourself for an impassioned, positive plea about the WWE Cruiserweights.
The Neville vs. Austin Aries feud is the strongest program and story that the WWE has going on any of its shows. Period.
Go ahead. Dodge the flying pigs.
I mean it though. Say what you will about the WWE Cruiserweight Division as whole. There certainly is a lot to be said. The purple ropes are an abomination, 205 Live should be filmed ahead of SmackDown Live not after, and “cruiserweight” wrestlers really aren’t a thing anymore due to the fact that much of the heavyweight division is wrestling the same style and performing the same moves. I get all that, but it’s part of a different conversation. If the purple ropes haven’t trained you like Pavlov’s dog to immediately hit the bathroom upon their arrival and you’re paying attention just a smidge, you recognize that Neville and Aries are executing a true five-star pro wrestling feud that nobody’s talking about. You should be as it’s the best program WWE has going today.
Neville returned to the WWE at Roadblock: End Of The Line and immediately became the face of the cruiserweight division by turning heel and attacking the then Cruiserweight Champion Rich Swann and his opponent at the time, TJ Perkins. Neville has been a tremendous in-ring worker throughout his WWE run, but his character always left a sour taste in the mouths of fans and the top WWE brass. His heel turn changed everything. Since that moment, Neville has become a character that feels real and is believable. When he speaks about being the “King Of The Cruiserweights”, you listened as he backed it up week in and week out by decimating other cruiserweights that he deemed not on his level.
Neville became the WWE Cruiserweight Champion at the Royal Rumble and cemented himself atop that division. Because of how strong he became, nobody else on the roster could legitimately hang with him and be a real contender for the belt. It was a bittersweet situation as the WWE had an incredibly hot heel without a viable babyface opponent.
Enter Austin Aries. Aries debuted in NXT in the summer of 2016 and had top level feuds with the likes of Baron Corbin, No Way Jose, and Shinsuke Nakamura. He was brutally injured in a live event match and was subsequently on the shelf for months. That injury, though scary, could have been the best thing that happened to his WWE career. Because he couldn’t perform in the ring, Aries was put on commentary for WWE Cruiserweight matches on Raw and the WWE Cruiserweight show, 205 Live. In that role, he was able to define his character and build up a love with the WWE Universe. Timing truly is everything. As Neville was ascending to the top of 205 Live and the WWE Cruiserweight Division, Austin Aries was heating up on commentary and waiting for his moment to return.
The stars aligned perfectly for them to square off. Aries and Neville crossed paths several times in interview segments in which Neville would tear down his peers including Austin Aries himself. Those interviews set the feud in motion and they’ve been off to the races ever since.
The program between Neville and Austin Aries is pro wrestling 101. There is absolutely nothing groundbreaking about the feud which is why its working so well. The story is based around respect, history, and the WWE Cruiserweight Championship. The top prize of that division. Such should be business as usual with the WWE. Too often it isn’t. Aries and Neville have raised the bar across all three brands because they follow that formula to a “T”.
WWE planted the seeds for this feud weeks before it actually became official. They teased interactions and had Neville purposely step on and spit out Aries in interviews to garner sympathy for Aries that they would eventually work to cash-in on. That cash-in moment came on an episode of Monday Night Raw where Aries, with a hot crowd in the palm of his hand, had enough of Neville’s attitude and socked him right in the jaw. It was the best pure moment that the Cruiserweight Division has had since its rebirth. It was only a defining moment because of the history that was built between the two performers. Week after week, the audience clamored for Aries to hold his ground with Neville and when he finally did, it meant something. Building the Aries and Neville history was an important component for this feud to be a success and the WWE hit a grand slam when they capitalized on it.
Since then, the feud has been about respect and the WWE Cruiserweight Championship. Neville heelishly gives Aries none when it’s obvious he deserves it and in recognizing he may not be as good as Austin Aries, cheats to maintain the prize that makes him the man and competitor that he is. Plus, he doesn’t feel bad about it either. A true heel character doing true heel things. Crazy notion right? On the flip side Austin Aries looks like a million bucks as a babyface while chasing his main goal, the WWE Cruiserweight Championship. The audience feels his pain and frustration as he comes close to achieving the victory, but having it stolen away by the devious Neville. He will get there and when he does, the moment will be significant because it’s been built so well. The crowd knows Aries wants to be champion as its all he’s gone after since returning from injury and they know that he essentially should be the champion today if it weren’t for Neville’s cheating. The crowd has taken the bait wholeheartedly when it comes to Aries’s chase.
Outside of the story, the in-ring product of the Neville/Aries program has been phenomenal. They’ve had competitive matches that have gone back and forth while showcasing the feud and the performer’s characters in the best way possible. Both Neville and Aries have brought out the best in each other and therefore both have been protected. Aries still looks like a viable challenger even though he’s lost twice in a row and Neville still looks like a dominant champion even though he’s cheated to win his last two title matches. The program is clicking on all cylinders with much more to come.
Take a look around the WWE. What other feud, program, or story has each of these elements colliding at once. Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt? Poor in-ring work and a story without a viable history to build off of. Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman? I love Strowman, but the story makes no sense. Strowman is the heel and regularly gets cheered for beating up the babyface. Both tag team scenes? The lack of history built up between the teams is laughable. Why should fans care about anything that is going on? There is nothing at this moment for them to buy in to.
No feud in the WWE has all the pieces working right like Aries and Neville so brilliantly do. Their history, in-ring product, and simple story allow for fans to buy in effortlessly. Let’s pay attention to it and give it the credit it deserves. When you see those purple ropes go up, grab another beer and strap in for entertainment rather than head to toilet. You won’t be sorry. Austin Aries will become the WWE Cruiserweight Champion sometime soon. When he does, it will be the culmination of a 6 month plus story and fans will go bananas. That’s pro wrestling everyone. The feeling that we’ll have when Aries hoists that cruiserweight title belt above his head is what the business is all about.
This program certainly should be the launching point for the WWE Cruiserweight Division, but right now it should also be the benchmark of how other stories in the WWE are presented on television.