Those who followed the Cruiserweight Classic religiously knew that the stakes of the tournament were incredibly high. We saw a tale of heartbreak in Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano; a tale of triumph in Brian Kendrick vs. Tony Nese; but most importantly, we saw the emergence of a new star in TJ Perkins. I remember watching the nail-biter finale of the CWC between Gran Metalik and TJP in my living room, getting worked up at the possibility of TJP getting pinned or Metalik submitting to the devastating TJP Clutch. It was an emotional whirlwind entwined with raw athleticism, amazing storytelling and pure, unmitigated passion. As Perkins came out on top, it was a symbol of 18 years of toiling, homelessness and personal sacrifice finally paying off for the independent veteran.
What began as an underdog story quickly turned into an overnight sensation. Perkins rose from the shadows and became the leader of WWE's new Cruiserweight division. Bypassing NXT, TJP made his main roster debut at Clash of Champions vs. Brian Kendrick. In a completely reworked entrance, he debuted a fresh, original gimmick unforeseen to the WWE Universe. Paying homage to the video game culture of the 90s, his entrance was complete with retro NES-style music, a Character Selection screen on the Titantron and a bright, Filipino-inspired attire.
Retaining his Cruiserweight Championship at Clash of Champions, TJP and Kendrick immediately entered a bitter feud, which essentially pitted the student vs. the teacher. The rivalry already had its personal roots sewn, as Kendrick and Perkins traveled alongside one another in the early stages of their careers. As they took separate paths, Kendrick eventually established a veteran status while TJP trail-blazed through the indies. With Kendrick feeling that his time may soon be up, this allowed him to solidify himself as a heel against the naturally likable TJP.
As their feud allowed for more airtime on Monday Night Raw, I began noticing some concerns arising within myself for TJP's character. While he is a naturally likable character, his actions are definitely that of a white-meat babyface and his gimmick caters to a very niche audience of the WWE Universe, which may lead to some fans turning on him. Society today begs for a protagonist who doesn't exactly have that do-gooder, moral high ground attitude. Aside from that, the alienation that some fans may experience from his gimmick is important to take note of. While his gimmick is a throwback to the 90s, we must remember that the WWE Universe consists of fans beyond that decade range--from the children of today, to the parents of decades past, to the grandparents that preceded them.
|"Do you remember the one road trip we went on when my N64 broke and you went and got me a new one? You remember that?"|
With all due respect, Perkins isn't the best promo cutter, but he's definitely far from the worst. Give the guy a mic and he can win people over. But with lines that are so blatantly phoned in by WWE's creative team, it only makes his character come off as phony and pretentious in his nature. The fans aren't stupid, either. They can see through a character's forced delivery. This is the same exact problem that Roman Reigns faced (see "Sufferin' Succotash" promo).
Luckily, this past Monday, fans bore witness to a new dimension of TJP's character--a more aggressive, not-taking-anymore-crap side of him. We finally saw him snap on Kendrick and attack him post-match for his dirty heel tactics. The crowd popped as they finally got to witness TJP's temper explode, which allows the feud to prosper even longer without completely fizzling out into disinterest.
Although there have been several missteps in TJP's main roster career, the future looks incredibly bright for the 32-year-old star. The announcement of WWE 205 Live was met with a mixed reaction from fans, as fans saw it as WWE giving up on Raw's Cruiserweight division and relegating them to the WWE Network. Regardless of the Cruiserweight division's success itself, Perkins' positioning in this promotional ad shows that he will continue to be a major player in the division moving forward.
I have been a fan of Perkins since prior to his run as Manik in TNA. Seeing the comeuppance and eventual success of a homeless guy who picked up change to buy 75 cent cans of tuna to live on is an amazing and truly inspiring story to tell. Through his hard work, determination and sacrifice, TJ Perkins has made a name for himself and will continue to inspire millions across the WWE Universe for years to come.
What do you think? Is TJP the future or is he just a flash-in-the-pan? Leave your questions and comments below!