We have reached the final entry in this countdown of the ten best Cruiserweights of the 205 Live era. Thank you for joining me on this journey through the Purple Brand’s short but eventful history, completed just in time for episode one hundred, no less! It’s now time to delve deep into the characters of who I think are the show’s two biggest success stories.
Just like all countdown lists in publication online or in print, most pieces are subjective. Best wrestler or matches ever, best era of wrestling, and so on. Even these ten Cruiserweights from the 205 Live era, and their rankings above or below others, is up for debate. Within the microcosm of the Purple Brand however, there is one thing that is a certainty: no one made more of an impact upon their introduction to the Cruiserweight Division than Neville.
Unfortunate ankle and shin bone fractures on the Road to Wrestlemania 32 halted any momentum that may have been afforded to Neville, not only in the build to the Show of Shows itself, but also in his young career within WWE till that point. Fast forward nine months, and with a fully fit Neville’s fate on the main roster unclear, he decided to take full control of his own destiny with a conviction seldom seen before or since. For the frustration that ate away at him on the treatment table. For both the Cruiserweight Classic and inception of 205 Live passing him by. For the crowning of champions, in his absence, in a division tailor-made for the wrestler of his stature.
That bitterness of being on the outside looking in, towards a shiny new product in which he could shine the brightest, manifested itself into a concentrated ball of rage.
Seemingly coming to congratulate his friend Rich Swann for his Cruiserweight Championship win over TJP and Brian Kendrick in Triple Threat action in December 2016’s Roadblock: End of the Line, Neville switched his feigned applause for a sucker punch for who would undoubtedly be his first target. The subsequent beatdown of Swann, and Kendrick and TJP alike, was delivered with a focussed and absolute fury. The impact was devastating, setting the tone perfectly for what the WWE Universe should expect from this psychologically rebooted wrestler.
Neville’s hunt for glory and power was unrelenting, and instilled a foreboding within the entire 205 Live locker room. Try as Rich Swann might have done to be valiant in the face of the oncoming threat of Neville, he was inevitably on borrowed time. Nothing could deter the former NXT Champion from claiming what he saw as rightfully his from the very beginning; to be recognised as the King of the Cruiserweights. Simply put, Neville was unstoppable.
The King of the Cruiserweights’ time on the throne was a memorable one, in part, due to the dominance of his in-ring game. To coin a particular lyric, he was harder, better, stronger, and faster than everyone else for months. Although known as The Man That Gravity Forgot, Neville’s repertoire wasn’t limited to aerial superiority, but also that of a technical prowess and power which saw him manipulate and abuse his victims’ bodies to breaking point.
Not only were Neville’s opponents ground to a physical pulp, but the onslaught also gnawed at any resolve they may have had in their reserves. No matter how brave the “challenger of the month” was, or how responsible they felt for the collective morale of the 205 Live locker room, Neville’s dissection was pure and absolute.
Over the Winter and Spring of 2017, the likes of Jack Gallagher and Austin Aries, both separately and as a unit, repeatedly failed to break down the wall of power Neville had erected. His tyranny overwhelmed to the point that TJP, allowed a brief respite from Neville’s dictatorship, must have known deep down that his only role was that of a minion. Once his use had expired, TJP was inevitably disposed of; another casualty in Neville’s reign of terror.
It seemed Neville was unbeatable. Till then, no wrestler on 205 Live possessed the proverbial kryptonite with which to mount a successful campaign against him. His enemies vulnerabilities were evidently more exposed than his. But it was hard to pinpoint specifically how Neville could reign supreme despite the increasing threat to his Championship. Perhaps, however, doubt in one’s self was that vulnerability. Perhaps homing in on his victims’ uncertainties was Neville’s secret weapon.
If that was indeed the case, then Akira Tozawa, the eventual usurper of the throne, was the first to discover that secret to use to his advantage. Tozawa had a self-confidence, as discussed in a previous part of this series, that proved too much a strength of will for Neville to overcome. Tozawa’s confidence was unfortunately short lived, so all-consuming was Neville’s desperation to reclaim his prize. Nevertheless, the seeds had been planted for Neville’s own self-doubt to grow. This blip could conceivably be seen as the emergence of those worries and fears he had so greedily consumed along his path of destruction.
For the man who ripped off that final layer of Neville’s resolve was a character so confident in his own abilities, regardless of how misplaced that fearlessness may have been, that it was his ultimate undoing. Enzo Amore’s lack of respect for the rules, the threat before him, and the commonplace courtesy usually afforded to professional wrestling, was a mindset that Neville’s addled mind couldn’t compute. All those months of tyranny couldn’t prepare Neville for an Amore so immune to such control.
Neville was the villain of the piece for his entire tenure on 205 Live. Yet his downfall and final weeks in WWE were no less tragic from a fictional point of view, thanks to the dedication to character that Neville pursued. His impact in the Cruiserweight Division is a lasting one. Neville may have entered WWE as The Man That Gravity Forgot. But for many, he left as a man we may never forget.
Mustafa: an Arabic given name and surname…meaning “The Chosen One”.
Ali: a male Arabic given name or surname …. which literally means “high”, “elevated”, or “champion”….
As this series has shown, 205 Live’s strengths lie in refined characters just as much as, if not more than, pure wrestling quality. Those wrestlers whose residence on the show has been easier to explore and dissect have all had specific periods when the above factors combine and collective interest has peaked.
Furthermore, those same wrestlers’ finer moments have come when engaged in war with a specific individual. This person is the common denominator for the best that the Cruiserweight Division has to offer.
It may be a throwaway tagline to some, but there is significant meaning behind the unrivalled WWE Cruiserweight, Mustafa Ali, being referred to as the “Heart of 205 Live”.
In 2015’s Cruiserweight Classic, there was understandably less freedom for Ali to exercise his character muscles; the aim at the time simply to advance through the tournament. Wrestling an extravagant style for the audience in attendance and at home to admire. Even in this limited audition, Ali made his mark.
This aerial excellence with which Ali introduced himself to a wider audience became what some still identify him with to this day. With a moveset so fluid and majestic, Ali “painted the canvas” with seemingly effortless grace. His love for wrestling shone in every twist and turn he executed, and his positivity was felt, too, by the WWE Universe.
Despite the feel good factor Ali has instilled in the Purple Brand, many of 205 Live’s antagonists have seen fit to dampen that spirit, chipping away at that ideal with fervent hostility. Through this, though, Ali has had to evolve. He has inporated into his lavish wrestling the personality of a what is name is synonymous with. A champion. A man of honour. Through this evolution, Ali is the quintessential example of the age old saying, “adversity breeds character”, as a result of, but not limited to, the following examples.
Drake Maverick, shortly after becoming the 205 Live General Manager, had reprimanded Jack Gallagher’s choice of ring attire: a three piece suit sans blazer. Gallagher saw this as a direct attack of his very identity. Embarrassed and frustrated, Gallagher took it upon himself to punish Ali, a man with his own rich sense of uniqueness, with near fatal consequences in this year’s Cruiserweight Championship Tournament. Being potentially at fault for a sadistic spirit advancing through the tournament spurred Ali on, escaping the grip of failure in one of his more celebrated comebacks.
Buddy Murphy’s intentions with Ali were slightly simpler in design. Bested by Ali in the same tournament, Murphy’s desire to be the best in 205 Live couldn’t be fulfilled until he could outdo Ali at every turn. Their series of matches saw recalls and escalations of moves from earlier bouts, sometimes even with the roles reversed. Buddy would not rest till he possessed the upper hand in their ongoing one-upmanship. Once again, Ali’s confidence in his own strengths and abilities shone through, defeating Murphy in a highly innovative version of the No Disqualification match rules.
In keeping with the theme of Ali’s might being the focus of his rivals’ ire, few others would strike at the Heart with as much conviction as Drew Gulak. The Philadelphia Stretcher’s disdain for Ali’s high flying offense would see these two engage in battle over several months. What started as a side in 205 Live’s weekly programming became a progression of must see interactions, segments, and matches. Ironically, with Gulak’s propensity for more mat based wrestling, the feud’s stakes escalated to dizzier heights by the week. Ali was more at home soaring to those loftier heights. He pulled Gulak further away from his comfort zone with him even emulating, unsuccessfully, Ali’s aerial moveset. The danger was present throughout, but the outcome was becoming more in Ali’s favour as time went on.
These examples have all tested Ali to varying degrees, but it’s arguable that his current trial is the most vital for him to overcome. Like those before him, Hideo Itami has targeted Ali for what he stands for. But Itami’s demand for respect will stop at nothing. His personal mission to stop the Heart of 205 Live, to terminate that pulse has taken Ali to his physical and emotional limits.
The theme surrounding Ali and Itami’s feud has been one of the ageless battle between light and dark. Itami’s insatiable destruction of all that is good has altered Ali to such critical levels, recent encounters between the two have seen Ali slither ever closer to the dark side. If 205 Live’s purest hero is lost to evil, then what do we have left to fight for?
Ali is fully aware of the danger at hand. In the show’s most recent episode, in a gorgeous but gritty cinematic video, he had this to say to his enemy:
“Hideo and I, we’ve been on this road for far too long. It’s time to take a new road. Yeah, on this road, things go down a little differently. On this road, there are no twists and there are no turns. It’s just a straight path that runs directly into me. On this road, there’s nowhere to run or hide because wherever you go, I go. Hideo, on this road you won’t find any respect, only redemption. On this road, where you lay is where I stand, because on this road, Hideo, it’s Falls Count Anywhere. I’ll see you down the road.”
It’s fitting, then, that 205 Live celebrates its centenary episode with its Heart looking to revive itself by emerging from the dark shadow that Itami has cast, as a beacon of hope once again. Although the threat that Itami poses is the toughest Ali has faced to date, it’s hard to doubt his chances, so conditioned are we to his acts of heroism. Ali is our hero. As the definitions of his name that begin this entry show, Ali is the chosen one. The ultimate hero.
When conceiving this column series, the ranking of the other nine Cruiserweights took some deliberation. Mustafa Ali’s placing as the best wrestler on 205 Live, however, was never in any doubt.
And that concludes the top ten Cruiserweights of 205 Live in the show’s first one hundred episodes! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the series as much as I have writing it. Celebrating 205 Live’s upcoming milestone here has intensified my appreciation for the show and it’s modestly sized band of characters. I hope it has for you also.
Just time for a couple more plugs before I go…
You can follow me on Twitter @rickyandclive.
As always, you can read my recap and review of 205 Live every week on Lords of Pain.
If you want to hear more WWE opinion from “Clive” outwith the 205 Live bubble, check out my podcast, “The Ricky & Clive Wrestling Show”, on the Social Suplex Podcast Network. WWE’s brand new product, NXT UK, debuted this week, and Ricky & Clive take advantage of the UK timezone to offer you an instant review of the first episode. Match rundowns, wrestlers to watch out for, and what will keep us watching. We touch on Smackdown’s 1000th episode, and finish with a Smackdown themed quiz.
Top 10 205 Live Superstars:
9) Akira Tozawa
8) Cedric Alexander
7) Brian Kendrick
6) Jack Gallagher
5) Hideo Itami
4) Buddy Murphy
3) Drew Gulak
1) Mustafa Ali