With episode one hundred of 205 Live less than ten days away, the countdown of who I believe to be WWE’s ten best Cruiserweights on the Purple Brand is close to its end. At this stage in proceedings, it should go without saying that all the Cruisers talked about in this series have all played their part in making 205 Live the creative success that it is today. With that said however, there are a select few who have pushed boundaries, and helped posit that the show could possibly WWE’s best in-ring product. Whether it be by pure wrestling acumen, or through an all-rounded richness of character, that best of the best starts here.
4) Buddy Murphy
I’ve been looking for an excuse to write about this particular wrestler for quite some time now, to be honest. As fate would have it, Buddy Murphy’s insertion into this countdown coincides perfectly with his recent victory over Cedric Alexander to become WWE’s new Cruiserweight Champion. Before his fellow countrymen and women in a heavily marketed “super show” no less.
He may have been treated as the hero of the tale in front his hometown crowd, but it’s a different story within the confines of 205 Live proper.
Coming into the fold as an entrant in the Cruiserweight Championship Tournament earlier this year, Murphy’s introduction was a simple one. He earned a comprehensive victory over Ariya Daivari in the first round, but was unsuccessful in his next outing against Tournament finalist, Mustafa Ali. Even in defeat however, Murphy pushed Ali to the limit in such ways we had not seen since the Heart of 205 Live’s much praised work with Drew Gulak the year prior. Add to that a brutal exhibition match versus Kalisto during Wrestlemania week, and Murphy was already a major talking point after just a handful of matches.
Murphy was initially labelled as 205 Live’s “Best Kept Secret”. That tagline quickly became outdated. A more apt moniker would soon be used in conjunction with him; the “Juggernaut of 205 Live”, a caption more becoming of the Australian thanks to the dominant and violent performances the WWE Universe were witness to.
Before 2018, Murphy had cooled down considerably due to less time under the hot lights of Full Sail University, where he was once an NXT Tag-Team Champion. He then took it upon himself to cut enough weight to be deemed eligible to compete in the aforementioned tournament.
From a psychological standpoint, the 205 Live roster would have been wise to take heed of someone willing to go to such lengths to be considered relevant again. On top of this, you had Murphy’s requirement to submit to regular weigh-ins. The begrudging adherence to these rules and regulations frustrated Murphy. The only way to ease his irritation was in the ring, doling out punishment so absolute, the violence was quite rare by 205 Live standards.
The above points were enough of an incentive for Murphy to make an impact, but that psychological drive was equal in its resultant success to that of his physical superiority over a sizable chunk of his fellow Cruiserweights.
Although Murphy did embark on an extreme fat burning regime, he didn’t lose any of his strength along the way. Thanks to this combination, Murphy incorporated a swift yet powerful offense into his wrestling, automatically making him a legitimate threat to anyone unlucky enough to stand opposite him in the ring. To this day, the speed and brute force with which Murphy delivers an array of kicks, knee strikes, suplexes, and powerbombs is a constant reminder of the danger he poses. Until Cedric Alexander at Super Show-down, no two characters knew that more than Kalisto and Mustafa Ali.
As discussed in an earlier part of this series, Kalisto is a man who bravely stands against adversity, no matter its scale. Buddy Murphy has been that adversity in a handful of occasions now; an obstacle that Kalisto could not overcome. Credit should be given to Kalisto in these matches. His speed and agility has toppled many a Superstar over the years, and he took it to Murphy as hard and fast as he has any of his bigger struggles. But Murphy, arguably equally as sprightly, fused this with a ferocity in strength that Kalisto simply could not match.
As brutal a display as the matches with Kalisto were, from a pure wrestling standpoint, Murphy’s time with Mustafa Ali has delivered some of the most revered matches in 205 Live history. The most notable entry in their series is most probably their No Disqualification match which, for all intents and purposes, would fairly be remembered as a “Stairs” match. The use of furniture in and around the ring has always been innovative between them. In this instance, having the stairs act as a launching pad for big moves, as well as a generic hefty weapon, takes that innovation to the next level. Ali may hold one up over Murphy as far as results go, but their four matches together were very much an advert for Murphy’s quality and potential.
Of course, that potential has recently been rewarded in the form of Murphy winning the Cruiserweight Championship. His reign is certainly in its infancy, so it is currently hard to determine how Murphy will cope at the top of the 205 Live mountain. Nevertheless, Murphy’s mission upon moving to the Purple Brand was to take over the division and make it his own. If he has been this rabid and unrelenting in his ascent to the top, I can’t imagine the Juggernaut of 205 Live will be in any hurry to loosen his grip on a Championship he has steamrolled his way towards attaining.
3) Drew Gulak
When asked to think of 205 Live, one of the first names that comes to mind is that of Drew Gulak. So omnipresent is Gulak, it should come as no surprise that he has clocked up the highest number of appearances on the Cruiserweight Division show (alongside Cedric Alexander).
However it is not just the frequent presence that has made Gulak one of 205 Live’s success stories. His character development, from that of a square, politician-esque campaigner for a more grounded and no-frills presentation of the show, into a merciless faction leader whose campaign has manifested itself into one of domination and tyranny rule, has been a clear example of furthering oneself within the confines of WWE’s fiction.
The “Better 205 Live” movement came across as tongue-in-cheek at first. Demanding wrestlers, whose lesser bulk naturally affords them more agility and balance, to stay away from the top rope (and middle, and probably the bottom too, knowing Gulak), or insisting fans in attendance refrain from chanting, is quite frankly farcical. However although Gulak may have often goofily delivered his message, it was never posited in jest.
Thanks to the extensive list of offenses that Gulak deemed a bastardisation of the profession of wrestling, he has since taken umbrage with a who’s who of 205 Live’s finest.
In the early stages of this character’s incarnation, Mustafa Ali’s high flying, daredevil wrestling style checked off a significant number of the slides in Gulak’s now infamous PowerPoint Presentations. Once the segments progressed to actual matches between the two however, a striking yet wonderful clash of styles was the result. This was, at its core, a collision of diametrically opposed individuals. It was a war between two ideals so deeply rooted in their respective hosts, that the stakes seemed to have as much import to the show as those in the Cruiserweight Championship scene at the time. Ali was the ultimate victor in their initial exchanges in 2017, but Gulak’s mission was so intense and relentless, its spectre still haunts Ali to this day.
Akira Tozawa was another who felt Gulak’s wrath, this time the boisterous nature with which Tozawa wrestled and played to the crowd being the subject of his disdain. Gulak was so entrenched in his contempt for Tozawa’s uninhibited characteristics, he looked to literally silence his foe by way of crushing his throat with the wood from his “No Fly Zone” placard. Not only was this an elevation of Gulak’s directive, but it was also an indicator of how far he was willing to go to impose his rule over 205 Live.
Sadly for Gulak, upon Enzo Amore’s climb to the top of 205 Live, he took on the role of a sycophant in order to curry favour with the man in control. Although still able to spread his word to the masses in admittedly humorous fashion, the shadow of Amore loomed large over 205 Live, rendering Gulak and his fellow villains a collective laughing stock in the process.
Once that shadow had dissipated however, and the opportunity of the Cruiserweight Championship Tournament presented itself thanks to the then vacated title, Gulak found himself again. It could even be argued that, upon realising the ridicule with which he was subjected to under Amore’s reign – a ridicule he would normally be so fervently against, had the lure of Amore’s power not taken hold – that Gulak emerged more determined, calculated, and lethal than he ever was before.
After a heinous attack on former friend Tony Nese during the Cruiser tournament, Gulak became revitalised in his quest to impose his rule over 205 Live. He saw the Lucha House Party as a team who broke those commandments on many counts, and decided to take action. Though at a numbers disadvantage, he acquired the help of two like minded individuals who shared a similar nihilistic viewpoint towards the world surrounding them. Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher were brought into the fold as part of Gulak’s crusade and, as a trio, inflicted punishment on full time roster members and local enhancement talent alike.
Gulak’s message was so powerful to Kendrick and Gallagher, that they carried out his bidding unconditionally. And like pawns in a game of chess, Gulak would use his disciples as bait to distract Cedric Alexander ahead of the champion’s title defense against him at Summerslam this year.
Even with his title challenge coming up short, Gulak and company continued to sabotage 205 Live. That company would diminish in numbers however, with Brian Kendrick having the audacity to afford a local talent some mercy and saving him from a beatdown at the hands of Gulak and Gallagher. That attack was saved for Kendrick two weeks later.
Despite Gulak’s threat being cut by a third, his danger somehow seems more amplified. His want for a more respectable presentation of professional wrestling was a mild frustration at first. Now however, there is no tolerance, patience, or compassion left in him. With Gallagher now a more valuable mercenary by his side, Gulak’s vision of what he believes will be a “Better 205 Live” could be just around the corner.
This concludes the penultimate entry in the series. It’s been a pleasure writing this part and trying, in any way I can, to do these characters justice. Next week, I will be waxing lyrical about the final two Cruisers. I’m sure by now that you will have a good idea of who those men will be, but I hope you’ll join me in reliving their part in 205 Live’s history nonetheless.
In the meantime, 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. Ricky & Clive reunite to discuss the positives and negatives of WWE Super Show-down. They delve into whether the term “glorified house show”, used to describe events such as SSD, Greatest Royal Rumble, and the upcoming “Crown Jewel” is merited or unfair. They also look at the ongoing impact that part-timers have on the product. And they finish with a traditional “Who Am I?” Quiz, with a more than necessary amount of awful jokes dotted throughout.
Top 10 205 Live Superstars So Far:
9) Akira Tozawa
8) Cedric Alexander
7) Brian Kendrick
6) Jack Gallagher
5) Hideo Itami
4) Buddy Murphy
3) Drew Gulak