A very warm welcome to those who of you who have followed me in recapping 205 Live for nearly six months, or have simply enjoyed watching the show on a weekly basis. But also a specific welcome to you readers who may have only dabbled in the WWE Network exclusive Cruiserweight Division program.
You may or may not have realised that we are fast approaching the one hundredth episode of 205 Live. Over these two years, The “Purple Brand” has had its high points and low; its loyal fans and detractors. The compass of popularity has certainly wavered back and forth. However what has been hard to argue during this time is the show’s acquisition and fleshing out of a closely knit group of compelling characters. This column, the first in a five part series, will countdown “205 Clive’s” Top Ten performers on the show. The ranking will not be solely based on their in-ring acumen, but will also take into account the narrative that they have helped create. The series will conclude in time for that special milestone.
So without further ado, here are the tenth and ninth most engaging acts of 205 Live…
Kalisto’s official inclusion into the 205 Live roster in October 2017 raised some questions, the most notable being why wasn’t this one hundred and seventy pounder, whose high flying offense was ready made for cruiserweight wrestling, not included in the show’s November 2016 debut in the first place? Despite this mystery, Kalisto enjoyed a brief run as Cruiserweight Champion shortly after his introduction. Unfortunately for him, with previous holder Enzo Amore’s shenanigan heavy modus operandi allowing the Certified G to quickly retain the title, fans of 205 Live were never able to see what could have potentially been an entertaining and lengthy run on top for the former Lucha Dragon.
Kalisto’s strength comes in the form of his lucha centric style of wrestling; not only through innovative ways to escape various high impact moves and submissions, but also the speed at which his own offense is delivered effectively enough to disorientate his opponent. Additionally, his inferior height among a land of giants affords him a low centre of gravity, a physical trait that he uses to its full potential. His “basement rana” DDT, for instance, doesn’t require he scale the proverbial beanstalk to enable him to spike his opponent’s head onto the mat. Furthermore, his “Solido Del Sol” is a versatile finisher in that, not too dissimilar to Randy Orton’s “RKO Outta Nowhere”, this can arise as a surprise counter to a wealth of varied precarious positions.
Lucha wrestling may lack a certain level of psychology that a particular portion of the audience would rather sink their teeth into. However where Kalisto’s high flying offense makes sense, from a storyline perspective, is his use of it as a strategy to overcome overwhelming adversity. When taking into account his mere five feet and six inches, Kalisto would realistically be unable to adopt any other style of combat.
This form of offense is why Kalisto’s better moments come more often than not against men not only much bigger than him, but also more characteristically dominant than him. Whether it’s versus giants like Braun Strowman or Baron Corbin, or relentless bullies in Alberto Del Rio and Buddy Murphy, Kalisto’s starpower shines brightest when the obstacle before him seems insurmountable. His role as David to his opponents’ Goliaths may be an age-old story in professional wrestling, but Kalisto’s ability to adapt to the situation at hand it is a trope that works in his favour.
Even in the world of 205 Live, where the weight restrictions limit the overall size of the roster, many of the Cruiserweights still dwarf him in comparison. But taking away the height disadvantage, and thinking particularly about the villainous Superstars with alpha male complex tendencies, Kalisto’s best outings have always come against those more mean spirited than him. Drew Gulak and Buddy Murphy in particular portray a dangerous cockiness in their matches that seem to draw Kalisto out like a moth to a flame. Even Roderick Strong who, in the Cruiserweight Championship Tournament bout, began sowing the seeds of his own heel turn in NXT fiction by showing Kalisto a clear lack of respect.
Another positive that helps Kalisto make this list is his unofficial role as the “frontman” of Lucha House Party; a “trios” faction comprising of himself, Gran Metalik, and Lince Dorado. With his stablemates having a limited grasp of the English language, Kalisto is given a chance to be the voice of the group. Lucha House Party have been a constant in the phantom tag-team division of 205 Live. In the six months since the team’s inception, Kalisto has been able to hone his craft as far as professional wrestling’s pantomime theatrics are concerned; a quality higher management take heed of when assessing a performer’s contribution to WWE as a whole.
Kalisto is not the best wrestler on 205 Live; there are others on the roster who provide the audience with much more overall satisfaction. Nevertheless, with Kalisto’s aerial combat being used to clever effect, his work in incorporating Metalik and Dorado more into the public eye, and his respectable level of Championship opportunities, it would be remiss of me not to include him in this countdown.
9) Akira Tozawa
Within the confines of 205 Live’s importance to WWE’s brand, Akira Tozawa’s addition to the Cruiserweight Division was a positive. His hyperactive yet controlled performances in 2016’s Cruiserweight Classic were enough to warrant my own excitement as to what he could bring to the program.
After the typical introduction of a wrestler to the product (insert local enhancement talent here), we were given quick insight into what Tozawa could offer as a character, over and above the limited exposure to his frenetic style in the aforementioned tournament. Brian Kendrick was the first man to coax said character out of Tozawa, with the “Man With A Plan” offering Tozawa a chance to be his protege. Tozawa respectfully declined Kendrick’s services, and came into his own as a man who believes in himself, regardless of what obstacles Kendrick would repeatedly throw in his path. This particular feud culminated in a street fight – one of 205 Live’s more celebrated high ranking matches – cementing Tozawa as one of few to rise above Kendrick’s psychological warfare.
This strength in character would repeat itself in rare fashion with a huge win over Cruiserweight Champion at the time, Neville. The King of The Cruiserweights was arguably the master of psychological warfare during his time on 205 Live, but Tozawa’s self belief was further heightened on this particular occasion by two factors. The first being Titus O’Neil, Tozawa’s manager at the time, believing in him just as much, if not more so, than he did himself. Couple this with his connection to the WWE Universe, whose affirmation was felt in waves through their chorus of Tozawa’s trademark cackles and caws, and you have a winning formula able to catch and return any mind games launched your way.
Drew Gulak took things further later that Fall. With Gulak deep in the throes of his Powerpoint Presentations highlighting what he believed would culminate in a “Better 205 Live”, pandering to the crowd was one of Gulak’s many pet peeves. Tozawa’s very vocal display in the ring caught Gulak’s ire to the extreme point where he literally attempted to silence Tozawa with the wood of a placard sign to the throat. Not to be undone by this callous act, Tozawa once again faced adversity square on and vanquished yet another threat to who he was as a person.
Come the turn of 2018, admittedly, it hasn’t been plain sailing for Tozawa. His self confidence has taken several knocks in the form of an early exit from the Cruiserweight Championship Tournament to underdog Mark Andrews, and most recently being bested by fresh blood for 205 Live: Lio Rush. Wedged in between these losses was the heartbreak of wrestling alongside his compatriot, Hideo Itami, a like minded individual whose pride in his own ability was also at the forefront of his game, only to fall foul to Itami’s megalomaniacal thirst for violence and dominance, regardless of who stood in his path. Itami rubbed salt in Tozawa’s wounds with an emphatic and violent victory.
It’s easy to see from these examples that Tozawa’s mettle has wavered significantly. At the same time, it’s hard not to sympathise with the former Champion, whose fall from grace has been admittedly steady, but undoubtedly obvious. Nevertheless, despite this personal crisis, Tozawa’s positive contribution to 205 Live’s canon so far cannot be ignored, and the decision to include him in this countdown is an easy one.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reliving these wrestlers’ arcs through 205 Live’s near one hundred episodes,and what they bring to the table in terms of character arc and story development. Let me know your thoughts on these selections and if you would have ranked them differently. Stay tuned for entrants number eight and nine around this time next week.