2016’s Cruiserweight Classic reminded me why I loved cruiserweight wrestling so much back in the day, so I started following 205 Live from its inception in hopes of getting from it the same kind of action that I so enjoyed during the CWC (and that I was unable to get on Raw as was promised post-brand split). I was not expecting to come to think of the purple brand as the host of WWE proper’s best television show, one that – the dark period of late 2017 excluded – better and more consistently built characters, established logical roster positioning, and accordingly produced television matches that felt like they mattered.
I am an avid fan of what they do on Tuesday nights after Smackdown, and I am rooting for the brand’s success and long-term viability. I also thought that I would use this platform to shine a spotlight on 205 Live, and recognizing that viewership habits may preclude some of you from regularly watching, I am hopeful that this will serve as a viewer’s guide while simultaneously acting as a scorecard for the more analytically inclined. Every so often, perhaps monthly but at least quarterly, I will update a Top 10 from 205 Live in 2019. Joining me in collaboration is LOP’s resident purple brand expert and weekly reviewer, 205 Clive. The list you see below is a composite ranking of our respective opinions, with brief comments to initiate with readers a broader dialogue.
In my analysis of the purple brand’s matches, there is a built in expectation of a rather high quality, a faster pace, and innovation aplenty in terms of sequence/spot creation and move-sets, so I judge the action on three categories:
-the stakes (basic roster positioning, upper echelon feud-ending, or title bouts)
-how well it holds my attention
-if the quality exceeds my baseline expectations
205 Clive – Having followed 205 Live closely as part of my weekly review responsibilities, I have grown attached to these characters. I base my enjoyment on how strongly the roster is represented. With that in mind, my criteria is as follows:
-The story told in this match, coupled with the personal stakes for the opponents involved
-The action on offer. Not necessarily that the matches be spot fests, but that the individual styles of the wrestlers involved is clearly on show and turned up a notch.
-The stakes involved, whether a championship opportunity is up for grabs, or where that particular match stands in rivalry at the time.
Top 10 of 2019 (through May 7th)
#1 – Tony Nese vs. Cedric Alexander (March 19th) – Reminiscent of the classic 205 Live match last spring between Alexander and Murphy, this titanic clash of superstar momentum was everything I ask from a tournament final. Both guys came into it with realistic chances to win and both guys made it clear throughout the run-time that victory was right within each of their grasps. They built it slowly, but kept offering bursts of mesmerizing offensive sequences before climaxing the match with several believable false finishes. This was an exceptional performance from both.
A fantastic culmination of Tony Nese’s character arc over several months in 205. To stand toe to toe with an Alexander who is booked like Superman in so many of his matches was a strong portrayal of Nese’s newfound resolve. Emphatically kicking out of the Lumbar Check was the icing on the cake in this balls to the wall outing. Nese is quickly racking up enough standout performances to be considered one of WWE’s MVPs in 2019.
#2 – Tony Nese vs. Buddy Murphy (April 9th) – A good example that the writers of 205 Live have their heads on straight. Just when it seemed like a bunch of great matches were beginning to blend together, from the purple brand and beyond after a WrestleMania weekend full of gems, Murphy feigns a knee injury and adds a layer of storytelling that otherwise went unused at Takeover, Mania, or any other high profile match this year in WWE for that matter. An expectedly excellent match followed between the former and new champions, but one that wound up featuring a distinctive marker that separates it from the pack.
One would think Nese and Murphy were disappointed with their WrestleMania offering, for this rematch was a balls to the wall affair. To put it simply, it made their outing two days earlier tame in comparison. With less restrictions on time and tools with which to sculpt this match, both men used the ringside furniture to devastating effect. They each had spells of dominance which highlighted their most brutal offense. For Nese to win in such emphatic fashion sees him, once again, add another match of the month contender to his record. Nese’s 2019 is looking very strong, and his title reign has only just begun.
#3 – Noam Dar vs. Tony Nese (No-DQ) (February 12th) (Prev: #1) – In a battle of 205 Live history’s most under-appreciated talents, Dar and Nese beat the crap out of each other in relentless pursuit of being called the better man. It was smart as hell but equally brutal and, in my mind, legitimately unique to 205 Live; one of the better examples of what the brand brings to the table really. Dar has since departed for NXT UK exclusively, and he’ll be missed.
Nese’s temper is usually his undoing throughout his 205 Live career, but in this hardcore match setting, Nese shone in an incredibly violent match by the purple brand’s standards. Commentary tables and timekeeping barriers were laid to waste in the devastation that Nese inflicted on Dar, recovering valiantly from a Fujiwara armbar, assisted by a steel chair wrapped round the arm, in a stunning visual. Arguably 205 Live’s most thrilling match of 2019 so far.
#4 – Buddy Murphy vs. Hideo Itami vs. Kalisto vs. Akira Tozawa (Royal Rumble Kick-Off) (Prev: #2) – A supreme spotfest the likes of which we probably should have seen before on a Big 4 PPV pre-show from the cruiserweights because it effectively advertises one of the key things you can expect to see on 205 Live: moves few others can do and in sequences that few others can put together as effectively. The 4-way was on-par with comparable performances from WCW’s heyday, I thought. Bravo!
A shining example of, again, the multi-man genre that the Cruiserweights excel in, with innovative and even new (to me) use of the furniture surrounding them. The brand’s action continues to improve. Despite the small roster, this small band of hungry men are still able to offer many variations in clientele and, with their growing familiarity with one another, become more entrusting in each other’s riskier offense.
#5 – Buddy Murphy vs. Akira Tozawa (Elimination Chamber Kick-Off) (Prev: #3) – This was cruiserweight-David vs. Goliath at its modern finest, with Murphy all power in counter to Tozawa’s Scrappy Doo impression. They each had the other well scouted, so there were slick variants on their signature sequences, typically climaxing beautiful exchanges. As challengers of the month for a championship go, this was the kind of quality to be expected from 205 Live.
In this day of “smart” wrestling fandom, where a title change so close to WrestleMania isn’t foreseen too often, a sign of a great match is when you truly believe otherwise is about to take place. Akira Tozawa made a believer out of me in this fantastic outing, running Murphy close in a stunning reversals so elevated, I’m not sure either competitor’s heads didn’t scrape the bottom of the Elimination Chamber hanging above. Breathtaking stuff. Points taken off, however, for WWE shoehorning in a backstage New Day interview during the match. In a pre-show that is an hour long, there is no excuse for stealing these Cruisers’ time to shine.
#6 – Cedric Alexander vs. Hideo Itami (January 9th) (Prev: #4) – Really quite a performance here with several spots that were cringe-worthy on account of the stiffness; Alexander is the Larry Fitzgerald of 205 Live, consistently going out there and getting it done without much flair for the dramatic, and Itami had rounded into essentially the number two guy on the roster before his abrupt departure in late January.
Although a relatively competitive encounter, punctuated towards the end with exciting counters and spirited nearfalls, Itami showed no respect to multi-month champion Alexander, whose recent return of confidence was no match for the Japanese Legend’s thirst for obliteration. Additionally, Alexander’s stuttering ascension back to the top of 205 Live is more compelling than his characterless reign as champion.
Tie – #7 – Buddy Murphy vs. Tony Nese (WrestleMania Kick-Off) – You will not find many better 10-minute matches anywhere in the world, as the pair worked their tails off, but as good as it was and as much as it deserves mention for what it achieved, it will likely struggle to maintain its position amidst a group of matches that were more fleshed out performances.
Nese and Murphy set the tone perfectly for what was a largely considered successful WrestleMania this year. In front of nearly eighty thousand fans, there was no sign of pressure as both men delivered their greatest hits. Murphy seems to have even added new moves to his arsenal, which were a joy to see. The “hometown” win for Nese, who has been treated incredibly in 2019, was the icing in the cake for the Long Island native.
Tie – #7 – Cedric Alexander vs. Oney Lorcan (March 12th) – Fueling the drama was the ideological clash between the status-quo and the hot-shot push, and the near falls – particularly from a climactic (and gorgeous) top rope spot – reflected the emotive punch thereof. This was definitely a case of both talents coming out of a match smelling like roses.
Not the greatest outing from either man in this match. Lorcan was the MVP thanks to his explosive counters, having Alexander’s number throughout. Their chemistry however, just isn’t there for me. This match is memorable, however, and should have honourable mention, for it being Alexander’s last match for 205 Live. This could be seen as a passing of the torch, from one explosive powerhouse to another. Here’s hoping Lorcan capitalises from this victory and stays at the top of the division. His dynamic offense stands stands apart from the rest of the Cruiserweights, and is a welcome change.
#9 – Cedric Alexander vs. Akira Tozawa (March 5th) (Prev: #7) – The only negative from this match comes from Alexander being the winner, for this was certainly up there as Tozawa’s best ever match for WWE. His hugely impactful reversals displayed an adaptability in Tozawa rarely seen until 2019. This match was a perfect advertisement for the Cruiserweight Division’s mission statement, with feats of agility and quick thinking a marvel throughout. Expect this to stay near the top of this list throughout the year.
This was our biggest disagreement of the collaboration thus far and, though the primary goal here is to spotlight the purple brand, that doesn’t mean that it’s not immune to criticism. In my opinion, the stakes were higher, but the execution was sloppy and the pace was slow, making a sure-fire hit a borderline miss. They are capable of a much more polished finished product than what they offered; that said, I’ll echo my sentiments about the 4-ways here.
#10 – Tony Nese vs. Drew Gulak (March 12th) – Both semi-final tournament matches were wrestled with urgency and were aided by unpredictability, but Nese-Gulak featured an added dynamic of one being among the most established stars on the brand and the other being in the midst of his biggest 205 Live push to date, which informed the action between the ropes and helped make this a contender that could stick around in the Top 10 all year.
In a repeat of last year’s tournament match, Gulak was no match for Nese’s resolve this time around. His maturity in adapting to, and sometimes even bettering, Gulak’s intense submission game was a joy to watch. The finishing sequence, that of a tempered but focused overpowering from Nese was a great callback to last year, this time with the roles reversed.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What is in your opinion the best match from the purple brand in 2019 to date?