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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 March 6th)
#1 – Noam Dar vs. Tony Nese (No-DQ) (February 12th) – 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.
#2 – Buddy Murphy vs. Hideo Itami vs. Kalisto vs. Akira Tozawa (Royal Rumble Kick-Off) (Prev: #1) – 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.
#3 – Buddy Murphy vs. Akira Tozawa (Elimination Chamber Kick-Off) – 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.
#4 – Cedric Alexander vs. Hideo Itami (January 9th) (Prev: #2) – 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.
#5 – Akira Tozawa vs. Cedric Alexander vs. Humberto Carrillo vs. Lio Rush (February 5th) – The stakes were about as high as they get these days on the weekly show, with 205’s title matches having returned to PPV Sundays, but the execution was about as hit or miss as I can recall for a multi-man match produced by the purple brand. There were moments of sheer brilliance, but there were as many botchy moments. Still, it was a performance worth a watch featuring a very good pace and overall layout.
Another match in the bag, and another improved performance by Carillo. He looked comfortable using his opponents both as launching pads and as targets as he danced around the ring. But the highlight of this match personally was the rekindled fire under Tozawa’s feet. With a clear goal in sight, Tozawa found self confidence again as he laid waste to Alexander in an action packed final two of this elimination rules match.
#6 – Kalisto vs. Tony Nese (February 26th) – Nese reemerged in the month of February as one of the top acts to watch in the cruiserweight division, backing up his powerhouse performance against Noam Dar on February 12th with a superb little match against Kalisto in the first round of the Mania #1 contender tourney. A pair of lightning quick counter exchanges highlighted the in-ring action for me, supporting Nese continuing to look like a wrecking ball.
Nese took that huge confidence boost from the victory over Dar and rode with it versus Kalisto here. His rage is still a key figure in his overall presentation, but he is able to channel it into productive counters, as well as striking while the iron is hot. It may be the first match of the #1 Contender match to face Buddy Murphy at WrestleMania, but I would be all for seeing Nese cleverly steamroll his way through the competition to face his friend at the Show of Shows.
#7 – Cedric Alexander vs. Akira Tozawa (March 5th) – 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.
#8 – Cedric Alexander vs. Mike Kanellis (February 19th) – What began as a fairly routine affair evolved into something very engaging, with nearly every type of false finish in the playbook utilized before all was said and done. I appreciated how it played off of an Alexander miscue from two weeks prior, and the end product invested me in the story they are telling with Kanellis. A real sleeper hit here.
What started out as a slow and lumbering match between two high octane wrestlers became as you would normally expect from the show. Once out of first and second gear, the more impactful moves and last gasp nearfalls were plentiful. Even in defeat, Kanellis looked more menacing than he has had to date, against a big shark in the 205 Live pond.
#9 – Drew Gulak vs. Brian Kendrick (February 26th) – A big return to form from Gulak here. Incorporating some high impact moves into his arsenal, alongside his excellent submission game, gives Gulak an overbearing presence that his opposition simply cannot deal with. Kendrick played the plucky underdog brilliantly throughout a match that The Man With The Plan treated like a game of chess, but his loss to Gulak was never in question, so dominating was The Philadelphia Stretcher’s performance.
I mightily struggled to invest in this effort and ranked a few of the more enjoyable, aesthetically pleasing 205 Live bouts ahead of it on my own list, but I can appreciate its merits championed by my co-author. The technical approach typically would have been a nice change of pace, but generally I thought the first round tournament efforts to be toned down versions of what they could have been, rendering three of the four “samey,” if you will, as compared to their main roster peers.
Tie – #10 – Oney Lorcan vs. Humberto Carrillo (March 5th) – Oney Lorcan’s 205 debut was personally very much anticipated, and he did not disappoint. While Carillo adapted his game accordingly, and looks to improve before our eyes, Lorcan was as rabid and unrepentant as ever. His striking game was too much for Carillo, and the right man won the encounter.
I was happy to see Lorcan entered into the tournament and even happier to see Carrillo forced to work his way up the ladder (Oney is a baller from NXT with a classic Takeover match on his resume; Humberto was an NXT also-ran with potential). They had a good match, but as was the case with three of the other first round bouts, I did not think they took full advantage of the increased stakes and potential tournament-driven increased eyeballs; it was awkward at times and appeared to me to be a bit of styles clash.
Tie – #10 – Buddy Murphy vs. Humberto Carrillo (January 15th) (Prev: #10) – Though just a non-title open challenger, I felt Carrillo made a real splash in his debut, showcasing a natural babyface charisma to compliment his straight-out-of-Lucha Underground like ring-game, but a sneaky little ploy from Murphy upped the emotional ante.
Taking away the anticlimactic reveal of Carillo as Murphy’s secret challenger, his performance stands as a precursor to him becoming much more comfortable in his surroundings in later matches; a bout worth returning to should you wish to chart his upward trajectory.