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 January)
#1 – Buddy Murphy vs. Hideo Itami vs. Kalisto vs. Akira Tozawa (Royal Rumble Kick-Off) – 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.
#2 – Cedric Alexander vs. Hideo Itami (January 9th) – 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.
#3 – Humberto Carrillo vs. Gran Metalik (January 22nd) – Fresh off his debut the previous week, Humberto (try saying his name like Ricardo Rodriguez used to say Alberto Del Rio’s) continued to impress me opposite one of the most criminally under-utilized talents on the roster; this is practically tied with Dar vs. Nese from two weeks prior as my early “best world-building match with no other obvious stakes” thus far in 2019
Carillo looked a lot more comfortable in his own skin when wrestling with a similarly styled Gran Metalik. Carillo informed Metalik that someone might want to come after his “King of The Ropes” moniker in the future. Metalik ran Carillo close in this heavily aerial match up, but Carillo may have wanted to right some wrongs about the impression he left with fans in his disappointing debut. With a beside himself Drew Gulak watching backstage, I imagine the 205 Live veteran may have Carillo in his crosshairs. The high profile with which Gulak’s character is perceived could make Carillo’s transition to Tuesday nights that much easier.
#4 – Hideo Itami vs. Akira Tozawa (January 29th) – Before it was announced that this would be Itami’s last hurrah, this felt like a match that could determine the next challenger to the Cruiserweight Title and carried that presumed tone into the action. That said, it was kind of a microcosm of Itami’s WWE career in that it failed to live up to the lofty expectations; definitely still worth a watch.
This match-up is memorable more so for the significance it holds rather than the quality of the bout. Although not a great outing by both men, it is worth revisiting for the bittersweet end to Itami’s WWE career.
#5 – Noam Dar vs. Tony Nese (January 9th) – A fine example of the quality wrestling that the purple brand puts out each week and of the roster positioning that gives the matches without obvious stakes inherent reasons to take place and feel meaningful; in this particular case, there was a nice balance between Dar’s savvy and Nese’s athleticism.
Nese’s reputation is that of a cocky blowhard, but one who falls at the final hurdle more often than not. Whilst facing a similarly characterised opponent in Dar, who continually matched and sometimes bettered Nese’s threat, the red mist descended upon The Premier Athlete. So frenzied was Nese in his attempts to kill Dar off, the Scottish Supernova reaffirmed his own swagger by keeping a cooler head in the final stretch.
#6 – Akira Tozawa vs. Drew Gulak (January 2nd) – Two of the brand’s top veteran acts did what you might expect them to do given a feature-length for their match to earn a spot in the 4-Way at the Royal Rumble and, though nothing about it was particularly memorable, it was very good.
Gulak had a disappointing evening against Tozawa in this Cruiserweight Championship qualifier. So much so that, after struggling to gain any credible dominance in the match against an old (and fired up) foe, Gulak went against his own wrestling principles by heading for the top rope. As has happened before, deviation from Gulak’s norm was his undoing. Not to take anything away from Tozawa, whose frenetic offense was what 205 Live’s creative team were looking for to achieve a sense of balance in the Royal Rumble Fatal 4 Way.
#7 – Lio Rush vs. Lince Dorado (January 15th) – I’d be rather surprised if Rush did not offer a couple of Top 10 contending bouts for the year-end list, but I’ve been left wanting a bit more from his work with Dorado and Kalisto; I’m quite high on The Man of the Hour and I expect more of him as the year wears on. The Golden Lynx is one of those guys I’d buy as a top purple brand star in a heartbeat if they pushed him consistently for a couple of months; he’s very good.
Lince Dorado more than makes up for his smaller frame than most on 205 Live with an arsenal that packs a punch as much as it defies gravity. The display Dorado put on in this match enhances my opinion that he and the rest of the Lucha House Party have enough x-factor individually to consider them for more singles programs in the future. Nevertheless, Lio Rush cancelled out any threat mishmash of styles that Dorado struggled to match. This “everything but the kitchen sink” approach affords Rush a seldom matched tenacity that wins me over more by the week.
#8 – Kalisto vs. Hideo Itami vs. Akira Tozawa (January 22nd) – This one had to overcome the general formality aura surrounding it, as the classic “jockeying for position” trope doesn’t do much for me, but they eventually commanded my focus.
A typically strong showcase of the multiman format: something 205 does very well in almost every outing. All three worked well with intricate sequences of tandem moves and submissions that come from working closely with and against one another for so long. Itami’s cunning, and twisted drive to destroy, was the talking point of this match, as the Japanese Legend looked strong heading into Royal Rumble.
#9 – Mike Kanellis vs. Kalisto (January 29th) – After the Rumble and the announcement of Itami’s departure, I took an even keener interest in 205’s attempt at building new stars, and though I’m not as sold on Kanellis as I am on Maria selling him on guest commentary, I still enjoyed thoroughly his match with Kalisto; borrowing from comedy, Mike plays a decent straight man with his more traditional style opposite smaller, faster wrestlers.
Kanellis’ frustrations at not being considered by Drake Maverick in recent weeks were evident throughout his tempramental performance, further accentuated by wife Maria’s bleatings on commentary, in this fiery affair. The ever scrappy Kalisto was thrown from pillar to post to barrier by Kanellis, but the luchador’s impressive escapology was enough to best his opponent. The Kanellis couple’s gripes seem to hold little weight after being thwarted on this occasion.
#10 – Buddy Murphy vs. Humberto Carrillo (January 15th) – 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.
(Note – 205 Clive did not rank this one in his Top 10, but it was the highest rated among the matches that did not make both our lists)
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What was your favorite 205 Live offering from the month of January?