A little over a year ago one of the WWE’s most criminally underappreciated shows, 205 Live, was forced to relaunch itself. A year on it finds itself at another cross roads where it must radically change or risk continuing to slide into obscurity.
For my money the most consistently engaging show on the WWE Network for the last two years has been 205 Live. Except for a few months at the end of 2017 under an ambitious but ultimately misguided direction led by Enzo Amore, it has built itself as an hourly show with a foundation of simple but well defined characters and frenetic in ring action. It is a presentation best exemplified in the outstanding works of Mustafa Ali, Neville, Drew Gulak, Hideo Itami and current champ Buddy Murphy.
However, despite this fantastic formula that is seemingly tailor made for die-hard wrestling crowds and despite it sharing a number of characteristics with its fellow network shows, 205 Live has failed to capture the imagination of the broader fan base as NXT and more recently NXT UK have. It has the same in ring quality, it has the same dedication to stoy and character but it does not have the same following or cultural buzz.
There are of course a list of reasons for this that have been thrown around since the shows birth, this includes but is not limited to the show going on after Smackdown, its matches constantly being consigned to the pre-show, having the wrong guys as champ, being forced into pointless Raw tag matches, the weird dedication to the purple ring, etcetera, etcetera. While I don’t want to downplay the effect those have on the show, it is the much larger structural problems that are preventing the it from developing and have ultimately caused it to stagnate. To nail it down most simply, 205 Live does not have an identity, it does not have something for fans to grasp on and get excited about and WWE has not given fans a reason to be invested in the 205 Live brand.
Identify is actually something the WWE has absolutely nailed with its biggest Network show NXT which is ‘the future of the business’. Fans tune in because it feels progressive in its presentation and and because it caters to them with its in ring style.
205 Live on the other hand is a brand that is caught between being a WWE division and a WWE show. They are supposedly the main roster ‘Cruiserweight Division’ and yet not every main roster wreslter that falls in that weight bracket wrestles in the division. They are also supposedly their own WWE Network show but they only have one division, one championship and they aren’t given the benefit of blow off events to structure story climaxes and fan interest around. Furthermore they do not posses a signature match style as plenty of main roster and NXT matches carry all the hallmarks of what we expect from a ‘cruiserweight match’.
When a brand cannot nail down who they are, what they do and what makes them different, they will never be able to build an audience, it is simple marketing 101. Instead they will get passed up for more defined products and this is doubly true for more niche brands such as 205 Live.
Secondly 205 Live is touched by the unmissable and undesirable stench of being owned by a company that does not care about it either. They have become the purple haired step-child of the WWE that has been moved haphazardly from one home to another, has been pillaged for talent and has not had any replacements offered. Something as small as the fact the official 205 Live Twitter account displayed an incorrect show time in its bio for over a fortnight after they were moved from Wednesday back to Tuesday nights says so much about how little attention is paid to the promotion of this show. Remember this is a company that is run by a known control freak.
Once again even if it is a good show, if prospective fans see that even the company that promotes it treats it as an afterthought, they will feel the same way. Given that is the case you can hardly blame fans for treating this supposed main roster brand as a step down from even the developmental show, especially when it is so clear how much more effort they put into other shows such as NXT.
For me the final straw in my relationship with 205 Live came when Buddy Murphy advertised a non-title open challenge in the weeks leading up to the Royal Rumble. I foolishly got my hopes up that something huge was going to happen; this was only weeks after Finn Balor had shown up at NXT UK so I began to let my imagination get swept away by a Ricochet, Johnny Gargano or even Rey Mysterio appearance. In my absolute dream scenario Daniel Bryan would come out telling Buddy Murphy he had dropped a few pounds to make weight because he is better than all these slobs in the crowd and had came to teach Murphy a lesson. In my mind this surprise entrance would create some much needed buzz in the wrestling world and emphasise how vital 205 Live is to the company.
Instead, in a promotion that had been stripped of its biggest star Mustafa Ali, moved back to a post-Smackdown death slot and in desperate need of an injection of excitement, we got the debut of Humberto Carrillo. Don’t get me wrong, Carrillo availed himself well, but it went over like a wet blanket as a wrestler the audience barely know wrestled a wrestler they didn’t know at all. To me it showed exactly where 205 Live sits on the WWE totem pole and painted a very bleak future for the promotion given its parent company’s priorities.
Since that low point the show has picked up somewhat, everyone loves a tournament and it is a perfect way for the show to build to Wrestlemania, however after the tournament is over 205 Live is a show that needs a big rebuild. As well as the creative attention mentioned above it desperately needs a star that the crowd can identify with and engage with emotionally. Even though he wasn’t champ Ali was that man that defined the show last year but right now there is just no one who matches up to his standard. Wrestlers like Buddy Murphy and Cedric Alexander can have breath taking frenetic matches but have never been able to carry any kind of engaging story. Drew Gulak would be a great option but if recent TV appearances are anything to go by, even he may be leaving the show for NXT.
My preference would be an injection of talent from the main roster. While he stops and starts on Smackdown have Andrade drop five pounds and do what he did for the NXT Championship with the Cruiserweight Title, he could even renew his rivalry with Mysterio for the title the ‘greatest Cruiserweight ever’. On the face side of things why has Chad Gable not been used on 205 Live yet? The guy explodes with character and his in ring style would fit perfectly into the show. Alternatively while The New Day are chasing the heavyweight title with Kofi Kingston, why can’t Xavier also shed a pound or two and make the Cruiserweight title his own? More radically what if Undisputed Era chose to make 205 Live a target and the show became defined by their presence at the top?
These are all wild pie in the sky ideas but they are ideas that would bring a fresh feel and fresh eyeballs to a show that needs them. Crucially as well, all of these guys naturally fit in the same way Neville did in 2017 and don’t just feel like main roster cast offs like Kalisto or the ill fitting Enzo.
205 Live is a great show and a show that deserves far more attention than it gets. However unless the WWE takes radical action, it is a show that will quickly slip into complete irrelevancy and if it happens, the WWE will only have itself to blame.
Thanks for reading LOP. What do you think needs to be done to fix 205 Live?
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