The Brand Extension #2: 205 Alive?

The Brand Extension #2: 205 Alive?

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By former Lords of Pain 205 Live reviewer, “205 Clive”.
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With WWE Worlds Collide just around the corner, it is time once again for fans of the company’s fringe brands to enjoy crossover bouts not usually possible. I wrote previously of my appreciation for the concept and, with my fantasy booker hat on, suggested improvements and adjustments I would make. This year’s incarnation has indeed been given a new focus on storytelling more akin to the bragging rights usually associated with Survivor Series. The brand warfare this time around has produced more heat heading into the 2020 Royal Rumble weekend compared to the last two previous outings. Having said that, one brand seems to have been left out in the cold while NXT and NXT UK savour all the creative juices. This is the latest in a string of examples that reinforce the narrative of 205 Live being nothing more than the purple headed stepchild of WWE. A narrative I myself have finally come round to admitting.

There was a time when a wrestler jumping ship from the wider WWE spectrum over onto 205 Live where I was left in an anticipatory mood. Any acquisition from Raw, Smackdown, or even NXT was personally a great “signing”, one that would finally go towards giving the brand an injection of maintained interest. Seldom used superstars such as Neville, Buddy Murphy, and Chad Gable joining the WWE Cruiserweight Division brought with them the potential of new match scenarios with which to wet my whistle.  Recently, though, when Tyler Breeze was announced as the latest cast-off to wrestle under the purple banner, my initial reaction was one of pity. Not for Breeze, as such. More so for 205 Live itself. 

Some of you reading may recognise the play on words in my pen name from my time writing the weekly reviews of 205 Live. It was an easily digestible fifty or so minutes of compelling, slow burn storytelling, coupled with a variety of dynamic wrestling styles meshed together that inspired me to put the proverbial pen to paper in the first place. For nearly two years, I wrote regularly and positively about the purple brand, through the good times and bad. More often than not though, as far as outside eyes looking in were concerned, the apathetic times. Well, not this time, I’m afraid. Considering Tyler Breeze’s popularity in NXT, as well as his memorable main roster comedy duo alongside Fandango, you would think this current chapter in his career would have a positive knock on effect for 205 Live. Sadly, it smacks of “too little, too late”, as it pertains to my own loyalty towards the show. 

There were many reasons for why I decided to take a step back from writing about the show. The move to Friday nights as part of Smackdown’s Fox TV deal played a major part. The logistics of keeping both myself and readers up to speed on weekends was simply not an option for the Monday to Friday, 9-5 family man in me. Really, though, it was the excuse I’d been looking for. 

In the months leading up to my stepping down, the reports of 205 Live were becoming written with a more frustrated and cynical voice. At first, my keen eye on the product allowed me to house such a knowledge that I could piece together with ease the stories they were trying to tell. Even coming to bat for it in the internet arena, should I have felt the need. As time wore on, however, it also gifted me with what I felt were clues. Foresight, even, towards the level of commitment actually afforded the constantly struggling brand by WWE management.

The first issue I had with the apathy towards it was the simple fact that “nobody watches that crap” was an often tweeted criticism. My automatic retort would be that these people could negate that argument by simply checking out an episode and deciding for themselves if it was worth committing more time to. I was foolishly confident of a positive outcome. Yet, it seemed the statement held weight inside the very arenas in which the Cruiserweights were putting their bodies on the line. On Twitter, Tony Nese recently aimed bitterness towards Breeze’s in-ring debut, championing instead the “original 205ers for busting their asses in front of unappreciative fans for years“. Nese may very well have been playing up his heel character in this moment, but I would be shocked if this wasn’t a true sentiment held by Nese and his peers. 

Is it any wonder, though, that fans come across as so nonplussed? Expecting a casual crowd to invest in lesser known wrestlers after Smackdown’s jam packed shows is already a big ask. A brief move to taping 205 Live before Smackdown seemed to remedy that tiredness initially. With people filling seats rather than vacating them, the noise level increased to at least give the impression that what was being presented was garnering a reaction. For the tapings to revert back to the end of the night death spot was a bizarre decision. Any momentum 205 Live appeared to build upon was wrestled from its grasp once again.

It seemed, too, that those in charge of marketing cared little for this change. Although a small thing in the grand scheme of things, an out of date Twitter bio proclaiming for literally months that 205 Live was still on Tuesday nights rather than Wednesdays quickly became the most infuriating thing about WWE for me at the time. This was the proverbial leaky tap, becoming louder and more distracting with each passing week. Social media is a powerful tool in today’s wrestling. Just look at the success of Cody Rhodes and Friends’ venture into becoming an entity in their own right. What all started as a single Twitter exchange grew arms and legs like nothing before. The Elite’s online vanity project now proudly presents itself as a group of key men at the forefront of an entire promotion whose goal is to go toe to toe with WWE long term. 205 Live’s online presence throughout this growth? You’d be lucky to see a single tweet outside of the show’s air date. All the hard work promoting the show laid at the feet of, as usual, the wrestlers themselves. 

Jack Gallagher’s recent demands for Cruiserweight Tag Team Titles as part of his negotiating a return to the show following suspension is another instance of a wrestler voicing his disdain. Whispers of said belts being introduced have been present since I started writing. There has never been a shortage of tag team wrestling on 205 Live. Far from it. Lucha House Party flew that banner for a long time before passing on the mantle to The Singh Brothers. Many singles stars have been pitted together to take on either of these two outfits over the years. The problem was that the tag division essentially consisted of what were essentially short lived storylines that ran their course after only a few weeks. Any outcome with real stakes behind it was not forthcoming. This tired trope is still in full effect today. While a conversation may be had about WWE having too many titles, for there to be no tag belts at all to help bolster the undercard is a real head scratcher. With most concern over the Cruiserweight Championship now almost exclusively taking place on NXT, there is a genuine opportunity to introduce these belts and present 205 Live as something other than a mere exhibition hour. 

Before I am met with rebuttals about the Cruiserweight Division’s inclusion on NXT making the title mean more than it has in a long time, I am in full agreement with you. The newly christened NXT Cruiserweight Championship has benefited greatly from being vied for under the Full Sail lights. The simple move of having high octane matches wrestled in front of an always fevered crowd was an obvious one when looking at ways to remedy the apathy with which their bouts have historically been contested. Lio Rush and Angel Garza specifically have lifted the title to heights the Division hasn’t arguably seen since 205 Live began. NXT commentators and social media staff have done a sterling job in presenting the Division as something that matters. All this, though, doesn’t take away from the fact that 205 Live in and of itself hasn’t prospered in its own right. In fact, quite the opposite. With number one contender matches taking place on Wednesday nights now, the need to watch 205 Live is almost non-existent. I would even go so far as to say it has harmed the brand. Though that’s not just NXT’s fault.    

The following puts me in mind of a familiar school playground scenario. Were you one of the unlucky ones who stared a hole into the ground waiting to be picked for a team by its captain? Or, worse, picked dead last as all other options were exhausted? I imagine that was how the Cruiserweights felt around September time when change was in the air surrounding new or renewed TV deals. With all other shows cemented into new time slots either on TV or the Network well in advance, it was mere days before Smackdown’s first night on Fox when 205 Live’s move to Fridays became official. For that particular night’s episode to be cancelled just hours before kick off was pretty embarrassing. That week was the writing on the wall with regards to my decision not to continue supporting the show the way I had up till then. The apathy with which the purple brand’s immediate future was treated told me WWE simply did not care about 205 Live as much as it wanted me to believe it did. The question I asked myself that week was: why should I?

Other decisions have followed that have affected 205 Live’s momentum. Another last minute episode cancellation in the lead up to Survivor Series. An episode that had the gall to call itself as such due to essentially being a couple of dark matches and a full replay of a number one contender match that had aired literally two nights before on NXT. Two “Best of 2019” episodes during the holiday season. Although an argument can be made that there was that much great wrestling throughout the year, all other WWE Network brands were given just the one, allowing them the chance to keep momentum on their sides heading into a busy January. 205 Live, for seemingly the umpteenth time, is back at square one.

WWE has so much in-ring content today that it takes a die hard fan to consume all eight hours every week. It is an amount of content bemoaned by many online. More positive and realistic fans are of the mindset that you don’t have to watch it all. That you can choose, as is your right. I like to consider myself as one of those optimistic fans, but my choice comes at the expense of a brand I once favoured above all others. The choice of brand to which I now give the least commitment seems to mirror that of WWE itself. If those in charge ever decide to bite the bullet and pull down the shutters on 205 Live for good, I hope the question they ask themselves isn’t what else could fans have asked for that WWE hadn’t already given them. Rather, the question should be that if turning 205 Live into a viable commodity wasn’t the end goal, what was the point at all?

Let me know your thoughts on the above column in the comments below, or @RickyandClive on Twitter.

Read my previous Brand Extension columns here.

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