205 Live 100: A Retrospective

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Photo: WWE

The WWE Cruiserweight Classic, which took place in the summer of 2016, seemed to mark a minor change in WWE’s thinking. Typically a big man’s promotion, WWE was now putting time, money, and effort to present a different kind of product, appeasing the increasingly growing indie wrestling scene that highlighted this kind of work. The tournament itself, for the most part, was very well received, with stellar matches that demonstrated how good wrestling outside of WWE was. In the end, however, the tournament ended on the wrong foot. TJ Perkins ended up winning the tourney, and thus the first winner of the resurrected WWE Cruiserweight title (completely ignoring its previous history). His win felt underwhelming. After seeing the likes of Gran Metalik, Zack Sabre, Jr. and, above all, Kota Ibushi in the tournament, Perkins felt like a second rate choice for champion.

Then there was the unceremonious introduction of the Cruiserweights into Monday Night RAW in September 2016. The Cruiserweight title was defended at both Clash of Champions and Hell in a Cell during that time, and the Hell in a Cell bout saw Brian Kendrick take the belt from Perkins. After a few middling months of the cruiserweights working their five to ten minute segments on RAW, 205 Live debuted on November 29th, 2016, which ended with another title change, as Rich Swann won the title from the wily veteran. Tapings occurred after Smackdown Live, which meant the crowds were small and dead quiet. This was an epidemic that plagued the brand up until recently.

The Royal Rumble 2017 saw the beginning of the Neville era, which many in the internet fandom approved of. Neville was always a tremendous worker, and portrayed his King of the Cruiserweights character well, but the 205 Live brand felt like it was meandering, and was not garnering much attention. Neville briefly dropped the title to Akira Tozawa, only to regain it six days later. Then, as characters were emphasized over work – ironically on a brand that was launched on the premise of good in ring work – Enzo Amore was moved to the 205 Live brand, and took the title from Neville. Neville soon made for the door out of WWE, and eventually landed in greener pastures, now finding himself in Dragon Gate in Japan.

The quality of The Amore Era’s shows are dependent upon preference of style. The brand started seeing lengthy promos and over the top gimmicks, like Drew Gulak’s PowerPoint Presentation. From late September 2017 to late January 2018, the show was completely built around Amore, and he was champion during that time for all but two weeks, when he dropped it to Kalisto briefly during a feud with him. In January of this year, however, Amore was let go from the WWE, relating to rape allegations he was facing. So the title was vacated, and a tournament was held to crown a new champion, which culminated at the WrestleMania Kick-Off Show, where Cedric Alexander defeated Mustafa Ali to win the title.

It was around this time, during the first quarter of 2018, that Triple H took over lead creative of 205 Live, and afterwards the product saw a renewed focus on solid wrestling, logical booking, and more controlled characters. Buddy Murphy, who was in house show limbo in NXT, was brought up, and quickly became one of the top performers on the show. The brand began producing some of the better shows that WWE was putting out on any platform, and in 2018 is arguably the most consistent show the company produces. Recently, the tapings for the show were moved to before SmackDown Live, and were no longer aired live but the next day on the WWE Network. Thereafter, both the crowd reactions and number of viewers improved. At Super Show-Down on October 6th, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, Buddy Murphy ended the six month reign of Cedric Alexander, winning the title in his hometown, in what many considered the match of the night.

Ahead of the one hundredth episode of 205 Live next week, the quality of the brand still seems to be lost on the WWE audience, as it is still the least talked about show amongst the companies four brands (RAW, SmackDown Live, 205 Live, and NXT). The long term impact of 205 Live remains uncertain. The show, while quality and consistent, is merely trudging along in its growth. People like Mustafa Ali, however, seem hell bent on building this brand. Ali has contributed to some of the better matches this year for 205 Live, and is vocal on social media about his intentions to grow this show. On the one hundredth episode this week, he faces Hideo Itami in a Falls Count Anywhere Match, and knowing the work ethic of those two, they’ll pull everything out to get this fight over. Right now, 205 Live is moving closer to becoming a big deal for wrestling fans, but isn’t quite there yet. The first ninety-nine episodes have had ups and downs, and how many of each really depend on one’s preference. But the consistency the brand has demonstrated in 2018 can’t help but engender hopeful anticipation for the future. Maybe another 100 episodes from now, it’ll be thought of more fondly than its originating Cruiserweight Classic.

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