In past years, this space would have been reserved for a lot of WrestleMania discussion points, but I am still not in a place with WWE proper that allows me to put fingers to keyboard without getting irritated by much of the same problems that led me to this jaded place from which I am attempting to jar myself loose. On my podcast next week, I’ll spend a half hour previewing the show, focusing on the positive aspects of the card, but writing about it takes a lot more effort (and room from my headspace).
One thing I can conclusively state that I am excited about from WrestleMania 35 is the Cruiserweight Title match between Buddy Murphy and Tony Nese. 205 Live continues to offer me the high quality combination of character-building and in-ring action that I most desire from pro wrestling, with Nese on the kind of roll that I expect from a wrestler piquing during ‘Mania Season. Thus, I would like to again put the spotlight on the purple brand by celebrating its young history. The following lists are my Top 10 on 205 Live from each of the past two calendar years.
As a reminder from my on-going series with 205 Clive, 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
The Best of 205 Live in 2018
- Mustafa Ali vs. Buddy Murphy (No DQ) (July 3rd) – A marvelously creative performance between a pairing with incredible in-ring chemistry, Ali and Murphy’s pay-off match is one of the purple brand’s shining achievements, a great example of Ali’s substance-driven style, and a hallmark instance of Murphy’s rather uncanny combo of power and speed
- Buddy Murphy vs. Cedric Alexander (May 29th) – In 2018, 205 Live perfected the art of the title bout on television through this match, building to it like the purple brand’s red and blue counterparts would have built to a major PPV showcase – dominant, captain-of-the-football-team-like champion against a juggernaut challenger
- Buddy Murphy vs. Cedric Alexander (Super Showdown) – If it was not going to be Ali getting rewarded with the first victory over Cedric last year, then it had to be Murphy, and their return match from the May 29th classic set the tone for 205 Live featured performances on larger platforms
- Mustafa Ali vs. Buddy Murphy (Survivor Series) – Pretty much dead-even with the Alexander match, as far as I’m concerned, with the only difference being the intangible quality of the massive Australian crowd getting behind their homegrown talent, Murphy, who combined with Ali here for exactly what we’d grown to expect from the pairing
- Buddy Murphy vs. Kalisto (April 3rd) – The best 205 offering from WrestleMania 34 week came before the weekend, with Murphy establishing himself as the man to watch while the cruiserweight division’s reset was completed on the Kick-Off Show five nights later; the elite chemistry these two had was overshadowed last year by higher profile match-ups
- Buddy Murphy vs. Mustafa Ali (May 8th) – Murphy was one of the quiet MVPs of 2018 in WWE, delivering match after match like this one with Ali to build momentum for his match against Alexander three weeks later
- Mustafa Ali vs. Hideo Itami (No DQ) (October 24th) – Itami started rather slow on the purple brand, in my opinion, but facing 205 Live’s most consistently engaging persona in Ali for several weeks straight got him on the right track, as evidenced by this match, yet another notch in Ali’s belt but probably Itami’s best WWE match, NXT included
- Cedric Alexander vs. Roderick Strong (March 13th) – While not the cleanest effort in terms of execution, it was among a pack of top notch Cruiserweight Title tournament bouts that helped the division emerge out from under the black cloud otherwise known as the Enzo Amore experiment to right the 205 ship, and there was a depth to their performance that gave the tournament an added aura of credibility, if you will
- Mustafa Ali vs. Jack Gallagher (February 20th) – Gallagher maintained a solid presence in 2018 and stood out on a number of occasions as the standard of performance grew throughout the year, brand-wide; this was his finest effort, and perhaps 205 Live’s most underrated match of the year – it rewatches as well as any of the non-Top 3
- Cedric Alexander vs. Drew Gulak (September 19th) – There were a half dozen contenders for this final spot, exemplifying the depth of quality in 2018 for the cruiserweights, but the list could not possibly have failed to include Gulak, whose psychologically-dense matches allowed his character to finally hit its peak as the late summer primary title challenger; this maybe was not as good as you would have hoped, but it was still very good-bordering on great
The Best of 205 Live in 2017
- Neville vs. Austin Aries (WrestleMania Kick-Off) – Neville relied on his underrated technical prowess during his “King” run to set-up the Rings of Saturn submission, allowing his rarer instances of taking high risks to be more impactful. Aries drew more out of him than any other challenger. There were several excellent sequences throughout, but none better than the finish; a fork in the road comes in each championship reign when it seems that a promotion can choose to make a switch or invest in a lengthier reign for the champion and, this being that fork in the road for Neville, his victory felt like confirmation that he really was going to be the King for the foreseeable future.
- Jack Gallagher vs. Noam Dar vs. Mustafa Ali vs. Cedric Alexander vs. TJ Perkins (February 7th) – This match well represents many of the good things about the brand, with its clear roster positioning, swiftly mobile cycling of the characters in and out of the division’s title scene, and sharp enough use of 45-55 minute run-times each week (after Smackdown no less) that five guys that a few months prior were nobodies to most of the audience could take one of those previously disengaged audiences and inspire them to unleash the signature chant that has become the universal wrestling fan seal of approval from the live crowd: “This is Awesome!”
- Neville vs. Mustafa Ali (March 22nd) – One of the examples of the value of the 205 Live brand’s modus operandi – careful, coherent, thoughtful booking – was the success of Mustafa Ali; by the time 205 Live had existed for about eight months, he was that lower-tier babyface that was seemingly given the “we need to fill ten minutes tonight” spot, but who always took full advantage of that opportunity and used each chance given to prove he deserved more chances. Ali’s opportunity to translate what he had been quietly doing in the undercard to the 205 Live main-event against The King of the Cruiserweights was considerable; unsurprisingly, Ali made the most of it and delivered a powerhouse underdog performance
- Mustafa Ali vs. Drew Gulak (2/3 Falls) (July 18th) – Gulak began hitting his stride that summer championing for 205 Live to be a “No Fly Zone,” aka placing a limit on the aerial tactics in favor of his ground-and-pound approach. Their payoff was smart and understated, never meant to blow you away aesthetically so much as it was meant to tell a psychologically sound story, so if you’re a thinking fan, this one’s for you
- Neville vs. Jack Gallagher (Fast Lane) – Exactly what a Cruiserweight Title bout on the main card of a pay-per-view should look like, Neville’s second major title defense added considerable depth to the show on which it took place, and Gallagher was absolutely marvelous in his role
- Cedric Alexander vs. Noam Dar (“I Quit”) (July 11th) – Such a creative version of the “I Quit,” not wrestled in any sort of cruiserweight style really but featuring the kind of ingenuity that you would expect of cruiserweight wrestlers nonetheless. There is nothing else that I can recall being quite like it in the history of the division in WWE or WCW; I was blown away by it at the time
- Neville vs. Rich Swann (Royal Rumble) – Neville was a royal version of Dean Malenko from the ’90s, certainly not that good in the ring (and very much on purpose), but still great in his role, and this match started his six-month peak on 205 Live. Swann had a solid albeit brief run in his own right ahead of and including this match, which proved to be the end of his short peak
- Akira Tozawa vs. Neville (August 22nd) – Unchained is what I think people want most from cruiserweight wrestling, and this was not Neville and Tozawa unchained. Is a borderline four-star match every month like this one a bad thing, though? Nope! It could be 2005, when the division was such a joke that not even the biggest diehard fans paid much attention to it
- The Brian Kendrick vs. Akira Tozawa (Street Fight) (May 23rd) – Those who prefer the WWE style would really dig this one, which was a great representation of what WWE cruiserweight wrestling has been historically – a smaller version of their grander main roster work
- TJ Perkins vs. Neville (January 3rd) – If I could make one criticism of Neville that year, it would be that his pace was so purposefully deliberate that we never got that all-out, barn-burner that could have produced WCW-levels of awesome cruiserweight action; nevertheless, matches like this one with Perkins gave you four-fifths of what it may have looked like in WCW
80s Wrestling Con takes place on Saturday, October 26th in Freehold, NJ at iPlay America. The event features Ted DiBiase, Sgt. Slaughter, Bob Backlund, Paul Orndorff, Demolition, Brutus Beefcake, and more! For Superstars, Attractions, and Ticket information go to 80sWrestlingCon.com.