Just Business: The Performance Art View – Ali

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Just Business: The Performance Art View – Ali




“[Ali] doesn’t run, he doesn’t fear danger, and he’s coming for the Juggernaut here tonight,” said Vic Joseph as Ali made his entrance for this last week’s epic 205 Live main event. It was a promise that was fulfilled within the opening seconds of the so-called rubber match between two of the company’s fiercest, if quietest rivals this year as Ali didn’t even wait for a bell to ring before nailing a dropkick and senton on his opponent Buddy Murphy.

Sadly for the social crusader, though, his opening effort at fulfilling his promise created one of its own: tweaking his back during his senton, Ali was quickly faced with a situation going sour, thanks to Murphy once again coming to rely on his brute force to manhandle his smaller opponent, tossing him across the announce table.

From there, influences were worn on proverbial sleeves, the two men brawling around ringside and into the crowd in a manner somewhat reminiscent of the infamous imagery that opened the immortal Montreal showdown between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels – high praise, to be certain, but a comparison too clear to ignore.

It speaks to the relish the performers of 205 Live have for their craft, that such comparisons with such high and mighty work can be drawn. Caring little for their slot on any given night or for the company’s apparently relative disregard for their contributions, Ali and Murphy this week continued what has become the trend of their rivalry and, by extension, their brand, taking advantage of the relaxed creative environment to craft an outstanding in-ring composition with a compelling narrative at its heart.

In spite of its furious opening, the two soon settled into what felt like a self-conscious main event tempo, carving out the story gradually through confident pacing as the villainous, dominant Murphy began to deconstruct Ali move by move with a focus on the back Ali himself tweaked in his earlier zealousness.

It is perhaps with delicious irony that Ali proves an indomitable spirit then, a juggernaut in his own right, as no matter the punishment Murphy inflicts on the Heart of 205 that heart keeps on beating with defiant aggression. Even in moments Murphy demonstrates his now intimate familiarity with Ali’s trademarks, at one stage countering Ali’s ever-impressive bespoke take on the X-Factor facebuster for example, Ali seems to repeatedly provide an answer – he is able to outmanoeuvre Murphy’s counter and prove his resourcefulness in hitting his X-Factor anyway.

Though personal inflections have been added to their bitter issues, it is worth remembering this was a rivalry born through pure competitiveness in the Cruiserweight Championship Tournament heading into WrestleMania, in which the two men showed the world how evenly matched they both are in their own right. That level playing field was evidenced repeatedly on Tuesday, not only in the form of Ali’s defiance but also in the form of Murphy’s deeply multi-faceted ring game, at its best reminiscent of the Neville level no less.

Through the course of their edge-of-your-seat master-class, Murphy proves as adept soaring through the air to slay Ali on the outside as he is manhandling Ali like a toy, launching him repeatedly into the bottom half of the steel steps with malicious enjoyment. Forget his nickname as the Best Kept Secret, because there is nothing secret – nothing hushed – about Murphy’s brutality. From double-powerbombs to jaw-juddering strikes, he lives up to his secondary Juggernaut moniker as exhaustively as Ali does his own, the Heart of 205 Live.

There is real danger that underlines their work too. Whether it’s a clinically timed Spanish Fly from the barricade onto the announce table or a superplex off of the balanced edge of the ring steps that has Ali writhing in agony equal to that of his victim Murphy, this is not a conservative No Disqualifications Match by any means. Indeed, it seems to take its creative line from the genre-defining Extreme Rules Match wrestled between AJ Styles and Roman Reigns for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in 2016; the performers demonstrate no awkward obligation to their stipulation, but instead use it to craft a free-moving, vicious war where the action is violently exacerbated by the immediate environment only. You’ll find no inexplicable kendo sticks sat underneath the apron, but prepare to see what you see everyday around the ring take on new, deeply threatening meaning.

Perhaps the bout’s crowning accomplishment, however, like with so many of Ali’s matches this year, was the realistic conclusion. In an age where Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa do enough to literally murder one another for over thirty minutes and keep kicking out until the action is robbed of meaning, Ali and Murphy’s own effort ended in one massive DDT that would certainly keep a man down for three seconds. Mature, composed and logical, it’s the exact kind of a conclusion this fan derives the most satisfaction from in a pro wrestling match.

Ali’s victory, if the presentation and contextualisation of 205 Live’s last main event is anything to go by, should now have brought the surprise hit rivalry of 2018 to a close. Keep your overwrought NXT feuds; count me among the many fans who now considers Ali vs. Murphy the quietest great success in WWE so far this year, even if you have to call it a bandwagon. Build it, Ali always espouses on his inspirational social media posts, brick by brick, night by night. That’s how this simmering feud has run its course, how it came to its exhaustingly physical climax several days ago and how it has championed the cause of the Purple Team with such relentless poise that the show found itself trending on Twitter this last week.

It was certainly an achievement both performers can be proud of. Apparently inspired by some wildly successful matches of years past, even if not consciously, theirs was a canvas-literate match that went out of its way to impress, though without ever succumbing to heavy-handed hysteria like so many other classics, championed by the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) especially, seem to do.

If you haven’t already watched Mustafa Ali vs. Buddy Murphy in a No Disqualifications Match from this last week’s 205 Live yet, you should certainly make the time to do so, even if its immediate effect is making you wonder why on earth Ali isn’t the one currently carrying the vaunted silver.

If that sounds a little jaded on my part, so be it. Alongside the likes of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, Mustafa Ali has solidified himself as one of my favourites to watch this year, because as good as this last week’s 205 Live main event was it’s far from a singular example. It seems like every time Ali laces up his gear and steps into the ring, he hits a level few seem to hit, and even fewer with the same consistency. Moreover, Ali achieves these great things often swimming against a stronger tide than most other active competitors in WWE today, saddled with a tired post-Smackdown Live (SDL) crowd every week that he always successfully stirs into a frenzy. To me, it’s hard to deny that is a sign of a remarkable performer, moreover the sign of a born champion.

Add onto all of this Ali’s positive and outspoken challenges of social stereotypes and unabashed championing of minorities that so frequently are so easily threatened with marginalisation and what you have is not just the emergence of one of the most talented storytellers of his generation but one of the most genuinely, true-to-life inspirational performers too.

Build it, brick by brick, night by night and you might just affect change, is the lesson of Ali’s fable, and one I find truly moving. It is the story of the Ali / Murphy rivalry, of Ali’s fighting and ultimately victorious effort in this last week’s main event, but also the story of 205 Live itself.

The reason why I chose to forego my usual Performance Art View this week and focus solely on this single outing is because it encapsulates everything magical about not just Ali as an individual but of 205 Live as a show too. Poise, dignity and startling quality continues to be 205’s modus operandi, as it was for Ali vs. Murphy individually. It is a show that doesn’t get the hype NXT enjoys, despite it more frequently proving itself the more original. It is a roster that doesn’t get given the same opportunities that the main roster gets, even though they have consistently proven they are capable of doing as much, if not more with them – can it be argued that Ali / Murphy this week was more than deserving of happening at the incoming Extreme Rules pay-per-view instead? 205 Live, within the realm of WWE, is itself a land of the marginalised, and yet in spite of that just look at what they do, week in, week out, building something special, brick by brick, night by night.

It’s as inspirational a plight as that of Ali as a man.

So I find myself considering, has there ever been a more fitting moniker than ‘the Heart of 205 Live’?


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