Over the summer of 2016 WWE did something unprecedented for them by staging a tournament for Cruiserweight wrestlers from around the world, whether they were permanently signed to the company of not, the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC).
Taped at the same venue as the NXT Arena in Orlando, Florida the small, intimate, knowledgable crowd, combined with some of the best wrestlers I’ve seen in a long time, made for a special series of events that climaxed with the crowning of a new WWE Cruiserweight Champion.
While the likes of Kota Ibushi and Zack Sabre Jr stole the tournament, and for the most part Ibushi looked like a favourite to win, the whole concept was really what stood out as it seemed to something of a throw back to a time when we could believe that professional wrestling was a sport and who won and who lost really mattered, combined with modern sensibilities.
The tournament was finally won by TJ Perkins, while not Ibushi or Sabre still a worthy winner and crucially recently signed to the WWE (something neither of the aforementioned grapplers agreed to), and the Cruiserweight Division was moved to the WWE’s flagship show Monday Night Raw.
On Raw it retained some aspects of the CWC shows with handshakes and its own purple colour scheme, including ropes and matt, while more ‘sports entertainment’ aspects were introduced attempting to give some of the performers more developed characters.
Most successful of these was past WWE Superstar and now veteran, ‘The’ Brian Kendrick, who defeated TJ Perkins for the championship at the Hell In A Cell special in the build up to what I’m looking at here, 205 Live, a new show focussing specifically on the WWE Cruiserweight Division and airing live on the WWE Network, kicking off on Tuesday 29th November following Smackdown.
Being filmed in a far bigger arena than the CWC instantly gave the show a different feel, as did the rather quiet crowd as commentary team Mauro Ronallo, ‘The Saviour of Misbehaviour’ Corey Graves and ‘The Greatest Man That Ever Lived’ Austin Aries hyped what was to come, before we were introduced to the ‘Superstars of 205 Live’.
While Perkins, Kendrick and current number one contender Rich Swann got a decent reception, most of the rest of the line up were greeted in a muted fashion which was a bit concerning before we got a video hyping the Sihra brother tag team duo, The Bollywood Boys.
These hype videos were something that worked really well on the CWC to introduce the competitors in a snappy way, but there the gimmicks were less pronounced and the competition more to the fore, here it was hard not to see The Bollywood Boys as yet another bland, babyface duo who are confusingly at once from India (hence the name) and Canada (hence the wrestling skills), this led to them making their way to the ring to a fairly quiet reception in the cavernous arena.
Their opponents, already in the ring but thanks to appearances on Raw already established as heels, were ‘The Premier Athlete’ Tony Neese and Drew Gulak. This choice of adversaries thankfully told the crowd all they needed to know and they soon got behind the Indian/Canadians.
The match itself set the scene well with a mix of high-flying spots and groundwork along with some stiff looking, almost ‘strong style’, striking from Neese and Gulak before the faces got the win with a nicely delivered double-superkick. Of the spots a highlight for me was a tandem clothesline/DDT that was something I’d not seen before and, if a little contrived, looked great.
Following the match the heels were interviewed in the aisle bringing back in an element of the ‘real sport’ style of the CWC, though Gulak showed why he’s not been given any live mic time before while Neese did his best to rescue it and just about managed.
After a hype video for Gran Metallik, apparently he’s coming soon despite having been on the stage with the rest of the crew at the start, and a backstage interview with Kendrick it was time for one-on-one competition between fairly typical heel Ariya Daivari and ‘The Extraordinary Gentlemen’ Jack Gallagher.
Gallagher headed to the ring to a pleasantly positive reaction and is one of the performers I was most looking forward to seeing following his outings in the CWC and his reputation from the recently revived British wrestling scene. The match itself was mostly an exhibition for Gallagher’s ‘unique style’ derived from his training at the Wigan Snakepit as well as his own take on showmanship.
Throughout the match Gallagher showcased some of his trademark moves including an impressive range of chain wrestling counters, a ‘Jim Breaks special’ and the ridiculous but somehow impressive ‘Windsor Knot’ submission hold which has to be seen to be believed, before Gallagher scored the win following his stiff looking corner dropkick. Aries on commentary came into his own here with what I’m hoping sounded like a set up for a feud between the veteran and Gallagher once Austin is cleared to wrestle again.
While I’ve enjoyed Rich Swann’s work since the CWC I will admit that seeing him as number one contender for the Cruiserweight Championship didn’t have me convinced as it seems to have come around very quickly – also I am a big fan of Kendrick’s work both recently and from his past time in WWE. None the less they did a good job of building at least a mild sense of anticipation for the main event championship encounter.
Going back and forth for the best part of 20 minutes Kendrick and Swann put on a great match that showed the best of both men and it wasn’t long before the crowd were really getting into it, rooting for the good guy against the genuinely dastardly heel. Both men hit their big spots and seemed to be pushing the envelope further than they had on their outings on Raw with the likes of Kendrick’s turnbuckle neckbreaker, a dragon suplex and a top rope ‘avalanche’ version of his Sliced Bread #2 being particularly strong moments.
Swann also held his own, convincing me of his position at the top of the card, picking up the win with a trio of impressive spinning heel kicks.
The end of the show came with more of the ‘real sport’ style post match interviews with Swann being the good babyface and dedicating his win to his late mother, while Kendrick showed why he really is the jewel in the crown of WWE’s Cruiserweights with a bitter heel promo that suggested a follow-up to this throwing TJ Perkins back into the mix.
In the end the premier edition of 205 Live was a bit of a mixed bag. The action in the ring was consistently good and at times great and at least three of the competitors ended the show being very much over with the crowd. Unfortunately staging it in an arena with an audience already tired from the previous two-hour Smackdown programme sapped some of the energy and excitement from the show as a whole.
While it didn’t quite live up to the excellence that was the CWC, 205 Live is a bold move for WWE and one that I hope develops from here into something special, which based on this it certainly has the potential to do.