Can "205 Live" Be Saved?
A look into some of the difficulties which have plagued WWE's cruiserweight division.
Less than two years ago in November 2016, WWE debuted the weekly program known as 205 Live. Aimed to showcase the cruiserweight division following the acclaimed Cruiserweight Classic tournament, 205 Live is specifically aimed to feature WWE performers who are 205 pounds or less. The show is exclusive to the WWE Network.
When 205 Live started, its performers were featured every week on Monday Night Raw. Generally, there were at least two cruiserweight-related segments per week on Raw, whether they included matches and/or backstage segments. There was also hyping up of what was going to be featured in this week's edition of 205 Live.
I am not one for insisting on concepts being cursed, but bad things have happened to the majority of the main eventers of 205 Live. Neville quit as part of a contract dispute, as did #1 contender and former announcer Austin Aries. Rich Swann and Enzo Amore both left the company as a result of legal difficulties. Brian Kendrick suffered a bad injury during a match. Ariya Daivari received in a controversial promo during the Greatest Royal Rumble, which led him to receive death threats.
Another challenge related to 205 Live has been the inconsistency related to who has and has not been included in the show. Some of the regular WWE roster has been integrated into 205 Live over the past year and a half, like Alicia Fox being a love interest for Noam Dar and Titus O'Neil recruiting Akira Tozawa for Titus Worldwide.
Then some of the 205 Live talent has found its way into Royal Rumble matches, including Gentleman Jack Gallagher and Tony Nese. Meanwhile, WWE has talent that is clearly under 205 pounds in weight -- Finn Balor and Sami Zayn included -- that has never been integrated into 205 Live.
205 Live has also suffered during WWE's special events. I cannot think of a recent match including 205 Live talent that was either the opener or aired during the pre-show of a special event. Furthermore, the Cruiserweight Championship has not been defended on Raw or Smackdown in recent months.
Another confusing matter related to 205 Live is where its talent is supposed to come from. Initially, all of the WWE cruiserweights came from the aforementioned Cruiserweight Classic. Then some new characters had been introduced to the division, like Neville coming down from the main roster or Aries joining from NXT. Now, the 205 Live also includes competitors from the WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament.
Despite all of these points of confusion, I think everyone can agree that there is a lot of talent within 205 Live. The matches deliver the high spots that one would expect from cruiserweights. So one of the big questions is how WWE can capitalize off of a product that everyone knows is great.
My two cents is that it comes down to branding. When your division only has around a dozen competitors, character development can be more focused on, and given how passionate the WWE fanbase is -- this is a positive thing. However, 205 Live needs the shine of the main roster competitors to be taken seriously on a mainstream level. Without that, the cruiserweights come across as a bunch of indie wrestlers, which tends not to fare well in arena-sized venues.
Ultimately WWE should be praised for signing and fostering great talent from all over the world. But top-tier wrestling talent without proper exposure is no different than a superstar-quality artist being signed to an independent record label. Being on 205 Live as of this article's writing is like being part of the NXT roster, only without the buzz or the major events on the weekends of WWE's big four pay-per-views. In turn, some tweaks are going to be needed if 205 Live is going to be kept a weekly programming staple for the WWE Network on a long-term basis.