WWE 205 Live: The Path to 100 Episodes and the Four Leaders of the Division
If you're one of the average WWE fans, chances are you haven't given 205 Live the fair chance it deserves. The land of the cruiserweights has featured some of the greatest feuds and matches in the world of professional wrestling since debuting on the WWE Network in 2016.
With a diverse roster of talent boasting unique styles ranging from strikers like Hideo Itami and Jack Gallagher to the submission specialists like Drew Gulak and TJP, the Purple Brand had a little something for everyone. However, after the incredible Cruiserweight Classic which crowned a new champion in TJP, the brand quickly fell into a monotonous and predictable routine. Though the performers were incredible, it seemed they were forced to hold back.
It seemed as if the WWE didn't take the Cruiserweights seriously for the first year, putting them in goofy gimmick matches like the "Fright Night Fatal 4-Way" above. The roster didn't have time to grow as characters, resulting in bland forgetful bouts in front of half empty arenas after SmackDown Live had ended.
For the first year, aside from the Cruiserweight Title picture, no other matches or storylines really mattered. Sure, Neville's title matches against Rich Swann, Austin Aries, and Akira Tozawa were fun, but nothing else was memorable about that time. In fact, if you skipped an episode or two of 205 Live, odds are you wouldn't miss much because the same matches were done repeatedly for months on end.
Jump to the end of Neville's title reign and we got an unexpected addition in the form of the Smacktalker Skywalker himself, Enzo Amore. Though no one expected much out of him Amore would go on to defeat Neville for the Cruiserweight Championship, then face off against the likes of Kalisto, Rich Swann and Cedric Alexander over the coming months.
205 Live faced some pretty troubling times near the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 when they lost three of their biggest stars over the course of a few months. First, Neville walked away from the WWE after some creative differences drove the King of the Cruiserweights away.
Following that, Rich Swann, the man the company had poised to take the title off Amore, was released. After an incident involving his wife, current Impact star Su Yung, Swann was arrested on December 10, 2017. WWE suspended him indefinitely for violating their zero-tolerance policy against domestic abuse.
Following this, Swann's spot was filled by Cedric Alexander. Alexander would eventually earn a shot at Enzo Amore's Cruiserweight Championship, setting up a match at Royal Rumble 2018. However, Amore would be suspended before the event due to sexual assault allegations.
Oddly enough, after 205 Live lost three of their most recognizable names, it quickly became one of the best shows on the WWE Network.
With the Cruiserweight Championship vacated, the WWE, through then SmackDown Live General Manager Daniel Bryan, introduced a General Manager for 205 Live, Drake Maverick.
Bryan and Maverick revealed that there would be a tournament to crown a new champion, with the finals of said tournament taking place at WrestleMania 34. Guys like Mustafa Ali, Lince Dorado, Drew Gulak and Tony Nese, who were seen as, essentially, nobodies on 205 Live up to this point, became some of the best performers in the entire WWE during this time.
After a horrendous 2017, 205 Live decided to focus their brand on four talents who would go on to carry the show on their backs throughout 2018: Drew Gulak, Buddy Murphy, Mustafa Ali, and Cedric Alexander.
Drew Gulak, the comic relief of the brand, became a more vicious and sometimes psychotic wrestler, whose aggressive submission based style made him stand out from the rest of the division. Prior to this, he led a crusade against high-flying maneuvers. He would kindly ask his opponents to refrain from climbing to the top rope.
In 2018, Gulak refused to let his opponents get there. Now the Submission Specialist, Gulak would wear you down with gruesome and painful holds, taking away his opponent's ability to fly. He also added some power moves into his arsenal, making him a serious threat to anyone who dared step up to him.
Another talent that nobody expected to make an impact in 2018 was Buddy Murphy. Known mostly for his time in NXT as one half of the tag team Blake and Murphy, the Juggernaut hadn't been seen much since the team's break up back in 2016. When it was revealed that he would be a part of the tournament, many fans had their doubts.
Those doubts were quickly put to rest when he debuted on 205 Live. "The Best Kept Secret" proved the WWE Universe wrong, shedding a ton of weight and completely running through competition with a new high impact offense, topped off with a unique finisher known as Murphy's Law.
Now, eight months out from his debut, the Juggernaut of 205 Live is now the Cruiserweight Champion. Murphy has put on some epic matches with most of the stars on the Purple Brand, but the highlight of his career has to involve his feud with the one and only Mustafa Ali. The series of matches these two put together was simply phenomenal, earning praise from the WWE Universe and their peers.
Mustafa Ali was never meant to be here. He found himself working the Cruiserweight Classic as a substitute when the original competitor could not make it due to visas issues. While always exciting in the ring, he never got his time to shine on the mic prior to 2018. However, once the Purple Brand was under new management, he was rebranded as the Heart of 205 Live, cutting some of the most emotional promos we've seen this year.
Ali became one of the biggest babyfaces, not just on 205 Live, but in the WWE as a whole. Throughout the Cruiserweight Championship Tournament, Ali put on some incredible performances against the likes of Jack Gallagher, Drew Gulak, and Buddy Murphy, working from the position of the underdog.
Each week, Ali would cut a promo telling the WWE a little about himself. His job as a police officer in Chicago, his family and being a father, his dreams of shattering the glass ceiling for Muslim wrestlers. Thanks to these videos that he continually posted on Twitter, we got to know the real Mustafa Ali, and it was impossible for anyone to dislike him.
Finally, we look to Cedric Alexander, the first champion in the new age of 205 Live. Throughout the Cruiserweight Championship Tournament, Alexander looked back at the opportunities he earned in 2017 only to lose them by pure happenstance. Alexander's motivation to move through the tournament was to finally reach the top of the mountain that was always within arm's reach.
The Soul of 205 Live didn't have an easy path to the finals, having to face TJP, the first Cruiserweight Champion after the CWC, and NXT's Roderick Strong. However, he managed to outlast every one of his competitors, making it to the finals of the tournament at this year's WrestleMania. After winning the title, and finally being crowned the Cruiserweight Champion, Alexander continued to feud with the heavy hitters of the brand.
Kalisto, Hideo Itami, Buddy Murphy, and Drew Gulak were all formidable opponents for him, but the Age of Alexander continued to battle, remaining undefeated throughout 2018 until finally losing the belt to Murphy at WWE Super Show-Down.
From January to April of this year, the WWE turned what was a fledgling side project into a well respected and highly anticipated weekly show. Every episode featured a main event that was dubbed a match of the year candidate by many fans and critics alike.
Now, almost at the end of 2018, we've seen how all you need to have a successful show is a roster dedicated to putting on a show and a company willing to let them loose. And we didn't get here thanks to the over the top goofiness that plagued the division in its first year. If you look at the four stars mentioned above, it's clear to see that we finally got some storytelling done right.
205 Live's top four aren't goofy or laughable sports entertainment products. They're not wacky or over the top. They are themselves turned up to eleven.
Drew Gulak was tired of being looked down upon because he couldn't fly through the air like the rest of the roster, so he brought them down to the ground with his technical prowess, forcing them to play his game. Buddy Murphy knew how good he was, even if the WWE Universe completely ignored him. The Best Kept Secret came to 205 Live to prove just how good he really was.
Mustafa Ali was tired of seeing Muslim wrestlers portrayed as exaggerated, anti-American villains, and instead wanted to represent that community and be a hero to those who didn't have anyone to look up to in the WWE. Cedric Alexander simply wanted the chance to shine and was going to go after that brass ring no matter how many times it was taken from him.
These were four completely relatable men. Not characters, but real people who were allowed to let their personalities shine in front of the world. Thanks to them, along with the rest of the incredible roster, 205 Live reached its 100th episode on October 24th.
And the main event of that episode? Not surprising at all, it was a show stealer, featuring one of 205 Live's best and brightest, the Heart of 205 Live, Mustafa Ali.
If you haven't had a chance to watch the Cruiserweights or haven't given them a chance over the past two years, now is the perfect time to jump in. While Ali and Murphy continue to shoot to the top of the roster, Cedric Alexander and Drew Gulak have taken a back seat to stars like Tony Nese and Lio Rush, bringing in many new possibilities in regards to storytelling and upcoming matches.
Congratulations on the first 100 episodes, 205 Live. I'll be watching on your way to 200.