The tournament to crown the next WWE Cruiserweight Champion continues, as Lince Dorado and Kalisto put their friendship to one side to fight for a place in the next round, whilst Hideo Itami tackles NXT wrestler Roderick Strong…
WWE Cruiserweight Championship Tournament – 1st Round
(Winner via pinfall: Kalisto)
WWE Cruiserweight Championship Tournament – 1st Round
(Winner via pinfall: Roderick Strong)
After this episode and the one before it (WWE 205 Live #062), it was clear that something was different on 205 Live. There was a renewed focus on in-ring action, and the moves being used in each match were starting to move away from the typically safe WWE ones you see every night, and more into the unpredictable territory (whilst still safe as hell, because these athletes are professionals). There were still backstage segments, but they weren’t silly like before, and appeared to be directly calling out some of the nonsense that had been turning the show into another bog-standard WWE show previously. When news broke this week that Vince McMahon had handed 205 Live over to his son-in-law, Triple H, everything made sense. Finally, the show was in the hands of someone who knew what to do with it.
Touching on the smaller details of the show first, the backstage promos were done very well. Whilst Drew Gulak has done incredibly well to get himself over with his Powerpoint gimmick, there’s no question that it has meant his in-ring abilities (which are fantastic) have been suppressed, and so seeing Drake Maverick call him out on this and demand more from him was fantastic. As to was Maverick’s shaming of Tony Nese, who he tore apart for being more focused on showing off his abs than showing off his in-ring talent, which again is of a high level. Both men have been given entertaining WWE-ism’s, and I do hope they aren’t completely stripped of those characteristics, but if it means a return to them both leaving it all out in the ring, then everyone wins. Drew Gulak was one of the best independent wrestlers working in North America when he joined WWE, and I’ve witnessed Tony Nese first-hand tear the house down against Akira Tozawa in Norwich, England, at the WWE United Kingdom Championship Special, so more of that can only be a positive for 205 Live.
Speaking of Tozawa, his backstage self-recorded promos continue to entertain. Whilst I wish WWE had waited until Mixed Match Challenge was completed before taking its best features and inserting them into their other weekly content (the self-recorded promos being one of the things that made MMC stand out), there’s no question that they are getting Tozawa and others over without actually featuring them in the ring or in typical backstage segments, which is a positive too. Tozawa’s reaction to a backstage stranger predicting Mark Andrews will beat him on next weeks 205 Live was hilarious, as was Maverick’s recent tweet apologising to anyone backstage that Tozawa might have claimed were fired (they weren’t, because Tozawa can’t).
Before we get to the really good parts of the show, let’s discuss the one singular negative: the gap between matches. It was fine for me at home, but for a crowd who had just sat through two hours of Smackdown and an additional 20 minutes of Mixed Match Challenge? Perhaps testing their patience a bit too much?
The in-ring action this week was fabulous. Kalisto had one of the best singles matches of his WWE career against Lince Dorado, and whilst the latter lost, it would have made the viewers at home (and in attendance) suddenly take notice of Dorado again. Kalisto winning was somewhat predictable, given his status, but there certainly were a few moments where you felt it might not happen for the former champion. For a slick, high-flying affair, this is the best you’ll find in WWE this week.
For a hard-hitting, brutal fight, you’ll want to watch Hideo Itami and Roderick Strong’s main event. A main roster debut for Roderick Strong, and the perfect introduction to an audience who may not have seen too much of him on WWE NXT. This match was the best of the tournament so far, and was so close to grabbing a higher match rating from Talk: Pro Wrestling. You could say that this was Strong’s best match in a WWE ring, but then you’d also likely have to make the same claim of Itami, too. This clicked on every level.
Like any classic, it started slow, and the tempo grew as the match progressed. This is a luxury of having time to tell a story, which isn’t often something that you see on WWE‘s weekly programming, but always should have seen on 205 Live. Under Vince McMahon, this match would never have played out how it did, but Triple H’s booking absolutely favours these kinds of contests. My only nitpick? I’d have loved a few more near falls. That would have put it up there with the best matches of the year come December 2018, but it’s certainly one that must be viewed, even if WWE isn’t your thing. And if you’re a WWE fan who doesn’t watch 205 Live, then you’re missing out on the actual best action they have to offer as a company. Shame on you, really.
I’ve voiced my one real criticism of the WWE Cruiserweight Championship Tournament in the previous episode review, and I’ve hinted at it above, but the only issue thus far has been predictability. I knew Cedric Alexander was going to win his match. I knew TJP was going to beat part-time WWE UK talent Tyler Bate. I knew Kalisto was going to progress. I knew Hideo Itami was going to win too. But in the case of the latter, they pulled the rug out from under our feet, and Strong went over, not Itami! It was perfect, and something I’d love to see more of (Mark Andrews overcoming Tozawa seems unlikely though, sadly).
Quite where this leaves Itami, it remains to be seen. Some think he’s done with the company, but to give him such a prominent main event would seem to be odd booking if that were the case. I’d love to see him use this defeat to really sink his teeth into a heel character, and there’s no question that the rebooted 205 Live that focuses on intense in-ring competition would be better served having Itami on its roster. One to keep a close eye on, for sure, and I suspect we’ll know the outcome on that very soon.
205 Live has always had a tough time from WWE‘s vocal online fanbase. Many felt it an unnecessary addition to the weekly television lineup, particularly when they wrongly interpreted the WWE Network weekly Top 10 programmes to suggest that the show was performing poorly, whilst others felt that WWE enforcing their own style on the brand and wrestlers took away from all the good work that had been done in 2016’s Cruiserweight Classic. Personally, I’ve always found the show fun, but it was never must-see. Now it is.
It absolutely is.
Match of the Night
Hideo Itami vs. Roderick Strong