It started November 29, 2016, after the success of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic that very same year. 205 Live, a show dedicated to the new Cruiserweight division was born. On the first episode, Rich Swann defeated The Brian Kendrick to become Cruiserweight Champion. Since then, 205 Live has been an inconsistent but usually enjoyable show for anyone looking for high workrate matches in the WWE sphere.
The beginning was rough, not going to lie. Despite some shining gems, it started out not really living up to the potential that the Cruiserweight Classic showed. In an attempt to give the wrestlers some character, there was an emphasis on telling stories that weren’t necessarily very good. One that immediately stands out to me involved Cedric Alexander and Noam Dar fighting over Alicia Fox. Another involved Jack Gallagher and Ariya Daivari having a Gentleman’s Duel street fight. It had Vince McMahon’s stink all over it. If backstage reports are to be believed, Vince was indeed heavily involved in the show in the beginning. I didn’t watch it consistently at the time, because while the wrestling was pretty good (though nowhere near the Cruiserweight Classic), the storylines weren’t especially compelling.
The two things that got me watching regularly happened right after each other: the return of Neville and the title reign of Enzo Amore. Neville (perhaps better known as PAC outside of WWE, but since I’m talking about his WWE run I’m going to be using “Neville” for this article) returned from injury at Roadblock: End of the Line and attacked Rich Swann and TJ Perkins. He quickly inserted himself into the title picture, winning it at the 2017 Royal Rumble. He defended it successfully against Austin Aries several times and feuded with Akira Tozawa, losing and winning it back within six days. It wasn’t until No Mercy 2017 that he would lose the belt to Enzo Amore.
I don’t want to dwell on Enzo too much because he’s a really terrible person. In fact, he was forced to relinquish the belt when he was fired for sexual assault allegations. But this was when everything on 205 Live changed. By all accounts, Vince took a step back from 205 Live after Enzo was fired and let Triple H take over. Naturally, it all improved almost immediately. A tournament for the vacant Cruiserweight Championship was started that would culminate with Cedric Alexander finally winning the belt he’d been chasing for so long.
After that tournament, the show became must-see TV for me. The match quality went up. The storylines got simpler and less silly. I began to really appreciate the people on the show for what they could really do. Sure, the promos might not always have been great, but this was a show for fans of fast-paced cruiserweight wrestling, and boy did they deliver. Whether it was Kalisto, Lince Dorado, and Gran Metalik doing their awesome tag and tornado tag matches, Cedric Alexander consistently having good to great matches with everyone who challenged for his title, Mike Kanellis’ and 205 Live General Manager Drake Maverick’s deeply personal feud, or the absolute banger of a rivalry between Mustafa Ali and Buddy Murphy that produced some of the best matches of the year.
When Buddy Murphy won the Cruiserweight Championship in his hometown of Melbourne, I, along with many people in attendance at the event, jumped out of my seat. Seeing his growth from a middling NXT Superstar to one of the best wrestlers in the world on 205 Live is exactly the kind of organic storytelling that makes professional wrestling so special. I loved everything about his title reign because I was 100% bought into his character. His matches were always stellar, and you could just tell he knew exactly who he wanted to be. He was the unstoppable Juggernaut of the Cruiserweight division. He could have easily held onto that championship for a very long time.
On the other hand, 205 Live had the same problem that NXT occasionally has: their top-level talent gets moved to a different brand and they quickly have to build new stars. Completely honestly, after they lost Murphy, Alexander, and Ali, 205 Live never really managed to recover. Tony Nese was fine as champion, but I never got the feeling that the belt was as prestigious as it was when Neville, Alexander, or Murphy held it. They brought in Humberto Carrillo, the Singh Brothers, for a short time Chad Gable, and Oney Lorcan to fill the void, and built up Drew Gulak as a terrifying submission-based grappler, to the point where he won the title. His title reign was pretty good, all things considered. But the damage was done. I still watched the show but it mostly felt like they were spinning their wheels. They didn’t have the roster depth of Raw or Smackdown or the influx of new talent of NXT. The highs of 2018 were at an end.
But let’s try to stay positive. In many ways, watching 205 Live felt like how I imagine the early days of NXT felt. I really felt like I was watching the future of WWE slowly gaining experience and developing themselves into legitimate superstars. It felt like an underdog show. This one-hour blast of adrenaline full of people hungry to prove themselves to a wider audience. And I always got the impression that the 205 Live roster was a close-knit group of friends. That the performers behind the characters all got along with each other. They took their work seriously with an intensity that was only matched by NXT and always tried their absolute hardest to put on the best show they could. It’s this dedication to the craft that kept me watching the show, because I wanted to support every single one of the people working on it.
There’s a lot I didn’t get around to mentioning in this article. A number of performers that didn’t get the love they deserve. From Drew Gulak’s amazing Powerpoint presentation gimmick, to Brian Kendrick’s excellent storyline with TJ Perkins, to Noam Dar’s comedy antics, to Oney Lorcan’s hard-hitting spotfests, or even the phenomenal Team Gulak vs Team Lorcan ten-man tag. 205 Live is a diverse show full of interesting and fast-paced matches that entertains me week in and week out. Firing up the WWE Network and seeing these guys work so hard is borderline inspiring to me.
So where are we now? The week that Smackdown moved to Fox, there was no episode of 205 Live. The Cruiserweight Championship was defended on NXT and was referred to as the NXT Cruiserweight Championship. Lio Rush defeated Drew Gulak to become the new champion in a damn good match. 205 Live has been integrated into NXT. It’s no longer its own thing. It may still be around, but a little bit of that uniqueness I fell in love with feels like it’s gone. I’m still going to watch it, because I want to see where it goes, but it feels a bit off nowadays. I wanted to write this as a sort of sendoff to the brand that I loved, warts and all. You had your ups and downs, 205 Live, but I’ll be damned if you weren’t compelling wrestling TV.