Hello! Another week, another excited breakdown of the real best show on Tuesday nights. Make sure you’re all caught up on last week’s recap so today’s makes sense. If you missed the show itself, you can watch it on the WWE Network here.
Before we dig into this week, hop over to Twitter and follow With Spandex on Twitter here. Toss Uproxx Sports a follow here, and you can follow me here. Like and share the column, and tell everyone you know that it exists, even if they don’t watch wrestling. Let’s make someone’s Nana part of our core demographic!
Let’s Finally Talk About Drake Maverick
Okay so if you’ve read anything I’ve ever written you know I absolutely adore this man and am also completely besotted with his TNA cousin Rockstar Spud. How I’ve gone two weeks without being able to write adoring words about him is a travesty, but that all ends now! Even if he rendered himself a shade somewhere between Microwaved Hot Dog and Pick A Member Of The Hogan Family Yeah Sure That One Works, Maverick is inarguably the best General Manager in WWE and recent (if not complete) history. This week it feels necessary to highlight his opening segment because it highlights two very important things about 205 Live:
1) An opening expository monologue is great because it adds a personal touch to the usual recap highlight reel, and reiterates that this is his division and his show. His role is that of the logical archetype, bolstering his position as an authority figure who is actually good at his job and not, like, every other General Manager on the A and B-shows. NXT William Regal is great and a close second, but even he let his emotions get to him and deffo tried to break Kassius Ono’s fingers/everything. That flies wildly in the face of basic management tenets, so points deducted.
2) These openers help reiterate that the cruiserweight division is its own delicately-balanced ecosystem. Each person’s trajectory is influenced by the journey of the others, and the narrative is forced to remain self-referential because any and all actions have division-wide consequences and require a logical catalyst to when said trajectories shift. The introduction of invasive species (Hi Buddy Murphy!) throws off that balance, and the ecosystem undergoes noticeable — and sometimes chaotic — changes. The environment can either crumble (the three-way title hunt) or evolve and adapt (Tony Nese finding his Beef Boy Soulmate in Buddy Murphy). So basically the opposite of Dolph Ziggler’s entire career, ya feel?
3) I know I said two but Drake Maverick is honestly very important to me and not just to the show and also I have somewhat unchecked ADHD so lists always end up way longer than I intend. He is a Capital Letter Best Thing about any show he’s on, and frankly we could stand for him to have a bigger role, even if not one of us truly deserves it.
Speaking of Things We Don’t Deserve…
Lucha House Party made Drew Gulak into a piñata mascot named Penelope which is amazing and so much quieter than the matracas. It would be cool if the actual meaning of the piñata helped cast the lucha faces as faith, making Piñata Gulak and the temptations of evil (the sweet, sweet candy) inside, but not everything is that deep. Why yes, I did learn a tonne of new things about about piñatas as I was writing about this week’s show. Catechetical symbolism goes so hard.
Lucha House Party vs. Drew Gulak, The Brian Kendrick, and Jack Gallagher
First of all, when are we gonna get a fun, snappy stable name for these three dudes? A Rave Pirate, Robe Pervert, and Guy Who Doesn’t Know How To Transition From Day To Night should be easy to inspire a play on words but here we are typing their full names out like animals, ugh. Secondly, I love Gulak endlessly but we need to talk about that robe. He’s had a career filled with awesome entrance jackets (shout out to the amazing Yolanda for those), but as comfy as that one looks I can’t take it seriously. It’s like in movies/sitcoms where a dude wanders into the kitchen in his lady friend’s robe to hammer home the point that she got hammered in her home, only the lady friend in question is Ken Shamrock’s mom. Hey WWE change the name of his entrance theme to Tempted By the Fruit of a Mother after today thanksssssss.
Anyways, there’s more to this opener than a piñata and what I will now consider to be an important part of Shamrock’s personal canon that he must never, ever know about. I’ve explained why I love this pairing ad nauseum, but this week all six men get to square off in a trios opener. Lucha House Party have a new mascot, and if the other three stand with Kendrick in the middle then they become a perfect self-tanner gradient chart, so obviously all six men have reason to be fired up.
I liked this match for a lot of the reasons I previously stated in my ongoing documentation of this feud, so let’s focus specifically on Lince Dorado for a moment. A good portion of the match has Dorado in the ring, but unfortunately it outs him as the weakest member of the team. For instance, oh my god close your legs on that goddamn headscissors. You can’t tilt-a-whirl shit if you have no grip on your opponent. Kalisto and Metalik are out here executing gorgeous takedowns, and when you don’t follow suit it calls into question why you’re even in the ring alongside them.
Gulak and Kendrick and Gallagher are so, so good at using submissions and brute force against them (Gulak’s lariat elicited a giggle from me that was heard from space probably), but it seems like Dorado’s interactions remove any sense of urgency from the match. If Gulak is the one grounding the speed and athleticism of his luchador opponents at that point in the match, he shouldn’t end up looking like he’s the one being slowed down. Yes, the the tie that binds these randos together is slow, methodical, technical wrestling, but slow and methodical can easily be made to look lazy if you don’t know how to adapt your own speed to that style. Kalisto and Metalik seem to have it figured out, but damn Dorado you are looking like a total hoochador.
Without getting too down on the dude, this match did actually do something positive for him. Dorado’s depth of character was pretty non-existent, but the finish of the match managed to give him some desperately-needed layers. Gulak gets caught pulling Dorado’s tights during a pin attempt because, though he’s technically proficient, heels get frustrated faster and end up taking shortcuts. The ref distracts Gulak by chastising his cheating, giving Dorado the opportunity to catch him off guard and go for a pin of his own. But he also grabs the tights. Later, as Kendrick has him in a Captain’s Hook, Dorado tries to make a grab for the ropes. As Kendrick tries to keep the submission hold intact and roll him away from a potential rope break, Dorado is able to use that motion to turn it into a pin, and again grabs the tights. It’s a total dick move that’s out of character for a team of pure as f*ck babyfaces. Let’s use that dick move to make some inferences!
Lucha House Party is about fun, but also celebrates the joyous spirit of Lucha Libre and personal pride in their Mexican heritage. They get to speak Spanish without captions, and have props that aren’t lawn mowers. They don’t use those props to interfere because cheating is for bad guys and they have the natural confidence in their abilities to win without resorting to nasty tactics. But then Dorado just straight up cheats in retaliation, throwing that whole dynamic off-kilter. Instead of being all “wow that’s messed up and a dumb oversight,” we can now start to see Dorado as the wild card of the group. Passion turning into reactive, rash actions adds a really nice shade of grey to what was previously a big ol’ flat white wall of a character. Friendship is anathema to WWE, but this plants the seed for a potential break-up down the road that actually makes sense. Oh my god, Gulak’s cheating WAS the evil temptation! The piñata CAN have a much deeper meaning than a PA grabbing the most Mexican thing they could find from a local Party City! We have logical, meaningful fun here!!!
But for real, close your damn legs, buddy, it drives me nuts.
Speaking of Headscissors…
If we’re recognizing talent outside of the ring, we have to talk about Nigel McGuinness. I hated his ROH persona and dog shit, sexist commentary, so I am absolutely furious to admit that he’s the best commentator in WWE right now.
If we learned anything from his other TV job in TNA, it’s that he was never better there than when he was eloquent, purposeful, secret rage-monster in a well-cut suit Desmond Wolfe. While that iteration still definitely needed to be kept away from any and all women, the parts of his character work that were so effective then have been refined on this show now, and are tools he uses to really shine in a difficult position. Bad guys fall down in a WWE commentary role when they stop using the heel traits of logic and disdain to inform their character and instead just shit on everything. For instance, Jesse Ventura was a great commentary foil because he understood the shades of grey between a total Asshole Debbie Downer and impartial play-by-play. He could be emphatic and well-spoken, but he could also openly side with the heel wrestlers without losing any cogent storytelling ability.
McGuinness is able to use his knowledge as an in-ring performer to actually call moves what they are, and understand the reasons they’re used. He doesn’t call any headscissor variations that don’t end in a pin attempt a hurricanrana, but he does explain why Tony Nese using a bear hug is effective against Mustafa Ali (more on that match later). Doing damage to the midsection with a bear hug isn’t just a big strong boi move, but also an attempt to disable the fulcrum of Ali’s finisher. If he can’t do his finisher, he can’t he can’t win. With a simple explanation, an aggressive cuddle from behind becomes a legitimate method of violence. As Gordon Solie would explain, a bear hug also forces a build up the lactic acid in your opponent, and when that lactic acid builds up your opponent slows down. Actually, McGuinness goes so far as to quote Solie during this episode, so as both a Solie stan and someone dedicated to legitimizing the bear hug, I am so into it. Into it and FURIOUS that I am.
Nigel McGuinness is aloof and informed, and Percy Watson pronounced it “hype-o-critical.” The commentary rankings are pretty clear.
Akira Tozawa vs. Steve Irby
One day you guys are gonna end up with so many words about how much I love Tozawa. After a match like that, today is…not that day. Steve Irby, if that’s even his real name (it is not) is a representation of the “bottom” Tozawa needs to start from now that his tag partner has abandoned him and forced himself into the title picture. He is…definitely the person for that role. Tozawa having an awkward and forgettable match? In this economy? In front of my salad? How soon until Apollo Crews can drop like 40lbs and get his ass to 205 Live and shake it up?
Tony Nese vs. Mustafa Ali
Tony Nese has a new friend! Nese understands how to adapt to invasive species, and thicc boys gotta stick together. Buddy Murphy is great for Nese because he’s basically everything Nese is but like, way better at it. Both he and his new Ginger Beef Boy feel that they should have a more prominent position on 205 Live, and Nese still carries a chip on his shoulder after being betrayed by former BFF Drew Gulak. Each one gets to be insecure under a surface of muscles they’re both very proud of, and honestly Murphy can and hopefully will be the one to push Nese out of his comfort zone. Nese has all the physical talent in the world, but as I once drunkenly yelled at him in an Applebee’s, he constantly wrestles the same match when he has the capability to do so much better. I am very aggressive about people I like living up to their potential, and I think Murphy can be the one to take him there.
Cedric Alexander makes an appearance to even the odds for Mustafa Ali in case Murphy decides to ignore Mavericks warning and interfere in the match (he will). Before that can happen though, Nese puts all those muscles to good use and absolutely ragdolls Ali. Where Ali felt like he couldn’t keep up with Murphy last week, this week his flopsy style really works to highlight just how strong and agile Nese really is. Nese’s one-armed powerbomb and aforementioned bear hug look much more effective against someone so much smaller, and his size makes Ali’s aerial maneuvers and counters that much more impressive. They look like equals, especially when contrasted by that rough Tozawa/Irby match.
The match spills to the outside, and Cedric rushes over to make sure Murphy doesn’t go after Ali. Instead, Murphy attacks Alexander, dragging him into the ring. after trading blows, they fight up the ramp and Nese tries to roll up a distracted Ali. It doesn’t work, and Nese grows increasingly frustrated that he just can’t put Ali down. Nese loses it and shouts “I’M BETTER THAN YOU” while he facewashes Ali in the corner. A facewash is so insulting and dismissive, and it’s the perfect moment in the match for Nese to vocalize his anger. Because Nigel has done a great job legitimizing Nese’s targeting of Ali’s midsection on commentary, his struggle but subsequent completion of the 054 to win the match gives the finish that much more gravitas. Ali had visible odds to overcome, and makes the idea that he’s all heart and perseverance more evident than just saying it over and over.
Ali takes to the mic and demands a triple-threat for himself, Murphy, and Hideo Itami. Where Nese insulted him during the match, Ali ignoring him to call out people who are “better” than Nese is just as humiliating. That action adds even more fuel to Nese’s bonfire of vanity and insecurity, giving him a reason to further hate — and potentially interfere with — Ali in the future beyond his relationship to Murphy. Actions have consequences here!
Drake Maverick acquiesces, making the three-way dance official for next week’s show. Also, if it’s called a three-way dance, a six-man tag should be called a Key Party. Like Gulak’s new theme, you can have that one for free, WWE.