Hello! We’re dreadfully behind on these columns thanks to the horrorshow that is Post-Concussion Syndrome, but the shows are still good enough that they deserve taking the time to catch up with. This is a double report for the June 19th and June 26th. Watch the first on the WWE Network here, and then load up the second on the Network here.
As always, utilize those like and share buttons, and tell everyone that over the next short while they’re about to get as much 205 Live analysis as they can cram into their cramholes. Be sure to follow With Spandex on Twitter here, Uproxx Sports here, and I guess me and my damaged brain here.
Now let’s get crammin’!
First, A Note About Commentary
Okay, so remember all those nice things I said last week about 205 Live commentary? Yeah, just scrap that this episode. Because of the UK tournament, the desk is helmed by Tom Phillips and Percy Watson, and if you were iffy on how good Nigel and Vic were before, this week should erase any doubt. Credit where credit is due, though. Phillips (who is Capital F Fine at his job) tells Percy that he’s familiar with Drew Gulak’s Lucha and You pamphlet because Nigel went over it with him. Nigel’s commitment to the pamphlet and also being prepared for his job makes my heart soar. Nigel in the 205 Live Universe is still the best commentator in the WWE Universe and he’s not even there.
Drew Gulak with The Brian Kendrick vs. Lince Dorado with Lucha House Party
So here we all are, balls deep in this feud, with no signs of it stopping in the near future. When you’re really stretching a feud out for this long (okay that sounds grosser than I meant it to giving the opening sentence, but stick with me here), the only way to stay engaged is to accept that you’re only getting a little built of story development at a time, but also be given great matches that make you not get sick of the same six people all the time always. I got pretty down on Lince Dorado in the last report, but this week we were presented with a match good enough that watching him wrestle in consecutive weeks doesn’t feel like a punishment! Hooray!
Predictably I liked this match a lot, but it’s hard not to when your very favourite version of Gulak is the grumpy-faced, brutal, give no quarter Gulak. Previously, it felt like Dorado didn’t understand how to match the pace Gulak set, and the result was him losing all sense of urgency when he’s supposed to be epitomizing the speed and agility of lucha libre. This week, Dorado doesn’t even get a chance because Gulak is here to shut. that. shit. down. Let’s get pretentious for a second, shall we?
One of the more difficult tasks when it comes to not only writing about wrestling, but describing what it is that makes it so special is trying to describe how a great wrestler draws upon the aestheticization of violence to tell their story. You can try by tossing out names like Kenta Kobashi (or any of the Four Pillars of Heaven, really), Manami Toyota, and Satoru Sayama’s incredible matches against Dynamite Kid. Today we can look to people like Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan, Daisuke Sekimoto, my precious RINGKAMPF giants, Oney Lorcan, or the actual best active wrestler in the world Meiko Satomura. These people have an innate understanding of how to make the audience revel in the representation of someone else’s pain, like an Old Master rendering the Passion Cycle. Just as medieval and Renaissance artists used spectacularly violent images to portray the story of Jesus’s torture, death, and resurrection, the truly great wrestlers use their own aestheticized violence to the same effect. They tell a story you’ve already seen or heard before, they make you suspend disbelief and put faith in something that possibly isn’t real, and they use that faith to garner both a spiritual and visceral reaction as well as an ideological following. And after all, this feud is all about warring ideologies.
It’s not him at his best or most violent, but watch during the match as Gulak grabs Dorado by his mask and drags him into the corner to stomp the shit out of him. Or when he does that headbutt that Sekimoto does that makes me finally understand why people call wrestlers “Daddy.” When attempting to define the notion of beauty, Thomas Aquinus said “Action completes the actuality of existence and form,” that beauty is “intelligible.”Like everyone I listed above, Gulak’s actions and form actualize the intelligibility pro wrestling, letting its existence transcend sport to become genuine art.
All of that said, this week adds a further dimension and progression of Dorado’s burgeoning character arc. His moment of weakness and frustration that led him to cheat has now opened the door for Gulak, Gallagher, and The Kendrick to cheat even more. There’s a chance Gulak could kick out of Dorado’s pin attempt given the disproportionate amount of offense between the two men, but he’s not taking any chances. Selfish people who want to do selfish things will take anything they can as validation to continue being shitty. Dorado gave them that validation, so now they’re cheating even when it’s not necessary. The Kendrick could have stuck to his mimetic taunting of Metalik and Kalisto, but he continues to interfere in the match behind the ref’s back.
From here, Dorado’s path can become divergent between his good guy persona and his frustrations leading him to angry, rash decisions. Dorado desperately needed that depth of character increase in directions that character could go, but he also desperately needed a match like this to keep people engaged and quell their own (my own) frustrations with Lucha House Party. Good kitty!
TJP vs. Scheduled Opponent
Just gonna let Drake Maverick go ahead and describe both TJP’s actions, as well as WWE forcing me to sit through a match featuring someone who refers to himself as “The Duke of Dab” out loud where people can hear him:
Oh So THAT’S Why I Can’t Take His Entrance Seriously…
Buddy Murphy vs. Hideo Itami vs. Mustafa Ali
Maaaaaaaaan, this match. Coming into the episode I was super pumped to see two of these dudes tear each other apart while Ali flailed around like Kermit off of the top rope, but I think this main event forced me to come to terms with a number things:
1) No matter how much I love him or his hesitation dropkicks, it’s entirely possible that those in WWE who make these kinds of decisions may still not know exactly what they’re doing with Hideo Itami
2) Mustafa Ali may have plateaued as hard as he insisted Cedric Alexander had
3) Buddy Murphy’s pants are ridiculous. Did you get into an intense argument with a paper shredder? Did you narrowly escape a pack of wolves on your way to gorilla? Are Chris Sabin’s stupid TNA shorts your very own version of Marge’s Chanel suit? And remember when Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards would draw giant claw marks on their chest because they were The Wolves, but it made no sense because realistically why would they use their wolf paws to claw at themselves?
4) I’m pretty sure me still liking him after his dumb shorts made think this much about such a very specific era of TNA is a true testament to just how good Buddy Murphy is
If we revisit what was discussed during the opening match, Hideo Itami is someone who possesses that innate ability to create the most stunning and effortless violence. One thing we tend to forget about WWE is that when its performers are telling a story, they have to tell that story to an audience whose perception and understanding of their characters varies wildly from person to person. For instance, a casual WWE-only viewer isn’t going to immediately latch onto him as a natural and obvious threat the way a bunch of NOAH nerds who still call him KENTA are. Appreciating that some exposition is not for us while also appreciating the things we personally connect to is our own challenge, but should be the easiest thing in the world to do with Itami. So why is the man who held hundreds of thousands of people in the palm of his hand with every tease of a GTS yelling over and over to respect him? It’s too much. If he’s so hell-bent on proving that he’s the best, he doesn’t need to keep yelling it over and over during the match. It’s complete overkill, and makes him look weak and whiny going into his title match against Cedric when it’s goddamn f-cking KENTA.
I spent a lot of this match wishing it were just Murphy and Itami wrestling, but I think at this point I’m just frustrated with Ali. He and Cedric had a banger of a championship match, but he increasingly feels out of his depth. He’s not a bad wrestler by any stretch of the imagination, but no matter how much he does the Sasha Banks thing of throwing his body headlong into spots that should permanently wreck him, he doesn’t feel like a cohesive part of the match. Sure, I make fun of his Muppet-y nature, but it’s like he hasn’t figured out how to make that work against the strength and style of the other two. His Spanish Fly from the announcer desk was dope as hell, but all I can remember about it is how tortured the set-up seemed. The intelligibility of his small moments has to match up to the intensity of him absolutely murdering himself for the big ones, and until he figures out how to do that, he’s going to be eclipsed and outshone by people who haven’t been in the title fight as long as he has.
Buddy Murphy still rules. No critical feedback this episode, just a shiny gold star placed directly on his forehead.
Coming up next in this Babysitter’s Club Super Special, it’s a whole ass other episode, featuring the 205 Live debut of Lio Rush and what appears to be a wine glass full of milk!
Tony Nese vs. Akira Tozawa
Tony Nese is the next stop on Tozawa’s tour of redemption/biding time until they figure out what to do with him next. I love that Nese now has a summer vest for his abs, but also that he and his beef boy soulmate look like they crash-landed in the jungle and had to fashion outfits for the both of them out of a single sparkly flight suit. Between them they have an inhuman amount of abs and almost an entire article of clothing.
So both of these dudes are playing out a similar storyline to the one in the main event picture. However, being on a smaller scale makes the emotions a bit more raw since they have so much higher to climb. Tozawa’s been champion, but he’s also plummeted to the bottom and been respected by a friend and personal mentor. Tony Nese is still trying to prove that he’s more of the total package than Lex Luger and has ever right to be in the main event, but also has to do it in the shadow of his new best bro who is way cooler and better at everything they have in common. I love that the Cruiserweight division is just two fun luchadors, a whole bunch of sad, insecure dudes who are terrible at forming personal relationships, and Drew Gulak. But I digress.
Nese falls back into the same sort of match we usually get, but in this case it actually serves the moments of improvisation well, and makes them seem a lot more organic. If Nese has the size advantage but can also match his agility, Tozawa has to fall back on his intelligence and experience to try to catch Nese off-guard. This strategy also works especially well if you think about how if Nese consistently constructs and wrestles the same kind of match, he’s also going to be expecting the same response from his opponent. Let’s call it the Wrestling In New York Too Much Effect. If Nese’s norm is disrupted, then he’ll either be forced to adjust, or get frustrated and f-ck everything up because his abs are actually like little Capri Sun pouches full of self-doubt.
In the end, Tozawa gets the victory, but not before he uses a feat of strength to set Nese up for his finisher — the one advantage Nese had over him. Tozawa moves forward, but losing clean in this way chips even further into Nese’s self esteem. He can either take his anger out on his upcoming opponents and become a real asshole, or he can let it fester and eventually turn on Buddy Murphy, setting up a long-term feud between them. OR Beef Boys are forever and they’ll spend the rest of their days spotting each other at the gym and shaking each other’s protein powder. When you give someone depth of character, the logical possibilities are endless!
Lio Rush vs. Dewey James
I have a lot of complicated, critical opinions about Lio Rush, but it’s his first day here so we can get to those later. If he’s supposed to be a super athletic, super bratty, super rich (???) Superstar/moth, then I guess he’s done his job and accurately conveyed all of those things in this match against Dewey James. I still feel like he’s toeing the line of being an identity crisis wrestler, though. Identity crisis wrestlers are ones who need to have a nickname and then maybe a second nickname and also a taunt and also a signature catchphrase and then maybe one or two logos for gear and then t-shirts but none of them make any sense together. It’s too much. I know it’s the age of copping indie stuff for television, but take a stance here. Sure the indies have guys like Travis Banks and the Bucks, but they also have a dude named Grim Reefer and not one but TWO completely unrelated dudes named Drew Blood. Not everything needs to be co-opted.
Rush’s preternatural physical abilities are undeniable, and this Dewey James fellow is the perfect foil for him to show them off. One of Rush’s biggest weaknesses still is forgetting that wrestling moves are supposed to hurt, so having him square off against someone who won’t get any offense in is a great way to mask that.
Where Rush goes from here is a bit of a mystery. We’ve already got a talented, cocky call-up from NXT doing one hell of a job in Buddy Murphy, and he’s good enough that we don’t need another. Whether he’s there or not though, WWE has an amazing opportunity to mold someone from the get go who already exhibits a willingness to learn and can move like a wee baby Ricochet. They have the time to get him to shed all of his bad indie habits and turn him into something really special, which is super neat! Just give him a character who fits into the 205 Live ecosystem and he’s golden.
Sorry WWE, unfortunately Grim Reefer’s already taken.
Lucha House Party vs. The Brian Kendrick, Jack Gallagher, and Drew Gulak
To shake things up, this time around our usual show openers find themselves in an elimination match. If we’re lucky, these six dudes will keep wrestling each other with increasingly wacky stipulations. Go from all the rules to no rules! Maybe in a cage? Put Penelope on a pole with Judy Bagwell. A Street Food Street Fight where they just whip tamales and cheesesteaks at each other, I don’t even care. Why yes I AM advocating for logical matches in a long-term sequential narrative but also a slapstick free for all that ends up with Gulak taking a camote to the face. I want what I want, and I am absolutely positive it’s what Thomas Aquinis would have wanted as well.
Lucha House Party immediately take it to the other three, determined to make sure they don’t lose any members to elimination. It’s cut off, but watch the very beginning of this match on the network and not the condensed version above. I cannot stress enough how much I love the way Lucha House Party works together. Any time they skirt the one man in-two man out rule, it’s because they’re using tandem moves, or working as a cohesive unit. This is almost immediately contrasted by Gulak and Kendrick reminding us that when they break the rules it’s individually because internally they’re all arrogant jerks out for themselves, and it’s always with malicious intent. Tell the same story, but make it fashion.
Metalik is eliminated early on, and Dorado does his best to stay focused and not let the other guys get him frustrated (man they really need a name). Gulak goes after him as he’s on the top turnbuckle in a call back to their previous matches, but Dorado shakes him off because he’s learning. Gallagher then attempts to do the same thing in the opposite corner. It doesn’t bring Dorado down, but it distract him long enough for Kendrick to get up off the mat and successfully ground the cat man.
Dorado (as per usual) ends up taking most of the heat, so when Gulak gets his turn as the legal man he immediately sets out to turn him into a kitty-shaped pretzel. Since Dorado isn’t taking the bait, Gulak grabs him by the head and slams him into the mat causing his mask to “accidentally” fly off. Gulak and Gallagher laughing and pointing as Kalisto helps his teammate hide his face so he can put his mask on is such a small but wonderful encapsulation of their dynamic.
Gallagher picks up where Gulak left off, still trying to rile Dorado up by continually going for his mask. Kendrick tags in and does some fantastically violent things to Dorado’s shoulder and bicep. Dorado’s still distracted with trying to keep his unlaced mask on, so it’s easy to toss him in the corner where he’s at the mercy of Gulak and Gallagher. They attack him from the apron while the ref finally remembers that only one person can be in their at a time and turns away to stop Kalisto from saving his lucha pal. It doesn’t prove fruitful, however, as Dorado FINALLY pulls off a Golden Rewind that makes sense when he knocks Gallagher to the floor during his handspring against the ropes, and then flips back to catch Kendrick in a cutter. Bless.
With Kendrick eliminated, Gallagher steps back in the ring before Dorado has a chance to tag in Kalisto and stop getting beaten up. Gallagher and Gulak (Gulagher!) take turns wearing Dorado down, wisely going after the opposite arm of the one Kendrick tortured. He can’t rebound off the ropes if his arms are so f-cked up that he can’t do a handspring, after all. Dorado is left to rely on his legs as he escaped Gallagher with an enziguri, and then Gulak with a spinning heel kick. Gulak is staggered and Kalisto is all fired up, still doing the lucha taunt while holding onto the tag rope because he is the goodest boy. Dorado tries to crawl towards him to make the tag, but haha nope, Kendrick reappears to put a stop to it. Gulak is then able to tap Dorado out with a Gulock.
By keeping all of the focus on Dorado, Gulagher has ensured that Kalisto is also the freshest member of any team. Kalisto comes in hot, but he’s still outnumbered, and the submission specialists are able to slow him down. They can’t temper that frenetic energy for long, however, and in a gorgeous sequence Kalisto ends up kicking off of Gulak’s chest as he delivers a Salida del Sol to Gallagher. The crowd has been dead as dogshit this entire show, but the chorus of cheers from what appears to be every child in the building pairs nicely with my reaction of pawing at the screen whispering <’em>I love you fight forever you jerks.’
Gulak, still on the outside, has a staredown with Kalisto as he realizes it’s come down to him. Kalisto is the purest babyface since Ann Turner Cook, and, as he’s still wincing in pain, motions for Gulak to bring it. He’s still taken a fair amount of damage, so his energy has slowed way down. He pushes through, but Gulak isn’t ready for it to be over. Kalisto spams the taunt button to boost his momentum to try for another Salida Del Sol, but Gulak derails him on the rebound. In the end, Gulak goes after Kalisto’s mask, and is able to pull him into a Gulock.
Kalisto taps, but he taps because he’s protecting lucha tradition. Gulak cheats, but he very specifically cheats in an anti-luchador way. I too have read the brochure Nigel. Everyone stays in character, wrestles an intelligible match, and moves forward in a logical direction. Seriously I love you guys just fight forever you jerks!