Hey kittens! Welcome to my inaugural recap of 205 Live, WWE’s most watchable show. They’ve got some flips, some fists, and…well, even more flips, actually. Before we take a look at everything that went down on Tuesday night’s show, be sure to follow WithSpandex on Twitter here, our beloved sportsbros at Uproxx Sports here, and me here. I do not do flips.
We’ve got two matches on the docket, so let’s get to it. You can follow along on the WWE Network, or just go in blind! It’s 205 Live! We have fun here!
The Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher vs. Kalisto and Lince Dorado with Gran Metallik
Between the dance-off on SmackDown Live and the shirts the lucha fellows are wearing, I am very excited for the middle-aged white dude on the creative team who recently rediscovered House Party during a Peachtree TV movie marathon and thought ‘Yes! Yes that’s the way I’ll connect with today’s youth!’ But if we’re being really real, if we don’t get a Tisha Campbell appearance on WWE television that guy can also rot in hell.
This is a fun match that manages to pack a lot of contextual storytelling into a short period of time. Once sworn enemies, Kendrick and Gallagher now work together after presumably being united by their love of the ‘novelty’ category of the spandex section of the fabric store. Drew Gulak joins the commentary team armed with pamphlets to remind them of the dangers of lucha libre, as well as the benefits of a grounded, submission-based offense.
Much like Gulak, Kendrick (The Kendrick?) and Gallagher are able to put their skills to good use against the competing members of the Lucha House Party. Where a submission-based style should be a clash with the high-flying, injury-defying lucha style, they actually end up complementing each other. It gives a sense of purpose to the two contrasting elements: the luchadors have to figure out how to maintain their offense while also avoiding getting caught on the mat. Kendrick and Gallagher both have lucha capabilities, but have to do what they can to navigate what’s happening both above them as well as around them and try to lock in submissions without putting themselves at risk of being countered. Like, say they want to get Kalisto down from the top rope. They don’t want to climb the turnbuckles and leave their necks exposed to a Salida Del Sol, but they also need to be wary when they’re on the mat so as not to leave enough separation to set him up for a Del Sol Driver. It’s called powerclashing, and they do it because they can!
Gulak manages to strengthen his common bond with the other guys who hate fun by knocking “Lindsey Dorito” off of the top turnbuckle while the ref isn’t looking. This allows Kendrick to finish him off with a Captain’s Hook. The opener is a good use of all six men to start a two-match show off hot, but also further cement Lucha House Party as the kind of pure babyfaces you really want to get behind. I mean sure, it’s a little bit…awkward…given the current political climate and WWE’s staunch Republican alignment that the white guys want to get rid of the ‘unsafe’ Latinx style on ‘their’ show, but…uhh…205 Live! We have fun…here?
Cedric Alexander (c) vs. Buddy Murphy
Where the first match reveled in simplified but referential black and white storytelling to define the heel/face dynamic, the main event goes beyond the past two months of build to present a nuanced, emotional title defense. And I am into it.
Buddy Murphy came from NXT with the singular goal of being champion, but also the privilege and entitlement of someone who lacks the self-awareness to understand what’s driving their desire to win it. His opening montage highlights how hard he’s worked to cut weight, and how much intense training he’s undergone — basically, ‘I worked out a bunch even though that’s my actual job and also I had to drink a lot of water.’ The struggle to stay hydrated is so real, so I’ll at least give him that.
But it’s that singular fixation on achieving the goal he’s set for himself that doesn’t let him look objectively at the people around him. For instance, Hideo Itami also came up from NXT, but before that he had to battle back back from a soul-crushing injury, and then do it all over again. Itami reaches the cusp of something important and has his momentum halted by a thing he can’t control; an experience that leaves a person frustrated and demoralized. Now he’s fighting to prove he deserves to be where he is, and go forward from there. Watch last week’s show, it was a whole ~thing. Buddy Murphy, by surface comparison is just bored with his own stagnation at Full Sail.
Envy is a source of anxiety because it betrays the deficits we see in ourselves that we may not want to, or even be capable of admitting, and our fears of what will happen should they be exposed. The malignant kind of envy that Murphy exhibits can be used as a strong, even manic motivational tool; it fed his drive to cut weight and put in the work to be eligible to compete on 205 Live. But that malicious pursuit of the title belt without any kind of situational or self-awareness also leads to wreckless, destructive behaviour and unconscious self-sabotage. Whereas Itami is fully aware of and informed by his own insecurities, Murphy’s subconscious fears present themselves as an almost sociopathic bravado.
Cedric won the title on the grandest stage of them all after Mustafa constantly reminding him of his inabilities to ‘win the big one.’ The match was two dudes with a lot of heart who worked hard, and love their families even more than they love properly crediting fanart. After WrestleMania they approach each other respectfully as peers. Murphy just keeps showing up and being an asshole.
Almost right away, Murphy goes after Cedric’s back. It’s a smart move, as it’s central to putting him away for good. Cedric needs his back unharmed for both the core strength and the impact of the Lumbar Check. He needs it for the rotation in his superkick, and setting up the Neuralyzer. Even if he tries to fall back on strikes, Murphy is still taking away all of his best offense. As he continually works Cedric’s back, commentary intones that Murphy has been watching hours of footage and studying his opponent. If he’s indeed done that, then he knows that Cedric relies on that heart and soul people talk about, and will still try to push through, even if it means inflicting further damage to himself in the process.
As Murphy continues, Cedric grows increasingly surprised by Murphy’s capabilities. an early kickout at one has him perplexed. Another kickout has him shook. He’s walking into the match thinking that his stamina and massive amounts of daily cardio will give him the edge, but Murphy keeps pushing through himself, and getting back up. Neither of them fully realize that it’s not their athleticism that is the great equalizer, it’s their own self-doubt.
When the fight spills to the outside, Cedric triumphantly stands atop the announce table in front of his hometown crowd. That moment of pride and accomplishment doesn’t last, as Murphy sweeps his legs out from underneath him, then follows that up by slamming his back into the apron (the hardest part of the ring, as we’re led to believe). With every strike to his back, Cedric’s creeping insecurity of not being able to win the big one and live up to people’s expectations moves a little closer to the forefront. Along with it comes the possibility that he’ll end up not just losing, but being humiliated in front of his family and friends. As much as his perseverance is the adrenaline and ‘heart’ commentary keeps mentioning, Cedric’s fear of letting everyone down burns just as deeply as Murphy’s fear of mediocrity.
Cedric goes the distance and is able to retain, but it’s a close call. Moreover, it’s a great chapter in a great story. If you know anything about me, you’ll know I get all boned up about self-referential long-term sequential narratives. This is giving me everything I want, and the possibility of so much more. The narrative is a classic one, but it that remains classic for a reason: it’s so goddamn easy to identify with. Envy, insecurity, working hard and being passed over, the crippling fear of never living up to the potential others see in you. Sometimes we’re the Cedric, but we’ve all been the Buddy.
One of the things 205 Live is great at is allowing the ring to be the stage upon which the performers tell the story, with everything surrounding it just being the set up (as it should be). Wrestling tropes come from a black and white world, but this show — and especially this match — are really wonderful reminders of what can happen when you paint in shades of grey and do it well. It’s about nuanced, layered character development, but also sometimes it’s just about a guy in a suit who gets annoyed by noisemakers and people who dress up like cats. It’s 205 Live. We have fun here!