Hey guys, we’re still playing catch-up. Head injuries have no respect for the schedules or deadlines, so I truly appreciate you sticking with it, even if you disagree wildly with me sometimes (all the time?)! Part two of playing catch up finds us adrift in a sea of cruiserweights with Penelope the Piñata no longer anchoring us to shore. Does the era of 205 Live being the one show that makes sense and also totally rules end with her tissue paper body being torn to shreds? Not with a bang but with me quietly whimpering ‘Noooooooo!’ at my laptop? Welp, I guess there’s only one way to find out!
Before we do, though, I’ve gotta make our usual plea to use those ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons to let everyone know this column is still kickin’, albeit slowly and with more effort than usual. We’re digging up, stupid!
Since we’re getting caught up, I’m going to attempt a Coles Notes version of these two episodes so we can hustle through to the remaining two in a separate column. This is in part to make it easier for everyone so you don’t have to slog through eight thousand words about which Muppet Immanuel Kant would liken Mustafa Ali to* or whatever tangent my brain gets on, but also because no one wants to spend any words talking about TJP. And there’s so much TJP y’all. So take my hands, boss, and join me as we go back in time to the very, very recent past!
*Heart of Gonzo, body of Kermit. Hold a seance with ol’ Immanuel and prove me wrong, bitches
The year was 2018, the date was July 3rd, and Tony Nese’s number of abs was still completely ridiculous. I was wondering if 205 Live could keep up its streak of being the best, but then lo and behold here comes TJP whining about something. Who knows what it could be, his promos all sounds the same at this point. Before he can get too hecked up, Noam Dar appears like a champagne supernova in the sky to rescue us. Dar’s been off injured for basically ever — something you can tell immediately by looking at the shiny new gear made in anticipation of not knowing his eventual post-recovery muscle size. My notes for this just say “scuzzy Scottish sex pest vs. dabbing gamergate” and I’m pretty okay with that being the most in-depth analysis of this squash match. I’m also okay with Dar’s returning role being a pervy, crazy-eyed wildcard as long as said perviness remains consensual for all parties.
Also this is Noam Dar’s dog. Noam Dar(‘s dug) for champion!
Tozawa’s momentum went up slightly against Nese the week prior, but now he’s back facing off against A Local Competitor. Not to worry, though, because it’s just so Lio Rush can wander out and creep on him. Does he want a match? Does he want a date? Does he need a refill on that glass of milk? We’ll find out next week! (a few paragraphs down probably)
Here’s where you’re probably gonna have some feelings about my response to this match. I have a lot of feelings about my response to this match. So many feelings, in fact, that it took almost this entire crippling depression hiatus to sort them out. You know I think Buddy Murphy is — and sorry to get technical on you here — ‘dope af.’ You know I generally like Ali but am constantly conflicted by his obvious athletic talent being overshadowed by him still being pretty green (and various other songs by The Jam). I didn’t love this match, and before you either stop reading (that’s cool, no hard feelings) or start pelting me with tomatoes and booing loudly (that’s not cool, please get out of my house and also stop wasting produce, stranger), let me explain why.
One of my initial issues with pairing these two together was that Murphy and Ali failed to gel in the ring, and what worked with Cedric Alexander’s style should have also worked Ali but didn’t. I said that Ali felt out of step, and then I made some Minor Threat jokes and we all had a laugh except for Ali fans who think I’m completely bonkers. Now we find ourselves at the pinnacle of their feud, and while they seem to have figured out how to work together better, the match itself doesn’t work for me at all. The short explanation is “it doesn’t make sense and I hate it.” The long explanation is…well, the bulk of the column, probably!
In reality, Murphy and Ali were given a very long time for a no disqualification match but hampered by the WWE directive to limit their use of weapons. Now, when you’re forced to tell a lengthy story with such meager allowances, every action that breaks the rules has to be that much more meaningful. For instance, in what I consider to be the greatest deathmatch of all time, it took so long for either Megumi Kudo or Combat Toyoda to actually interact with the singular hardcore element that most of the match is spent avoiding the electrified barbed wire surrounding the ring. The suspense is built up to such a high degree that when one of them (no spoilers on 22-year-old matches here, folks!) finally does collide with the barbed wire in a cloud of sparks and smoke, the gravitas of that moment is almost overwhelming. Now, I’m not saying either Ali or Murphy were ever going to rise to the gold standard set by two joshi legends, but the basic principles still absolutely apply to their match.
The gradual escalation of rule breaking crests (or so we think) with Ali using the ring stairs to help him superplex Murphy. This comes late in a match where the majority of Murphy’s time has been spent absolutely manhandling Ali, specifically focusing on his back. He’s done this before, and again it makes sense because Ali’s finisher requires the extension of his back and core muscles, and if you disable that articulation point, his strongest offensive move is rendered useless. So, aside from needing a cool spot and the stairs being one of the only things available to them, how the fuck does an unstable base that requires you to bend at your core just as much without it help you suplex someone? Violence loses its meaning if it doesn’t work within the context of the match.
This triumphant moment for Ali wouldn’t be the end of the match. Murphy gets Ali tied up in the ropes and proceeds to ram his knee into Ali’s skull repeatedly. Ali is almost knocked out entirely, but Murphy is still brash and overconfident, and isn’t satisfied with the amount of damage he’s done. He drags Ali from the ropes, and while holding both of his arms, gives Ali another brutal knee to the head. And it looks cool as shit. Just brutal and unnecessary in the best way. But it’s not the end of the match. Murphy has a tendency to pull out these incredible moments of violence that emphasize his strength and skill, but then have them be completely negated. I know Ali is “all heart” and never gives up, but come on. What does Murphy have to do, literally beat him to death with a hammer? And if Ali is the skinny underdog with a heart of gold, why does this match make me completely okay with Murphy trying to literally beat him to death with a hammer?Murphy sets up big moments to show off but then buries them, and that makes them look ineffective in the end. His biggest strong boi moves looking ineffective detracts from one of the most important and central themes of the match: Ali’s resilience.
Being told over and over that Ali is “all heart” has more than established his primary never-say-die, always-be-keep-going character. This match requires Ali to show a high level of personally-motivated aggression, and bless his heart he tries real hard. Without any real preceding tension other than Murphy wanting the same thing he does and being kind of a dismissive jerk about it, though, why would he? Like what has Murphy really done specifically to Ali that he hasn’t done and wouldn’t do to any of the other cruiserweights not named Tony Nese? With Ali it’s not a case of poking the bear, unless that bear is the Snuggle Bear. Shit, Snuggle Bear even bumps like Ali. At this point I feel like an extreme rule for Ali to break is like, posting fanart without credit, or secretly double-dipping nachos in catering. Tonight on 205 Live, Mustafa Ali rips the tags off of his mattress and drinks milk a day past its suggested best before date! Without any additional layer of motivation, the only extreme thing is how far Ali is pushed into being a one-dimensional character. And that’s not a particularly interesting or engaging dimension.
Previous matches in the series have ended in ways that make each competitor look strong, but now that it’s all come to a head, both men walk away looking that much weaker. And again, I like both of these wrestlers, but in a show predicated on the singular goal of being Cruiserweight Champ, this match alone doesn’t give me any reason to want to see them advance to that level.
Noam Dar’s dog for Cruiserweight Champion!
If you’re still with me and haven’t closed the browser window to tweet angry things at me about Mustafa Ali and how I must have literal brain damage if I didn’t love that match, let’s go back to the future to July 10th. Tony Nese’s abs are still threatening to to take over his entire upper body, he and Buddy Murphy are still gym bros united by their passion for core exercises and an over-inflated sense of self-worth constantly in conflict with their own self-doubt, and also Kalisto is here! And he’s so SHINY! Shredder could never.
For important reasons we’ll get to later, WWE has ignored my plea for Lucha House Party and Gulak And The Rest to fight forever, truly setting us adrift on memory bliss. I begrudgingly accept it for those same reasons, but I will never stop advocating for Gulak to wrestle lucha dudes and their lucha-based friends. Technically I’m writing this from the future so I know that’s true. I also know that Buddy Murphy is out here to support his fellow Beef Boy, and he’s buried a whole bunch of pent-up angst about losing to Mustafa Ali. Nese is still smarting from the previous week’s loss to Tozawa. Oh boy, I sure hope none of this manifests itself in an aggressive, completely misdirected way!
Hahaha nevermind of course it does. Boys are so emotional and have so many feelings and, quite frankly, can’t ever be trusted to make rational decisions. Nese and Kalisto go back and forth, the latter showing off his lucha skills while Nese responds in kind. Matching flip for flip isn’t going to accomplish much, so Nese takes a page out of the John Silver chapter of the Long Island Beef Boy handbook and attempts a biel. Kalisto apparently knows his thicc New York wrestlers and easily out-maneuvers Nese.
While this may not be the clash of styles I requested, Kalisto’s lucha arsenal and speed force Nese to adapt and break the monotony of his normal match routine, which is really all I ever want. Kalisto frustrates him enough that when he does his one-armed powerbomb, it’s an organic, aggressive reaction instead of seeming like he’s checking off a box in his list of signature spots. In a short amount of time they’ve already accomplished the cause, effect, and logical escalation that Buddy Murphy and Ali couldn’t for me. Wow, all those words to explain why the match didn’t engage me and I simply had to wait for a Tony Nese match. Who could have known?
Commentary mentions that Murphy has been noticeably irritated all day prior to the show, so it’s no surprise that he falls victim to the dreaded matracas. Colloquial Spanish translates matraca to ‘nuisance,’ which is a wonderful detail when you consider how much it annoys the heels of 205 Live. Murphy goes after Metalik and Dorado, which winds up being an even greater distraction for Kalisto and Nese. Kalisto catches Nese on the outside, but still tries to keep things calm instead of taking further advantage. He orders Murphy to the back because he is pure and good and doesn’t want the distraction, just a fair fight with a noisemaker soundtrack. Nese has way too many feelings and can’t express them in a healthy way, so of course this all ends in ~shenanigans.
This seems like a very quick jump into a new feud after the Lucha House Party spent all that time being turned into pain pretzels, but I’m into it. Murphy and Nese are both trying to get on an upward trajectory after continued blows to their already rocky self-esteem, and therefore creating conflict where it didn’t previously exist because that’s the only way they know how to deal with things. Lucha House Party weren’t just beaten in a series of matches, but rather had their culture and traditions that define them completely torn down by a dude who loves PowerPoint presentations and wearing cowboy hats he finds in gas stations across America. Men on both sides have so much to prove for such wildly different reasons and will take equally different approaches to do it. Kalisto portrays everything Ali does but has the experience and control to do it better. Like Gulak was able to push Dorado over time, Kalisto is already bringing out the best in Nese. Buddy Murphy’s anger may be misdirected, but contextually his innocent targets make sense without them even doing anything.
Also Nigel is now calling them the Loser House Party.
Nigel and Noam Dar’s dog for co-champions of 205 Live…and also my heart?
These breezy recaps so we can get to the goods aren’t as breezy as promised, so thankfully there’s a Lio Rush match to hurry us along. Notorious Nice Guy Colin Delaney gets to play Local Talent this episode, but isn’t here to wrestle as much as he’s here to be a background player to the interactions of Rush and Tozawa. Rush puts the match on pause to go get Tozawa a chair, but he’s mad SO HE’S FINE STANDING, THANK YOU. Rush wins easily because the actual wrestling is of zero consequence (sorry, Colin), and they need to hurry up and get to the post-match banter. Tozawa knows he himself is great, and as good as Rush is he hasn’t done anything of note since he got here, just beat some scrubs (Colin, seriously, I am so sorry) and run his mouth. As much as Tozawa is trying to raise himself back up to where he was before, the challenge has been thrown for Rush to prove himself harder than a girl who just openly admitted to reading comic books.
Whoa, hey, Cedric Alexander! Remember that guy? He’s back! In main event form! Cedric wants to face Handsome Murder Prince Hideo Itami because he recognizes and respects that Itami is a legend in his own time, and beating him adds prestige to his title run and puts further distance between his current championship and his past failures. Itami finally gets the title shot he thinks he deserves, as well as his chance to prove that the physical injuries that completely derailed his career — and his life in general — are behind him and he can once again function at the high level he was used to before they occurred. Weird how my concussion-addled brain and I relate to him the most, eh?
Just like you have to adjust to an altered way of life during an extended physical recovery, Itami similarly has to adjust to a position in WWE that’s built on a legacy a huge part of the WWE Universe has never heard of. He knows what he’s capable of, but a reset button was hit when he came to WWE and was introduced to an audience whose only exposure was by and large the hype promos telling them that he was good and they should be excited for him to be there. After making that portion of wrestling fans believe the hype, he had to hit the reset button twice more because of injuries. These each came at a time where WWE had hit fast-forward on their attempts to evolve and catch up to an also-shifting world of wrestling outside of their own company. That’s so many buttons.
When you’re sidelined for so long you already miss a lot, but so much has changed in WWE between his initial injury and now. A career path is supposed to be an arc, not a demoralizing Sisyphean ordeal spanning actual years. I’m legitimately mystified and kind of personally offended when I see people saying that Itami sucks or WWE should just give up on him already because a) they’re astoundingly incorrect, and b) no seriously that opinion is bad and you should feel bad. Those people could have very well come from that audience who know Itami and not KENTA, so for them it’s like Tozawa asked of Lio Rush: What have you done here?
Cedric said his plan was to put distance between himself and Itami to take away his striking opportunities, but as soon as Itami breaks the seal Cedric tries to go strike for strike. He’s more than aware of Itami’s abilities, but his desperate need to prove himself worthy of hanging onto “the big one” foolishly leads him straight into the path of Itami’s waiting murderkicks.
This match drew analagous parallels with both the triple-threat match Itami won to get here, and Cedric’s previous title defense against Buddy Murphy. Much like Murphy, Itami is able to temper Cedric’s kinetic energy that can often get out of control. He paces out the match with a combination of submissions and absolutely kicking the beans out of Cedric. Cedric has a tendency to let all that boundless kinetic energy overtake him, causing him to rush his spots. Jumping the gun on that timing can really detract from the flow of a match, so going up against people like Murphy and Itami who can take that out of the equation really makes Cedric shine. Itami tries to use what worked against his previous two opponents, but Cedric — almost out of sheer instinct — is able to power through. It’s ultimately that instinct that helps him get past Itami, but not before getting the ever-living shit kicked out of him.
There are a few rough spots in the match, but there are also moments of brilliance. Cedric shouting ‘SHOW ME SOMETHING!’ after giving Itami a quick facewash in the corner like he’s Samoa Joe giving no fucks about Kenta Kobashi, for one. Also, it’s really interesting how a normal title match saw more visible wearing down of an opponent, and more ‘heart’ and perseverance than the No-DQ match whose entire story was trying to convey exactly that. Sure I’m not thrilled with the ending (sorry Ced!), but at the end of the day it’s another building block in the ascendancy to someone taking the belt from them — something that, more and more, will be both their greatest accomplishment, and Cedric’s greatest failure.
And hey, isn’t that exactly what Noam Dar’s dog deserves?