The 205 Live Problem Isn’t As Big As You Think

“Huzzah!” they screamed, “for Triple H seized control of 205 Live from the nefarious Vince who is out of touch and doesn’t knows anything.”[1]

Maybe, just maybe, the above quote (which I made up) is happening enough for WWE to actually use optics and rumors to solve its 205 Live problems. Maybe, by convincing a certain section of WWE’s audiences that this is a Triple H Joint, and not a Vince McMahon Product, they can miraculously open eyes.

If that doesn’t happen? Let’s talk about the options on the table.

The Issue

If you’ve ever watched WWE’s 205 Live, you’ve probably realized the central problem with the show. It’s impossible to miss. The audience — by and large — spends most of the match sitting on their hands.

And a quiet crowd is deadly. Not only does it make it harder for the wrestlers performing, but it signals to the home audience that the show isn’t worth caring about.

In the more dire times of this show’s run, this malaise was credited to any number of things, starting with its bland original champion (TJ Perkins), and then the lazy repeated matches from Raw. Now, unfortunately, the show’s audiences have a new problem: the two-hour slog that is SmackDown Live.

And even though SmackDown Live has become as tepid as lukewarm tap-water, the paying crowd is there for that SmackDown Live taping and not for a 205 Live one. Tim Kail’s written about this, that this is a matter of how you perceive the show, and 205 Live’s most-boisterous supporter PastaSauca has concurred, that 205 simply doesn’t have its own audience.

And by having 205 Live exist as content piggy-backing on SmackDown and Raw — remember when audiences watched as WWE staffers taped purple tape on top of Raw’s red ropes — it branded the show as cheap. As “not what you signed up for.” It’s something the cruiserweight wrestlers have been working tirelessly to undo ever since.

But, still, the fans attending 205 Live do not obscure the fact that 205 Live is the veggies. It’s what they cannot skip, because of the dark match, a promised-off-air match that features SmackDown Live’s top-tier talent in a match exclusive to those in the arena.

For the vast majority of its existence, 205 Live required that fans tune from USA to the WWE network, after watching 2 hours of SmackDown Live, the night after those same fans likely watched 3 hours of Raw. Hell, some of the time, those same fans had also just watched at least 3 hours of a WWE PPV on the network. At a certain point, saturation kicks in.

And so that saturation used to be an excuse, until the Mixed Match Challenge started popping audiences from 10 to 10:30pm. And while that means it’s possible for 205 Live to not die on the vine at that hour, WWE just made it harder on 205 Live, by having it go on later.

But even while I don’t hold the 205 Live audience’s silence against it, I certainly want to change it.

I was there, the night that the poison[2] was injected into 205 Live

Screen Shot 2018 02 11 at 5 34 52 PM

See that guy in the 205 Live ring? That’s Neville, the then-king of the Cruiserweights, the night after SummerSlam weekend, being interrupted by Enzo Amore.

Since that moment, everything went kinda wrong and kinda right. On the darkest timeline side of the coin, Neville soon disappeared, leaving the spotlight on The Zo Train. While this sadly meant that The Geordie King may be done with the company, it also gave time for Drew Gulak to get over, and for the storyline of him betraying Tony Nese to be amazing stuff.

At times, 205 Live seemed like it was on the verge of ascending, thanks to how crowds could not get enough of Enzo Amore. If you went to a WWE house show during the end of 2017, you heard that crowds still popped big time for Enzo’s music and that people still wanted to chant along with him.

A few more months of that, there could have been a program leading to a big match at Mania. But we know how January 2018 went, and with Enzo’s evil past catching up to him, immolating his career.

205 Live was once again in trouble.[3]

What trouble, you ask?

I don’t think 205 Live is in jeopardy of being cancelled. WWE needs original, exclusive content on its network, and 205 Live is cheap to produce. The trouble, I’d say, is that its wrestlers are still being kept off in this tiny universe, and it doesn’t seem to help them.

Look at what being a 205 Live champ has done for the previous title-holders. Thinking about that past, minus Tozawa, you almost want to keep your faves from winning that belt.

A show where talented wrestlers go to be wasted and ignored isn’t good for anyone, so the 205 Live needs to overcome that baseline of expectation.

What Works:

And before I bang on about what’s wrong with the show, let’s talk about how there’s not much actually wrong here.

The show’s got a ton of interesting drama, with the bitter rivalries between Tony Nese and Drew Gulak and Jack Gallagher and Hideo Itami, as well as the friendly competition of Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali.

Granted, the crowd doesn’t give a damn about Itami, but let’s get some pre-taped segments together to show on the screen, stuff where he and Jack are interviewed elsewhere, and give the crowd a story, so they can care about him.

We’ve only started to see what Drake Maverick, the former Rockstar Spud, is adding, with slight dashes of comedy and monologues that press the importance of 205 Live. His earnestness is definitely worth considering. Also, he’s led to Akira Tozawa’s Vince McMahon impression, which has me nearly crying tears of joy every week.

Everyone has their own solutions for how to fix the show, so I thought it would be best to run through their pros and cons and explain what I’d do.

Don’t change the name

Considering Rich Swann’s arrest, Enzo being a complete dirtbag, Austin Aries leaving, Kalisto flopping, Neville’s unknown status within the company, and everyone hating TJP for his own extracurriculars, 205 Live’s championship lineage is troubled to say the least.

Some fans have argued that 205 Live is cursed and that the cruiserweights are seen as secondary citizens. Fans have been passively instructed to think this purple brand is filled with talent meant to be kept away from the main roster.

The issue here? A massive rebranding risks tossing out what good is associated with the show. For example, when I think of excellent wrestling within WWE, 205 Live is one of the few shows I jump to.

Maybe that’s not the case with all — it likely isn’t considering the way crowds react — but to build a new brand up from nothing is harder than it is to fix a lagging one.

Don’t get rid of the show all together

After Enzo’s trouble came out, people flat out said “okay shut it down, kill the 205 Live thing, it’s over. Folding them into the bigger brands would give these guys more importance.

But, you think this division, which isn’t in the best health as it is, could have a chance of surviving without dedicated time? Go find a Delorean and talk to the Divas. There’s no moral imperative for equality it comes to the cruiserweights, so WWE would never have a reason to listen to pushback about the 205 and under guys having less of a presence.

As it is now, 205 Live is a good thing, because matches on Raw directly promote content on the the WWE Network, which certainly needs all the original programming it can get.

I wish you could film 205 Live at Full Sail

This is one of the better ideas. Take 205 Live out of the basketball arenas they film SmackDown Live in, because this brand and roster did best in the smaller scale of Full Sail during the original Cruiserweight Classic.

The only issue here is likely a deal-breaking one: moving this show to Full Sail probably increases the budget for the show, taking away one of the perks for WWE: that it’s cheap to pull off.

Taping at another venue on means paying for a whole new filming and touring crew, rather than simply adding an hour onto the existing schedule.

You also gain the spoiler problem if you decide to move 205 Live to Full Sail, as evidenced by people who skip NXT TV and just watch TakeOvers.

Instead, let’s do more live shows

Remember that short-lived 205 Live Tour? The one that also had Bray Wyatt vs Matt Hardy? The weirdest thing about it, at least for me, was that it was booked in far-off cities, nothing convenient. Reports suggested it was a hell of a time.

Run monthly live shows that are barn-burners in more populous areas — stay away from Poughkeepsie, NY — but stay working smaller venues, which that show did.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from attending indie shows is that those more intimate venues allow for a potentially-deeper connection between wrestlers and talent.

Next, Let’s Get Weird

Yes, I know that 205 Live’s motto is that Wrestling Comes First, but the pairing of Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt on the 205 Live tour has me thinking they were onto something. What if, on top of 205 Live pushing its tournament — which is seen as of paramount importance in righting the ship — one smaller Raw segment per week gave more time to its new GM Drake Maverick, in a pre-taped moment backstage.

He doesn’t always have to be talking to 205 Live talent, but this could highlight Maverick’s character work (proven when his Rockstar Spud character made segments of TNA worth watching). Spud and Matt Hardy worked together in TNA, so I’m sure His Woken Brilliance could work with Maverick to produce vignettes that make audiences want to see more of the man at the helm of 205 Live.

Wondering why I want WWE to get weird? Mixed Match Challenge thrives by breaking outside of the boxes that confine its wrestlers on other shows. And a mixture of tournament wrestling and bonkers sports entertainment has a better chance than an hour of pure pro wrestling, especially when it’s being pitched at an audience who came here for pro wrestling.

Focus on Audience Members Who Are Here **For 205 Live**

As I’ve noted, the WWE audience has seen a lot of wrestling in back to back nights by the time 205 Live hits the air. So, one thing to do (that isn’t enough to fix this) is to do you do?

Give fans the opportunity to get up and get excited. Promote 205 Live as the people’s show and create a standing-area only area closer to the ring, to give them a better view, regardless of where their SmackDown Live tickets are for. Give this show the feel of an indie show, where fans are hyped to be there.

Accentuate the positives

One issue with 205 Live is that its smaller wrestlers don’t look as big in these larger arenas. Well? Stop filming 205 Live in the same way you do everything else. This show’s talent is of a different size, so they shouldn’t be shown in the same ways.

Rethink the angles you can use for this show, and create a new intimacy with closer-in spots. Maybe put the commentary desk somewhere else, like Raw does. Make it feel special.

Flesh out the Lucha House Party

Right now, Kalisto, Lince Dorado and Gran Metalik currently make up a faction known as The Lucha House Party. And while that sounds 1990’s Cool on paper, we know nothing about these guys, unless you’ve got a decent memory and realized that announcer Vic Joseph was making a wisecrack when talkin about the Lucha Things that Kalisto would be doing during a cruiserweight tournament match last week.

So, while the tournament matches are taking a lot of the time up on 205 Live now, please develop characters for these masked men. Otherwise, they’re generic jobbers to the stars.

Oh and one other thing

Sorry, but Vic Joseph isn’t working. Tom Phillips needs to take that spot. And give Drake Maverick gets a spot on commentary during the bigger matches. Maybe they’re trying to prevent oversaturation on him, but it feels to me like he’s barely getting any time on screen.

It’s Wow Time

In the coming weeks, 205 Live will see 6 more matches in the Cruiserweight Championship Tournament, building towards a WrestleMania 34 match. So, during these matches, it’s time to put on even better matches that are more-must-see than anything 205 Live’s seen before, because you need to build the hype for Mania.

Unfortunately, it’s not hard to see that the best-case scenario for the tournament’s finals match is, sadly, that it steals the Kickoff Show, as it will likely not make the main card for WrestleMania.

Why am I so … down on the odds for this? Because we’re less than 2 months away from WrestleMania and I can’t see a match in these brackets that can make it into the constantly-dense Mania card. Not during a night where Ronda Rousey has her first WWE PPV match.

The wrestlers in this bracket that I can see with a hope of making it to the finals are Cedric Alexander, Roderick Strong, Mustafa Ali, Drew Gulak, and Mark Andrews. And as much as I respect those wrestlers, I’ve seen Dean Ambrose fight on the pre-show, and I’ve seen the Usos never make it to the main card.

But, if the simmer of the tournament builds to a boiling-hot Cruiserweight Championship match that lights up the boards on social media? A match filled with emotion and impact and crazy moves, that drives people to scream about how good it is, then you’ve got a solid foundation for 205 Live to be on stable ground after Mania. Stable enough ground for the Raw talent to not be afraid of being seen on screen with the cruiserweights.

Yes, I’m downright hopeful about the future of 205 Live.

 

[1] This blog will never be a Vince McMahon apologist platform, but I think that we as fans — myself certainly included — love to believe our own head-canons, and often allow it to lead us astray. Nothing is likely as simple or straight-forward as wrestling fans will argue it is, especially when it comes to behind the scenes incidents and personalities.

[2] *Eric Bischoff Smile*

[3] 

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