Qualifying matches were held throughout various independent promotions during the lead up, making the event truly cross-promotional and revolutionary for professional wrestling.
Suffice it to say, the tournament was a rollicking success.
The main tournament, shown to television audiences through a series of weekly episodes on the WWE Network, was a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the Indy wrestling world, placing several internet darlings from all corners of the globe against one another. Dream matches abound, and the results were highly entertaining. I could nitpick and say it went a bit too long, but reality is, it was still very good wrestling (and truth be told, WWE addressed and fixed that issue with future tournaments, showing them over the span of a weekend).
The fans loved it, and the WWE higher ups also seemed pleased. A way to capitalize on the success of the new brand and its competitors was only natural. And thus, “205 Live” was born.
After the cruiserweight tournament took the wrestling world by storm, World Wrestling Entertainment was eager to craft their own path for lightweight wrestling action (and, let’s be honest, needed more live content for the network).
The results are in, and oh boy, are they mixed (at best). The tournament matches, so well received, simply weren’t translating to a weekly show.
Well, the simplest answer to give is that perhaps fans were hard pressed to care anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, the in-ring athleticism was still on full display. But without the hook of a tournament, the matches simply didn’t mean much. They merely existed as exhibition contests of sorts. And more often than not, that’s perfectly fine. Many wrestling fans are more than happy to watch two competitors compete in what should simply be a good match. Most WWE fans, however, are not.
Conditioned for decades to expect juicy storylines and hooks for each and every match, “205 Live” was seen as a bunch of wrestlers doing great moves, but without much of a reason. Add to that the fact the show was spending scant amounts of time developing characters, and the model which was created for the weekly program was clearly broken. Having it go live after a two hour “SmackDown Live!” Broadcast, it should be said, doesn’t create the most enthusiastic live crowds either.
With such a plethora of professional wrestling available for viewing (a beautiful dilemma, to be sure) fans were starting to put “205 Live” on the bottom of the “to watch” pile. However; lately something has changed. The show features.. actual stories. Yeah, some of them may be silly (Noam Dar’s pronunciation of Alicia Fox’s name, Noam Dar’s throwing of the wrong wrestlers bag into a river, Noam Dar in general). But it is still something. Something tangible for fans to gravitate to. Something for them to hold onto it.
And the evidence is there that it’s working (Dar, for instance, has Twitter accounts and ten-hour loop YouTube videos highlighting his antics). It seems WWE has finally gotten around to making the show more than an also ran. More than just “Wrestler A versus Wrestler B”.
Will it work long term? Has enough damage already been done to the brand to make viewers returning unlikely? Well, that’s not the easiest question to answer. One hopes the tide will turn, however, as the sow boasts an incredible roster (TJP, Rich Swann, Cedric Alexander, and even the aforementioned Dar, who is a delightful scamp if I’ve ever seen one).
“205 Live” has seemingly improved the quality and experience of each show simply by paying a little more attention to the details. And sure, changing the name and perhaps taping it would allow for more fresher, energized fans to aid the look, sound, and feel of the product.
And perhaps it wouldn’t be the worst idea to try some show-specific things, either. Maybe a ranking system for the competitors, similar to UFC weight classes. Maybe some sort of specialty match that it can call its own to both blow off feuds and give it a hook fans can instantly relate to the program (a ladder match, championship scramble, gauntlet, etc).
The show isn’t exactly where it needs to be. But it’s far from where it once was, as well.
“205 Live” has steadily improved. The question remains: Is it enough?