- January 23rd marked the beginning of a new era in professional wrestling. No, I don't mean back in 1984, when Hulk Hogan captured the World Wrestling Federation Championship from The Iron Sheik, I mean 2018, when 205 Live went under a sudden change of direction. Enzo Amore, the reigning Cruiserweight Champion, and "face" of the brand (insert vomit emoji here), was released from his contract following the release that he was under investigation for sexual assault and had hidden that fact from the company for three months. Enzo's departure wasn't the only change. The more significant move was Vince McMahon stepping down as show-runner, handing over control to Paul Levesque/Triple H. On January 30th, Drake Maverick, formerly Rockstar Spud in TNA/Impact Wrestling, debuted as the General Manager, and immediately announced a 16-Man Tournament to crown the next Cruiserweight Champion, with the finals taking place at WrestleMania Fleur-de-lis. For the last six weeks, we've progressed through the Opening and Quarter-Final Rounds, with tonight's episode kicking off the Semi-Finals.
Why did I wait until this episode to do recaps of 205 Live? I wanted to make sure I was willing to watch the show every week, and I wanted to wait until there was more focus on filling the show without the crutch of just doing tournament matches. With tonight's episode only promising one of the two matches from the Semi-Finals, that means there's more breathing room to develop characters and possibly create new storylines.
- Presented LIVE on the WWE Network, immediately after Smackdown Live and the Mixed Match Challenge (thus giving us mostly dead crowds and half-filled buildings), with Vic Joseph and Nigel McGuinness calling the action from ringside, unless otherwise noted. Tonight, we have Cedric Alexander vs. Roderick Strong (still a regular in NXT) to see who occupies one of the two spots in the Finals at WrestleMania on April 8th.
- Hype video for Roderick Strong, basically retelling, in short form, his background, growing up in a broken home and using wrestling as an escape from his problems. Same story used to give him character and motivation in NXT, but with newly recorded stuff from Strong to give it a fresh coat of paint. I'm a little surprised they omitted the "I'm fighting for my family" stuff, but then I remembered Mustafa Ali is cutting those promos, and you can't have two people doing the same shtick in the Semi-Finals.
- Drake Maverick comes out, and this might be the first time he's come out with entrance music. He's joining Joseph and McGuinness to call the following match.
- Hype video for Cedric Alexander. He talks about coming close to the Championship in the past but coming short. People tell him he can't win the big one, but he's out to prove them wrong. He's the hottest Superstar in 205 Live at the moment, and it's going to take more than a few bumps in the road to stop him.
- Mustafa Ali with another cellphone promo, talking about meeting a bully as a youth that he backed down from. He's feeling déjà vu now, with Drew Gulak being that bully. He's going to make things right and give the bully a taste of what he deserves after he bullied Mark Andrews last week. I like the idea of the promo, but wouldn't he be more helpful LAST WEEK instead of promising to take care of the problem at a later date?
Alexander with elbows to the midsection to escape. Whip to the corner and Strong takes the buckle chest-first. Alexander with strikes and a springboard into a downward spiral. Strong rolls to the outside, only for Alexander to follow with a no-hands somersault plancha. He rolls Strong back in and springs off the top rope with a clothesline for two. Michinoku Driver for another two-count. Strong blocks the Lumbar Check attempt. Alexander with a crucifix cradle for two. Strong with a full-nelson into a back breaker for two. Alexander counters the Olympic Slam with an arm drag and connects with a running enzuigiri. He hits the Lumbar Check, but Strong gets a foot on the bottom rope at two. Strong punishes Alexander with kicks and throws him back-first across the top turnbuckle rod. Alexander beats the count, but Strong quickly takes him off the top rope with a super-plex for a near fall. The 205 Live crowd is mustering a chant? Holy crap.
Both men trade strikes, with neither man getting a clear advantage. Strong with a jumping knee to the jaw and the End of Heartache, but this time Alexander gets a foot on the bottom rope to interrupt the count! Strong pulls Alexander back to the middle of the ring and gets nailed with a back elbow for it. They go back-to-back to get to their feet and throw more strikes. They get into the hockey fight exchange with flurries of rights. Strong avoids the Lumbar Jack and sweeps the legs into a modified cradle for two. Strong with the jumping knee strike, but End of Heartache is countered with a small package for the three-count at 14:55, sending Cedric Alexander to WrestleMania. Although Strong showed a little aggression early, he worked a mostly babyface match, and babyface vs. babyface is usually hard to get into. This was yet another plus from the Cruiserweight Division, showcasing athletic ability and outstanding wrestling ability. ****
- Post-match, Dasha Fuentes interviews Cedric Alexander on his victory. The crowd chants "You Deserve It". He promises his daughter he'll leave WrestleMania the new Cruiserweight Champion.
Final Thoughts: 205 Live has focus on wrestling rather than comedy and dumb characters. I'm not saying gimmicks aren't appreciated (Gulak's Power-point Presentation being the one that stands out), but if you want a quick fix, give us compelling characters we can get behind, not carnival clowns. The wrestling is as good as you would expect, and this was a solid 51 minutes of WWE action, highlighted by the Tournament Match featuring Roderick Strong and Cedric Alexander.