YOUR NEGATIVE PERCEPTION OF 205 LIVE IS NOT REALITY
On Tuesday night at around 10:50 pm, I was quietly screaming at my television, and pumping my fist with restrained desperation.
I was only "quiet" and "restrained" because my wife was peacefully sleeping next to me, and I did not want to wake her. While words didn't actually escape my mouth, I could feel myself shouting, internally, "To-za-wa! To-za-wa! To-za-wa!".
Akira Tozawa was making his "comeback" in a 205 Live main event match against Ariya Daivari. It was a number one contender's match to determine who would face Neville for the Cruiserweight Championship at SummerSlam.
It seemed to me that all of the conditions were right for enjoying some fun, psychologically sound professional wrestling. I had tuned in after a long day at work, reclined in my bed, Tweeting along with fellow viewers, insulated in a warm bubble of pro-wrestling goodness. All was right with the world from my vantage, and Tozawa & Daivari were telling me a reassuring bedtime story about the power of perseverance.
Tozawa, having endured ("sold") an incredible amount of damage to his already "injured" shoulder, suddenly gained the upper hand. He raised his arms as he sat in the corner, signaling a triumphant turning of the tide. I experienced a familiar, cosmic shift in my soul. I went from observer to believer. There wasn't an ounce of my being that didn't fervently care about Tozawa in this moment.
I had paid careful attention to the match; appreciating the classic heel venom behind every Daivari strike and the classic babyface anguish in Tozawa's expressions. It was almost impossible to withhold my cheer when Tozawa won.
But, again, I was being considerate of my lovely sleeping wife. And, by then, my dog was also snoring on my feet.
So what was the 205 Live crowd's excuse?
Why were they silent?
This was a good wrestling match by "diehard" and "casual" standards alike. Why, then, did these fans all simultaneously seem to forget that they were wrestling fans at a wrestling show?
Why were they just suddenly...there...like so many broken lamps randomly flickering in and out of existence?
At the exact moment I was recognizing and appreciating everything Tozawa, Daivari, and the WWE had created (and responding in exactly the way I should have) the crowd in attendance appeared bored, disinterested, and resigned to their joyless lives.
BELOW YOU WILL SEE THE MATCH PREVIOUSLY DESCRIBED - IT IS QUEUED UP TO LEAD TO THE MOMENT WHEN THE CROWD HAS NO REACTION TO TOZOWA'S OBVIOUS COMEBACK
I cannot overemphasize how "textbookly" good Tozawa vs Daivari was.
Anyone who pays attention to this match must recognize its effectiveness. It is a well-constructed, simple, delightfully familiar story executed with the utmost precision on everyone's part. The goal was to get both performers "over" in their respective roles as heel and babyface. This was achieved by focusing most of the action on the babyface's damaged body-part.
The two wrestlers built to that ever-inspiring moment when the babyface fires up, comes back, and scores a come-from-behind victory. This is well-tread pro-wrestling terrain with standard sequences and familiar gestures...but it works!
And it all felt fresh thanks to Daivari and Tozawa's well-defined personalities and their unique, cruiserweight styles. There is nothing to dislike about this particular match. There is nothing to ignore about this match. It is everything the wrestling fan, especially the kind who prides themselves on being "smart", claims to appreciate.
And yet...crickets for the comeback.
I doubt the crowd actively disliked what they were seeing. I doubt many of them even realized they were ignoring it. Some were certainly cheering (as evidenced on the playback), but those cheers are sporadic and not the least bit indicative of a communal awareness of what is taking place in the squared circle.
The crowd clearly wasn't engaged. Had they been engaged, they would have been naturally cheering for Tozawa when they were supposed to be. They wouldn't have required any overt prompt from the wrestler. They would have gone with the flow of the match, as I did, and lost themselves in the story of the hero overcoming the villain.
So what accounts for this gulf in our experiences? I watched the same match that 205 Live-crowd watched, and yet we seemed to be inhabiting entirely different realities. Why?
Here's why: we were inhabting entirely different realities.
I was able to see Daivari & Tozawa's match the way it was actually meant to be seen.
The 205 Live crowd, on the other hand, never had that chance.
The conditions under which I experienced 205 Live were such that it was difficult for the show to fail me.
I watched 205 Live because I genuinely wanted to watch 205 Live. I specifically turned on the Network at 10:00 pm to see it. For me, the show existed for its own sake, an autonomous experience that had nothing to do with any other WWE show. The main event match was delivered to me in such a manner that I was predisposed to be "worked" into an excitable state when it came time for Tozawa's comeback. I wanted to be excited and nothing got in the way of that.
The commentary, vignettes, and interviews all made the match feel significant.
Positivity surrounded the experience. I didn't need to be convinced that this was worth my time and my money. I wasn't worried about traffic or my seat or my tiredness. I just wanted to see the cruiserweights be cruiserweights. That is the audience for 205 Live, believe it or not.
A show watched by someone who actually wants to watch it, delivered in a manner that portrays that show as significant, helps create the conditions for which that show is deemed enjoyable.
Those are not the conditions under which the 205 Live crowd experienced the show, however.
While the match between Tozawa and Daivari was undeniably good, good wrestling itself is not indicative of "the right conditions" for experiencing wrestling. As demonstrated by so many unresponsive "smart" crowds the past year, "good wrestling" can only do so much to captivate people if it's not supported by a logical narrative structure or a clear effort on the booker's part to portray the events as "worth watching".
Put simply; people have to be "in the mood" to enjoy anything.
That mood and that willingness to participate can't be assumed. It has to be created and earned through trust. The WWE has the ability to create that mood and that trust (or not) depending upon a few key creative and practical decisions they make.
The decisions made with regard to 205 Live's setting, timeslot, and place within the larger WWE-structure guarantees unresponsive and disinterested crowds.
And it's no mystery why. By placing 205 Live immediately after SmackDown Live, in front of the same exhausted SmackDown audience, 205 Live is perceived as an afterthought.
How could it not be? It literally takes place after the "more important" show that people actually paid to see? This perception of "lesser than" translates into the viewer's reality, regardless of whether or not it's an accurate assessment of the show's quality.
I've been in attendance when episodes of Main Event were filmed before episodes of Monday Night Raw. I certainly didn't ask for a Main Event taping, but the WWE went ahead and gave it to me anyway. I didn't even know it was going to happen when I bought the tickets for Raw.
I turned to my friend and said, "Oh...they're taping Main Event?" and my friend responded, "That still exists?" And we sat patiently and waited for the show we actually paid for to start without any idea as to what we were going to get and when we were going to get it. We just hoped for the best through five hours of wrestling randomness. I don't remember a single thing that happened on that Main Event show. And I have a sneaking suspicion I wasn't really supposed to remember anything either. That leads me to wonder, "Why does it even exist?"
It's not hard to imagine that scenario in reverse, where I've paid to see SmackDown Live, I've seen what I paid for, and then someone tells me that "extra wrestling" is on the way in the form of 205 Live.
"Why not?" I figure, and so I stick around to see what it's all about, all my good cheers and energy used-up. I halfheartedly observe wrestlers risk life and limb "for my entertainment", and while I recognize that some of it is "pretty good", my heart just isn't really in it because it's a bit weird that it exists in the first place.
It's important for the WWE to realize that my thought-process, throughout my viewing of SmackDown Live, would never naturally include, "I really want to watch 205 Live tonight!"
In the best case scenario, I might have thought, "Oh yeah...I almost forgot...that 205 Live show will come on after SmackDown. That might cool."
That's not a fan's point of view.
Fans aren't made out of "why nots" and "almost forgots". Fans are made out of passion. Fans are made out of clear incentives. Fans are made out of conditions that allow for the possibility of fandom - not conditions that needlessly put a product at a deficit.
205 Live is operating at an extreme deficit for no good reason.
It doesn't matter how excellent the show is (and 205 Live is an excellent wrestling show, contrary to the negative vibes permeating the internet). The show is being experienced in a way that simply doesn't allow it to be absorbed in a pure, open, and enthusiastic way. It wouldn't matter if the crowd that decided to linger around following SmackDown Live was the smartest pro-wrestling crowd in the world; they are unavoidably burnt out, and the fact remains that they didn't purchase tickets specifically to see Tozawa fight Daivari.
Even if they loved that match, they would have been surprised they loved it, because they weren't specifically there to love it.
In the best of all worlds, we might imagine, that only the most ardent fans would stick around for 205 Live. I have yet to actually witness that happen whenever I turn the show on. I don't feel like I'm seeing diehard 205 Live fans who slogged through SmackDown to get to what they really came to see. It just looks like a bunch of SmackDown fans who don't have anything better to do (which feels needlessly pitiful).
How does that look to anyone who dares to watch 205 Live on the Network?
It looks like the show isn't worth watching, even if it is (and, again, it is), because the dead crowd makes everything appear stagnant.
On more than one occasion in its early days on the Network, I turned on 205 Live and felt like I was walking into a party where all of "the cool people" had quickly absconded to better parties.
Why would I want to watch that?
Simply by placing the show immediately after SmackDown Live, and in the same spent, half-empty arenas as extinguished SmackDown Live episodes, the WWE unwittingly emboldens the perception that 205 Live isn't anything to be taken too seriously.
This practical flaw is exacerbated by a conceptual flaw.
The Cruiserweight Division is "on" Monday Night Raw...right?
I know this because this is what the WWE has literally told me every single week following The Cruiserweight Classic (which seems entirely disconnected from the Cruiserweight Division in its current incarnation). "On Raw" seems to mean that The Cruiserweights occasionally have matches on RAW. This also seems to mean that Raw's red ring-ropes literally become purple ring-ropes to demonstrate to the viewer that they are going to watch a Cruiserweight Match in the Cruiserweight Division (which, again, is a division that exists under the umbrella of RAW's brand but also sports different colors and an entirely different style than RAW's brand)
That's not too difficult to wrap one's mind around, needlessly convoluted as it may be.
But it's not actually that simple.
While the Cruiserweight Division is "on Raw", it also has its own dedicated Network show titled 205 Live.
So the Cruiserweights are a part of the "RAW brand", but they're also a part of the "205 Live brand".
The Cruiserweights also represent the only "division" on RAW that has its own dedicated show on the Network.
As a result, the definitions of "205 Live", "Cruiserweight", and "division" become needlessly muddled. It's just not clear which wrestler is on what show and why. It all starts to feel like 205 Live was created as a concession. It feels like someone used too much of one particular ingredient in their recipe, and now they're trying to syphon some of that ingredient off before it ruins the entire meal.
It remains unclear what the relationship between Monday Night Raw and 205 Live is. It's so unclear, in fact, that it just feels like someone made a mistake along the way of conceiving this division in the wake of the universally lauded Cruiserweight Classic.
If the Cruiserweights have "their own show dedicated to their division", why is their division also a part of RAW, and how do our experiences of that division, stretched across two different shows, align?
Even so, if I really wanted to, I could probably answer all of those hypothetical questions and figure out why I should care about The Cruiserweights on RAW and also care about them on their own separate, mostly unrelated show titled 205 Live.
But let's not forget when exactly 205 Live airs.
The Cruiserweight Division is a part of the RAW brand, and yet The Cruiserweight Division's very own dedicated show, 205 Live, comes on after SmackDown Live?
And the Cruiserweights wrestle their most important matches on their most important show in front of SmackDown Live's crowd-scraps, despite being a part of the RAW roster, while simultaneously being a part of the 205 Live roster?
None of this needs to be this complicated.
If you don't think it's complicated then that's because you're the kind of WWE fan who is predisposed to like the challenge of justifying bad writing. And that's all this is; bad writing, flawed world-building. Nothing more.
There is an unavoidable structural and conceptual flaw in the fan's experience of The Cruiserweights that is almost impossible to overcome. It's needlessly confusing, and it just doesn't need to be this way. The WWE is demanding that a fan enjoy a product with a loosely defined identity that is purposefully fragmented across three separate, distinct shows, at three separate, distinct times.
Perhaps the Cruiserweights are meant to be some sort of glue that ties all the shows together. Perhaps the fact that the Cruiserweights are a part of RAW's division, but also wrestle their own show after SmackDown Live, is a way to bridge the gap between RAW-viewers and SmackDown-viewers, and ensure that everyone is watching everything all the time. Perhaps no one has actually thought about any of this, and 205 Live represents a patchwork of great ideas spawned by the Cruiserweight Classic and bad execution spawned by the main roster.
Regardless of why the show is being done in this counterintuitive way, the end-result is that a good wrestling show goes un-watched.
After overcoming my own reservations, I started watching 205 more regularly the past few weeks, and I've discovered a wrestling show that is often better than RAW, SmackDown, and NXT.
The characters are unique, the styles are diverse, and the focus remains firmly on portraying professional wrestling as if it actually matters.
Tozawa, Jack Gallagher, Cedric Alexander, Tony Nese, Noam Darr, Alicia Fox, and Mustafa Ali are all names that mean more to me now than had I eroneously skipped 205 Live. And that's just naming a few. I've come to know and enjoy watching these characters interact, and I've marveled at their athleticism in the ring and their sincerity on the microphone.
And lest we forget Neville, The King of the Cruiserweights.
Neville is delivering the best performance of anyone in the entire WWE organization right now.
This is not hyperbole, and this is not a slight against anyone else in the company. This is a simple observation of Neville's truth, and a challenge to other performers to "see" and "raise" his excellence.
Even people who dismiss 205 Live recognize that Neville is a "great heel"; and those people are also wrong because they're only experiencing Neville's performance in a peripheral way (as I once did). "Great heel" doesn't come close to articulating Neville's otherwordly evil.
The only way to fully appreciate his work is to consistently watch him on 205 Live. His promos are bone-chilling. His dead eyes, his seething voice, and his relentless villainy should be studied by his peers, for he is quietly offering a master class in pro-wrestling performance art every single week.
I am not the only one who recognizes the excellence of 205 Live.
In fact, had it not been for the enthusiasm of other fans who had already been championing the show, I might never have known better. It's very easy to get absorbed by the group-think-cloud of negativity that always hangs over our pro-wrestling community. At any moment, it seems like wrestling fans can just decide that something is awful, and that decision sticks forever, regardless of whether or not it's factually accurate.
In the case of 205 Live, the negative perception of the show in the pro-wrestling community is profoundly inaccurate. Do not participate in this haphazard misinformation campaign.
It is the WWE's responsibility to right this perceptional wrong (immediately) if the company has any real desire to make 205 Live a viable product. The show's roster, and its producers are too good to be presented as an afterthought. There is nothing about the quality of the actual show that suggests it's worthy of being RAW & SmackDown's awkward cousin.
All that's needed is for that gap between my Moment of Pop during a Tozawa comeback and that live crowd's utter indifference to be bridged. That can and will happen so long as 205 Live gets the small, intense, fresh crowd it needs, and the Cruiserweight Division gets an instantly recognizable home.
If the WWE decides to make good on what they have already built, the people will come.
I recommend that you be one of those people.
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If you're interested in starting to #Watch205Live then CLICK HERE to check out Justine Colla's curated list of must-see, can't-miss matches and promos. It's an excellent guide that makes it much easier to get into the show.
Spend a lazy weekend checking it out. You won't regret it! Enjoy!