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Art is the creation of something from nothing that elicits a reaction. Pro wrestling embodies that definition. In wrestling, men and women step inside the squared circle and create with their actions, expressions, words, and bodies to garner a specific and distinct reaction from their audience. In turn, the audience responds to, engages with, and affects the work. No other art form in the world carries that uniqueness. In this column, we explore that art form inside real and relevant examples. Enjoy.
205 Live has been a hotly debated program for the WWE since it debuted over a year ago. Purple ropes, nonexistent characters, poor writing, watered down matches, and an incredible lack of star power doomed the show and made it a nightly bathroom break for fans. WWE treated 205 Live like a third rate brand and, because of that, wrestlers who performed on the show were defined as third-rate.
Enzo Amore began to change that narrative when he arrived on the show and became champion. He was a guy who had legitimate main roster success and a character with proven connections to the audience. Amore gave the show a better direction from a character standpoint, but set it back to the stone age in terms of in-ring work. Like others, he couldn’t balance the equation of success. Now the narrative of 205 Live is primed to changed again. Amore has been properly dismissed due to disgusting allegations so the show’s top spot and direction are up for grabs. This week on 205 Live, Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali made their case not just for a change, but for a total revamped formula on 205 Live.
For the past couple months, Alexander and Amore were embroiled in a feud for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship. Mustafa Ali had been a prop in that feud as a partner and confidant of Alexander as he toiled with Amore and the Zo Train. That’s why it was surprising to hear at the top of 205 Live that Alexander and Ali would be going one-on-one with each other. There was no feud, interviews, or backstage segments to set up the match. All that was given was the two wrestlers and the ring.
When both Alexander and Ali made their entrances there was an immediate sense that something special was likely to happen. Yes, the Enzo situation and the fact that both Alexander and Ali were babyfaces clued the audience in on the notion that things weren’t normal, but both Alexander and Ali utilized their facial expressions in their entrance to convey that feeling as well. Both guys looked extra focused and fully intent on winning the match. With zero backstory, it was imperative for Alexander and Ali to signal their intentions of winning the match in a prominent way because that was the only story for them to tell. Alexander looked serious and less silly while Ali played the intently-focused card to plant the seeds of the story. Words weren’t needed and would have diluted the message.
Once the bell rang, Alexander and Ali continued their brilliance of building the story of winning as the main point of concern in the match while also maintaining their roles as true babyfaces. They shook hands out of the gate and then tied up in the middle of the ring. Their tie-ups led to action in all corners with each guy breaking the hold per the ref’s instruction. This is in-ring psychology at its finest. Alexander and Ali were ferocious with their tie-up and showed their will to win, but with the rope breaks, they simultaneously conveyed to the audience that they weren’t going to break rules to do so. Because of this pristine effort, the audience bought in and Ali and Alexander were ready to capitalize.
Out of that sequence the two had an amazing series of spots which included flipping hurricanranas, arm drags, and counters. It was fast-paced, crisp, and extremely cruiserweight-esque. The timing of this choice by Alexander and Ali is important. They laid this spot in immediately after the tie-ups because it contrasted with those and went along with their story. The tie-ups showed how respectful they were of one another and the barrage of offensive attempts that followed highlighted how much each wanted to win. At that moment just a few minutes in, fans became fully invested in the match and were audibly buzzing with excitement.
From there it was magic all the way through the match with everything tied back to the base psychology from the start. Smartly, Alexander and Ali were careful not to burn themselves or the crowd out too quickly. They balanced their high-flying out of the ring dives, impactful DDT’s, and stiff kicks with their headlocks, arm bars, and submissions. At the same token, they balanced their psychology as well. Both Alexander and Ali had moments where their frustration of a missed pin attempt or countered move pushed them near the dark sided line of disrespect without crossing it. Each of those moments ramped up the tension between the characters and with the crowd. It also enhanced their in-ring work because it further drove the story of both wanting to win and be the better man.
The crescendo of the match hit after Alexander connected with a springboard flatliner. The crowd popped big for the move and was surprised along with Alexander that the pin attempt didn’t earn a victory. From there, Alexander, with an inquisitive look in his eye, slowly began to lift Ali to his feet. Ali sensed this was an act of disrespect and stiffly slapped Alexander across the face. Alexander then returned the favor with a slap of his own and the two proceeded to exchange a flurry of punches in the center of the ring. Physically this was the crescendo, but psychologically it was as well.
The entire match was built around on the two competitors respecting one another. The way that Alexander slowly and almost arrogantly pulled Ali up after the pinfall countered that psychology and Ali called him out with the slap. On the flip side, Alexander felt Ali’s disrespect with the slap and retaliated with his own. Because of that confusion, the match broke down into a fight for the first time. The crowd cheered loudly as the brawl took place because of the setup and groundwork done.
Both guys sold this move from the mean perfectly. Alexander was able to convey a hint of overconfidence as he lifted Ali up and Ali displayed disrespect with his vicious slap to the face. In turn, they both were able to relay confusion and impending retaliation with how they looked at each other. To further their artistic genius, they capped this spot off with an amazing running Spanish fly maneuver that laid both out in the ring with cheers of “this is awesome” ringing from the audience.
The finish was incredibly fast-paced to go along with the new aggressive psychology in the match. Ali hit a beautiful twisting tornado DDT and then dragged Alexander’s body to the corner for his patented 0-4-5 inverted 450 splash. Alexander moved out of the way in the nick of time sending Ali crashing to the mat. Then, Alexander was able to hit his Neuralizer and Lumbar Check finishers to get the win. The pacing and work done throughout the match made this finish what it was. Artistically, it was a notch quicker and more intense than other segments of the match and for good reason. This increased pace was linear to the shift in psychology. As the competitors crossed over the border of respect and became aggressive with each other, the match got faster to create an environment for that aggression to live in. To complete the full story between both guys, Alexander graciously lifted Ali up from the mat and raised his hand in the air at the end.
The entire story of this match takes place in the ring. With nothing else to anchor the match, the in-ring story was all that was available for the performers and the audience. Alexander and Ali hit a home run. They snarled, smiled, showed concern, and showed rage all at the exact correct moments. Because of that, their story was easy and enjoyable to follow.
This match had real world ramifications as well. Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali in real life looked as if they were wrestling with a major chip on their shoulder. Given all the attention that Enzo Amore received while in the division and the negative attention he got ahead of the show, it was obvious that Alexander and Ali felt this match was their moment to shift the attention onto things that were truly important: 205 Live. With the match they had, they got the attention they wanted and possibly much more.
There’s no doubt that characters are infinitely significant to pro wrestling on all levels. 205 Live included. That said, cruiserweight wrestling like we saw in this match can be the story. In a division like this, the in-ring work can be the focus. It needs to be supplemented with star power, character development, and brand growth, but the action can be the great story that shows are built around. Maybe that’s the formula for 205 Live moving forward. Because of this match, fans will be more excited to see Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali next week. Their drawing ability has grown. With increased attention on them, they can now build their characters to a more informed audience and become bigger stars that will attract additional attention to 205 Live.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: ARTISTRY OF WRESTLING: Nia Jax and Asuka mastered David vs. Goliath on Raw and created their own story for future