The cruiserweight division is catching fire, and it's all thanks to the man who earned his spot as the No. 1 contender to the WWE cruiserweight championship Tuesday on 205 Live -- the "greatest man who ever lived," Austin Aries.
After serving as the crucial third ingredient in a strong three-man booth with Mauro Ranallo and Corey Graves, Aries' post-injury shift back to the ring has given the cruiserweights a personality upon which they can finally build a proper division.
Whether it was a sarcastic comment, interviews in which he took the spotlight from the subject or the still uncertain storage of a banana in his front suit pocket, it as translated into positive reactions that have been missing from the show, at least from a babyface perspective. It's not a moment too soon, either, as Neville's transformation into the ruthless champion and "king of the cruiserweights" desperately needed a counter-balance.
In just over a week since his proper return, Aries has proved once again that he has something strong to deliver in the ring, too. That continued in the main event, as Aries took on Tony Nese, Akira Tozawa, Brian Kendrick and TJ Perkins in a five-way elimination match for the right to battle for the cruiserweight championship at WrestleMania 33.
The match began with "Austin Aries" chants from the crowd and some wonderful sequences throughout the match by Aries in particular, specifically with Perkins. You can sense the chemistry between those two, likely developed over years of battling around the world and most often during their shared time in TNA.
Each person had their time to shine; Nese showed off some of his aerial skills and got the crowd buzzing with a full-speed crash through Aries and the ring barrier near the timekeepers' area, but became the first one out when Perkins caught him while spinning to the ground in a cross-armbreaker. After Nese got revenge on Perkins with a couple of cheap shots, Tozawa drove him out of the ring and got blindsided for his efforts as Kendrick hit Sliced Bread No. 2 to pin him and add more fuel to the fire.
Perkins got caught in the middle as a dead-weight Aries fell on top of him and Kendrick leveraged that for a double-cover pin. With Aries still reeling, Kendrick locked on his captain's hook submission multiple times, along with a Sliced Bread No. 2. Aries narrowly avoided disaster several times and eventually nailed a roaring elbow, eliminating Kendrick and punching his ticket to WrestleMania.
It's the absolute best this division can offer at the moment; as 205 Live kicked off Tuesday, Neville made sure to remind everyone that he "obliterated an entire division just to remind everybody just how good I am." Aries will look to put an end to that at the biggest show of the year.
Kendrick and Tozawa continue to clash
The Kendrick/Tozawa rivalry, which was the story most brightly on display outside of Aries' run to victory, is another great piece of storytelling that should continue to be a strong cornerstone for 205 Live. After a brief run as cruiserweight champion late last year, Kendrick had been meandering a bit without a program significant enough for him to sink his teeth into, until Tozawa made his long-awaited debut over a month ago.
Tozawa's eccentric personality clashes with the calm cerebral nature of Kendrick and makes for the perfect contrast of styles. Kendrick's obsession with teaching Tozawa a series of lessons by any means necessary, even after Tozawa rejected his mentorship, has revived the sarcastic edge that Kendrick's been lacking since his run to the cruiserweight championship. After trying to steal a pinfall during this match, and eliminating Tozawa, it's clear this rivalry has only just begun. It's too bad there will likely be room for only one cruiserweight match at WrestleMania.
Hits and Misses
Mustafa Ali was in action this week taking on Drew Gulak. Gulak is as physical as it comes in the cruiserweight division, and that stiff style blended well with Ali's aerial display. They worked a good match that saw Ali snag a win via his reverse 450 splash, which is always stunning.
Ali expressed his displeasure for being omitted from the No. 1 contender's contest, but made strides for it in the division with that performance and crossed paths with the champion. In a potential bit of post-WrestleMania foreshadowing, Gulak also hopped on the mic to voice his displeasure with recent events.
- WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) March 15, 2017
Gentleman Jack Gallagher teamed up with Rich Swann to take on the duo of Ariya Daivari and Noam Dar. Even more entertaining than the actual match was Gallagher's dancing efforts as he matched the energetic Swann during his prematch dance ritual. Another solid match, with Dar scoring a pinfall victory over Swann much to the delight of his offbeat love interest, Alicia Fox. They had a weird postmatch celebration in which Dar presented her with a large stuffed bear, in an increasingly ridiculous series of Dar stealing the credit for a secret admirer's gifts.
Dar's pairing with Fox is becoming tiresome. It's bizarre and has a tendency to become the focal point in Dar's matches, taking away from the in-ring performances -- and Dar has a lot going on for him in that regard. Fox has charisma and deserves television time, but the former Divas champion is also a very good worker. I can't help but think she'd be more useful as an in-ring performer on Raw, the show that drafted her last year.