After over two years on the air, 205 Live has traveled a quite unique road. There’s been ups and there’s been downs but along the way, a few constants have stood firm. Cedric Alexander, The Brian Kendrick, Akira Tozawa, Ariya Daivari, Gentleman Jack Gallagher, Drew Gulak and finally, Tony Nese. To the Cruiserweight novice, that last name is relatively familiar. Tony Nese, the almost throwback character most recognizable by the spotlighting of his own abs. To the brand’s ardent viewers though, Nese symbolizes something very different to that.
Upon arrival, Nese’s athleticism and explosiveness quickly stood out, producing moments of in-ring brilliance within his matches both in the tournament and out. With that being said, Nese wasn’t initially at the forefront, instead often taking a backseat to a division quickly dominated by contrasting heel centerpieces. Since early 2018 though, the brand’s direction has shifted and as a result, Nese’s presence has grown. No longer forcing square pegs in round holes, 205 Live would now be built on the athletes’ in-ring ability, highlighting their unparalleled work ethic and creativity.
While his more glossy presentation remained, Nese immediately looked far more at home. While his initial tournament run would be short-lived, Nese put in a memorable performance opposite Drew Gulak and after falling sympathetically short, now looked set for a seemingly misplaced babyface run. In the end, it’d be a non-existent stint too, with Nese instead joining Buddy Murphy to form an effective and undeniably dynamic duo. Moreover, the team immediately elevated Nese’s visibility, soon appearing opposite The Lucha House Party in a quite spectacular tag team clash.
To begin with though, the pairing didn’t look unanimously positive. While it had helped Nese’s general presence on the show, it did also further a trend. Nese had never quite been the programme’s featured heel and from the outside looking in, this looked unlikely to change that. Buddy Murphy was rightly destined for title contention and for now, Nese felt more like a sidekick than an equal. The perception surrounding Murphy soon came to fruition too, with Buddy winning the Cruiserweight crown in a moment that has since proven pivotal for Nese’s own career.
The Tuesday following Super Show-Down, Nese defeated Cedric Alexander himself, next winning a fatal five-way match as well. Though unable to secure a title shot, the Tony Nese character had taken a quite obvious shift since Murphy’s coronation. After 18 months of losing exciting matches, Nese was now winning remarkable ones, continuing to build momentum while striving in an increasingly important role. If you’re reading this, I’d imagine that you’re aware of where this path led Nese but before that, one pivotal height had to be reached.
205 Live is a show built on programmes that in essence, are utilised to produce a range of varied and unique main event matches. It’s a product founded on in-ring quality and for that reason, many conflicts are required in order to keep that consistency apparent. At first, Tony Nese’s issue with Noam Dar appeared to be just another example of that: a brief rivalry that’d elevate both while providing the brand a strong main event matchup in the process.
In reality, it was indeed all of those things but this time, the final product felt different. In an unforgettable No Disqualification match, Nese and Dar went back and forth in an enthralling affair. It was a fight built on emotion and one entrenched with desperation and aggression. Nese left that violent outing the victor too, departing the programme as an elevated asset suddenly in prime position. In hindsight, that proved the perfect prelude, with Nese next entering the #1 Contender tournament, first defeating Kalisto in the quarter finals.
Nese’s destination took shape from there, finally vanquishing Drew Gulak in the semi-finals and then this week, defeating Cedric Alexander to secure his title shot. After that final performance, Nese’s final step was taken in mere minutes, embracing Alexander and then being betrayed by Buddy Murphy. It’s a familiar tale in truth, wrongs are righted, friends becomes foes, so on and so forth. For that reason, it’s the details that count most or more specifically, the journey that our new hero has travelled to this point.
In 2019 alone, 205 Live fans have seen Tony Nese overcome sheer violence opposite Noam Dar, finally conquer his greatest challenge and most recently, defeat the brand’s franchise player in an enduring, admirable tournament final. This hasn’t been an overnight change or shift but instead, a well-told story that slowly but surely, has brought Nese closer to fans than ever before. Initially deemed only the backup to a greater star, Nese has now earned the fans respect and at WrestleMania, this story reaches its logical conclusion.
I understand that for someone simply glancing at the event’s card, Nese wasn’t an obvious choice for this spot. However, the brand’s consistent viewers will likely have a different point of view. Mustafa Ali may have been the heart of 205 Live and Cedric remains the soul but along the way, Tony Nese has perfectly encapsulated and symbolized the spirit of this show. Since arriving in WWE, Nese hasn’t been overly promoted or featured but he’s fought for prominence and with each passing week, he’s earned it.
Nese entered the division as a respected in-ring athlete but even still, his evolution remains apparent. After his recent work especially, Nese is undeniably one of the brand’s most consistent and reliable performers, currently at the absolute peak of his powers. For some, this may feel like a somewhat surprising direction but once you take a closer look, it’s a fitting choice. Through hard work and persistence, Tony Nese has steadily improved and over time, he’s become one of 205 Live’s most valuable players.
At WrestleMania, all of that work finally reaches the industry’s biggest stage. On PPV, the Cruiserweight division often gets a chance to hook fans beyond its usual reach and without fail, these incredible performers deliver every time. Their show battles for better each week and continues to fight a now outdated perception that once surrounded its existence. Tony Nese is no different, an ideal example of this show’s heights as well as the journey traveled to reach them.
The biggest match of his career thus far, this is undeniably Tony Nese’s moment but more than that, it’s another opportunity for this persevering division. Considering that, it feels apt that Nese is the chosen challenger, a reflection of where 205 Live currently stands as well as where it’s been. More importantly than all of that though, Nese’s performance represents what this brand is capable of. Sentimentality aside, Tony Nese deserves this opportunity and frankly, his steady excellence proves it.
The rest? Well that’s just icing on the cake, an extra layer of gravity within one of wrestling’s most uplifting stories: 205 Live and its tireless, unwavering and unrelenting fight for more.