WWE is set to take one small step for its roster and one giant leap for pro wrestling with tonight’s debut of 205 Live, a one-hour program on the WWE Network showcasing the newly-formed Cruiserweight Division.
205 Live looks to build off the success of this past summer’s Cruiserweight Classic, and is centered around its champion, The Brian Kendrick.
“On 205 Live, you can expect to be entertained,” explained Kendrick. “The Brian Kendrick character is a man who is going to use his wits to win. His intelligence is every bit as admirable as his death-defying stunts.”
Do not be alarmed if Kendrick looks familiar. The current Cruiserweight champion is now in his third run with WWE, and set a record alongside Paul London for the longest reign as WWE tag team champions over the course of 2006-07 before the feat was surpassed this past July by The New Day.
Kendrick was eventually released by the WWE on July 30, 2009—for, in his words, his attitude—and his return to the company, particularly in such a prominent role, has left even Kendrick’s closest friends in shock.
“My family didn’t believe in me, my friends didn’t believe in me, and that’s not because they are negative people,” explained the 37-year-old Kendrick. “They were very pragmatic about the whole situation. But if I wanted to gamble on anything, I wanted to gamble on myself.
“I continued to believe that I was a wrestler. My wife has been with me through it all, we’ve been together since 2002. There were times in the last few years where she just wanted me to keep wrestling, but also go be a garbage man or something as we were drowning in bills. But I wouldn’t be satisfied if I didn’t get a chance to continue to wrestle, and it was very selfish of me, but this is the one thing I think I’m good at. I feel at home. This is where I feel I belong. So I kept pushing along.”
Kendrick returned to WWE for the Cruiserweight Classic this past summer, and advanced to the quarterfinals before tasting defeat at the hands of Kota Ibushi. The match, announced by the broadcast team of Mauro Ranallo and Daniel Bryan, saw Bryan grow overcome with emotion as Kendrick was eliminated. Bryan and Kendrick first met seventeen years ago as they roomed together while training at the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy in San Antonio, Texas.
“Daniel Bryan is the best in the world,” said Kendrick. “I was wrestling in Europe during WrestleMania XXX and didn’t have the chance to watch it. No one can do what he did the way he did it. When I heard the news about WrestleMania, I got a little choked up. This is a kid who I roomed with—he was eighteen, I was twenty—when we first broke in.”
“To see a guy who I know so well—I’d been already been with the company and was gone by the time he was hired—succeed in the way he did was emotional,” Kendrick continued. “They knew of him but didn’t really see anything in him because, if you just look at a picture of his face, he looks like an Average Joe. They didn’t really see the potential. He had to really keep believing in himself and keep fighting, and I think the way he managed to touch the wrestling fans in such a way is a really beautiful story.”
Bryan and William Regal both advocated for Kendrick’s return to WWE, but his work in the Cruiserweight Classic was not intended to last beyond the tournament.
“I’d made a lot of mistakes,” admitted Kendrick. “The opportunity might never have come if it weren’t for the cruiserweight tournament, where I was intended just to be a small part. That was my chance to tell my story and I got a second chance.”
“I think they liked what I did in the ring before I got fired. I believe they did, but it was my attitude,” Kendrick added. “So had I really changed or was I just acting on my best behavior, and then was I going to crack at the wrong time?”
After working so assiduously to return to WWE, Kendrick was crushed when he was eliminated from the tournament and sent packing.
“A lot of guys were getting contract offers throughout the tournament and I wasn’t,” explained Kendrick. “Then I lost my match to Ibushi, and I was told, ‘We might want to use you sometime in the future.’ I kind of sunk inside—I felt like that was a nice way of saying, ‘Thanks for a good job, we’ll see you when we see you.’
“Then I heard Mr. McMahon got a chance to watch the tournament, and some people talked, and I don’t know what the plans were. But it was after I’d already been eliminated and I was gone when they called me up and offered me something. I’m going to do my best to hold onto it and not be my own worst enemy anymore.”
Kendrick’s ability to tell a story in the ring is what sets him apart from his peers. He has also blurred the lines of reality with his promos, particularly his interview during the Survivor Series in which he expressed how much his Cruiserweight championship means to him.
“The way that all came about was they wanted to film something for the Survivor Series, and they had some stuff they’d like for me to get across that I said toward the end, but the ‘Work hard, stay out of trouble’ stuff—and how anybody can do it, I don’t have any special talents—that was all written by me,” said Kendrick. “What they initially had was, ‘Unless you’ve been living under a rock, my name is Brian Kendrick,’ but they said go ahead and say as much or as little as I wanted. The idea was for people to want to punch me in the face. That was the most flexibility I’ve been given so far outside of the Cruiserweight Classic.
“I want to be compelling. People have 200 TV channels. I want to prove that wrestling can be compelling. I think it’s the best art out there, it’s my favorite art. I’m really grateful and I hope I get a chance to do more of it in the future.”
WWE’s Cruiserweight division is stocked with plenty of talent, including Rich Swann, TJ Perkins, and Noam Dar. The division, collectively, has yet to find its stride, but Kendrick believes that notion will be dismissed with the creation of 205 Live.
“All three of those guys are awesome, then you throw in guys like Tony Nese, Drew Gulak, Lince Dorado, Ariya Daivari, Mustafa Ali. Once those guys start showing up, you’ll be amazed,” said Kendrick. “Gran Metalik is unlike anybody else, Tozawa is unlike anybody else. Jack Gallagher is completely different. Once these guys start showing up on 205 Live, I think it will broaden people’s ideas of cruiserweight wrestling.
“In order to succeed, we need diverse characters. It needs the guys you’ve already seen, as well as Metalik and Tozawa and Jack Gallagher, who are so unique. That will really wake the fans up as to how wild and interesting cruiserweight wrestling can truly be.”
Kendrick’s work is most brilliant when he blurs the lines of reality and fiction.
“I have to gamble on myself,” he explained. “I have to do stuff like the Survivor Series promo and try to be different in the style I wrestle. I know the style that I wrestle is not going to appeal to everybody, and it certainly isn’t going to be what people picture of cruiserweights. I’m trying to use the ring in different ways to my advantage and try to tell a story of outwitting guys even when I’m outmatched physically. I don’t think that’s what people come to expect when they see cruiserweights, so it’s risky. If the bosses don’t like it, then out I go. And if the fans don’t like it, then why would the bosses like it? They need to see there is something to it.
“Believe me, I love having a job here and I want to have a job here until they tell me to get out, but I just don’t want them to tell me to get out of here any time soon. But I don’t want to have a job just to have a job. I want to use this as a platform for my art, and my art is wrestling.”
As Kendrick embraces his new lease on life in WWE with 205 Live, he took the time to express his gratitude for the opportunity.
“I need to thank Vince McMahon for giving me the opportunity,” said Kendrick. “I also need to thank Daniel Bryan and William Regal for always pushing for me, and my coach, Rudy Boy Gonzalez, for always believing in me. When I would start to doubt myself, Rudy would tell me I could do it and that I belonged and I just needed to keep working hard. Without those people, and, most importantly, my wife—who stuck with me every step of the way—I would have crumbled. Without those people, I wouldn’t be here.”