With Austin Aries on the shelf, at least in the short term, and TJP's contendership for the title summarily dismissed last week by cruiserweight champion Neville, the challenge to build a credible challenger by the time July's Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view rolls around is on.
With that rivalry potentially carrying all the way into SummerSlam, it's important to make that choice count. It seems to boil down to two wrestlers who have been making their case over the last few weeks -- Cedric Alexander and Akira Tozawa.
Tozawa has seemed the likely front-runner, and his recruitment by the Titus Brand on both Raw and 205 Live has put him on a fast track. He's even been connected indirectly to Neville, via a Titus O'Neil tweet proclaiming Tozawa as the next champion, and then again Tuesday following Tozawa's victory in the main event against TJP as the visibly irked cruiserweight champ got in O'Neil's face.
Besides the Titus endorsement, Tozawa's work in his recent feud with Brian Kendrick proved he's capable of being involved in long-term storylines, and his charisma gives him a connection with the crowd that few others in the division can boast.
Alexander is the dark horse and seems more likely to be a long-term contender. He's being built up through his recent squash wins and multiple victories over Noam Dar, and last week's win over Dar seemed to be a much-needed end to a rivalry involving Alicia Fox that's carried on far, far too long.
Alas, it was not yet meant to be. Unfortunately for Alexander, Fox Facetimed her way back into the picture via Dar on both Monday Night Raw (a quick win over Dar) and 205 Live (a more-drawn victory versus Ariya Daivari). So in the meantime, he seems to be saddled with this feud for at least a little longer.
Alexander's recent ring work, his strikes might be the best in the cruiserweight division, and his agility could be a recipe for success against Neville. This would be a rare matchup in which Neville doesn't feel like the dominant physical force.
While both men can go with the best of them in the cruiserweight division, both Tozawa and Alexander will likely struggle against Neville on the microphone, where the King of the Cruiserweights thrives. Aries proved a capable verbal foil, especially leading into their WrestleMania match, but neither Alexander nor Tozawa has done a lot of talking. Tozawa could use Titus to do his talking, or give the strong silent type approach a shot, but something's gotta give.
Until Tozawa took over with his "war cries" and his lightning-quick offense, the crowd was a little lackluster. A snap belly-to-back suplex and a sky-high Senton splash gave Tozawa a victory, but the match as a whole gave the concept of a Neville-Tozawa rivalry a bit of a knock.
Tozawa looks like he's getting the next shot regardless, but it might serve him, and the storyline as a whole, best to get the Titus Brand situation worked out a bit more clearly first. It could be in a match against Kalisto, who has been feuding with Apollo Crews and the Titus Brand. Not only would it be a great matchup, but it would add depth to the storylines and possibly help build a bridge towards giving the cruiserweight division a valuable addition in Kalisto, who would give them a masked superstar where Gran Metalik and Lince Dorado have yet to catch on.
While Tozawa works that out, it could give Alexander a possibility to work a program with Neville instead. A one-and-done program might not serve Alexander well in the short-term, but it would be great to see him mix it up with Neville and allow Neville-Tozawa to play out better. Just some food for thought.
Hits and misses
-- The other major news item from 205 Live was Aries announcing he's not yet medically cleared to return. Why not return to commentary to re-form 205 Live's best tag team with Corey Graves? With a new play-by-play commentator (welcome aboard, Vic Joseph), it could take some of the pressure off and let Aries get his lovable smart-aleck persona back in form while he heals up.
-- Gentleman Jack Gallagher's position as unlikely best friend to Aries seems an unlikely pairing and one that I'm not sure feels natural in the long term. Gallagher's match against Tony Nese next week will serve as a barometer to show where both men stand. Although Nese has the in-ring skills and the physique, his character needs some definition beyond saying he's the "premier athlete". His losses in the division have hurt a little, but what hurts more is his lack of a meaningful storyline since being in WWE. Let's hope this week's interactions were a step in that direction.
- While the Gallagher-Aries pairing seems odd, there's nothing I didn't like about the umbrella/banana high five.