On Sunday, WWE cruiserweight champion Neville dispatched "Gentleman" Jack Gallagher, successfully defending his title in one of the clear highlights at Fastlane. After the buildup to the match left Neville looking vulnerable on multiple occasions, the champion left Gallagher slightly bloodied and beaten, but not before Gallagher forced Neville to reach deep into his bag of aerial maneuvers to pick up the win.
The next night on Monday Night Raw, Neville cleaned up the lingering issue of former cruiserweight champion Rich Swann's rematch in another great match. Neville continued to show off his deep arsenal by finishing Swann off with a brutal-looking "Rings of Saturn" submission.
With about four weeks to go until WrestleMania, it left lingering questions about how the cruiserweight division would be showcased at the biggest show of the year -- if the title would be relegated to the pre-show, contested in a multi-way match, or perhaps not featured at all.
Those questions were answered almost immediately after Neville's match Monday night, when cruiserweight commentator Austin Aries was pushed over the edge and attacked the champion to signal his transition back into in-ring action.
We knew Aries would be getting back in the ring soon, thanks to several airings and Aries' own (sometimes vulgar) allusions to his video package over the last few weeks. Though we didn't realize how imminent his in-ring return was, the moment it happened, it all felt right.
The crowd loved it. The division needed it.
Even though the match hasn't yet been agreed to, the build to the seemingly inevitable showdown quickly fell into place on Tuesday night's edition of 205 Live, showcasing both performers' skills.
First, Aries kept up his perfected so-egotistical-it's-beloved character by securing an interview with, well, himself. And Aries explained his actions from the previous night.
"Why did I punch Neville right in the face last night?" Aries asked himself, "Because I could," he responded.
The fractured eye socket that put him out of action in October ended up being a blessing in disguise. After a brief, and at times inconsistent, run in NXT before his injury, Aries was able to take advantage of the showcase of being part of the commentary team for 205 Live. His humor, arrogance and insightful commentary (advocating for a lot more eye-poking) did more to introduce Aries to the audience on Raw, 205 Live and even Main Event than any of his in-ring work could have.
Before being interrupted by Neville, Aries finished, "Austin Aries, expert journalist, is no more. Austin Aires, in-ring expert, is here on 205 Live."
The cruiserweight champ, his luster renewed after title wins on consecutive nights over Gallagher and Neville, returned fire on the mic, "I thought what happened last night was a momentary lapse in judgment. But you have clearly gone off the deep end."
Neville also added while Aries is at the "A-Double Level," he's in a whole other plane, the "Neville Level."
The segment ended with on interesting note as Neville prudently pointed out said that the locker room is full of wrestlers upset with the jokes Aries has made at their expense on commentary, and that he wouldn't have to accept a match with Aries because the locker room would take Aries out long before he got to the champion.
With the gauntlet laid down for Aries to get to WrestleMania, his first challenge was the man he verbally skewered more than any other on the 205 Live roster, Tony Nese. They went one-on-one in a main event that marked both Aries' official 205 Live debut, and his first televised match since returning from injury.
Early in the match, Aries showed some minor signs of ring rust, including a spot where Aries seemed to plan on landing on the apron but ended up slipping to the floor and banging his knee on the way down. It was a hiccup early on, but one that was quickly moved past. In fact, Aries took the opportunity when he returned to the apron to deliver the move he had suggested so many times -- a finger to the eye!
Aries' variety of quirky in-ring moments, like flicking the Premier Athlete's nose or shaking just a single finger before the match, made him even more endearing for reasons that I'm fully capable of explaining. For all of his odd, banana-in-the-jacket-pocket-type moments, Aries showed he still has his full arsenal in the ring.
A roaring elbow was enough to give Aries the victory over Nese, who even in a losing effort continues to show that he's deserving of a run atop the division somewhere down the line, under the right circumstances. But most importantly, it showed Aries was back from his injuries and ready to give 205 Live a WrestleMania rivalry worthy of representing a division that's getting better by the week.