Alexander bests Strong to clinch WrestleMania cruiserweight title shot

Cedric Alexander and Roderick Strong put on a tremendous show in their semifinal match in the cruiserweight championship tournament. Courtesy of WWE

When 205 Live general manager Drake Maverick revealed that the new cruiserweight champion would be crowned in a 16-man tournament, opinions were mixed. On one hand, a clearer focus on the in-ring product and a callback to the Cruiserweight Classic, which started it all, seemed like a step in the right direction. On the other hand, it felt like it might be a Band-Aid for a larger problem that 205 Live has faced in defining itself from WWE's other brands.

From the opening night of the tournament, everyone who has gotten into the ring in this tournament has stepped up their game and proven what the cruiserweight division is capable of when allowed to go all-out on a nightly basis. We've gotten some intriguing first-time matchups, revisited some rivalries and even introduced new stars such as Buddy Murphy to the world of 205 Live.

Heading into this tournament, Cedric Alexander was one of the prohibitive favorites, especially considering his former status as a No. 1 contender before 205 Live did a full reset six weeks ago. Tuesday night represented a significant milestone in the tournament as the semifinals got underway, with Alexander taking on a pre-tournament dark horse in NXT's Roderick Strong. Alexander and Strong each had standout matches through the first two rounds, but this semifinal showdown -- with a spot on the WrestleMania card on the line -- had the kind of big fight feel that 205 Live has needed for a long time.

Something had to give on Tuesday night, but even though Alexander came in with an overwhelming likelihood of advancing to the finals, he and Strong told a story with twists and turns that put that result into doubt on several different occasions. One of the most memorable sequences saw Strong lift Alexander onto his shoulders while on the ring apron and toss him back-first onto the top turnbuckle.

After Strong and Alexander hit each other with everything they had, including a finisher apiece, Alexander slipped through Strong's grip. In the midst of an unassuming sequence, Alexander rolled into a small package position, got Strong down for the three-count and brought the match to an abrupt and fluky end.

In an in-ring interview following the match, with tears in his eyes and "you deserve it" chants overwhelming him, Alexander proclaimed, "I didn't deserve it. I earned it!"

There you have it: Alexander's quest for cruiserweight gold will take him all the way to WrestleMania, for a match that is certain to be the highlight of his career thus far. Win or lose, he has been one of the standout in-ring performers in the cruiserweight division for some time, and if he can build on the potential of being a champion and crowd favorite, he has a chance to become the next big thing on 205 Live.

For Strong, he afforded himself very well in three cruiserweight tournament matches, and whether his long-term future lies in NXT or 205 Live, the future looks bright.

Who will stand opposite Alexander on the grandest stage of them all? We'll find out next week in the other semifinal bout between Drew Gulak and Mustafa Ali. There's a lot of history between Gulak and Ali, who have faced each other one-on-one on seven occasions on WWE TV since 205 Live came into existence; Ali is 5-2 in those matches.

With both men having a logical story, with Alexander to move forward should they win next week, it's hard to make either Ali or Gulak a prohibitive favorite. Both potential showdowns offer different yet equally fascinating matchups. Gulak offers a mat-based approach and a clash of styles, while Ali vs. Alexander could be an extraordinary feat in explosive athleticism and high-flying spectacle along the lines of the match they had on 205 Live just before the tournament began in late January.

It's a win-win scenario.

Hits & misses

-- Akira Tozawa and Hideo Itami teamed up for the second consecutive week and squared off with Gran Metalik and Lince Dorado. Despite Tozawa and Itami picking up the victory, it's always a pleasure to watch Metalik work. His balance is impeccable, and his aerial game is consistently on point.

Following the win, Itami and Dorado jaw-jacked a bit, adding some fire to what was presented as friendly competition. It wouldn't be a surprise to see a one-on-one match between the two at some point in the near future.

-- In what was perhaps the highlight of the night, Metalik and Dorado executed an innovative springboard plancha in which Dorado was launched off the hunched back of Metalik high in the air to the outside of the ring onto Tozawa.

-- Jack Gallagher continued to try to establish himself as a player within the division with a win over the unknown Murphy Myers. Gallagher displayed the intense persona that he's trying to get over. Time will tell if it'll work.