Ali beats Gulak in cruiserweight tournament semifinal, advances to WrestleMania to face Alexander

Mustafa Ali has thrown everything he has into the cruiserweight championship tournament, and in three tournament matches to this point and a handful of promos he's proven just how valuable an asset he is to 205 Live. Courtesy of WWE

When the WWE was forced to find a way to crown a new cruiserweight champion in the wake of the departure of Enzo Amore, it would've been easy to have a Fatal 4-Way match or some other simple path to a new champion that could've been done in a couple of weeks.

But with 205 Live in need of a major shock to the system, they took a big swing and scheduled a 16-man tournament that would culminate at WrestleMania. Through seven weeks of tournament action, the tournament worked as well, or better than they ever could have imagined.

Outsiders like Roderick Strong, Buddy Murphy and Mark Andrews got a chance in the spotlight, with Murphy a likely pick to stick around long-term. The style of in-ring competition was freer and more in line with what made the Cruiserweight Classic so special in the first place, and in the end, it would ultimately come down to one of three guys who've played a key role since the beginning of 205 Live but had never had the chance to be champion.

After Cedric Alexander punched his ticket this week to lock up the first spot at WrestleMania, it was time to revisit one of the longest-running rivalries in the cruiserweight division as Mustafa Ali faced Drew Gulak for the right to face Alexander.

Despite having been such bitter enemies, Ali and Gulak have something other than being a part of the inaugural cruiserweight roster. Both have come a long way in terms of their characters and their in-ring style, and on Tuesday night they had the most intense and entertaining match to date.

Ali ultimately got the nod, but not before taking a handful of the craziest bumps we've ever seen on 205 Live. He went head-first into the ring apron and ringpost -- each at full speed -- got back body-dropped from the commentary table to the floor and got tossed around like crazy throughout the match. He dished it out too, though, hitting a somersault to the outside, along with a tornado DDT and ultimately the 0-5-4 to clinch it.

Although he's always come off as a sugary-sweet babyface, Ali has seemed to ditch the cheesy jokes and become more genuine to who he is in recent weeks. The pair of promos he released on social media gave us a lot more insight into who he is as a person. He's got a fascinating backstory, having gone from serving as a Chicago police officer for years to becoming a WWE superstar, and his message of not letting a name or skin color define who you are is very simple and real.

But what really has gotten Ali over, at least in the short-term with the crowd, is his in-ring work. His offense is impressive without being incredibly repetitive. His variation on high spots keeps things fresh. And what really sets him apart is his selling ability; his first two matches might've been the most impressive we've ever seen from "Gentleman" Jack Gallagher or Buddy Murphy in their runs in WWE or NXT -- and he pushed Gulak to another level as well.

For Gulak, who also shined in this tournament, everything that happens post-WrestleMania can build off of what he was able to accomplish in his three tournament matches.

But for now, it's time to focus on the WrestleMania match to come. Ali and Alexander have already proved what they can do in a match with low stakes, and with WrestleMania and a Superdome crowd in play, the cruiserweight championship tournament final could really be something special.

Hits and Misses

  • A Fatal 4-way was set up next week with Akira Tozawa, Kalisto, TJP and Buddy Murphy. Multi-man matches are where WCW really broke out with its cruiserweight division, and they've been underutilized on 205 Live for the most part. With two weeks of shows to go before WrestleMania, this is a great way to keep the in-ring action moving forward.

  • Hey, a Kenneth Johnson appearance, albeit in a squash versus TJP. When it comes to Cruiserweight Classic alums that I'd like to see on 205 Live, he wasn't at the top of my list, but to be fair that spot belongs to Zack Sabre Jr. -- and he was a bit busy winning the New Japan Cup and earning a shot at the IWGP heavyweight title on Wednesday. But I digress.

  • The Lucha House Party and the combination of Tozawa and Hideo Itami have led to a couple of interesting matches. Although it feels a little thrown together, it's a good way to feature several competitors at once that aren't immediately going to be in the title picture.

Superlatives of the Night

Move: We've seen Ali somersault to the outside before, but this was expertly executed with amazing height. Plus, coming down with his knees right on Gulak's shoulders show how well both he and Gulak pulled this off.

Line: "I'm not going to WrestleMania...we are going to WrestleMania." - Ali, after picking up the win Tuesday night.