When WWE announced the first ever Cruiserweight Classic, it was met with equal parts excitement and doubt, but through an amazing presentation, great commentary and even better wrestling, so far it has lived up to most fans’ expectations. Although big names such as Marty Scurll, Ricochet and Will Ospreay were left out of the field of 32 competitors, there is still a great mix of experience and youth, and big names (like Kota Ibushi and Zack Sabre Jr.) with lesser-known names looking to make their mark.
Through 4 weeks and 16 match ups of Round 1, Triple H has indeed reiterated the point that he is the future of the WWE, with a great sporty feel to the presentation, as well as giving the performers the freedom to be themselves and showcase 100% of their talent. While not all the matches have been free-flowing, high-flying affairs, they have each offered something different to the Full Sail crowd, and after ranking these matches from worst to best, there is no doubt that fans should be highly excited for Round 2 and beyond.
16. Noam Dar def. Gurv Sihra
The second match on the final show of Round 1, these 2 stars tried to show off their talents in a rather short affair, yet it all came off as slightly rushed with a few botched spots. Entering the match, many fans knew of the talented Scottish performer Dar, who was also the youngest competitor in the tournament at just 22, but the pressure seemed to fall squarely on the shoulders of Sihra, whose brother had already been eliminated, leaving him as the only Bollywood Boy left in. Unfortunately for both competitors, the match never got a rhythm going, and with a botched side slam and a few other sloppy spots, neither man could ever get the crowd fully into the match. Dar finished the match with a knee bar, and here’s hoping that he can get a better flow going in his next match with Hoho Lun.
15. Hoho Lun def. Ariya Daivari
Speaking of Hoho Lun, he competed on the first ever show in the CWC, yet despite feeling far more inexperienced and less polished than his opponent, he managed to pick up a win in the short outing. With the crowd firmly behind the Hong Kong native Lun, Daivari began to play the heel, and looked comfortable & confident in the role, signaling that he could become a player in the new cruiserweight division if WWE were ever to give him a call. As for the action itself, nothing much was memorable about the match, but Hoho Lun’s infectious energy got him over with the crowd before he ended Ariya with a bridging German suplex right around the 5 minute mark. If Lun is to go any further in this tournament he must show some substance behind that likeable personality or he won’t last much longer.
14. Tony Nese def. Anthony Bennett
Personally speaking, I didn’t quite get/connect with the gimmick of Anthony Bennett, and from the reactions of the Full Sail crowd, they didn’t either, as he was dispatched by the much bigger and much more impressive Tony Nese. There seemed to be a size mismatch in this one, with Nese weighing about 50lb more than his opponent, and although they put on a solid bout, Bennett seemed to get little to no offense in the entire time. Nese on the other hand was made to look like a star with several high flying maneuvers, and looking at the potential, it makes a fan wonder why WWE haven’t looked at a star like this before, given he has everything they like in a performer for the NXT brand. Come the end of the bout, Bennett looked to be hurt, with the ref having to check on him before Nese delivered a beautiful 450 splash for the win, making him look like a dark horse threat going into the later rounds.
13. Rich Swann def. Jason Lee
NXT performer Rich Swann is one of the most exciting performers in the world, and therefore this served as a showcase for the skills of the Baltimore native, although it may have run a little short in the eyes of many fans, hence its lowly rating. Despite this quick finish, the Kung Fu artist Jason Lee was able to show off some of his quick, hard strikes, which made the match much more interesting than it had the right to be, and was quickly finished in under 5 minutes with Swann’s impressive standing 450 splash. Longtime fans of the young star will know that even though he looked fantastic in victory, with several high flying, effective moves, Swann is only just getting started, and has many more tricks up his sleeve, which makes the prospect of Swann vs. Lince Dorado or Gargano/Perkins in the upcoming rounds highly intriguing and exciting.
12. Tajiri def. Damian Slater
While this was an entertaining back and forth match, many fans, including myself have questioned the outcome, as a win for Slater would have been much more exciting and done more for his career at this point than the 46 year old Tajiri. The Australian opened many eyes with his stiff, impressive kicks and aerial assault, but ultimately he fell to the crowd favorite Japanese Buzzsaw, who is reportedly looking to make his way back into the WWE following the brand split for one final run. This match saw some classic Tajiri, which the fans haven’t seen in a WWE ring for almost a decade, and despite the questionable booking decision, he looked much better in the ring than anyone could have expected, so a round 2 match up with Gran Metalik will no doubt be another enjoyable match.
11. Drew Gulak def. Harv Sihra
While many fans won’t be jumping up out of their seats while watching a Drew Gulak match, he is a throwback to hard nose wrestlers of the past, and that is good to change up the pace from all the high flying, innovative offense that we usually see with cruiserweight wrestling. As for this match though, nothing seemed to click throughout, as fans were visibly not enjoying the match, but moving onto the second round, that should all change with Gulak as he goes up against one of the most innovative and smooth technical wrestlers in history, Zack Sabre Jr. One major positive to come out of this match was the finish, as Drew used a vicious dragon sleeper which looks like it could put any competitor away, making him a danger heading into the next few rounds of competition.
10. Akira Tozawa def. Kenneth Johnson
While this one lacked the high flying moves or jaw dropping sequences of others, it was a technical, hard hitting match, which although went longer than it deserved, served a great purpose featuring two performers who were very easy to root for as fans. The Japanese veteran was the favorite going in, and throughout continued to show why he is one of the more beloved and versatile Japanese stars in all of wrestling, finishing Johnson with a brutal German suplex. As usual with the CWC, the pre match video package was fantastic, giving fans a reason to get behind both guys, and while the performance left much to be desired, WWE should see potential in both competitors in this match.
9. Gran Metalik def. Alejandro Saez
This match kicked off the tournament, and gave fans an insight into what they could expect, and while it was full of highlights, the short run time at just 4 minutes was a major disappointment, as it looked like it was shaping up as one of the best matches of the tournament. These highlights include a great spring board dive, a missed spiral tap and an apron shooting star press, and coming out victorious, the unique looking Metalik becomes one of the most intriguing WWE prospects going forward, as he could be a dark horse to go far in this competition. Fans shouldn’t be surprised to see either of these men in the company in the near future, as they both showed flourishes of great potential, potential which could be greatly nurtured at the performance center, which could lead to great NXT and WWE careers.
8. Cedric Alexander def. Clement Petiot
This one had a big fight feel to it, as former ROH star Cedric Alexander showcased his wide array of talents for a WWE audience for the first time, and neither man disappointed even though again, time constraints held this back from being a classic match. Alexander was particularly impressive, hitting a reverse ‘rana and a springboard clothesline which gave fans an insight into his athleticism, and the lumbar check finish he used made him look like a brutal finisher, which he will need in his round 2 match up with Kota Ibushi. Petiot showed an ability to adapt within this big fight atmosphere, as he adopted some heel tactics to combat the electric, fan favorite Alexander, and made it a very competitive match with a massive discuss clothesline, but in the end it was not meant to be, but don’t close the book on Petiot and WWE working together again in the future.
7. Zack Sabre Jr. def. Tyson Dux
Fans of the Technical Wizard know just how impressive his move set can be, but fans who are only just finding out about Zack Sabre Jr. may not be as impressed, as these moves can often be underwhelming to many, and this first round match up with Dux was not as exciting as it could have been, with Sabre not showing off his entire arsenal. The match itself however, despite being short managed to showcase the positives in each competitor, although it may not have helped Sabre live up to the lofty expectations that his legions of independent wrestling fans have made for him. Trading holds back and forth (which impressed Daniel Bryan more than most), the two put together a good, technical contest, and while Tyson Duxs’ redemption story that WWE played up may have been in vain, the match did what it was supposed to do, and that was put Sabre over as one of the top 3 or 4 contenders to win the inaugural tournament.
6. Brian Kendrick def. Raul Mendoza
Perhaps the biggest star making performance of the tournament, this match saw Raul Mendoza fight through a bloody mouth and a crafty veteran to almost steal a major win, only to be put down at the hands of WWE veteran Brian Kendrick and his Bully Choke. While some may question the booking decision, both these competitors were able to shine in this match, and Mendoza showed that he can be a star with age, as his unique Lucha Libre style and toughness would make him a perfect fit in the WWE, while Kendrick showed he can play both an effective heel and baby face, all in one match. This match, as all 16 were, was enhanced by the commentary, as a hyped Daniel Bryan cheering for his long time friend made it that much more enjoyable for those watching on the WWE Network.
5. Lince Dorado def. Mustafa Ali
Without a doubt the most highlight filled match of the tournament so far, this one featured a star making performance from Ali, and an impressive performance from the Golden Lynx which cemented his spot as one of the more popular stars involved in the CWC. From a spring board Spanish fly, to an apron head scissors, to a inverted 450 splash/shooting star press finish just to name a few, this one had the crowd on its feet right from the start, and WWE would be well justified to sign both of these men to NXT or RAW contracts. Despite running a bit short, like most matches in round 1, this one showcased the talents of both men, and set them up as potential break out stars in NXT or the upcoming cruiserweight division if the company wishes to use them in this way.
4. Jack Gallagher def. Fabian Aichner
This match was definitely the surprise of round 1 so far, as the Extraordinary Gentleman and the Italian Strongman both put in fantastic performances in week 4 which prompted the Full Sail faithful to give them a “thank you both” chant following their match. Another major clash of styles, as Gallagher uses a classic English catch-style, where Aichner had a power edge, yet the 203 pounder managed to bring the crowd to their feet more than once with his stunning athleticism. With a great look and nice size to go with that high flying ability, WWE should definitely be looking at Aichner for the reboot of their cruiserweight division, yet it was the technically sound, crowd favorite Gallagher who managed to pick up the win in brutal style with a devastating corner drop kick. Over all the match lacked the length that it needed to be a classic, but showed enough of both men and as a great combination of styles to make it one of the better ones seen so far in the tournament.
3. Kota Ibushi def. Sean Maluta
The main event of CWC show number one, while a showcase for the supremely talented Ibushi, managed to show off the skill of both men, which has resulted in WWE contracts and 1 NXT appearance each for these two men. Although the outcome was majorly predictable and there was one major botch (a Maluta dive to the outside in which he landed on the apron), the match was full of crowd (and commentator) popping moments, and proved that Ibushi can be just as big a star in WWE as he was in his native Japan. The Golden Star won the competitive battle with a sit out power bomb/pinning combination, and with an NXT appearance already, the future in WWE has never looked brighter for Japanese stars, as there are now 3 main event caliber performers (Ibushi, Hideo Itami & Shinsuke Nakamura) on the roster.
2. TJ Perkins def. Da Mack
Fans of TNA or EVOLVE will already know what a talented showman TJP is, but this match with an evenly matched Urban German was a perfect way to show his wrestling ability as well as his flamboyancy and showmanship, which his opponent was happy to match him with early on. A wrestler since his early teens, Perkins showed a great combination a veteran savvy with infectious energy which made him a joy to watch throughout, but the lesser known ‘Da Mack’ wasn’t to be outdone, as he showed several high flying dives and kicks which would have beaten a lesser competitor. Over all this match just flowed well and told a great story, with Perkins submitting Da Mack with a knee bar after he made a misstep earlier and hurt that knee, which makes a round 2 match up between TJP and Johnny Gargano a mouth watering prospect.
1. Johnny Gargano def. Tommaso Ciampa
4 weeks of hype and waiting for the final match of Round 1 was without a doubt worth it, as NXT tag team partners Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa fought in a physical, all out clash to determine the final competitor moving on to round 2. The longest match of round 1 started slowly, but developed into both a hard hitting brawl and a technical show, and as one of the only matches so far with a story, both men played to that story telling element strongly, especially Ciampa when he stopped from hitting his partner with an unprotected knee strike. Just as it looked like Gargano was out on his feet after a series of near falls, he rolled up Ciampa with a crucifix to steal the win, in what was one of the more emotional affairs WWE has put on over all in 2016, and what followed was an emotional embrace between 2 men who are looking to gain the NXT Tag Team Championships at NXT Takeover: Back 2 Brooklyn.
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