The WWE Cruiserweight Classic is rapidly approaching and fans are excited following the recent announcement of the names involved in the tournament. Many of the best wrestlers from all over the world will be a part of the event meant to showcase the exciting cruiserweight style on the WWE Network. Triple H set out with the project and stated from day one it was meant to be a global event. Wrestlers from various countries and continents are a part of it and will have a chance to make a name for themselves in front of a WWE crowd.
We will also see some of the brightest stars on the independent wrestling scene getting a chance to shine. along with WWE Performance Center projects making their debuts. The clash of names and styles is bound to provide entertainment. This will be the WrestleMania moment for the careers of quite a few talents. The upcoming brand split on the WWE main roster means NXT could be raided. That opens up quite a few roster spots and strong performances here could go a long way to getting a NXT job. With the new era promoting independent wrestlers more so than ever before, being on top of their game is crucial. We will take a look at the names confirmed and break down the top fifteen best wrestlers in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic.
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15 Drew Gulak
WWE’s relationship with EVOLVE Wrestling has given the independent promotion a chance to showcase their performers to the wrestling world and Drew Gulak is one of the standout talents. Gulak is well versed in technical wrestling and brings a style unlike anyone else in the Cruiserweight Classic. Currently, the Catch Point faction in EVOLVE is led by Gulak and based around bringing the art of competition to wrestling rather than characters or gimmicks.
Gulak has been rumored to be on WWE’s radar over the past year and actually appeared on Monday Night Raw playing one of the police officers that arrested Vince McMahon in Brooklyn last December. A strong performance in the Cruiserweight Classic can see Gulak get a contract offer in NXT with many spots opening up due to the upcoming brand split. Gulak’s style is hit or miss for the viewer, but he will become an instant fan favorite in Full Sail during the big cruiserweight matches.
14 Lince Dorado
Lince Dorado makes his WWE debut in the Cruiserweight Classic after nearly a decade of experience, working his tail off on the independent wrestling scene. Most people know Dorado for his work in CHIKARA but he has also performed for numerous promotions all over the world. The Puerto Rico import adds another background into the fray with the various stories of talent entering the big tournament.
Dorado actually made a few appearances on TNA television during their X-Division themed PPVs, but the WWE Network shows coming up will be the biggest events of his life. His high-flying skills and aerial displays will be a part of his game as he hopes to steal the show any time he gets to wrestle for the WWE. Dorado has a gorgeous Shooting Star Press that will likely be worked into a match at Full Sail. We may not see Dorado back in a WWE ring following this showcase but we are lucky he’s a part of it.
13 Tyson Dux
The feel good story of Tyson Dux getting an opportunity in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic may be ideal for a deep run in the tournament. Dux has been wrestling on the independent scene since 1997. He has participated in many WWE dark matches or backstage segments as an extra talent but this is his first chance to showcase his abilities on the big stage with the WWE Network broadcasting of the shows.
Many of the best independent wrestlers have high praise for Dux after wrestling or learning from him. The veteran has helped the likes of Kevin Owens, Michael Elgin and Colt Cabana become better performers but never found his own big break. Dux is technically sound and works intelligently so it will be interesting to see how far he goes. If Dux gets over with the fans in his first round match, we may see him have a long run with the ready-made story.
12 Noam Dar
Triple H made it clear that the Cruiserweight Classic was meant to be a global event with stars from all over the world competing against each other. This was proven true with Noam Dar getting a spot in the tournament. Dar is an Israeli-Scottish wrestler that has been a standout star on the UK independent wrestling scene. The gifted Dar is just 22 years old but carries himself as well as anyone else in the field.
Dar was a member of TNA’s British Boot Camp reality show of UK wrestlers competing for a roster spot. TNA once again missed the boat on the talented youngster but it worked out for the best. Dar has improved gradually following his TNA experience and now finds a great chance at bringing new buzz to his name on the WWE Network. There are a bunch of wrestlers in the Classic currently better than Dar, but no one has as much potential given his age and time left to mature.
11 Tony Nese
The conditioning and athleticism of Tony Nese is in the upper echelon of all wrestlers today. Nese will dazzle you and make you question everything you knew about humanity and genetics. The Premiere Athlete is a New York native and has made pro wrestling his livelihood over the past few years. Nese had an underwhelming run in TNA but improved his reputation by working all over the indie scene.
EVOLVE’s relationship with WWE put extra eyes on Nese and it likely is the reason he was made a part of the Cruiserweight Classic. Nese has been a fixture in EVOLVE and is someone the promotion believes in. Nese's high-flying moves will be among the best in the tournament and he is bound to become a bigger star following his matches. One of the best qualities of Nese is he adapts to the styles of his opponents and it will benefit everyone involved in the tournament.
10 Brian Kendrick
The career of Brian Kendrick will go down as one of the most underrated in wrestling history. Kendrick could have been a bigger name in the WWE but he was a few years too early. His smaller physical stature held him back and his great in-ring skills meant very little for Kendrick. Still, he teamed with best friend Paul London to have the longest reigning Tag Team Championship reign in company history.
Kendrick’s return to WWE as a part of the Cruiserweight Classic is a brilliant decision by the powers that be. The tournament needs a few respected and credible names from the past for the average fan to care about. Many of the new stars are elite talents but working with a veteran like Kendrick will only help them. Kendrick is still good enough to deliver in the ring and utilize his wacky personality to entertain the fans.
9 TJ Perkins
Wrestling’s youngest veteran is not only the nickname of TJ Perkins, but a very accurate description of his place in the business. Perkins is 31 years old but has been wrestling since the age of 14. The talented hybrid athlete has worked in TNA, ROH, PWG, Japan, Mexico and everywhere in between. Perkins had a controversial departure from TNA after publicly wanting to use his own name and identity. Josh Mathews got into a Twitter argument with Perkins shortly before he was let go.
Things have worked out very well for TJP becoming one of the top stars in EVOLVE and defeating Fred Yehi in a qualifier match to get in the Cruiserweight Classic. Perkins is at the top of his game and appears very hungry for the chance to have all his hard work pay off in a WWE ring. It would be a safe bet to see Perkins win a few matches and advance deeper into the tournament than most.
8 Tommaso Ciampa
Tommaso Ciampa will have an advantage of performing in Full Sail due to his work in NXT thus far. WWE has employed Ciampa on a part time basis in a tag team with Johnny Gargano and they have become very popular performers. We may get the two partners squaring off with it being a singles match based tournament and it would provide a great story. Ciampa delivers the goods in every promotion he wrestles for, but the fan love in NXT has added a new dynamic.
Ciampa's work is among the best in the world and the confidence boost of working for WWE will pay dividends here. This will be his first time he can showcase his ability as a singles performer and he should go deep in the tournament, given that he’s one of the few established names in WWE. There are a few interesting options here for dream matches and Ciampa could be involved in many of them. This is certainly a great opportunity for the Superstar to really break out.
7 Johnny Gargano
You can’t mention Tommaso Ciampa without bringing up Johnny Gargano. Both men are immensely talented, but Gargano has been the better performer and is one of the best in the world. Gabe Sapolsky’s vision of EVOLVE Wrestling was made into a successful independent promotion following the success of Gargano as the top star. It only made sense for the WWE to begin by utilizing Johnny wrestling in NXT and now in the Cruiserweight Classic after his relationship with EVOLVE.
Gargano’s body of work and name value is very similar to the likes of Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and others as a top independent wrestlers perfecting their craft before getting a big WWE run. You can easily envision Gargano winning this entire tournament. Gargano has the potential to be a main eventer in NXT and this is the perfect place to position him into a bigger spot once it ends. Regardless of the future, Gargano is a top star in the tournament and will deliver outstanding matches each time.
6 Rich Swann
Rich Swann has been signed to a WWE contract for about a year now, but has rarely been featured on television. Following spectacular performances consistently in PWG and EVOLVE, Swann found his way to WWE and has the potential to be a huge star. Swann is just 25 years old but his vast experience and a natural aptitude for the squared circle, making him ready for a big role in NXT.
Long before even signing with the company, Swann has discussed wanting the WWE Cruiserweight division back, so this is a dream for him. The high-flying moves of Swann are tailor-made for an environment like this and his innate charisma will win over fans at Full Sail. It remains to be seen if Swann can go deep into the tournament but expect him to become a relevant member of NXT either way. Swann has as high a ceiling as anyone else in the Cruiserweight Classic and he is ready to show the world who he is.
The biggest name and most surprising presence in the Cruiserweight Classic is former WWE star Tajiri. Everyone loved Tajiri during his time in the WWE and ECW, but he went back to Japan following a release from WWE. Tajiri has consistently worked in various promotions over the past decade, so he is still in ring shape. The Japanese legend was beloved by diehard fans during his prime, so his appearance in the CWC will be very exciting and will add some serious draw value for the every day fan.
We likely won’t get a peak Tajiri performance and it isn’t fair to expect one given the process of aging having to take place for the 45 year old, but he adds something just as valuable. The unpredictability and the overall feeling of a special event is what are most important in the tournament. Tajiri was one of the most underrated performers of his era and the chance to be celebrated while competing against some of the best in the world is a perfect middle ground for his return to the WWE.
4 Cedric Alexander
Cedric Alexander made a huge decision by leaving Ring of Honor to get a spot in the Cruiserweight Classic. Kevin Owens named Alexander as the future of ROH and independent wrestling during his final promo before signing with the WWE. The booking of Cedric in ROH was flawed and it hurt any chance he had at gaining momentum. Alexander realized the writing on the wall and made the necessary change by betting on himself to impress WWE officials.
No one has more riding on this than Alexander and he will finally look to prove his supporters right by showing he is one of the best in the world. Most of his time in ROH was lower in the card with a ceiling on his upside, so it will be nice to see him face better talent in a sink or swim environment. WWE is likely going to book the names that perform best early on to go deeper in the tournament and Cedric has a great shot at making the final four.
3 Akira Tozawa
The Cruiserweight Classic will feature many surreal moments but seeing Akira Tozawa wrestle in a WWE ring will truly be one of them. Tozawa was a huge hit in PWG and showed he could hang with the best North American wrestlers despite knowing very little English. The language didn’t hinder him at all and he was able to deliver a great deal of personality due to his natural charisma. Tozawa had stellar matches against the likes of Kevin Owens, Cesaro and Sami Zayn.
His great in-ring work and ability to entertain a crowd with his mannerisms will benefit Tozawa in becoming a standout performer in the tournament. WWE wanted to scour the world to find the best unique talents to put on display for this project and Tozawa was a very early pick for good reason. No one comes off like a bigger badass while still being able to make you laugh at the drop of a hat. Tozawa is ready to become a huge star during the upcoming slate of shows at Full Sail.
2 Zack Sabre Jr.
Technical wrestling has made a comeback following the success of Daniel Bryan and many other grapplers. Zack Sabre Jr. has picked up the slack with Bryan retired and is the defending Wrestling Observer winner of the Best Technical Wrestler award. Sabre's in-ring style is fascinating to watch unfold because he can do it all. Sabre perfectly adapts to his environment and opponent to get peak results but is best known for his subtly painful moves.
You can find Sabre in EVOLVE and PWG. twisting the wrists and fingers of opponents making you feel their pain. Sabre recently won the PWG Championship and cemented himself as one of the best wrestlers on the planet. The UK wrestling scene is thriving and the rise of stars like Sabre is the main reason why. Everyone at Full Sail will know Sabre and treat him like an icon when he makes his WWE debut as one of the favorites in the Cruiserweight Classic.
1 Kota Ibushi
The top three picks when looking at the best high-flying wrestlers in the world would be Ricochet, Will Ospreay and Kota Ibushi. Ricochet and Ospreay are tied down to contracts with Lucha Underground and New Japan, so WWE pulled out all the stops to ensure Ibushi would be able to participate in the Cruiserweight Classic. Ibushi was seated ringside at NXT TakeOver: Dallas and likely reached an agreement to appear in the CWC during WrestleMania weekend.
Ibushi's skills are something you have to witness to truly comprehend how spectacular he is. As one of the most exciting stars in New Japan, Ibushi walked away from the company with the hopes of making it in the WWE and this is the first step. Ibushi had one of the best matches of the past few years against Shinsuke Nakamura and we can only hope to see the rematch in a WWE ring one day. The overall talent of Ibushi is enough to sell the Cruiserweight Classic’s appeal and he will be the most must-see performer of the field.
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