WWE Cruiserweight Classic (July 20, 2016)

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Week two of the Cruiserweight Classic begins with a quick recap of last week’s bouts and then it’s off to the races for the first match of the evening.  Tonight we’ve got some indie superstars, a guy who overcame a terrible stutter to be able to compete, a 20+ year veteran, and a dancing German cruiserweight who isn’t Alex Wright…it’s the Cruiserweight Classic baby!

Match 1: Tajiri (Japan) vs. Damian Slater (Australia)

If I were in charge of booking for the WWE I’d have kicked off the show with this match last week.  Tajiri is to casual fans probably the best known wrestler in this tournament.  I mean Tajiri is apparently so well known to the WWE Universe that he didn’t even warrant a pre-fight video package.  Having his first fight in a WWE ring after a ten year hiatus would have been an awesome way to kick off the entire thing and maybe get some of the casuals to check it out, but that’s just me.

At 45, Tajiri is the oldest competitor in the tournament, but with age comes experience and Tajiri controlled most of the early going of the match even if he was working at a somewhat slower pace than the breakneck speeds he used to wrestle at back when I watched him wrestle for ECW at 2:00am on some sketchy cable sports channel back in the late 90s.  Tajiri got the bulk of his signature moves in: the kicks, the handspring back elbow, and the Tarantula.

Though neither guy is working as a heel, Tajiri gets the bulk of the cheers during the match.  If I had to guess why it was probably because he was the better known of the two because Slater certainly wasn’t so bad in the ring.  His offense looked crisp and he hit a nice corkscrew pascata at one point in the match.  He wasn’t as flashy as some of the other competitors we’ve seen, but he was a decent enough wrestler.  That being said, there was little doubt from the onset of the match about who was going to advance, and one buzzsaw kick to the chest later Tajiri picked up the win.

Winner: Tajiri (Japan)

Maybe it’s because I’d watched Delete or Decay the night before I watched this and was thinking about how rare an Asian mist spot is these days, but I was a little disappointed Tajiri didn’t use the green mist during this match.

Match 2: TJ Perkins (The Philippines) vs. Da Mack (Germany)

I kind of wish these two guys had faced other dudes in Round One because I really liked Da Mack a lot, but he never really stood a chance against TJ Perkins.  Perkins is just so smooth.  He could do aerial stuff and submission holds and mix them in really unique ways.

Da Mack got some offense in, hitting Perkins with a pretty nice somersault plancha toward the middle of the match, but this was more or less all TJ Perkins.  Perkins got Da Mack in a couple of submissions during the course of the match (Indian Death Lock, Muta Lock) but Da Mack was able to reach the ropes for a break each time.  The third time, as the saying goes, was a charm and Perkins locked on the kneebar in the center of the ring causing Da Mack to tap out.

Winner: TJ Perkins (The Philippines)

Perkins was clearly the better wrestler of the two, but I really liked Da Mack.  He seemed to have the entertainment part of “sports entertainment” down pat.  Since I’m kind of late to the game with this tournament and already know everyone who’s been called up to WWE for the cruiserweight division, I’m kind of bummed that this looks like it’s the end of Da Mack’s time in WWE.  I kind of hope that some of the guys who didn’t get called up have a chance to go to NXT or something.

Props should also be given to the music department for the WWE.  For a tournament like this I’d expect everyone who wasn’t already a WWE guy to have really generic entrance music but everyone seems to have WWE style songs already, even the guys who were going out in the first round.  Da Mack’s song was pretty much perfect.  I also have to give props to Ranallo and Bryan for bringing up fellow dancing German cruiserweight, Alex Wright, when talking about Da Mack.

Match 3: Mustafa Ali (Pakistan) vs. Lince Dorado (Puerto Rico)

I thought this was going to be a really one sided match since it was Lince Dorado and a guy who was only in the tournament because a dude from Brazil had trouble getting a visa, but Ali really held his own.  The match began with Ali delivering a series of right hands to Dorado as the bell rang, and from that point on the two went back and forth in a pretty evenly contested bout.

This might have been the most high-flying match of the tournament thus far.  Both Ali and Dorado employed a variety of aerial attacks trying to get the better of one another.  Towards the end of the match Dorado wowed the crowd with a crazy springboard reverse rana that looked to spike Ali’s head into the canvas.  Not to be outdone, Ali took control after being placed on the top rope and delivered a crazy Spanish Fly off the middle of the top rope into the center of the ring.  He pinned Dorado for a two count but Dorado kicked out and ultimately won the match with a beautiful shooting star press.

Winner: Lince Dorado (Puerto Rico)

Lince Dorado in a WWE ring.  What is 2016′s deal?  This was probably the match of the night for me.  Lince Dorado was Lince Dorado and I think that Ali was a lot more impressive than I thought he’d be.  WWE has done a pretty good job thus far in making even the guys who get knocked out in Round One look good in defeat, giving them a chance to get their offense in and not making any of the matches blowouts.

I’m kind of glad that Lince Dorado won, because that means there’s still a chance that I’ll get to see a Chikara Special delivered in a WWE ring before this tournament is over.

Match 4: Akira Tozawa (Japan) vs. Kenneth Johnson (United States)

The story of this match was very similar to the story told during last week’s main event between Ibushi and Maluta: an underdog looking to defeat a dominant wrestler heavily favored to make it to the finals of the tournament.  The early stages of the match made Johnson out to be a credible opponent with the two chain wrestling to a stalemate.

Tozawa would start to gain the upper hand, but Johnson would keep fighting, trying to keep up with the more experience veteran.  Bryan and Ranallo, again, deserve praise for helping to tell the story of a determined underdog who had to walk to wrestling training 2 miles each way, up hill, in the snow and overcome a crippling stutter to be in the Cruiserweight Classic going up against a far more experience wrestler.  A near-fall spot towards the end of the match caused the crowd to pop as Johnson nearly achieved a massive upset with Tozawa kicking out at the last possible second.  A moment later Tozawa hit Johnson with a deadlift German suplex for the three count, earning his spot in the second round.

Winner: Akira Tozawa (Japan)

Again, they did a good job of making the loser look good in defeat.  Johnson seemed like a credible threat throughout much of the match which made what could have easily been a blowout a much more exciting bout.

Also, holy shit, a Mister Hughes reference?  Apparently he trained Johnson and still wears his sunglasses while wrestling.

Final Thoughts

I thought this was a pretty decent set of matches, but overall slightly less impressive than the first week’s bouts, but it’s still early on in the tournament and to expect the entire thing to be filled with Five Star Mat Classics is ludicrous.  Dorado vs. Ali was probably the most fun match of the night, and Tozawa is probably the dude from this episode who will make it the furthest in this tournament since he seemed to be the most polished.

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