Previously on the WWE Cruiserweight Classic: This unprecedented tournament kicked off with four first-round matches from Full Sail. Kota Ibushi finally set foot in a WWE ring, as did Mexico’s Gran Metalik. Cedric Alexander got the much-deserved opportunity he’s been searching for, and Hong Kong’s HoHo Lun smiled his way to the second round.
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And now, the Best and Worst of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, Week 2.
Best: Old Habits Die Hard
I’m going to start off with a number: Tajiri is 45 years old. This would be considered far past the shelf life of the average wrestler, but let’s remember that we aren’t talking about an average wrestler here. This is Yoshihiro Goshdarn Tajiri. I don’t know what it is about puroresu, but something about the strong-style philosophy makes these guys want to go forever.
Yuji Nagata is 48 and Jushin “Thunder” Liger is 51, yet they’re both still crushing it. Genichiro Tenryu only retired last year at the seasoned age of 65. I’m just saying, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s version of Legends House would just probably consist of old guys going to the gym and doing more cardio in one sitting than I do in a year.
Tajiri takes on Australia’s Damian Slater in his first-round match. Watch him as the referee is giving the pre-match instructions, he’s got that look of “I’m going to have to kick this poor boy’s face off, aren’t I?” He’s an old mob boss called back into the fray, and it’s an attitude we’re not really getting from anyone else in the CWC. Brian Kendrick is a returning veteran, but his vignettes have given him more of a feeling of frenzied desperation, whereas Tajiri is more of a guardian spirit of the lost cruiserweight arts.
Am I over-mystifying this? I probably am. Slater’s been blessed with some great in-ring tools, but he’s way outmatched here. The minute you hear the crowd come alive for the Tarantula hold, you know it’s over. I can’t wait to see him and Gran Metalik face off in the second round, it’s going to be like all the cool ECW matches we forgot because New Jack wasn’t hitting people with computer keyboards.
Best: Showin’ How Funky And Strong Is Your Fight
I’ll get to my nitpicks eventually, but I want to say above all that this was a fun match. People are going to remember the visual flair and the comedic elements, but this was a super smooth match from start to finish. I don’t recall these two ever facing off before, so the fact that it appears they had instant in-ring rapport really speaks to their combined experience.
That said, it’s a contest between two of the flashier guys in the tournament in T.J. Perkins and Da Mack, so of course it had to result in a couple of Breakdance Fight moments. Senior official Charles Robinson should have dressed as David Bowie and had them do a walk-off.
Worst: A Bracket With 16 North Carolinas
This is going to be a less-than-popular opinion, but I think the wrong guy won here. Perkins has the instant recognition factor that independent wrestling fans enjoy in a tournament, but if you look at this bracket (and the spoilers so far), you’ll see that there are more than enough big names to carry the legitimacy of the CWC.
Big upsets are one of the best parts of March Madness, right? I think this would have been the perfect place for a surprise international competitor to break through, and Da Mack is exactly the kind of guy you’d want in that role. I really hope WWE gives him a second look. Plus, my stock on T.J. Perkins has never been that high to begin with. He’s talented, but he seems to get overshadowed everywhere he competes. Oh, and he dabbed twice during this match.
Speaking of which … Full Sail crowd, are you seriously reacting to dabbing like it’s late 2015 and Cam Newton hasn’t yet been exposed to Denver’s kryptonite? Really?
However, a Best goes to Daniel Bryan for having an impossibly old soul and referring to dabbing as “dubstep.”
Best: Getting More Than You Bargained For
Full disclosure: I went into this match expecting very little. First of all, Mustafa Ali is the replacement for the mysterious Brazilian capoeira luchador ZUMBI. (Yes, I’m making a judgement call and saying that his name must henceforth be in all caps.)
Secondly, how are you going to bring Lince Dorado into WWE and not have the payoff be a reunion with Cesaro and NXT assistant coach Sara Amato? I consider myself the internet’s foremost Chikara historian, so unless you can promise me a Bruderschaft reunion, I’m left with a bit of a lackluster feeling.
Fortunately, I still went into this match with an open mind, and I was rewarded with a real gem. The online consensus seems to be that this was the match of the night, and I’m inclined to agree. Dorado really seems to have improved in recent years, and Ali should probably not be slept on if you’re booking wrestling shows in the Midwest.
There were reports during the tapings that Ali tweaked his neck during the match, but you really wouldn’t know it just by watching, so kudos to him for fighting on. I mean, I know I just finished harping on the Full Sail crowd, but I was reacting exactly like they were to that step-up Spanish Fly. Perfection.
Best/Worst: Too Weazy
There it is. I finally created a heading that combines my knowledge of Dragon Gate and the Texas indies. I’ve made it.
I’m giving a Best to Akira Tozawa on principle, because he’s awesome and he deserves to have important eyes watching him. As far as charisma goes, he’s the equal and opposite reaction to Shinsuke Nakamura. If Shinsuke is prog metal, Tozawa is thrash.
Also, I’ll go ahead and give Kenneth Johnson a Best for rising above what I usually expect of him. Here in Texas, Johnson (also known as Weazy Woo) can be a bit of an afterthought, so imagine my surprise when he starts smacking around the ring general of Monster Express. That might be my new frontrunner for Most Unexpected Image of 2016. So, if both wrestlers were up to par, why did this match feel like it was coming apart towards the end?
It could be a few different things. I’m not sure a PG American crowd knows how to react to Tozawa yet. He can’t really yell obscenities at the front row during rest holds anymore, but he still had some good call-and-response moments. If I really had to put my finger on it, I think Johnson planned for a sprint when he should have been planning for a marathon. Even if this was a good match (and I think it was), Tozawa did about two more minutes of wrestling than Johnson did.
Still, good effort from Johnson. Maybe my problem here was just an unfair bias. I’m used to Tozawa wrestling guys like YAMATO and Ricochet, so it feels very strange to see him presented on a level playing field with a guy I could see at a show in my general vicinity. Maybe that also deserves to be called a dream match … not just something like Kota Ibushi vs. Cedric Alexander, but something like Akira Tozawa taking on a guy from your neck of the woods. In the unlikeliest wrestling tournament I’ve ever seen, maybe something this strange is what it’s all about.