Previously on the WWE Cruiserweight Classic: Zack Sabre, Jr. and Drew Gulak both grappled their way to the second round, Tony Nese triumphed with the world’s beefiest 450 splash, and Brian Kendrick took one more step on his road to redemption.
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And now, the Best and Worst of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, Week 4.
Best: The Question Of Whether Or Not We Can Handle This
One of Rich Swann’s most enduring traits on the independent scene was that he’d use “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie as his entrance music, often starting audience-wide singalongs. As far as unlikely places to hear people singing Lionel Richie, the streets of Baghdad still come in at number one, but indie wrestling venues are probably good for second place.
As much as I’d like to see WWE strike up a deal for the rights to “All Night Long,” they ended up settling on a replacement, and I think it’s a winner so far. It took the Full Sail crowd all of 30 seconds to break out in a “Can you handle this” chant, I believe. I like this trend of WWE entrance themes asking poignant questions. Can we handle this? Do they want some, or do they want none? Why is Jose still being constantly denied?
As for the match, this was a pretty strong showing from both competitors. I worry about Swann mugging to the crowd a little too much, but if he’s keeping the audience engaged, I guess it’s not really something to be complaining about. From the one match we’ve seen, I’d say that Jason Lee is the more competent of the two Hong Kong wrestlers in the CWC. Everything from his stance to his yellow and black gear shows that he’s not shy about his love of Bruce Lee, so that already earns him my favor. I’ve said over and over that this is Triple H’s personal fighting game tournament, so I’m glad we’ve got a Fei Long in the mix.
Swann getting the win is a no-brainer, though. In the event that the cruiserweights end up really making a splash on Raw, he’s going to be a major player, sooner rather than later.
Worst: Batting Cleanup
No one wants to go on last. Noam Dar and Gurv Sihra were the 14th match in a TV taping that lasted 16 matches, so the crowd had already seen a lot of what the cruiserweight world has to offer. They were in an uphill battle here. I’m still very much behind both of the Sihra brothers (Bollywood Boys vs. The Revival, please and thank you), and Noam Dar is more talented than his youth would suggest. With all that aside, here’s the ultimate factor … go back, watch this match, and listen to the silence. It’s deafening.
Among the competitors advancing to the second round, Dar has a lot in common with T.J. Perkins. He’s skilled, but there are other wrestlers in the CWC that play his own game better than he does. He’s a technician, but he lacks the complexity of Zack Sabre, Jr. or the violence of Drew Gulak. This fell pretty flat for me, but I’m sure that both men are much more comfortable in their own element. It’s a shame that the energy in the audience fell off right after the entrances, because Gurv Sihra really had them going.
Seriously, the Bollywood Boys might be magic waiting to happen. That story Daniel Bryan was telling about their blind grandfather celebrating their success hit me right in the heart. We just have to figure out why Gurv’s camera taunt is hand-cranked like he’s from the 1930s, but otherwise, they’re automatic. Anyone that sparks a pre-choreographed dance routine in the stands is worth a second look. This is the fun side of Full Sail, but something much darker was also looming throughout the first round. Case in point …
SUPER WORST: 2016’s Lousiest Wrestling Fan
I wouldn’t have noticed this if @JoeyOnEarth hadn’t pointed it out on Twitter, so I want to make sure I’m acknowledging him for this.
Now, I was willing to give this guy benefit of the doubt at first. For all we know, that’s just an unfortunately timed screenshot. But then, I saw this:
I went back to the second episode to confirm this, and sure enough, it’s real. Go back and watch Ali’s ring entrance, because they are making solid eye contact with each other, I swear to you. I hope this fan has been watching the tournament with commentary on the WWE Network, because right after he taunts Ali for his Pakistani heritage, Daniel Bryan mentions that Ali is actually a police officer in his native Illinois. I bet his head exploded like the dude from Scanners when he heard that.
Best: Jack Gallagher Should Be Selling Us Old Spice
We sorely need a palate cleanser at this point, and here to deliver exactly that is Jack By-God Gallagher. I wrote last week that Zack Sabre, Jr. tends to bully his opponent with his technical style, but Gallagher is quite the opposite. Instead, his approach is much more about a sporting sense of one-upmanship than breaking the opponent into pieces. Sure, he might make you look like a fool with his counters, but over time, he’s bringing out the best in you.
Case in point: Fabian Aichner came into this match looking like Bond Villain Henchman #332A, but after a few minutes of getting bamboozled by Gallagher, he’s pulling out double-jump moonsaults and stalling Orange Crush powerbombs. Props to Aichner for going above and beyond here, because he was definitely the dark horse of this episode.
This was a lot of fun. It was such a mismatch on paper, but that’s why we don’t wrestle on paper. I mean, there’s lots of reasons why we don’t wrestle on paper, but that’s the main one. I’m glad Jack Gallagher could take some time out of his busy schedule of drinking sherry and reading Hemingway to enlighten us on pro wrestling’s Victorian side. I think he’s got a very bright future, and we probably haven’t even seen the best of him yet. I mean, he filled a match with artful wristlock counters and ended up winning via running dropkick — that’s the most World of Sport finish ever, and I love it.
Best: This IS My Final Form
Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting for THIS Tommaso Ciampa to show up? Welcome back, man. We missed you.
The final match of the CWC’s first round is Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa, or THE CRUISER-POWERS EXPLODE if you’re into ’80s pay-per-view taglines. Tag teams have always been more interesting to me if the members are different, yet complementary. Gargano brings the speed and technique, Ciampa is the striking expert, and they’re a precise 1-2 punch when they’re in sync. But, played against each other, things start getting even more interesting … especially now that the Psycho Killer appears to have awakened from his slumber.
Ciampa’s deal in Ring of Honor (and other independents) was that he was scary. “The Sicilian Psychopath,” that’s what they called him. And when you consider that no one except his friend and tag team partner could bring that side back out of him, it’s nothing short of poetic.
It brings to mind the respectful rivalry between Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata from New Japan Pro Wrestling. They’re best friends, in wrestling and in real life, and they would routinely beat the crap out of each other. You save your hardest hits for your friend, because you know they can take it. And when it’s over, you’ve carved away everything that wasn’t exceptional. In the event that storyline friends wrestle each other and manage to keep it civil at the end of the day, it’s usually a trial by fire that makes both wrestlers better. As far as self-improvement in wrestling goes, it’s much easier than fighting Vampiro in a Strobe Cave, believe me.
There was a wealth of great storytelling here. Ciampa almost pulls the trigger on an unshielded knee strike, but hesitates because it’s needlessly cruel. That’s some Michaels/Flair stuff right there, and it was done perfectly. But you know what’s really got me excited? This crosses over from the CWC right into NXT. Gargano and Ciampa are gunning for the tag team championships, and they just did their Rocky training montage. Gargano has the confidence of going into the second round, and Ciampa has his mean streak back. Scott Dawson’s sideburns are going to get superkicked into orbit, you guys.