The Best And Worst Of WWE Cruiserweight Classic, Week 8: Burning Desire

Previously on the WWE Cruiserweight Classic: Rich Swann outlasted Lince Dorado in an aerial dogfight, Zack Sabre, Jr. and Drew Gulak showed the ungentlemanly side of catch wrestling, and T.J. Perkins brought the meteoric rise of Johnny Gargano to a screeching halt. Our eighth week of competition now brings us to the quarterfinals. You may want to buckle up for this one, because it’s a wild ride.

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And now, The Best and Worst of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, Week 8.

Best: Peak Cruiserweight

With the arrival of the CWC quarterfinals, I finally feel like there is no more fat left to trim from this tournament. What remains are eight elite wrestlers — some more popular than others, but all with legitimate, international pro wrestling cred. The fun part, of course, is just throwing them at each other and seeing what happens. This whole setup has felt like mad science right from the day it was announced, but we’re now seeing the most explosive in-ring combinations yet.

For an example, look no further than Gran Metalik vs. Akira Tozawa. It’s hard for me to say anything other than “GO WATCH THIS MATCH” in my shoutiest voice, because it’s just so well put-together. I know I’ve said it before, but the greatest strength of this tournament is creating a structure wherein all the storytelling is done in the ring. Like, you get one 90-second vignette to pose dramatically in an empty ring and introduce yourself to the WWE Universe, and that’s it. There’s some high drama here, and I think Tozawa is responsible for the majority of the tension, but just barely. I don’t know if this is a skill explicitly taught in training, but Japanese near-falls are absolute heart attacks to watch. Go watch some of Shinsuke Nakamura’s big matches in New Japan, because he finds away to kick out when the referee’s hand is just a few electrons away from hitting the mat. Tozawa did his fair share of that here as well, and none of it felt overindulgent.

I do have a surprising number of nitpicks, though. None of them are big enough to take away from the quality of the match, mind you.

– The most significant one is obviously the fact that Gran Metalik nearly got himself counted out. On Twitter, I saw some people mentioning that tonight’s episode contained some pretty heavy edits, but I don’t know if this instance was something they were referring to. Both Japan and Mexico traditionally use different count lengths, so Metalik probably just got confused.
– The crowd chanting “C-Dub-C” for the Cruiserweight Classic sounds oddly similar to “P-Dub-G.” Consider that 10 of the 32 men in this tournament are PWG alumni. Just a weird coincidence.
– The finish felt a little bit weird. I think the perfect exclamation point to end on would have been Metalik’s rana to Tozawa while he was crotched on the top rope, but it went on a bit longer and ended with Metalik eating all of Tozawa’s power moves, only to suddenly pull out his finisher and win. Kind of a John Cena finish, but everything leading up to it was so good that I don’t begrudge it.

I’m bummed to see Tozawa eliminated, especially since this seemed to be the most vocal crowd in his favor thus far. His call-and-response to the crowd has mostly just consisted of him going “AAGGHH,” so naturally, someone brought an “AAGGHH” sign for him.

Worst: Mauro Ranallo, The Go-To Worst On A Show Full Of Bests

BRYAN: “Can’t say I did, Mauro.”
BRYAN: “It’s interesting, because Metalik will actually-”
BRYAN: [finds nearest camera and does the Jim Face from The Office]

Wait, is Mauro actually Dugout Jim Thome come to life?

Best: Brian Kendrick, Super Genius

I’m about to get absurdly over-analytical on this, but just hear me out.

My favorite Looney Tunes character has always been Wile E. Coyote. People cast him as a villain, even though all he’s trying to do is survive. Decades of animation history have shown us that he doesn’t give up, even though any sane person would call it a day after their first dozen or so TNT mishaps. He’s been blessed with intelligence, but he’s also compelled to show it off at every opportunity, often sabotaging himself. This is a very, very layered character… as opposed to the Road Runner, the supposed babyface of the feud who is often mean-spirited and over-reliant on his catchphrase.

You’ve probably guessed by now what I’m trying to say: Brian Kendrick is pro wrestling’s Wile E. Coyote. He’s clever, cunning, determined, and ultimately destined to fail. In his match with Kota Ibushi, we get a master class in nebulous morality. Look at the so-called real world outside your window. Do you ever catch yourself wondering why the bad guys seem to come out on top? It’s because they’ve made the choice not to be bound to anything – neither morality, nor empathy, nor community. Evil isn’t stupid. Evil has made the cold, calculated decision to set aside kindness in the name of efficiency. If Brian Kendrick must be evil to win the Cruiserweight Classic and prolong the only career he’s ever loved and understood, then evil he shall be.

This match was fantastically brutal. Let’s go ahead and fast-forward to the part that had the internet breaking their Caps Lock keys. The year is 2016, and The Brian Kendrick just gave Kota Ibushi a f*cking Burning Hammer during a WWE cruiserweight tournament. What planet are we on right now.

For those that might not be familiar, the Burning Hammer was Kenta Kobashi’s near-mythical finishing maneuver. Put it this way… How many Attitude Adjustments have you seen over the years? Hundreds? Thousands? Think about any pro wrestling finisher, whether it’s a swanton bomb or a Styles Clash or an ankle lock. It’ll be less common than an ordinary headlock, but you still have a good chance of seeing it every week, right?

Kenta Kobashi only performed seven Burning Hammers in his entire lifetime. Seven finishers, seven victories. No one ever kicked out. Seeing the Burning Hammer was an event. It was wrestling’s nuclear deterrent. It was a last resort for when you absolutely, positively must put a man down for the three-count. Eventually tape-trading became a thing, and a bunch of American independent wrestlers with no grasp of psychology started unsafely dropping dudes on their necks, but the Kobashi Burning Hammer is still pristine. The fact that Kendrick felt the need to attempt something so legendary tells you all you need to know about what desperation will do to a man.

Best: “Now We Are Free.”

I’m not going to cheapen this with my words.

Good luck to anyone trying to top that.