Previously on the WWE Cruiserweight Classic: Tajiri wrestled like a man half his age, the crowd popped for T.J. Perkins hitting the dab, Lince Dorado and Mustafa Ali tore the house down, and Akira Tozawa brawled his way into your heart. It’s a wild ride, and we’re barely out of the gate.
And now, the Best and Worst of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, Week 3.
Best/Worst: Avada Kedavra
Zack Sabre, Jr. is secretly a heel with a frightening mean streak. Do I have your attention?
In his introductory vignette, he hypes his technical skill and says that Harry Potter isn’t the only “wizard” from Great Britain. If we’re going full steam ahead with comparisons to The Boy Who Lived here, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Sabre would probably end up sorted in Slytherin. While he presents a humble, clean-cut image, his body language in the ring tells a vastly different story.
Brandon has talked here in the past about submission holds that have a second stage, such as Kurt Angle’s ankle lock. It’s dangerous when he’s standing, but once he grapevines your leg, it’s game over and you’re limping home. Sabre seems to specialize in these two-stage holds, because at the drop of a hat, he’ll turn a routine armbar into a non-surgical amputation at the shoulder. There’s a coldness in his technicality. He has the thousand-yard stare of Patrick Bateman as he stretches your tendons past their breaking point, and I think he does it on purpose. I’m not sure whether I like it, but at least it’s interesting.
All in all, I’m conflicted when it comes to Sabre. He’s a master of his craft, don’t get me wrong, but it all looks so polished that you start to wonder if you’re watching a human or a literal submission machine. Naturally, the game plan when facing him would be just to hit him until he collapses, but how do you even approach him without giving him a target?
It’s a bit like the Anderson Silva dilemma: You want to hit him because he’s basically bullying you with his skill. You get frustrated, you make the first mistake, and before you know it, you’re staring at the ceiling and asking the referee what day it is. Mike Quackenbush would often take a similar route, if you’re up to speed on your Chikara. He’d let the opponent get tired or cocky, draw them in, and suddenly he’d say “Haha, NOPE” and do that thing where he crosses up all your limbs and makes you look like an idiot. You know, the old Dr. Cube treatment.
(And just to clarify something I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with being a Slytherin. I’ve yet to take a sorting quiz that didn’t put me in green and silver.)
Best: Streets Of Philadelphia
I was definitely carrying some unfair bias into this, considering that I’m such a fan of the Gentleman’s Club. Drew Gulak isn’t even my favorite member (Team Chuck Taylor, ride or die), but he still had my seal of approval right from the get-go. I kept hoping for a run-in from the Swamp Monster or Doctor Colonel Nolan Angus, but I suppose even the Cruiserweight Classic has limits on how wonderful it’s allowed to be.
Gulak is another self-professed technician, but there’s a key difference between him and Sabre: Gulak always looks like he’s fighting. Catch wrestling is kind of scrappy by its nature, and Gulak brings plenty of blue-collar Pennsylvania violence to the table. Maybe it’s the CZW in him, I don’t know. Technique is important, but it’ll never be 100 percent of the picture.
Let’s put it this way … Sabre is probably the better technician by a narrow margin, but Gulak is the guy you wouldn’t want to piss off in a bar fight. Subtract character from technique, and you might was well be practicing in an empty gym. That’s why I think Gulak had the more compelling performance of the two mat wrestlers.
And speaking of Sabre and Gulak, I should give credit to their opponents as well. Tyson Dux and Harv Sihra are both talented Canadian wrestlers, even though both of the Sihra brothers chose to represent India in the tournament. At 38 years old, Dux has been around long enough to reach the point where he should probably be a bigger deal. As for the Sihras, I feel like they could be majorly entertaining in NXT. One of the comments on my competitor breakdown suggested they should team up with The Miz, and I started throwing money at my computer screen when I read that. Yes please.
Worst: Rebooting House Party Was Never Going To End Well
We then move on to Anthony Bennett versus Tony Nese, or “A Tale of Two Tonys.” Tony Nese is in that same Physically Impossible category as Apollo Crews, which kind of makes sense when you consider that he and Crews used to run together in Dragon Gate under the leadership of fellow CWC competitor Akira Tozawa.
Anthony Bennett, on the other hand, has a resume that simply says “Thrilled to be here” in big red letters. Most of his 147-pound frame is high top fade and redundant sunglasses, and his catchphrase is “This kid don’t play.” Resident grandfather Daniel Bryan wonders aloud on commentary if he’s even old enough to get that reference, which is pretty much exactly what I wondered. Maybe they were just sold out of J.J. Fad references at the Gimmick Store.
I don’t have much to say about this, other than the fact that it should have been over in about 40 seconds. Nese looks like he’s part caveman, he should have scored the pin here after a stiff clothesline. I didn’t help that Bennett got his bell rung near the finish and the referee had to step in right before Nese’s 450 splash to end the match, completely interrupting the momentum of the whole thing. Pretty unmemorable stuff here. Luckily, the night ended on high note.
Best: Brian Kendrick’s Phantom Pain
When wrestling gets a redemption story right, it’s amazing. Brian Kendrick comes into the CWC as a prodigal son, admitting to anyone who’ll listen that he’s been a screw-up. He doesn’t just want to get back to where he was, he has to. It’s his last chance. “Without wrestling, I’m just living,” he says. So, let’s say you put a man in a cage and he’s desperate to escape. Is he going to be nice about it? Is he going to adhere to the rules?
Hell no. He’s going to bend every rule in the book. If you’re a footstep away from the exit of hell, you’ll step on anyone to get there. That’s why Kendrick was 100 percent justified in wrestling like a slimy heel, and I question whether or not the people in the audience booing him have ever truly wanted something in their lives. But hey, that’s my Slytherin talking.
This was the most fun match of the night by a long shot. A lot of the credit goes to Kendrick for being a wily veteran, willing to go the distance for the sake of storytelling. I mean, I think he became the first man in wrestling history to work an opponent’s orthodontic appliances. He’s radically different now, and there’s no blanks to fill in regarding why that is. Daniel Bryan was making no attempt to be a neutral commentator, electing instead to cheer on his old friend. He would have wrestled just as dirty if the roles had been reversed, I promise you.
And before I forget, the shoutiest of shout-outs goes to Raul Mendoza here, because damn. This is the biggest overperformance of the tournament, right? I think he’s edged out Mustafa Ali so far as the most memorable Round 1 loser. He felt like so much more than cannon fodder, he was an honest-to-God worthy opponent, and it brought out an even meaner side of Kendrick. The guy gets his mouth busted open, sticks to his game plan, hits some crazy offense, and ends up with the crowd overwhelmingly on his side. In a tournament that features Gran Metalik and Lince Dorado, he refused to have his lucha libre overshadowed. If Kendrick’s story is nearing the end, I hope Mendoza’s is just beginning.