WWE Cruiserweight Classic Round 1
HHH decided he needed to do his own Super J Cup. The idea was to take 32 wrestlers from all over the world and have them compete in a tournament exclusively on the WWE Network to see who was the best cruiserweight in the world. The whole concept seems to be "Be as opposite as mainline WWE as possible". The presentation is very MMA inspired with weights, nationalities, styles, and officiating being handled like an actual sport. Production wise, the announce table is in a different spot, there are different camera angles, the turnbuckle pads are indie/JCP style, and that mat itself has the CWC and Tapout logos on it. The logos are especially unique, as WWE has never done logos on the mat before, especially not with sponsorships. Now, being that it is a 32 man tournament with as much diversity in styles and countries as possible, there were a number of talents that, frankly, had no business in this tournament. I will not be covering them. Instead, I will be covering the top matches in the first round.
Many of the competitors qualified for matches at various indies like EVOLVE, PROGRESS, and Rev Pro, which were promoted by WWE and HHH directly online. Footage was also shown on WWE's YouTube page. Throughout the tournament, all home promotions will be promoted, and nothing seems particularly off limits to talk about or promote. Daniel Bryan and Mauro Ranallo will be calling the action, adding to the MMA feel. Each match begins and ends with a handshake, and the referee explains the rules before the match while having both men in the ring for the announcement of the winners after the match. Almost like this thing is a real sport. They even put out a dope show breaking down the brackets and introducing many of the talents, in the style of a ESPN studio show.
Gran Metalik (MEX) vs Alejando Saez (CHI)
Gran Metalik is better known as Mascara Dorada, a star in both CMLL and NJPW. Saez, on the other hand, is a complete unknown to most audiences, but is credited as starting pro wrestling in his home country of Chile. He trained himself watching videos online, then traveled the world to learn more skills before he began promotion shows in Chile. He also cut 30 pounds to make the legitimate 205 pound weight limit, which is crazy both because they have an actual enforced weight limit and that cutting weight is being used as a storyline in pro wrestling. And 30 fucking pounds. What a crazy cut. Saez actually controls quite a bit of the opening minutes, which surprises both Metalik and the announcers. Metalik does his neat ass walk around missile dropkick, then follows it with a springboard top con hilo. LUCHA FUCKERY! He follows that with a rope walk splash. Saez comes back with a SSP off the apron. In case you didn't know, this is cruiserweight shit, and they're going FULL cruiserweight in the first match. Considering how sterile and safe the dives in mainline WWE are, seeing this stuff is very neat. Metalik wins with a nasty Samoan Driver. Metalik looked awesome, especially if you had never seen him before. In a 6 minute match, he looked more impressive than Sin Cara (both versions) and Kalisto have in years. Saez also looked pretty impressive considering he trained himself on Youtube and held his own with one of the top cruisers in the world.
Kota Ibushi (JPN) vs Sean Maluta (ASA)
Kota Ibushi is the preeminent cruiser in the world, and the presumed favorite to win the tournament. Maluta is a member of the A'noai family. Ibushi has had classics with Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, and Sami Zayn. You'll be hearing one or all of them about 30 times a show. As well as any chance Mauro and Bryan can find to talk about NJPW. Bryan puts over Ibushi's kicks over HUGE. Considering Bryan has never done this, he's pretty solid. While not particularly polished, he is very excited and seems to genuinely love watching various international stars in a WWE setting. Mauro brings the MMA feel and trivia. Ibushi manages to find ways to land on his neck on simple bumps. Maluta tries a dive that ends up being a 630 tope on accident. Maluta scores a hot near fall with a huge superkick, but Ibushi wins with the sit out Last Ride. This was actually a showcase for Maluta, who showed more in one match against Ibushi than the Usos have had for the vast majority of their WWE careers. Ibushi sold his offense as if he was getting hit by Nakamura in the Tokyo Dome. Enough to the point where I would like to see more of Maluta. No idea why Ibushi comes back from a neck/disc injury and decides he should be more flippy and reckless with his bumps.
Mustafa Ali (PAK) vs Lince Dorado (PUR)
Lince is another in a line of Chikara wrestlers making their way to WWE, which is strange because Chikara fucking sucks. Mustafa is a heel on the basis of being maybe Muslim. Davari's younger brother was in the tournament, and he also happened to be a heel definitely in no way due to his Middle Eastern/Muslim heritage. Despite Ali's style being "high flying" he actually doesn't do any high flying, instead doing mostly power moves. Lince hits a nasty head scissors off the apron, followed by an Asai moonsault. He also hits a springboard reverse rana, which of course is kicked out of. That's kind of a theme throughout the tournament. KICK OUT OF EVERYTHING. Shortly after, Lince kicks out of a Spanish Fly. Lince wins with a SSP. Lince is very reminiscent of OG Sayama Tiger Mask, both in look and style. Like a Tiger Mask for the modern indie era.
Raual Mendoza (MEX) vs Brian Kendrick (USA)
Spanky's whole thing here is that he's in his late 30s and this is his last chance for a big time WWE (and therefore wrestling in general) spot, so he's going to do whatever he has to do to win. Essentially, this means he's going to be working heel in the tournament. He's also Bryan's unabashed favorite to win. Mendoza does some neat lucha fuckery submissions, which seems to be a less talked about aspect of lucha in favor of masks and dives. Before guys like Mil Mascaras, that type of wacky submission stuff was one of the main focuses of lucha. Raual, who wears braces, gets his mouth placed on the ropes, curb stomp style. Spanky then kicks the ropes. What a dick. Mendoza bleeds from the mouth for the rest of the match. Mendoza hits a big corkscrew plancha, Joe/La Parka style. Spanky has had a HARD 7 years since he was last seen in WWE. That weed has aged him something fierce. If you were looking for true cruiser fuckery, you're getting it here, because Mendoza does a god damn Van Terminator in a first round match and it isn't even his finish. Spanky wins the the bully choke, aka Minoru Suzuki's Saka Otoshi.
Jack Gallagher (GBR) vs Fabian Aichner (ITA)
Jack Gallagher looks like a Vaudevillain reject, but it turns out he's pretty dope. He also has legit MMA experience and trained at the legendary Snakepit with Billy Robinson. Aichner is Italian, but was trained by Steve and Alex Wright and looks like he's over the 205 weight limit. On the other hand, Gallagher is one of the lighter men in the tournament. Aichner shows off his Wright pedigree early on with his wacky wrist lock escapes. Steve Wright was fucking legit. If you've never seen his work with Tiger Mask, you should definitely do so. "Is it possible for me to be in love with a man through watching him on television?" Bryan is very impressed with Gallagher's technical style. It's interesting Jack made it to the tournament at all considering how similar his style is to Zack Saber Jr., yet he has a much better look and more charisma. Both do the same World of Sport tribute stuff. And Aichner is able to get some of that stuff in himself. Gallagher busts out Billy Robinson spots, which is fucking dope. Aichner finally realizes that he has a huge size advantage and starts pounding away. Then he does a double jump moonsault. Gallagher wins with a crazy corner dropkick. Here's the deal. There is a ton of hype on indie guys from the UK at the time this tournament is happening. Jack Gallagher is never included on the list. Yet, he's for sure the most entertaining guy out of all the 2016 UK indie guys. I have no idea why he didn't get any hype online before this tournament, but he's a delight to watch.
Tommaso Ciampa (USA) vs Johnny Gargano (USA)
Two indie stalwarts who came into NXT about a year prior as a tag team. Now, I've seen both on the indies. I enjoyed what I saw of Gargano, but Ciampa looked like a chump in both PWG and ROH. Yet as a pair, I've enjoyed their worked tremendously in NXT. It's actually quite stunning. I have no idea how ROH and PWG managed to make Ciampa look so shitty. A few weeks after this, these two would have a TREMENDOUS match with The Revival at Takeover Brooklyn II. But here, they're competing with each other for singles glory. After the opening minutes being even, Ciampa hits a crazy stiff back elbow. Ciampa's strikes are stiff as fuck. Ciampa just knocks the shit out of Gargano. Don't worry, Gargano gives it back. Christ. This is stiff as fuck. Tag partners not holding back at all. I do lol at them both being billed at 5'10" when Ciampa is clearly at least 3 inches taller, and he probably isn't even 5'10" himself. OH SHIT AIR RAID CRASH ON THE APRON. MAMA MIA! Gargano kicks out. Naturally. POWERBOMB LUNGBLOWER! And Gargano kicked out. Lol at his dying fish face sell. Ciampa is in shock, having thrown absolutely everything he can at his partner. Gargano refuses to stay down, then wins with a roll up OUTTA NOWHERE! After initially refusing to shake hands with Johnny, Ciampa returns to embrace his partner. What a war. From start to finish, there was a clear story being told and sold by both men, which is really wonderful in a tournament that seems primarily based on "do cool shit". This match was by far the best of the first round, and did so much to show how important it was when partners were going so hard at each other just to get out of the first round. You have to consider it's placement in the tournament and it's length (under 11 minutes) when judging its overall quality. It got a LOT accomplished.
Round 1 was less about great matches and more about introducing the cast of characters. Even though this tournament is for the diehards, a lot of the talent are completely unknown and therefore needed to be paired up with guys the crowd knew, and given a chance to look good against them. The only match that went full on was Gargano/Ciampa, which was great. It also happened to be the final match of the round.
This whole thing is fascinating, as it is so outside the realm of what WWE has ever done. All of the sports entertainment aspects are done away with, an international cruiserweight tournament with legit weight limits, the pure sports build, the different lighting and camera angles, the different mat/ropes/pads. I'd argue that this whole thing has a real sport feel that is even stronger than NJPW's. There's a lot of no-selling and kick outs, but I'll go more into depth about that in later rounds.