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    Thursday, July 14, 2016

    WWE Cruiserweight Classic Review (7/13/16): Baby, Let's Cruise

    The WWE Cruiserweight Classic is finally here and that makes today a glorious day to be a wrestling fan! It’s your boy Stan Sy making a comeback to review my new favorite program on the WWE Network! Now that the table’s all set, let’s do this:

    We open with a nice little montage featuring cruiserweights of the past who have gone on to make an impact on the wrestling business over Triple H’s narration, which is a nice touch to pay homage to guys like Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, and even Daniel Bryan. Watching Mauro Ranallo, Daniel Bryan—and later, Corey Graves—set up the tournament once more becomes an even better experience when you see how they presented the graphics a la Street Fighter. This is as legit as it gets in the WWE, and it is amazing! It also helps that even the Mauro, DB, and Graves’ countries of origin are indicated on their name graphics.

    Match #1: Gran Metalik (Mexico) def. Alejandro Saez (Chile)

    If you watched last week’s Bracketology, you’ll remember both Mauro and DB spending a lot of time building Saez up for bringing professional wrestling to Chile. They try to make him a big deal because of that, but you also know that he’s most likely going to end up jobbing to the luchador also known as Mascara Dorada.

    The match starts off with the referee explaining the rules to both men in the middle of the ring, which is a stark contrast to how WWE—or any other wrestling promotion—normally conducts its affairs. They’re asked to shake hands, which is a Ring of Honor staple and is a nice addition they’ve added to the tournament feel of the CWC. And we’re off!

    Saez is built up like a traditional babyface, which makes his in-ring work jarring as he quickly displays aggressive and heelish mannerisms from the get-go. He takes control for much of the early part of the match, until Gran Metalik gains the momentum with a tope con hilo off the second rope. For his part, Metalik does a good job of playing the babyface in peril despite most of us not really knowing nor caring about Alejandro Saez heading into the match. But you have to give Saez credit for playing balls to the wall a la Manu Ginobili, especially with that insane Shooting Star Press he landed on Gran Metalik off the apron! We need to have whatever those Latin Americans have in their water and let the Gilas Cadets drink that shit.

    In the end, Gran Metalik picked up the win with a brutal Fisherman’s Driver, advancing to the next round of the tournament.

    No surprises there. Gran Metalik is one of the dark horses in his bracket, and he might just advance past Tajiri into Round 3—because, yes, we’re totally calling Tajiri’s Round 1 match as a win already. Besides, you don’t pick up a name like Mascara Dorada for a measly one-off in the CWC.

    Match #2: HoHo Lun (Hong Kong) def. Ariya Daivari (Iran)

    Ariya Daivari being Shawn Daivari’s brother was acknowledged as early as two weeks ago, when WWE uploaded the YouTube video introducing the CWC participants. They went back to that well this week, building him up as carrying on the legacy of his family, his city of origin (Minnesota), and the country he’s representing (Iran). But of course, the moment he comes out, Full Sail starts booing him because MURRICA. Great.

    HoHo Lun is given the stereotypical babyface underdog narrative, with him coming from literally the other side of the world to represent Hong Kong. They mention how he had a strong support system in his mother, who allowed him to train for pro wrestling, but when he started training, he would later find out it was just judo. Whoops.

    Nonetheless, HoHo’s made to look like a guy who’s just happy to be there, which makes this match’s outcome even more surprising. The minute HoHo enters, you can tell he’s nervous, and that simply being there was already a victory for him.

    As both men meet in the center of the ring with the referee to shake hands, Daivari brazenly refuses to shake HoHo’s hand, establishing him as the clear dick of the night.

    Among all the guys in tonight’s episode, Daivari’s the one who wrestles closest to the WWE style, especially with how he heeled it up against HoHo Lun. Sure, there was already some built-in xenophobia heat from Full Sail because of his Iranian heritage, but Daivari got himself more hated by slapping Hoho around and treating him like a bitch.

    It was fun watching Daivari keep HoHo grounded, especially with the choke holds to cut off the latter’s circulation. Mauro and DB did a great job of adding to that narrative by saying that Hoho must be jetlagged after flying from Hong Kong, so that was a cerebral move on Daivari’s part to further disorient HoHo.

    That wouldn’t last for long as Hoho would use his high-flying technique to re-energize both himself and the crowd and regain the momentum in this match. Through his comeback, Bryan would reference Mitsuharu Misawa’s influence on HoHo through his signature moves, culminating in the bridging German Suplex for the 1-2-3.

    That was a really fun match with an unexpected outcome just because I’ve been conditioned to think that for every babyface that advances (Gran Metalik), a heel should advance right afterward to balance it out. Apparently that wasn’t the case, and I’m glad to have been shocked by HoHo’s victory. There are lots of underdog arcs to watch out for in this tournament, and it’ll be crazy fun to see where HoHo’s story takes him.

    Match #3: Cedric Alexander (USA) def. Clement Petiot (France)

    Clement Petiot (pronounced PE-CHOO, for those of you who are curious) is presented as a protege of Lance Storm. He’s also the antithesis of your typical cruiserweight, which for him, means he strikes hard and DGAF. He’s also bulkier than a lot of the guys in this tournament, and he’ll beat you over the head with that fact over and over again.

    Meanwhile, Cedric Alexander’s backstory is interesting to me because the pastor in his neighborhood actually told him he wasn’t going to succeed as a pro wrestler. It’s not all that different from Sasha Banks’ story about how her church laughed at her when she said she wanted to be a wrestler. Props to Daniel Bryan for calling that out and saying that pastors are supposed to encourage people to pursue their dreams—no matter what they are—instead of putting them down and making kids like Cedric and Sasha feel horrible about them.

    Petiot and Alexander meet in the center of the ring for a handshake and Petiot tries to get in Cedric’s head early on by doing something that would elicit a, “Kiss! Kiss!” chant here in the Philippines.

    We get to see Petiot’s striking offense a lot in this match as he tries to wear Cedric down with his size and bulk. But Cedric’s able to come back with his trademark high-flying offense despite looking more ripped than you may remember from his ROH days. As much as you’d like to believe that a hard hitter like Petiot would have a chance to go far in the tournament, though, much like the Saez-Gran Metalik match, this was a showcase for Cedric Alexander to get over as the bigger name in front of the WWE audience. In the end, Cedric got the win with the Lumbar Check, advancing to the second round of the tournament.

    After the match, the referee raised Cedric’s arm in victory, while Petiot angrily yanked his away from the referee as a sore loser. I loved that last bit of heel work from Petiot in defeat because it showed commitment to the little things even after the match had ended.

    Match #4: Kota Ibushi (Japan) def. Sean Maluta (American Samoa)

    One of the clear favorites in the CWC, Kota Ibushi is built up as a babyface early on by showing his motivations as a wrestler (to make people happy) in his hype video. Thankfully, they didn’t dub over it with an English voice unlike last week’s Bracketology. Subtitles are clearly better than the awkward dubbing that takes us back to the days of Shane McMahon dubbing over Kai En Tai.

    Sean Maluta is then introduced as one of the younger members of the current generation of the Anoa’i Family, having trained with his Uncle Afa—therefore establishing him as Roman Reigns and the Usos’ cousin. This was the one time I wish Corey Graves were at the commentary desk because he could have made a wisecrack about Maluta being in the CWC because he’s the only one in his family who never went near those PEDs. But he’d get fired in the process, and I love Graves too much for that.

    We go to the ring and Maluta isn’t established as the heel, and if you checked the remaining running time on your WWE Network app, you’d see that they’d have at least 15 minutes for this main event match. It’s also worth noting that WWE allowed Ibushi to wear his own merch from Japan to the ring, which makes it a jarring thing to witness because if it wasn’t clear to you before, it should be even clearer that WWE is just straight up acknowledging the world outside their bubble. What a time to be alive.

    It was a lot of fun seeing these guys go back-and-forth, but as the case will be throughout the first round, a lot of these matches are exhibitions for the bigger names like Ibushi. The Golden Star would unleash a nasty kick to the midsection early on, which Bryan would add to on commentary by sharing his experiences with Ibushi’s strong and stiff kicks, selling the fact that Ibushi is one tough motherfucker.

    But Maluta wouldn’t make it easy on Ibushi, using his own high-flying maneuvers to try to one-up the Japanese sensation. Maluta would miss on a Samoan Splash early on in the match, but he would recover much later on with a well-placed Codebreaker from the second rope.

    If you’ve never watched Kota Ibushi perform, you’d be enthralled by how willing he was to risk life and limb to pull off these crazy moves that would make you go, “WHAT. THE. FUCK.” Case in point: this Dragon Moonsault.

    Ibushi going all out as early as the first round makes me want someone in the back to tell him to calm the fuck down. First round pa lang po, kuya. Tangina lang. Oh, he wants to make people happy? Well guess what, Daniel Bryan did, too, and now he’s just commentating at the age of 34.

    Bitching about Ibushi’s reckless offense aside, it was a fun match that should give you an idea why the Golden Star is a big deal in Japan and why he is one of the frontrunners to win this whole damn show. Kota would go on to finish Maluta off with a sitout Last Ride, which Mauro would call Sean Maluta’s “Last Rites.”


    The CWC opened on a very high note with four fan favorites all advancing to the next round of the tournament. But what made the viewing experience even more amazing was the chemistry and entertainment that Mauro Ranallo and Daniel Bryan brought to the commentary. I didn’t have a lot of high hopes for Bryan as a color guy, but he blew me away as early as the opening match. His enthusiasm and insights showed a lot of depth with both his understanding of the business and the research he did on these competitors. Plus, you could tell the guy was just so excited and marking out, even, that he was a part of this show in the first place. Forget Daniel Bryan as GM, guys. We need him as a color guy on SmackDown, or even NXT.

    I sing Mauro Ranallo’s praises on the Twittah every week when I watch SmackDown, and the only thing I could have wanted in the CWC is his weekly hip tito references to R&B and hip-hop, but overall, he continued to show why he’s the best play-by-play man in the business today.

    On deck next week, you get Tajiri vs. Damien Slater, Mustafa Ali vs. Lince Dorado, Akira Tozawa vs. Kenneth Johnson, AND our boy, Kuya TJ Perkins takes on Da Mack in his coming out party in the WWE. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch Finn Balor vs. Shinsuke Nakamura to continue my wrestling nerdgasm.

    Photos from WWE.


    Stan Sy (@_StanSyis the Editor at Large of Smark Henry, and is also a radio DJ, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He enjoys watching WWE, NXT, Lucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. He used to dress up in fancy suits to book matches as PWR's General Manager.
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    Item Reviewed: WWE Cruiserweight Classic Review (7/13/16): Baby, Let's Cruise Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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