Here we are with the first annual WWE Cruiserweight Classic. Still feels weird to hear out loud that Daniel Bryan is a four time WWE champion. It just doesn't seem like it can be a real thing. It's devastating he had to retire so young, but he had a hell of a career.
The commentary here, which I will certainly be bringing up throughout this review more than once, is sensational. Mauro has much better chemistry with Bryan than he does with the Smackdown guys, and Bryan is excellent in the analyst role, and his relentless enthusiasm is infectious. I loved the way he talked about all the external factors that go into these matches and the way he'd really break down the ring psychology on an extremely high level. You can tell by the way he talks about it what a brilliant mind he has for the wrestling.
He's very much the other side of the Flair coin, even though both were extremely great in their own rights. Flair just kinda did stuff, largely on feel, but it was some of the best stuff ever because he's a total natural and has some of the best instincts of all time, whereas you can tell that the wheels are always turning for Bryan, he's always thinking about the strategy and the psychology and the logic of wrestling, which makes him a godsend behind the desk.
The profiles before the matches are really great. They're quick hits, but they give you a good primer as to what the guys in the tournament are about. Nothing overly high concept, just people telling their stories and giving you a reason to root for or against them.
Everything about the presentation here works for me. The show had a really different feel in terms of its look to anything else WWE does. It's so nice to see a different presentation from WWE for once rather than everything always looking the exact same as everything else in their fast food model.
Anyway, let's get to the matches!
Gran Metalik v. Alejandro Saez
This was a great match to start the tournament off with. A really good sprint in the opener is a great choice to fire up the crowd and set the pace for the rest of the night.
I liked the structure of these first round matches generally across the board. They were all built to give the loser some opportunity to get himself out there, but did a great job focusing on showcasing the four guys that advanced and what they do in the ring to establish them to the WWE audience that might not be familiar with them.
Bryan was once again earning his keep here by focusing on the dangers for Saez of the weight cut and how that can impact his stamina. These are the kind of things that would be great from a color commentator, rather than just shouting nonsense.
It is great that they're doing the Code of Honor gimmick from the Honorable Wrestling here because it fits well with the entire presentation. It was good to see them really establish alignments here rather than just trying to do spots, and I like that primarily it was the underdogs being the ones more inclined to work the matches subtly heel, because they're not expected to win, and thus feel even more desperate and need to pull out all the stops even more to make sure they advance because of how important this tournament is. Feeling like winning and losing the match is important is such a big thing in wrestling that sometimes goes ignored these days. Tonight there was no question in any of the matches that winning was very important to everyone in the field.
The match was an excellent showcase for Dorada as so many of his spots are a sight to behold and in a first round matchup getting his spots out there is crucial to establish him. Really liked the minor touch when Dorada tested the ropes before a dive because it's his first time working in this ring and using the ropes is such a crucial part of his offense.
Saez didn't stand out as much as Dorada, and he wasn't meant to, but he definitely made me want to see more of his work. He's got potential, and the Shooting Star Press to the floor was incredible. Great finish as well with Dorada dropping him on his head with a vicious Samoan Driver. Excellent opening match of the tournament.
Ariya Daivari v. Ho Ho Lun:
I really liked Lun's profile piece here. The idea of someone taking a different path from what's expected is always a good narrative for things like this.
And we have our first break of the Code of Honor of the evening. Shocking lack of respect for this wonderful tournament! I assume Triple H was personally offended. And now Bryan is talking about jet lag for Lun on commentary. He's a treasure.
This was probably the weakest match of the night, but there's definitely potential with Lun. He's the kind of person WWE can definitely develop into something down the line with some work in the performance center and he managed to get over with the audience well enough too. I really liked the throwback of him actually winning a match with German Suplex like the good old days.
Cedric Alexander v. Clement Petiot:
It is so fantastic to see the way Cedric Alexander has revitalized his career since leaving Ring of Honor. During the Roderick Strong feud it really felt like Cedric was ready to break out, but then it all fell apart last year, and they ended up losing one of the most talented guys in the promotion. But luckily for us, their loss is NXT/Evolve's gain, and Cedric continued his resurgence with another awesome performance here. I was really glad to see him get a good pop from the audience, and it feels like his theme being more refined than some of the more generic ones might indicate he's going to get signed. Which is good news because he has a really rough match to win in round 2, so he might be an early exit.
I loved the intensity of the match at the outset here with both continuing to sell how must win these matches are. The shifting styles at play throughout the field are a great touch because it gives each match a unique feel as well, with this being much more violent and hard hitting than the opener which was more of a fact paced lucha infused sprint.
As for the meat of the match, I thought both guys really delivered in this one. Cedric's selling was excellent, and liked how he built to his comeback a lot. Plus, the execution on his offense and bumping were both top notch, especially the crazy Shooting Star Press sell on the Lariat from Petiot. Petiot was also very good in his role. He had strong, credible offense to get himself over as a heel, but was also good at making Cedric's offense look great. Bryan's analysis here yet again was on point as he discussed how the time limit might factor in for Petiot because of his style of wrestling being more inclined to go long than some of the sprint guys in the field.
Very good match, and did well to get both guys over. Cedric's Lumbar Check to finish looked brutal as well.
Kota Ibushi v. Sean Maluta:
The way they started this match was excellent. The story was built around Ibushi's devastating kicks, so it was great that he set the tone immediately by killing Maluta with a nasty leg kick. And that would not be the last brutal kick of the match, but before he was going to do many more kicks, he had to do what he does even better than kick, which was to continually take brutal looking bumps on his head and neck. The codebreaker sell was absolutely bonkers.
The match as a whole was yet again a great showcase for the winner in that it emphasized all the things Ibushi does well, whether it was his brutal kicks, his extremely generous bumping, his amazing high spots, or his excellent facial expressions. He has such an expressive face which is always a great thing to have in wrestling because it gives the audience a window into the emotion of the match. And it was great to see him doing much of his wildest offense like the Pele to an opponent on the top rope or the second turnbuckl moonsault to the outside that will quickly endear him to the NXT fanbase.
Also, credit to both of them for saving that messed up dive by Maluta, and great job by Bryan and Mauro on comms getting it over by selling the idea that Maluta had to bust out things he's not even sure if he can do because of how important the match is, and how against the odds he is against the favorite to not just win this round but to win the entire tournament.
Another thing I want to mention is Ibushi's great sell and near fall on the Savate Kick from Maluta. Getting a credible nearfall like that in a match with such an obvious winner can be very difficult to do, but Ibushi nailed it with a brilliant sell. I love the way he moves between over the top bumps like the one on the Codebreaker to make it look amazing and more grounded but devastating bumps like the one on the Savate Kick to sell the near fall. That's just smart wrestling. In the end though, Ibushi was too deadly and gets the win with an awesome sitout Last Ride.
Overall, this was an excellent debut for the Cruiserweight Classic. It has an excellent format, presentation, and commentary team, and three out of the four matches delivered big, and the fourth showed some signs for growth down the line even if it was a little rough tonight. Plus, it's just awesome to see guys like Cedric Alexander and Kota Ibushi on NXT Television.
And up next week, we have Tajiri v. Damien Slater, TJ Perkins v. Da Mack, Mustafa Ali v. Lince Dorado, and Kenneth Johnson v. Akira Tozawa, all of which have me very excited for next week as I love one of the guys in all four of those matches.
This should be one of the most fun things WWE does, if tonight is any indication.