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WWE Cruiserweight Classic Preview (July 20, 2016): Slater vs. Tajiri, Mack vs. TJP, Dorado vs. Ali, & Tozawa vs. Johnson

It's time for week two of WWE's Cruiserweight Classic and this time they did me a solid by announcing all of this week's matches in advance, so no weird feeling around like last time. Enough talk, let's have at it!

Damian Slater vs. Tajiri

Trained in part by fellow Cruiserweight Classic entrant TJ Perkins and longtime Pro Wrestling Zero1 junior heavyweight submission specialist Ikuto Hidaka, Slater has worked up and down the Australian independent scene for over a decade, mainly for NWA- and Zero1-affiliate Wrestle Rampage, but has also made trips to the United States and Japan. He inherits a similar mixture of submission wrestling and pure striking as the men I list above, and he's got an STF that would make Stone Cold say "damn son, ease off a little!"

Tajiri, being the other big WWE vet in the tourney, should be familiar to all of us but if not I'll give a quick rundown anyway.

Trained in the Big Japan dojo, Tajiri made his international breakout for ECW, where he won both the ECW World Television Championship and the ECW World Tag Team Championship, the latter alongside Mikey Whipwreck as one half of the Unholy Alliance guided by "Sinister Minister" James Mitchell. Other accolades early in his career include his reigns as BJW Junior Heavyweight Champion, CMLL World Light Heavyweight Champion, CZW World Heavyweight Champion, and IWA Hardcore Champion. From here he went to WWE, and continued to rack 'em up, winning the United States Championship, the Light Heavyweight Championship, the Cruiserweight Championship (three times!), and each tag team championship once, the world titles in a legendary odd couple pairing with William Regal, and the WWE belts alongside Eddie Guerrero, filling in for his injured nephew Chavo.

After being released from WWE in 2005, he returned to Japan, wrestling for comedy promotion HUSTLE (including taking part in a memorable angle where Yinling was impregnated by Great Muta's poison mist following a tag team match and would eventually give birth Akebono), All Japan, and New Japan before eventually settling on his own successor promotions to HUSTLE, SMASH and Wrestling New Classic. Following WNC's closure in 2014, he went to Muta's Wrestle-1, where he works to this day and is currently one third of the UWA World Trios Champions with Kaz Hayashi and Minoru Tanaka.

Tajiri is well known stylistically for his buzzsaw kick and innovative offense like the rope-hung Boston Crab that is the Tarantula, as well as an arsenal of maneuvers inspired by his idol Muta.

As far as size and weight go, both men here are fairly evenly matched. Tajiri is a bit smaller, but his experience edge and craftiness far outweigh the inch or two he gives up against Slater. The winner of this one goes on to face Gran Metalik in the second round, which is gonna be explosive no matter who advances.

Damian Slater in action against Ikuto Hidaka for Zero1 Australia.

Tajiri in action against Matt Hardy and Seiya Sanada for Wrestle-1.

Da Mack vs. TJ Perkins TJP

Er kommt aus Deutschland, but he's a lot different from Brakus, it's Da Mack! The current wXw Shotgun Champion as well as a two-time wXw Tag Team Champion alongside Axel Dieter, Jr. as one half of Hot and Spicy. Inspired by Michael Jackson much like NXT's own Shinsuke Nakamura, Mack's explosive style is a joy to watch and he should match up excellently here against TJ Perkins.

Representing the Philippines and trained underage at a lucha libre school in LA, TJ Perkins made his debut at the age of 14 and has gone on to have a wild ride across the entire landscape of pro wrestling, working everywhere from New Japan to TNA (where he's a former X Division Champion) and Ring of Honor to Evolve, where his match against Munenori Sawa at Evolve 1 is perhaps the most mentioned match from the early days of the promotion.

I don't want to oversell him here, but if I could compare TJ Perkins to anybody on the WWE roster today, it'd be AJ Styles. He's just an immensely competent wrestler who might not be the very best at any one discipline, but his versatility and ability to hang no matter the tenor of the match, whether it's a technical grappling contest, pyrotechnical high flying, or an all-out brawl, makes him one of the best in the world all the same.

With regards to size, these two warriors match up almost perfectly evenly, and only Perkins' experience advantage and deeper stylistic breadth stand out as likely difference makers. But no matter who moves on, he faces the winner of Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa in the second round, perhaps the stiffest second round competition on the entire bracket.

Da Mack in action as part of Hot and Spicy with tag partner Axel Dieter, Jr. against the Bravado Brothers (Harlem & Lancelot Bravado) for Westside Xtreme Wrestling.

TJ Perkins in action against Drew Gulak at Evolve 40.

Lince Dorado vs. Mustafa Ali

Meow! Meow! Meow! Here are the two most important things you can know about Lince Dorado: Firstly, he's the world's premier cat-themed luchador. Sorry, Felino, Tiger, Puma, Blue Panther, et al. Secondly, if you can beat him in a Pokemon battle, he'll give you a discount on his merch. Hands up everybody who's a fan already!

Anyway, the golden lynx (representing Puerto Rico in the tournament) made his name in Chikara initially, where he's a former King of Trios alongside El Pantera and WWE's own Sin Cara (then working as Incognito), but since leaving that promotion has mostly stuck to the southeastern independent scene with occasional stops in Dragon Gate USA and Evolve.

Representing Pakistan (and indeed, the first Pakistani wrestler to compete for WWE) Mustafa Ali is also a reasonably long-tenured veteran of the independent scene, getting his start in small midwestern indies in 2007 before a successful run in IWA Mid-South. He fell off the radar for a few years, mostly wrestling for Illinois-based Dreamwave Wrestling, but has begun to make waves for Freelance Wrestling, becoming their champion and having an excellent title defense against Jonathan Gresham just two weeks ago that is definitely worth your time and money on VOD.

At 5'10", Ali has several inches on Dorado, but the experience factor is basically equal here. The winner will go on to face the winner of Jason Lee vs. Rich Swann, however, perhaps putting Dorado at an advantage if Swann wins, as the two have wrestled many times, one of which I've chosen as my free match link here.

Lince Dorado in action against Rich Swann for Fighting Evolution Wrestling.

Mustafa Ali in action against Isaias Velazquez for Freelance Wrestling.

Akira Tozawa vs. Kenneth Johnson

Lemme ask you folks a question. Who does your favorite German Suplex? Brock Lesnar, maybe? Dalton Castle? Maybe you're real old-school, you go right back to Karl Gotch? Well, you might want to make some mental room, folks, 'cause Akira Tozawa's Everest-style deadlift German Suplex beats 'em all.

The third graduate of the Dragon Gate dojo to debut for the promotion, Tozawa's done everything you can do in Dragon Gate, having been Open the Brave Gate Champion, Open the Owarai Gate Champion, Open the Twin Gate Champion (three times with two different partners), Open the Triangle Gate Champion (twice and current, with four different partners), everything except the prestigious Open the Dream Gate Championship.

But he's perhaps best known here in the US for his training excursion here in 2010 and 2011, a whirlwind tour that saw him work for promotions like Chikara, Dragon Gate USA, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. It was in that last promotion where he formed a team that's certain to whet some whistles, creating the Nightmare Violence Connection with one Kevin Steen.

Johnson, meanwhile, has had a much lower profile. Trained by Mr. Hughes at his school, WWA4 (a school that's turned out the likes of WWE Superstars Heath Slater and Apollo Crews, as well as indie standouts AR Fox and Moose and many more), he doesn't even have a Cagematch page! So verily, WWE turned over every last possible stone to find the best talent for this tournament. Working mainly as Weazy Woo, he's got an athletic high flying style and finishes things off old-school with a diving crossbody.

As far as the matchup goes, Johnson has 4 inches on Tozawa, but they weigh the same, presenting an interesting situation for the Detroit native. And in the next round, whichever man advances will stare down the winner of Fabian Aichner vs. Jack Gallagher.

Akira Tozawa in action against Zack Sabre, Jr. for Magnum Pro Wrestling.

Kenneth Johnson in action as Weazy Woo against Dan Motley and Maston Cutter for WWA4.

So there you have it, folks.

Four more matches of international cruiserweight action and some samples to check 'em out before the show. Any predictions?

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