It's Wednesday and that means it's time for another batch of Cruiserweight Classic previews. We're in the home stretch of the first round, folks, and the excitement's only mounting.
Jason Lee vs. Rich Swann
Representing Hong Kong and trained at fellow Cruiserweight Classic entrant Ho Ho Lun's gym, Jason Lee takes great influence from another Lee known for his fantastic fighting skills, Bruce Lee. Mainly working for Japan's Pro Wrestling Zero1, he's also toured England and, of course, always makes time for his native land. And much like his countryman Lun, Jason brings with him an arsenal of kicks and strikes and a never say die attitude that may well see him make the upset.
The only Cruiserweight Classic entrant under exclusive contract to WWE when the tournament opened, a lot rests on Rich Swann's shoulders. If Swann falls early and an outsider wins the day, what does that say about WWE talent scouting? But rest easy, Mr. Hs, because Rich Swann is one of the most entertaining high flyers working today, and he'll go all night long, no problem.
Rich began training in 2005, but his career didn't kick into gear until he hooked up with the folks at Combat Zone Wrestling's training academy, including fellow CWC entrant Drew Gulak. Soon after that he made his debut for Dragon Gate USA and found what would be his long-term home on the indies, forming Ronin with Johnny Gargano and Chuck Taylor and trying to show that there was American talent that could hang with the Dragon Gate originals. From there he went on to have success in the Dragon Gate mothership in Japan as well as Evolve, Full Impact Pro (where he's a two-time FIP World Heavyweight Champion), and England's Revolution Pro.
Gurv Sihra vs. Noam Dar
Gurv Sihra represents India along with his brother Harv, and much like his brother, he cut his teeth working for Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling. Together as the Bollywood Boyz, they've racked up an impressive amount of tag team championships, including holding the ECCW Tag Team Championship for 651 days across five reigns and (for a real bit of 2016 pro wrestling) being the current Global Force Wrestling Tag Team Champions, but here they're going to have to go it alone.
The youngest entrant to the Cruiserweight Classic at 22, Noam Dar is a seasoned veteran all the same. Representing Israel by way of Scotland, he made his debut in 2008 at the age of 14 and has worked for just about every promotion in Great Britain since. A submission specialist who likes to finish his opponents off with a maneuver he calls Champagne Superkneebar (which is occasionally a heel hook, but who's counting?), he has won the Progress World Cup and is the current PCW Heavyweight Champion, among other accolades.
Gurv has an "easier" route against the smaller and relatively less experienced Noam Dar than his brother Harv had against Drew Gulak when he fell last week, but it's still going to be an uphill battle for the Bollywood Boy.
Fabian Aichner vs. Jack Gallagher
Representing Italy by way of the German-speaking South Tyrol and trained by no less than WCW Wunderkind Alex Wright, Aichner has mainly plied his trade as Adrian Severe in NEW European Championship Wrestling. He's also begun to break out beyond the German/Austrian/Swiss/North Italian circuit with several tours of All Star Wrestling in England. He wrestles with a mixture of explosive high-flying action and more traditional European technical grappling.
Trained in catch wrestling at the famous Snake Pit at Wigan by no less than the legendary Billy Robinson, Jack Gallagher is as true a grappler as you'll find in the Cruiserweight Classic. Spending years as the ace of Future Shock Wrestling, Gallagher's also worked for Pro Wrestling Zero1 in Japan and has just in the last year or so started to break out for Progress Wrestling. Indeed, he earned his berth in the Cruiserweight Classic by defeating "Bruiserweight" Pete Dunne at Progress Chapter 29.
It's going to take every last trick that Gallagher learned in the Snake Pit to put Aichner away, as the Italian has four inches and nearly forty pounds on him, being the second heaviest man in the tournament, just behind Alejandro Saez.
Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa
This is it. The biggest match of the first round, indeed the only match where there is no obvious choice of victor. Both men have walked long paths to get here.
Gargano came from the Ohio indies, eventually making his name for Absolute Intense Wrestling. From there he broke out nationally, making waves for Chikara, Dragon Gate USA, and Evolve. Indeed, it was these last two promotions that Johnny Wrestling eventually became synonymous with, holding the DGUSA Open the Freedom Gate for a record-setting (and breathtaking, in the modern era) 873 days, complete with a stunning heel turn mid-reign against Shingo Takagi at Open the United Gate 2013. Johnny went from hero to hated and proved that he could do it all, cementing his status as the ace of DGUSA and the figurehead of the entire World Wrestling Network.
Since then he's gone through a redemption arc, retired the DGUSA Open the United Gate Championship alongside Rich Swann, won the inaugural Evolve Tag Team Championship alongside TNA superstar Drew Galloway for one of the most 2016 moments yet, and reinvented himself as a catch-as-catch-can mat grappler to show that he can hang with the new generation of Evolve stars like Drew Gulak, Zack Sabre, Jr., and Timothy Thatcher hold-for-hold, on their own terms.
Ciampa, meanwhile, seemingly got a lucky break early. Just two years after debuting in 2005, the Killer Kowalski trained Sicilian Psychopath was signed by WWE and sent to Ohio Valley Wrestling to begin his time in developmental. But tragedy struck, he spent a good portion of the year out injured and was released from his contract shortly after returning to action. He hit rock bottom, and even ended up attempting suicide.
But he put himself back out there, and soon enough ended up working regularly for Ring of Honor. Feuds with Homicide and ROH World Television Champion Jay Lethal put him on the map before was sidelined for the better part of a year with a knee injury. After his return, he won that same Television Championship from Matt Taven at Final Battle 2013, holding it for four months before dropping it to Jay Lethal and disappearing off TV for several months. When he came back this time, he seemed in line for a spot at the top, challenging for the ROH World Championship and staying in the mix, but eventually it became clear that it wasn't going to happen and he ended up back on the market again.
Johnny Gargano, the Ace of Dragon Gate USA, face of Evolve, and WWN Icon.
Tommaso Ciampa, a featured player who never quite had the Ring of Honor machine behind him.
Two men with different backgrounds, different stories, but one goal. No matter who wins here, they've both made it. They're both finishing up their indie dates in September, ready to finally go exclusive for NXT or even go straight to Raw to be part of the WWE Cruiserweight Division. They achieved it as a tag team, but here they'll go head to head. Here in the first round of the Cruiserweight Classic, one man has a chance to take a great leap, to split their destinies, to step forward and claim a place at the top of the mountain. And it's gonna be fantastic watching them get there.
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?