This episode was a bit of a comedown from how on fire the last 2 episodes had been, but still had a couple of strong matches to get us through the quarter finals and into the live semifinals and finals next week.
Noam Dar vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
After his rough first couple of rounds in the tournament, Dar desperately needed a strong performance tonight and I thought he delivered well here.
Both guys tend to work a lot better with people who are more suited to their style of wrestling because what makes their style work best are the exchanges and counter moves which were the main strength in this match. I also thought Dar’s offense looked really good here. It was focused and consistent, looked painful, and was diverse and interesting.
The finishing spot, while an awesome visual and an excellent move bothered me a bit. The story of the match had been focused around Dar savaging Sabre’s left leg, including applying his finisher to it two times, but yet the way they handled the finish, he couldn’t hook his submission with his arm, which had been worked for moments, but used the leg that had been worked all match? I like the idea of having to apply a move differently because of an injury, because it sells the importance of the work on the body part during the match, but it doesn’t make sense that he couldn’t use a body part that had taken some work and instead used a body part that had taken the lion’s share of the work throughout the match.
I really hope them having Metalik work the mat-based maestro style as much as he did in this tournament was intentional to set up his match with Zack Sabre Jr. next week, because that would be some brilliant long term planning. I’m extremely interested in that match. Given the kind of skill on the mat that Metalik has displayed in the tournament, their styles should mesh better than they might on first glance and I hope they utilize that and work more of a Lucha title match style rather than having Zack try to work within the spot heavy framework. The Tajiri-Metalik match in particular really had me salivating for more slick lucha matwork from Metalik, and if we’re going to get that, Sabre is the right opponent.
TJ Perkins vs. Rich Swann
I’ll tell you what, Bryan really makes my job difficult at times by being so brilliant on commentary in terms of his knowledge of ring psychology, tactics and strategy that he leaves me with basically nothing to say, and never was that more true than in this match.
His work on commentary greatly enhanced the quality of an already very good match by getting over absolutely everything they were doing, sometimes even with choices I’m not even sure were 100% intentional on their end. I don’t know if they way Perkins handled the bad landing from Swann on the moonsault by not initially going after the leg and then going after it later was intentional in the way Bryan made it seem, but his commentary got all of that over extremely well which made Perkins look better.
One of the biggest sins of Gorilla Monsoon is that his commentary often was trying to get over how smart he was at the expense of the workers, and often making them look like fools by constantly harping on any minor fault in their tactics. Bryan does the exact opposite and attempts to craft a narrative to make the guys in the ring look like even smarter and better workers than they actually are, which is a great commentary choice because the show is about the wrestlers, not the commentators.
His comments of Swann not getting his normal height on the tornado DDT because of his injured leg was an excellent shout that seemed to legitimately take Mauro aback, and his discussion of the fundamental way in which Swann altered his strategy by using things like a Tiger Bomb because he couldn’t utilize his high spot based style as much due to the injury was really mind-blowing work from one of the best minds in the history of wrestling.
As for the match itself, excellent moment was when Swann attempted to do his landing on his feet counter to the frankensteiner but was unable to because of his injury and thus hurt his leg even more instead. It both fit the micro story of the match of his bum leg but also was a macro callback to the time he successfully executed it earlier in the tournament which made it clear what he was attempting to accomplish there.
One thing I really love about TJP is the way he wrestles like the character he portrays in these interviews should wrestle from a physical standpoint. He's always been one of my absolute favorites, but the "Best in the World" moniker never really seemed to fit CM Punk because of the way he was booked and his offense and execution. Someone with a Best in the World gimmick feels like it promises a really strongly booked, slick offensive dynamo. Someone like Asuka with her vicious strikes and counters on counters is what I think of as working a ‘Best in the World’ gimmick.
TJP on the other hand wrestles exactly like the person he tells us he is in his interviews. All of his transitions and counters have such a smoothness to them that makes it all look so effortless, as though he’s almost doing these insane counters with a yawn because wrestling is just too easy for him. As an old fan of Ring of Honor I couldn't help but smile at Bryan appreciating TJP's knowledge of how long the referee's count to break a hold is.
The post-match with Perkins and Swann didn’t feel like it tonally fit the match, nor do I like the idea of one of the few people showing heelish tendencies in the tournament doing something like that. With Kendrick, it’s a different situation, because his character wasn’t inherently heelish, he was merely someone who was desperate and felt like this was his last chance, which can spin either direction depending on the situation. Sometimes he could lean heel by going too far to win, but other times he was a sympathetic underdog that the crowd was desperately rooting for to get that last bit of glory he sought. Whereas arrogance is inherently a heel characteristic and TJP isn’t trying to play likable either in matches or in his pre-match interviews.
Even though the crowd was disappointed, I’m very excited to see TJ Perkins in the semi-finals. I think he and Ibushi could have a really special match. I’m a little concerned that Perkins’ finisher might lead to a legwork story, and Kota Ibushi is not exactly known for his next level limb-selling, but if they avoid that, it will likely be an exceptional match. Not that an over the top spot heavy Ibushi versus Swann match would have been bad either.
The penultimate week of the Cruiserweight Classic is in the books, and we’re on to the live finals next week an excellent final four as well as the final round between the two winners.