What even is there to say at this point?
I suppose I need to say some things and can't just end the review there, but honestly, the CWC speaks for itself. Just off the top, I'll say the Cruiserweight Classic is genuinely one of the best things WWE has ever done. Everything about it worked brilliantly. The booking, the presentation, the emotion, the storytelling, the personalities, and especially the in-ring quality was on a level with the pantheon tournaments of wrestling history.
Gran Metalik v. Zack Sabre Jr.
This match was really interesting. I had thought initially that it would be more based around Sabre's style, given that Metalik is more versed in Sabre's mat based style than he is in Metalik's more high spot based style, but this was more like Sabre's matches with Will Ospreay where they're built around Will or, in this case, Metalik trying to keep the pace breakneck and Sabre trying to slow it down and work to get the submission.
I loved the hot start from Metalik here for two reasons. First of all, it catches Sabre off guard. Sabre's style is sort of a modern spin on the old adage of Greg "the Hammer" Valentine needing 15-20 minutes of a match to warm up. In the beginning, he normally just wants to be grabbing some holds and usually takes a while before something gets his dander up and he really kicks off, but Metalik took it right to Sabre from the jump, which completely put him on the back foot and took him out of his comfort zone. Secondly, there is the obvious tournament logic dictating that ending the match quicker is an advantage because it means you'll be fresher for the final.
I really liked the way Sabre sold the effects of being blitzed like that. He really came across like he actually wasn't expecting that flurry and seemed completely off balance at the outset.
One interesting thing that stands out if you're more familiar with Sabre is that it felt like there were some communication issues in this one, such as Metalik not kicking his legs back for the European Clutch after Sabre did the double wristlock flip, which was a bit awkward if you understood what he was trying to do and you could tell Zack was a bit thrown by that.
The match as a whole had some sloppy elements to it across the board, but I don't think it took away from it too much because they were working a really fast pace and going for a lot of innovative and high degree of difficulty stuff so I can forgive a bit of less crisp execution. I think one of the things that made it a bit less smooth is that it felt like not only did Metalik want to speed up the pace in a kayfabe sense, but it felt like in a shoot sense he wanted to work a little higher tempo than ZSJ. That breakneck pace makes the bouts of sloppiness come off better than if it really slowed things down to make it more noticeable, so it was still a really good opener if not quite reaching full on greatness. If you value execution very highly, I could see being a little lower on this one.
Kota Ibushi v. TJ Perkins
Well, this match was tremendous. Between this, the Kendrick match, and the Alexander match, Ibushi has to be my performer of the tournament just on the fact that he was in three out of my the five top matches, but the funny thing is, I'm not sure he was the better guy in any of his three big matches. That's no slight against Kota, it just feels like his opponents raised their games to the absolute top level knowing they were opposite one of the best wrestlers on planet Earth, and Perkins was no different.
The first thing worth spotlighting here is how in a single tournament they did an outstanding job getting over the Knee Bar from TJ Perkins as the most deadly submission imaginable. And not only was it deadly, but he showed he could hit it from a ton of different positions giving it a kind of Outta Nowhere feel to it where you just knew any piece of offense from the opponent if they got caught could land them in the Knee Bar.
Another great choices was the way he would cross the legs when it was really going to be the finish to sell that all hope was lost for his opponents, in the same way Kurt Angle did with the Ankle Lock when he'd drop down for the leg grapevine and you knew the guy was toast.
I loved how they sold both how important it is to TJ Perkins' gameplan and how deadly it is right at the outset of the match with Perkins almost catching Ibushi early but Kota making sure to avoid getting locked in at all costs.
Another great element here was the way that because Ibushi has been established as the tournament favorite, Perkins showed that he respected that by clearly having studied Ibushi and preparing for his kicks, which he checked early and especially for the big spot when he kicked the legs out from under Kota when he was going to go for the Golden Triangle Moonsault.
While Ibushi's lack of limb selling has become something of a meme over the years, he's absolutely fantastic at facial selling. Every time he was caught with the Knee Bar he looked like he was in the most pain he'd ever experienced and as though he was struggling desperately to summon the will to not succumb to the pain and tap out, most notably late in the match when he had Full Sail eating out of his hands thinking he was finally going to tap the second to last time Kendrick locked in the Knee Bar.
And last, but definitely not least, that finishing stretch as a whole. What an incredible five minutes of professional wrestling that was. The drama, the emotion, and the precise execution (I don't know if I've ever seen someone do the Powerbomb into DDT counter as beautifully as Perkins did there) were all off the charts. Every big nearfall seemed like it could be the final one because of how brilliantly timed it all was and how well Ibushi sold being just about to tap out, and it all had the crowd on the edge of their seats. And they didn't overuse finisher kickouts either to get that effect. One kickout of the Last Ride, especially when Ibushi also has the Phoenix Splash, seems more than reasonable for a semi-final.
Ibushi managed to be the one man who could survive the regular Knee Bar throughout the tournament, as the tournament favorite should, but in yet another brilliant callback to the internal history of the tournament, Perkins augmented the Kneebar with a chinlock on Ibushi's surgically repaired neck and continued to wrench back on that prior injury until he was able to pull the upset and eliminate the Golden Star.
Exceptional match, one of the best of the year, and still possibly Ibushi's third best match of the tournament. So many great performances in the CWC! Here's hoping that even if he heads back to Japan to dive off balconies once again he at least makes another appearance at CWC 2017, because he was a joy throughout the tournament.
#DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa) v. Cedric Alexander & Noam Dar
This was a perfect non-tournament match to have between the first two matches and the final. The crowd was obviously saddened to see Kota lose, so a match featuring arguably the most beloved non-Nakamura act left in Full Sail in DIY and instant favorite Cedric Alexander in a super high paced spot heavy match was just what the doctor ordered. Gargano & Ciampa continue to gel as a team and this was another really good performance. Really fun fast paced tag match.
Oh sure, Mauro. You mention every single Japanese wrestler that has ever lived but can't give Candice LeRae a shoutout by name? C'mon, man!
TJ Perkins v. Gran Metalik
And we're off with the final round. The match that will decide who is the Cruiserweight Classic Champion.
But wait... "It's Time to Play the Game!" On previous form, you'd think someone was eating a Pedigree, but no! Instead, The King of Kings came bearing gifts, as he revealed that the final match would be contested not just for the Cruiserweight Classic trophy, but would also be the brand new Cruiserweight Champion on Monday Night Raw, so the stakes for this one were even higher.
I really liked the way they paced this match, starting with slick mat work from both guys and gradually escalating until it was time to go balls to the wall because this was the last match and both guys needed to give it everything they had to come out on top.
Once again, the way they built the knee bar added so much to this match because you always think in the back of your mind that if he hooks it in, that could be the end of the match, and another person's dream would die. And once again, he showed off a bunch of new transitions that he could make to get the knee bar locked in.
Metalik was just out of control in this match. He's one of the most exciting wrestlers in the world and he showed that here possibly more than any other match, pulling out all the stops with things like the over the top rope hurricanrana to the floor that remains one of the most physically impressive spots there is and even things like the way he really went all out on his suicide dive, putting his head down and really driving into his opponent. Not to mention the precision on all of those rope walk spots he does.
It had a beautiful finish too with the top rope Metalik Driver reversed into, what else, but the always fatal Knee Bar and Metalik had no choice but to tap. The story of the tournament was Perkins eliminating favorites like Gargano and Ibushi left and right with the Knee Bar, and it ended the same way.
In the end, TJ Perkins emerged victorious and is the first ever Cruiserweight Classic and first Raw Cruiserweight Champion. What a tremendous managerial effort by Stokely Hathaway and the #DreamTeam to get TJP to this point. Big Stoke must be rolling in the cash right now. Seriously though, Perkins was excellent here and absolutely earned this victory and it was one final wonderful moment in this great tournament to see the emotion overcome Perkins after he attained the biggest achievement of his career.
I am so glad Sean asked me to review this tournament, because it's been a blast writing about something in wrestling that's so relentlessly positive, fun, and genuinely incredible. I can't wait to see what they have in their bag of tricks for next year's field. After seeing people like Gran Metalik, Cedric Alexander, and especially tournament winner TJ Perkins, among others, be used better than their home promotions ever did, if you're an independent star, why wouldn't you be dying to do this?
Top to bottom this was one of the best shows of the year, and a sensational capstone to this ten week journey to crown a Cruiserweight Champion. Good luck to all the lads heading to Raw after this. I'm hoping for the best for all of them, as they all deserve the opportunity to shine like they did throughout this tournament and congratulations again to TJP on his well-earned victory.