By Graham "GSM" Matthews
To say I am excited for the Cruiserweight Classic would be a massive understatement. I was extremely impressive with just about every aspect of the series premiere this past week on WWE Network: the presentation, the in-ring action, the commentary, the sports-like feel, everything. It was a very fun night of wrestling that surely set the stage for the remainder of the tournament that will be held over the next few months.
This show has been in the works for longer than most might think. I distinctly remember reading reports regarding a Cruiserweight-centric show as far back as February 2012, mere months after the idea of the WWE Network was conceived. Obviously, due to the delay of the Network's release, the program was put on the back-burner, but it is only now finally seeing the light and it was worth the wait if the inaugural episode was any indication. Of the 32 participants, here are the eight I am most looking forward to seeing compete.
The Brian Kendrick
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, this Cruiserweight show has been four years in the making, and when talks of it happening first started in early 2012, Brian Kendrick... sorry, The Brian Kendrick was the one they wanted to be the face of it. Thus, it makes me very happy to see him back as an important puzzle piece in the Cruiserweight Classic.
I have long been a fan of his, dating back to his repackaging as The Brian Kendrick in the summer of 2008. I always thought WWE could have done more with him, but as Kendrick admitted during his Bracketology interview, he had demons of his own during his last stint with the company, causing him to get fired. And that's his reasoning for wanting to win this tournament: to prove he is still the very best out there today, and if he doesn't emerge victorious, he will deem himself a failure. That's powerful. WWE would be wise to keep him around regardless of whether he comes out on top or not.
Cedric Alexander was one of the first wrestlers that stood out to me when I started watching Ring of Honor regularly again in the summer of 2015. He actually ended the one year-long undefeated streak of Moose, and although they feuded for a number of months, Alexander was never once made to look like an equal to Moose. His pairing with Veda Scott backfired and he was largely underutilized for the remainder of his run in Ring of Honor before leaving in May 2016.
When I heard he left ROH to pursue a spot in the Cruiserweight Classic, I was ecstatic. He reportedly dropped a significant amount of weight to take part in the program, as he was willing to do whatever it took. At 26-years-old, he is only getting started, yet is already an amazing athlete inside the squared circle. His first round victory over Clement Petiot this past week further proved to me this kid is a future star (also as evidenced by his excellent entrance music). He has plenty of untapped potential and will very likely wind up in WWE in an official capacity before long.
All right, I have to give credit where credit is due: Next Era Wrestling's own RJ Marceau (whose illustrious articles you can read here) has been on the Gargano bandwagon a little bit longer than I have. In fact, he wrote an article last fall making a case for why WWE should sign him, and lo and behold, they have done so at long last. He has been ripping it up on the independent scene for some now time, but I didn't get acclimated with his work until he arrived in NXT late last year. I've been a fan of his ever since.
Save for a few one-on-one matches here and there, Johnny Wrestling has mainly been a tag team competitor in NXT alongside Tomasso Ciampa. I enjoy Ciampa for his ruthless aggression, but Gargano just comes off as so damn likable, in addition to being an exceptional wrestler. This Cruiserweight Classic will provide him with the ultimate opportunity to spread his wings on his own and prove his worth as a singles competitor, but he will first have to go through his tag partner, Tomasso Ciampa, in the opening round. That should be interesting.
Admittedly, I had zero idea who Kota Ibushi was before he was announced as an entrant in the Cruiserweight Classic. Maybe I had heard the name before, who knows, but I rarely watch Japanese wrestling (nothing against it, I just don't). But I knew he was a pretty big deal as soon as I heard the reaction of the crowd when he was shown ringside at NXT TakeOver: Dallas back in April. Even Corey Graves questioned on commentary if it was because of the upcoming Crusierweight Classic series, and as it turned out, it was.
Again, I may not know much about him now, but that's exactly what excites me about him: he's an enigma. I'm not sure what to expect from his arsenal. We got our first look at Ibushi in the main event of the show's series premiere, and he absolutely shined against Sean Maluta. I will honestly be surprised if he doesn't win the whole thing, let alone make it to the semifinals. And to think he's fresh off a neck injury, too!
Regular viewers of NXT will know very little about Rich Swann. He has made a minimal amount of appearances on the television show in the last year, yet is among the few wrestlers in the Cruiserweight Classic already under a WWE contract. He trains out of the Performance Center, and while he has yet to become a mainstay in NXT, it is only a matter of time. Because from what we've seen of him thus far, he is a hell of a hand in the ring, and quite the character to boot.
His interview during the Bracketology special stood out to me above everyone else's. It started out with him dancing around the ring and showcasing his infectious personality, but then it turned to him talking about how his parents passed away when he was young, how he went down a dark road, and how wrestling saved his life. All that said, him winnning the trophy would a feel-good moment to say the least, but even if not, he has a very bright future ahead of him on the black-and-yellow brand.
Let's put the rumors to rest right now: Despite what Hulk Hogan may claim, TJ Perkins had not been TNA's Suicide the entire time dating back to 2008. The character was originally portrayed by Christopher Daniels and later Kazarian, but it was when Suicide was brought back in 2013 that Perkins was hired to wrestle under the mask, and that was my personal favorite incarnation of the character. I never cared for Suicide/Manik because of its lack of depth, but Perkins made the most of it by putting on phenomenal performances every time he stepped in the ring.
Perkins was criminally wasted as part of The Revolution at the end of his TNA run, and when it looked like he was finally on the verge of unmasking and breaking off on his own, he left the company. Then again, it worked out for the better considering he is now a part of the Cruiserweight Classic, and you know for a fact Daniel Bryan is happy to have him given their history on the independent scene. He looks a lot younger than he actually is, mostly because he wrestles like he is in his early 20s. Keep an eye out for what Perkins brings to the table in this tournament.
Along with The Brian Kendrick, Tajiri is another WWE alumni being brought back for the Cruiserweight Classic, and rightfully so. He was one of the greatest cruiserweights in the world during his time in WCW and later WWE, so it is only appropriate he take part, especially considering he remains in terrific shape and can still go at an impressive pace. He is probably best known for his non-cruiserewight work as well such as dating Torrie Wilson, feuding with Jonathon Coachman and teaming with William Regal. Yes, Tajiri had a colorful career in WWE.
And now he's back! It's been over a decade since we last saw him in a WWE ring, so it will be fun to see him mastering his craft once again on a grand scale. He might have more experience than everyone else in the tournament, so he unquestionably has an advantage in that respect. Beware of the Buzzsaw!
Zack Sabre Jr.
Big thanks to another one of Next Era Wrestling's fine contributors Jared Jackson-Ferrans for helping me get familiar with Zack Sabre Jr. this year with his inaugural Indy Injection installment. In so many words, this dude is a highly skilled technical wrestler and has been wowing people all 2016 round. I have yet to watch many of his matches, but following JJF's strong recommendation and all of his buzz at the moment, I plan on doing so before his first round match in the Cruiserweight Classic.
Popular opinion is that WWE will have someone who will sign with them win the first ever Cruiserweight Classic, and if Ibushi doesn't ink a deal with them just yet (there is reportedly more he wants to accomplish in wrestling first), Sabre Jr. is most definitely the next best choice to win it all. He has a good look, a presence about him and his in-ring ability speaks for itself. Plus, it's been a long time since WWE had a real breakout British male star (sorry, Wade Barrett), and Sabre Jr. might be exactly what WWE is looking for. He is going to take this tournament by storm, mark my words.
SEE ALSO: "WWE Cruiserwight Classic Review - July 13, 2016"