By Paul Soucy
For years, World Wrestling Entertainment has been the land of the giants. From Hulk Hogan all the way to John Cena, and many in between, those at the forefront of the company’s Squared Circle have traditionally been larger than life.
But over time, WWE has been lured away from that criteria, seduced by the likes of CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Finn Balor. It seems the company is sacrificing size for a different type of in-ring skill.
Despite that, it came as a surprise to many when earlier in 2016, WWE announced it would hold a 32-man cruiserweight tournament featuring the very best cruiserweight talent from around the world.
The first round wrapped up this past Wednesday, and those who tuned in for each of the first-round episodes were rewarded with stellar matches from performers most of the WWE audience was unaware of prior to the tournament.
With the likes of Kota Ibushi, Zack Sabre Jr., Cedric Alexander, T.J Perkins and Gran Metalik – the first round provided a taste of some of the best professional wrestlers under 205 pounds the world has to offer.
And for each of the aforementioned, now that the first-round matches have wrapped, we know we’ll see at least one more glimpse of each of their very unique styles.
Englishman Zack Sabre Jr. used a style that relied heavily on technical holds and submissions to get past a much bigger and older opponent in Canadian Tyson Dux.
T.J. Perkins is an 18-year veteran of the squared circle and, while you wouldn’t know it by looking at him, the 31-year- old (remember he’s been at this for 18 years!) certainly showed his in-ring wisdom when he clashed with, and defeated, the ‘Urban German’ Da Mack.
WWE fans have welcomed two major Japanese stars in the last number of months — Hideo Itami and most recently Shinsuke Nakamura – and the final match of the CWC’s first episode gave the WWE Universe its first glimpse of another in Kota Ibushi. Whether it was matching Sean Maluta’s technical prowess early on in the match, to dominating with his stiff kicks, high-flying dropkicks, and devastating suplexes – the Golden Star proved he is a force to be reckoned with.
While much of the 32-man roster is new to the WWE fanbase, there are several competitors in the tournament that the WWE Universe has been exposed to in the past. Rich Swann has appeared on NXT several times, while Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa form one of NXT’s top tag teams. They actually had one the first round’s best matches when they faced each other.
But there are also two names from the past who have returned to prove their worth among the world’s best cruiserweights. Tajiri, a popular star in the Attitude Era, and (the) Brian Kendrick showed that experience and wisdom are often paramount to speed and skill when it comes to WWE’s 20-by-20 ring. The two have held numerous WWE titles in their careers, and in first round action advanced past Damian Slater and Raul Mendoza, respectively.
Esthetically, if you knew nothing of this tournament and happened to tune in, you’d never believe this was a WWE production, which is a good thing. Not to say WWE doesn’t already have great production value (I think that goes without saying), but the CWC offered a vastly different presentation for fans at home or watching at Full Sail. The entrance ramp to the ring is much simpler than anything on WWE’s current roster of shows. The ring itself provides a colour-scheme not normally seen in WWE, as well as having logos printed on the ring-mat itself, which is something the company doesn’t do often.
The commentary from Canadian Mauro Ranallo and Daniel Bryan also offers a different feel. The always-captivating Ranallo is matched by an equally energetic Bryan, whose colour-commentary often blurs into Ranallo’s play-by- play role. Together, the two offer an intensity on the mic that rivals the dramatics of championship games in any of the four major pro sports.
Whether it’s the obvious draw of in-ring action, to a different production feel, or outstanding play-by-play, the WWE Cruiserweight Classic is nothing short of an instant classic.
Paul Soucy is a journalist, videographer for CKWS-TV in Kingston and a diehard pro wrestling fan. Follow him on twitter at twitter.com/@CKWS_Paul or watch him on Newswatch weekdays at 6 p.m. on CKWS-TV.