This week saw the first round of WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic tournament come to an end. With a diverse cast of wrestlers across 16 single elimination bouts the WWE bought together some unique global styles and intriguingly matched pairings. After some initial skepticism, this competition has won me over in a big way.
There’s a lot of carefully thought choices going on in this tournament. Small touches, like the twenty minute time limit and having competitors shake hands before each match makes the whole affair feel like a bona fide athletic competition. Commentary from Mauro Ranallo and Daniel Bryan, which focused on getting every wrestler over and carefully calling major moves, was a breath of fresh air.
Most of all though, WWE should be looking at the Cruiserweight Classic as a market for talent. Very soon, Monday Night Raw is going to be relying on its Cruiserweight division to shore up its first hour. Right now Neville looks pretty lonely on the Red Brand as a singles cruiserweight. It’s time Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley went on a signing spree.
Fortunately, this tournament gave us some potential breakout stars with its first round match-ups. Here’s who WWE should sign right now:
Has he signed? Has he not? Conflicting reports on internet dirt sheets make it difficult to determine whether the Golden Star has scribbled his name on the dotted line. Make no mistake, though; if he hasn’t, WWE need to get him locked down as soon as possible.
After a somewhat under the radar build, Ibushi brought an intangible excitement and energy to his first round match against Sean Maluta. Those kicks. That moonsault. For many fans, their first in ring experience of the guy will be hard to forget, but for those who follow Japanese wrestling it was barely a surprise. When Shinsuke Nakamura appeared on Chris Jericho’s podcast recently, he sighted a match with Ibushi at the Tokyo Dome as his favourite of his career.
What he’ll bring to Raw: Exciting offense, intangible fan connection, brutal strikes and kicks.
TJ Perkins’ first round match against Da Mack looked like a statement of intent. The word flawless should not be used lightly in pro wrestling, but Perkins in this match came close to it. Every hold looked crisp, every reversal looked sharp and every move was delivered perfectly. The near two decade ring veteran looked like a star, and he’s only 31.
When someone has the respect of the American Dragon Daniel Bryan himself, we should pay attention and take note. That it’s taken this long for Perkins to land on WWE’s radar is not only hard to believe, it’s genuinely impossible. While he did make a couple of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them appearances for WWE back in 2009, it’s clear the company didn’t know what they had in him.
What he’ll bring to Raw: Ring Charisma, expert catch wrestling, innovative offense.
Not being the biggest Japanese star in the tournament might work against Tozawa, but it’s obvious from his opening bout that this guy can hang. Alongside Kenneth Johnson, Tozawa told a surprisingly compelling in ring story in a matter of minutes. He’s a small guy (5 ” 7 according to Wikipedia) which will count against him in Vince McMahon’s land of the giants, but the guy has the experience and depth of offence to keep fans excited each week.
Tozawa is a hard hitter with surprising strength and has made an art of the German suplex. Having worked for both Dragon’s Gate and Pro Wrestling Guerilla he’s a veteran of the independent scene and will not have a bad match in the Cruiserweight Classic.
What he’ll bring to Raw: cruiserweight power moves, excellent mat wrestling, in ring story telling
Before the bell rang to start his first round match, I was ready to dismiss Jack Gallagher. The whole ‘Extraordinary Gentleman’ thing and the bizarre twirled moustache subconsciously turned me off. Then he wrestled and just like Daniel Bryan, I think I’m in love with the guy.
Gallagher’s small frame, technical wizardry, escapology and obvious grip on ring psychology shined through in his bout against Fabian Aichner. Go watch the match, and try to spot a moment where Gallagher is going through the motions rather than selling everything that’s happening. If you can, you have a keener eye than me. Gallagher squaring up against WWE competition each week would add a unique flavour to the Cruiserweight division.
What he’ll bring to Raw: technical wrestling, great ring psychology, old school style and gimmick
Not quite as experienced as the other guys on this list, Cedric Alexander has nonetheless built an excellent reputation for himself on the independent wrestling circuit. Throwing down with the likes of Kevin Steen and Michael Elgin in Ring of Honor, Alexander is perhaps the only person on this list with the ‘look’ old Vince gets excited over.
With speed, athleticism, and high-risk high flying, Alexander could deliver some big spots in WWE. But he also has depth, with big strikes comparable to AJ Styles and a very well rounded offense. As the Cruiserweight Classic continues, Alexander will have the chance to show off these other elements of his ring skills.
What he’ll bring to Raw: great offence, speed and athleticism, natural in ring charisma
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