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WWE Cruiserweight Classic Review (7/27/16): The Boys Just Black Out, Better Tap Out

WWE will tell you that this “New Era” is just getting started with the new-look RAW and SmackDown we got this week, but to be quite honest, this “New Era” has been in effect for quite some time now. The very existence of this Cruiserweight Classic is a testament to it. And wouldn’t you know it, we’re already more than halfway through the first round as of today!

Episode 3 of the CWC gives us the WWE debut of one Zack Sabre Jr. against Canada’s Tyson Dux, Drew Gulak’s first-round bout against Harv Sihra of the Bollywood Boys, Tony Nese going toe-to-toe with Anthony Bennett, and the first chapter of Brian Kendrick’s redemption arc against Mexican Raul Mendoza.

Match #1: Zack Sabre Jr. (United Kingdom) def. Tyson Dux (Canada)


We get a great intro about Tyson Dux, whose backstory is explored. He apparently was affiliated with WWE during the Ruthless Aggression era, even wrestling on Velocity in 2004, where he would injure his ACL in a match against a young Mark Jindrak.

Meanwhile, Zack Sabre Jr. introduces himself as the best technical wrestler in the CWC. I particularly liked his quote about Harry Potter not being the only wizard from the UK. He is, after all, the Technical Wizard. If you still don’t understand the ZSJ hype, this match against Tyson Dux should welcome you to the bandwagon. There’s plenty of space, so jump right in, mate.

Early on into the match, ZSJ works on Dux’s left knee, which was injured in 2004, and is wrapped in knee pads today. Both guys would end up quickly exchanging holds in such a fluid manner, resulting in a sequence right which is a testament to both men’s technical ability. More importantly, we got a first-hand example of ZSJ’s in-ring philosophy known as “Escapeology.” Watching him get out of whatever hold looked so smooth. Wow.

As someone who hasn’t seen a lot of ZSJ matches—but has seen him live—it amazes me how ZSJ doesn’t catch your eye immediately when he enters the arena. But when you just observe and watch him closely, you realize how fun he makes escapeology look. Mauro and DB admit it themselves that ZSJ may be an acquired taste, but if you just give his style a chance, you’ll find yourself enjoying his craft and coming out as a fan by the end.



Towards the end of the match, ZSJ would put on a double-wrist kimura lock with a body scissors, which he then transitions to a Jim Breaks Special (inverted arm lock), and then quickly to an omoplata! Dux tries to pull himself to the ropes with his free right hand, but ZSJ immediately takes notice and pulls back Dux’s right hand, stretching the fingers back to force Dux to verbally submit!
Man, that was an exciting match and it really showcased both guys’ incredible technique! As I said just earlier, if you needed a reason to get aboard the ZSJ hype train, this match against Tyson Dux could very well be your intro to the Technical Wizard. A showing like that just proves why this guy is one of the frontrunners to win it all by September.

Match #2: Drew Gulak (U.S.A.) def. Harv Sihra (India)


We get another match between two mat specialists as Drew Gulak brings his submission expertise to the ring against Harv Sihra’s technical prowess. Gulak starts off by taking Sihra down to the mat, but the Bollywood Boy employs a smart counter once Gulak locks in a body scissors. Sihra crosses and hooks his ankles over Gulak’s own ankles, reversing the hold and putting Gulak in a precarious position, which Daniel Bryan goes on to explain on commentary.

If you’re an aspiring wrestler, the CWC just became great supplementary learning material because you see shit actually being done in the ring, which DB goes on to discuss in detail. That just made your WWE Network subscription sulit, didn’t it?
The smaller Sihra would use his speed advantage to get one up over Gulak, but it’s noticeable how Gulak would keep trying to find an opening by looking for angles or body parts to grab and put in a submission hold. It’s the little details like that which make me appreciate how these guys put on a match.

Gulak would finish Sihra off with a Dragon Sleeper. Realizing he’s in a body scissors hold once again, Sihra tries to counter with another ankle hook, but Gulak wrenches the Dragon Sleeper much tighter, bending the Bollywood Boy back and securing the victory via submission!
That’s two matches that have ended in a submission in this week’s episode, for those keeping count.


Match #3: Tony Nese (U.S.A.) def. Anthony Bennett (U.S.A.)


Tony Nese is introduced to us as a dude who “looks like a cruiserweight, but hits like a heavyweight.” Meanwhile, one look at his opponent and it hits me that the fat fuck the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted first overall in 2013 lost a lot of weight. As in a lot. Oh, wait. Different Anthony Bennett? This kid don’t play? Okay. Moving on.

They start off with some chain wrestling, with Bennett looking good from the get-go because of his own speed advantage as a result of being about 50 lbs lighter than Nese. But despite being the heavier and more powerful competitor at 193 lbs, Nese is agile himself, which we get to see throughout the bout.

At one point, both Bennett and Nese found themselves knocked down outside the ring, forcing the referee to start the 10-count. DB points out that Bennett should have just let Nese get counted out to score the victory, criticizing the “wrestling logic” move of Bennett to throw Nese back in the ring for a cover. Oo nga naman. Nasa seven na si ref eh.

Tony Nese would later recover and confuse Bennett by going at him from different angles so the latter can’t figure out what Nese is trying to do. Nese would hop over the top rope to the apron, jump back to the corner, and hit a springboard moonsault off the second rope in the process!
After grounding Bennett, Nese would lock in a body scissors, but would be unable to hold on to his opponent for long because of Bennett’s wiry frame. It’s amusing how good Bennett comes off looking despite not being taken seriously by the Smark Henry Offices (mostly due to his name and jabroni status) and by Bryan (because he keeps playing with his hair throughout the match).

Towards the end, Nese would hit Bennett with a pumphandle powerslam, dazing him and forcing the referee to stop Nese from taking off from the top rope. The ref would then check on Bennett, and then literally give Nese the go-signal to hit the 450 splash. That was awkward. And you can tell that Bennett is probably legit hurt. Nonetheless, Nese gets the win after a 1-2-3.

Match #4: Brian Kendrick (U.S.A.) def. Raul Mendoza (Mexico)


Raul Mendoza’s intro video features him speaking in his native Spanish with English subtitles! Yay! Now, why can’t we do this for every guy who doesn’t speak English? Anyway, it’s explained later on by Mauro that Mendoza doesn’t wear a mask unlike other luchadors because he didn’t get as many opportunities when he was a masked wrestler.

And then there’s Brian Kendrick, whose redemption arc has been emphasized since Bracketology. Mauro would then reference the fact that Kendrick was once called Leonardo Spanky because of his resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio. He would then joke that Kendrick in his current state looks more like Leo in The Revenant now. Grade-A, Tito Mauro. Grade-A. As Kendrick enters the ring, you can see a lot of Ken Warren in him, which is no surprise because the Social Media Sinister is a huge fan of his, particularly during his “The Brian Kendrick” run in the late 2000s.

Kendrick would start off with a side headlock and then several knees to the gut to knock the wind out of Mendoza. Brian would go on to establish himself as the one true heel of the show, earning the Ariya Daivari Award for Dick of the Night with his use of stiff kicks and cheap shots. But Mendoza would find an opening and do a variation of the Cesaro Swing to an ankle submission with the body scissors! What is it with these guys and the body scissors today?
As the match went on, Kendrick would resort to tricks like baiting Mendoza or blatantly kicking the latter in the mouth, mostly to get the audience to turn on him. But watching Kendrick move, you also see how deliberate his offense had become, which is different from how you may remember him as Paul London’s tag team partner.
It was also pretty fun hearing Daniel Bryan just lose it and blatantly cheer for Kendrick—who he trained with in Shawn Michaels’ wrestling school—something which he never denies throughout the match. Kendrick would prove just how his wily veteran instincts make an impact by playing possum and then knocking Mendoza into the ropes a la Shawn Michaels. That opening would be enough for Kendrick to lock in the Bully Choke for the win!
It’s pretty weird watching Kendrick work heel when they’d built him up to be a babyface with that redemption storyline. That being said, this tournament needs heels to add some gravitas to the storytelling, and Kendrick has been the best heel in the CWC so far. Raul Mendoza was also impressive with the way he took on TBK, and even more when you consider that he’d been bleeding from the mouth throughout much of the match.

*****

Four more participants move on to the second round in Zack Sabre Jr., Drew Gulak, Tony Nese, and Brian Kendrick! Next week, we’ll have the final batch of first-round matches to round out the Sweet 16. Familiar face Rich Swann goes on to take Hong Kong’s Jason Lee, while Scotland’s Noam Dar takes on Harv Sihra’s older brother Gurv Sihra. Jack Gallagher also looks to join ZSJ as a Brit in the second round when he takes on Fabien Aichner of Italy. And in the main event, Johnny Gargano faces Tommaso Ciampa for the right to face Kuya TJ Perkins in the second round!

I can’t wait for next Thursday… and my day just got started!

Photos from WWE.

*****

Stan Sy (@_StanSyis the Editor at Large of Smark Henry, and is also a radio DJ, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He enjoys watching WWE, NXT, Lucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. He used to dress up in fancy suits to book matches as PWR's General Manager.

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