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WWE Cruiserweight Classic Review (9/14/16): Tagumpay

It's been over 48 hours, and the reality is sinking in: TJ Perkins is our WWE Cruiserweight Champion and the winner of the inaugural WWE Cruiserweight Classic. But, holy shit. How did we even get here?

To say that I saw this coming would be a lie. I honestly predicted TJP to last until the second round at best, which probably categorizes me as one of his "doubters," but with names like Kota Ibushi, Zack Sabre Jr., or even Johnny Gargano in his way, I had to be realistic. But here we are with Kuya TJ having overcome all the odds, making us Filipinos proud af in the process. Before we get to that, though, let's review the final episode of what has become my favorite wrestling program in 2016.


Semifinal Match #1: Gran Metalik (Mexico) def. Zack Sabre Jr. (U.K.)


Throughout the CWC, we saw Zack Sabre Jr. fluster his opponents with his Escapeology. He would outwit and outwrestle them on his way out of every hold they would try to lock him in. That approach also made it easy for him to take on the underdog role despite being a heavy favorite in the tournament. He switched things up in this match, being the aggressor early on. We saw this when he wasted no time in contorting Gran Metalik, but the Mexican luchador showed that he was no slouch and that he could match ZSJ's mat game.

Once ZSJ realized this, he started being more vicious with his holds and strikes, showing a mean streak that we never saw in him in the previous rounds. In the process, Gran Metalik looked like the real underdog next to the Technical Wizard. That being said, I really enjoyed watching both men counter each other's moves—an exchange fitting a semifinal round, especially in a tournament like this where the stakes would end up being so high.


Towards the latter part of the match, the strikes got stiffer, particularly ZSJ's Shibata-esque Penalty Kick. These shots effectively told the story of how badly both guys wanted to advance to the finals and the lengths they were willing to go to do it.

The finish of the match was pretty exciting, with ZSJ going for a European Uppercut, only for Gran Metalik to catch him into a Metalik Driver and the eventual pinfall. Looking back at the match, it seemed weird seeing ZSJ as the aggressor because he excelled so much in adjusting to his opponents' pace and then taking control from there. During this match with Gran Metalik, ZSJ seemed to do the opposite in taking the reins for himself, and in doing so, he somehow broke the rhythm he'd established and the result came out differently in the end.


The Gran Metalik win was a shocker because I would have bet my monthly salary that ZSJ was going to advance to the finals. But once Metalik won, I prepared myself for #LOLIbushiWins in the next match. Boy, was I wrong.

Oh, and one last note on this match. We really have to start calling Charly Caruso out for being bad at her job. She doesn't know how to blend in and let the wrestlers take the spotlight in those interview segments. Hell, she never even let Gran Metalik's translator get a word in before she asked her next questions. Why isn't Cathy Kelley doing these segments anyway?


Semifinal Match #2: TJ Perkins (Philippines) def. Kota Ibushi (Japan)


I remember watching this match with bated breath, not knowing if this would be the last TJ Perkins I'd end up watching on the WWE Network for a long time. (Let's face it, if you really want to watch RAW live, you won't be going on the Network.) It got exciting early on when TJP found a way to check Ibushi's sneaky kicks in the opening sequence of the match. And then they took it slow by shifting to a more tentative, controlled tempo.


Once they kicked things up a notch again, TJP was able to display his knowledge of Ibushi's game by kicking Ibushi's legs out to counter the Golden Traingle Moonsault. Not long after that, Ibushi finally established momentum against TJP, who then settled into his underdog role.

Not long into the match's second act, both TJP and Ibushi started landing their signatures on one another, with Kuya TJ even getting a TJP Clutch or two in. Ibushi would then bring out the strong style guns, landing stiff kicks to TJP's chest, resulting in the welts you'd see during the Finals.

What made this match really compelling was the fact that TJP found a way to tell the story of him slowly wearing down Ibushi's legs and neck, while finding the wherewithal to withstand Ibushi's offense. While I was rooting hard for Kuya TJ, I didn't seriously think he could win the match until he actually kicked out of the Golden Star Powerbomb. That's when I knew that this was TJ's to win. A missed Phoenix Splash from Ibushi and an STF later, and it was made official: TJ Perkins was going to the Cruiserweight Classic Finals.


This just had to be the match of the night because of the ride that both guys took us on. And we weren't even in the finals yet by this point!


#DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa) def. Noam Dar & Cedric Alexander


We got treated to a sweet tag team match featuring #DIY (Gargano & Ciampa) against Noam Dar & Cedric Alexander while the finalists healed up for the main event. In many ways, this was the CWC's version of the American Idol finale, where the eliminated finalists come back for a presentation of their own. I appreciated that these four were selected because they were among my favorites in the tournament, and because it would be a sweet teaser of what to expect from the cruiserweights when they debut on RAW or on NXT moving forward.

It was great seeing #DIY back at work, following their loss at the hands of the Revival at TakeOver: Brooklyn II and everything that happened afterward. Gargano and Ciampa haven't lost a step as a team, and the match proved just how much they actually belong in the NXT Tag Team Championship picture. As for Dar & Alexander, they seemed like an odd, random pair, but they worked efficiently during the match, too. I loved how they played up the fact that they had little in common, but that they could put aside their differences to achieve their common goal of getting a win as a team.

Cedric Alexander continued to impress and show just how and why he deserved that "PLEASE SIGN CEDRIC!" chant after he was robbed lost to Kota Ibushi in the CWC's second round, while Noam Dar didn't go back to his role of being the "annoying little brother." Instead, Dar just showed just why he's one of the brightest young stars to emerge out of this tournament.

In the end, #DIY picked up a win after they showed Noam Dar & Cedric Alexander that their collective experience as a team trumps the sum of their opponents' individual talents. It was also a fun little match that gave us a nice little break heading into the Finals.


Finals: TJ Perkins (Philippines) def. Gran Metalik (Mexico)



The first thing we have to talk about in this match is how Triple H literally pulled the Cruiserweight Championship out of the bag. Holy. Shit. That new purple belt looks sleek. And I'm totally fine with this reveal being given to us right before the Finals. This was a great way to raise the stakes and make the Finals mean so much more. After all, if you're going to establish a Cruiserweight Championship picture on RAW, why not just build off the CWC?

And with that, the match began. TJP got off to a fast start against Gran Metalik by grounding him with several submissions, including a reverse pendulum and a Muta Lock. I love the idea of TJP going after Metalik's legs and neck, the same way he tried to bring Ibushi down to the mat because it forces his opponent to adapt to him, instead of the other way around.



Metalik finally got his own momentum going by going for a tope suicida, where he ended up headbutting TJP's jaw. It wasn't long until Gran Metalik started pulling off Ibushi-levels of not giving a fuck, however, as a counter to TJP's more methodical approach to the match. What impressed me about Gran Metalik throughout this entire run is his ability to look so comfortable performing difficult acts of balance on the ropes. During this match, there was a spot where he just bounced off adjacent ropes with such ease that it looked like he was just playing around.

Both TJP and Gran Metalik showed the effects of their respective semifinals matches by looking really spent. That being said, it got really crazy watching them take all those head and neck bumps after what they'd already been through.

Towards the climax of the match, TJP would get in several TJP Clutch attempts, but Gran Metalik would withstand each hold at the expense of his knee eventually wearing down. We'd see this moments later as Metalik fails to capitalize by pinning TJP after he landed a Metalik Driver. The luchador formerly known as Mascara Dorada would then go on to slap TJP repeatedly in an effort to keep him down.



Gran Metalik would try to bring TJP up for a Super Metalik Driver from the second rope, but he'd fail to do so, allowing TJP to lock in one more TJP Clutch. TJP would wrench it in much tighter than all of the previous kneebars we've seen from him, and that would be enough to get Gran Metalik to tap out and seal the victory for Kuya TJ!



*****

What a finale. I remember just soaking in the moment with my dad, just reveling in the fact that a guy who represented the Philippines won a tournament in the WWE. And that he's a champion in WWE. And that he's going to RAW next week to represent us on a much bigger stage. It's amazing that a moment like this came within a week of WWE just being in Manila. 2016 has been such a wonderful year for us wrestling fans, but even more for us Filipino wrestling fans. From AJ Styles' debut, to The Wrestling Gods getting on TV, to the brand split, to Kevin Owens and Styles' respective world title wins, to #WWEManila, and now this... What a time to be alive.

TJP's post-match promo in which he put over all 31 guys who took part in the CWC with him was a classy and fitting way to put a cap on what an amazing 10 weeks this has been. If the CWC can spark something so wonderful like this on its inaugural run, imagine how much more this program can achieve moving forward. I can't wait for next year's CWC already. The only thing that upsets me about the finale is that I'll have to wait another 10 months for the next CWC.

Thank you, Triple H. You have no idea how happy you've made us with this. And thank you, TJP. We can't wait to see you on Monday Night RAW. Thank you, CWC participants. Thank you, CWC.

Like TJP said, this wasn't just about one guy. This victory is ours. All of ours.


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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