The inaugural WWE Cruiserweight Classic is over after 10 weeks of incredible action that saw 32 of the best cruiserweights from around the world compete in a tournament to see who was the best in the world. The winner of the tournament, T.J. Perkins, was given a trophy as well as the brand new WWE Cruiserweight Championship that will be a part of the Raw brand.
The WWE cruiserweight division is for male wrestlers that weigh 205 pounds or less. If you were watching professional wrestling in the 1990s, then you know that World Championship Wrestling featured a cruiserweight division with a weight limit of 220 pounds. Of course, in pro wrestling they always embellish the weight of wrestlers. To WWE’s credit, they did make it legit in terms of only having guys that weighed 205 pounds or less. One of the standout performers in the tournament, Cedric Alexander, lost 20 pounds to qualify for the CWC and became the most beloved guy there.
— WWE CWC (@WWE_CWC) September 15, 2016
It was a tournament unlike anything else in WWE history because it was presented as more sport than “sports entertainment,” which is the WWE name for professional wrestling. While everything else on WWE television features promos, heel turns, face turns, storylines, comedy skits and, of course, the matches, this tournament was really about the matches. There were no promos ripping on other wrestlers. They shook hands before the matches and often hugged out of respect after it was over. It was really all just about the wrestling.
The talent pool in this tournament was special. While there were some guys that WWE couldn’t get because they had contracts elsewhere, WWE did an awesome job of showcasing different talent from all over the world. When wrestlers entered the ring, we were told what country they were from. In the final four, they had performers from Mexico, England, Japan and the Philippines, which was the choice of winner T.J. Perkins, who is a Filipino-American from Los Angeles.
Like everything else in WWE, the matches were pre-determined because that’s how professional wrestling works. They are going to make decisions based on who they want to win. Triple H runs the NXT brand as well as the Cruiserweight Classic. Over the past three months, WWE was able to sign at least 10 performers (that we know of) to deals that will see them compete on Raw and likely NXT for some of them in the foreseeable future. More on that a bit later.
Regarding the new Cruiserweight Championship, it was rumored that WWE might do that, although it wasn’t official until last night. They had a Light Heavyweight Title in the late 1990s when they tried to copy WCW’s great Cruiserweight Title, but it didn’t work that well. Then in the 2000s, they created a WWE Cruiserweight Title. Rey Mysterio was the focus of the division most of the time, although he became a top guy and the division was hurt after that. They retired the title in 2007 while Hornswoggle, a little person, was the champion. It was disappointing that the title became a joke like that. Nearly 10 years later, it’s back with a new look and hopefully treated in a more serious way.
The semifinals and finals took place Wednesday night on a two-hour special on WWE Network. It was the fourth straight night of live WWE content following Backlash on Sunday, Raw on Monday and Smackdown Live on Tuesday. This was the best show of the four because it only had four matches, they were all given time and the wrestlers put on some incredible matches.
The Matches From CWC Finale Night
There were four matches that aired on WWE Network. There was actually a dark match for the live crowd in Orlando, but it wasn’t shown on the broadcast.
Semifinal #1: Gran Metalik defeated Zack Sabre Jr.
The pace was quick for this match as Metalik, a masked luchador, hit some incredible high-flying moves to slow down the technical master Sabre. I was so impressed by Sabre during the tournament because he applied some of the most unique submission moves that I’ve ever seen. He’s not a high-flyer, but he was able to have great matches with anybody. Metalik really impressed me in his previous matches and raised his game here. Some of the stuff he can do is unlike anything I have ever seen. After 13 minutes of hard-hitting action, Metalik won with the Metalik Driver, which is like a front cradle suplex where his opponent hits his head hard into the mat.
The reports are that Sabre doesn’t have a deal with WWE because he wants to continue working elsewhere. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s signed to a WWE deal within a year or two because he’s an impressive performer.
Semifinal #2: T.J. Perkins defeated Kota Ibushi
This match was incredible and was arguably the best in the whole tournament. I would rate it as being on par with Ibushi’s second-round match against Cedric Alexander. The reason it was so good is because Ibushi was very physical, landing several hard kicks to the chest of Perkins, who had many visible welts on his chest by the end of his night.
Perkins was relentless, though. He kept working on the leg of Ibushi by applying his deadly kneebar submission that won him so many matches. Perkins applied the kneebar for a final time while also pulling back on the neck, which led to Ibushi tapping out after 15 minutes of intense action. I thought this was one of the best matches in WWE this year. It’s not in my top three with Nakamura vs. Zayn (NXT Takeover Dallas), Styles vs. Cena (SummerSlam) and Zayn vs. Owens (Battleground), but it’s definitely high up on the list.
The result was a bit of a surprise if you don’t know about contracts. Ibushi was the favorite in the tournament because he’s a guy that accomplished a lot mainly working in Japan. He had some legendary matches with current WWE Champion AJ Styles and NXT Champion Shinsuke Nakamura over the years. I think Ibushi showed in this tournament that he’s as good as those elite performers too. If you listen to the CWC crowd, he got some of the loudest ovations of anybody. However, much like with Sabre, he didn’t sign a WWE deal because he wants to keep working in Japan some more. I strongly believe that if Ibushi signed a full-time WWE deal, he would have won. Hopefully, he signs with WWE full-time one day soon because he really is an elite performer.
Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa defeated Cedric Alexander & Noam Dar
They needed to put on a match to let the finalists get a bit of a break, so there was a tag match that featured these four men who are all going to be a part of Raw’s cruiserweight division. The team of Gargano & Ciampa came close to winning the NXT Tag Titles at NXT Takeover Brooklyn last month, and may win them the next time they have a match. They got the victory in this match although the crowd liked Alexander more than anybody in the match.
— WWE CWC (@WWE_CWC) September 15, 2016
Prior to the main event, Triple H talked about the importance of the match and said the winner gets the trophy as well as the new WWE Cruiserweight Title. The purple and silver title represents the colors WWE used for the Cruiserweight Classic.
Cruiserweight Classic Finals To Determine New Cruiserweight Champion: T.J. Perkins defeated Gran Metalik
I was really excited about this because I’ve gotten to know T.J. Perkins pretty well after he appeared on my podcast a couple of times (including last week), so I was definitely rooting for him. I had no idea if he was going to win, but I had a pretty good idea just based on knowing contract situations of the others in the final four.
They went nearly 20 minutes. There were times when you could tell both guys were tired after having such hard-hitting matches earlier in the night. When you go as fast and as hard as they did earlier, I can’t imagine being able to do it again so soon after, but that’s why pro wrestlers deserve a lot of respect. Metalik was on point with his high-flying moves like usual. I love the spot where he runs towards the ropes, puts one foot on the middle ropes and lands on his opponent outside the ring. It’s so cool. Perkins was relentless in terms of working on the kneebar submission. He went for it several times, Metalik kept finding ways to get out of it, but then Perkins synched it one more time and Metalik was forced to tap out.
I mentioned the marks on Perkins’ body earlier. When the match was over, he basically had a giant patch of red and purple welts on his left shoulder. It looked nasty, but also a badge of honor because he put on two incredible matches within about an hour of each other. That’s not an easy feat.
After the match was over, Triple H put the Cruiserweight Championship around TJP’s waist and William Regal was there as well.
Perkins was overwhelmed with emotion after the win. He started wrestling as a teenager, became homeless at one point in his life, then got back on his feet and now at 31 years old, accomplished the greatest feat of his career at this point. I’m so happy for the guy. He deserves it.
Looking Ahead To Raw’s Cruiserweight Division
If you watch Monday Night Raw regularly, then you know that for the past two months they have talked about how the Cruiserweight Division is coming to Raw starting next Monday, Sept. 19.
I’m cautiously optimistic about the Cruiserweight Division heading to Raw on Mondays. Since the show is three hours long, there is plenty of time to give these performers the bigger platform to have competitive matches for 10-15 minutes twice per show. Will it actually happen? I think so, just because they invested a lot in promoting this tournament and building it up.
Where I have some concern is that there might come a point in the near-future where WWE Chairman Vince McMahon thinks that these smaller wrestlers are winning over the crowd, so let’s use a heel like Braun Strowman to beat them all up to upset the fans. It would work very well in terms of getting a wrestler some much-needed heat, but it would also hurt the cruiserweight division. Please WWE, keep the rest of the roster out of things. At least for a few months.
— Daniel Bryan (@WWEDanielBryan) September 15, 2016
I do have some concerns about the announce team, though. Mauro Ranallo and Daniel Bryan did an awesome job of calling the matches because Ranallo is the best WWE play-by-play guy since Jim Ross at actually calling moves. Bryan explains things so well while he shows a lot of emotion in his commentary as well. Two-man announce teams are so much better than three guys, yet WWE seems dead set in keeping three-man teams on Raw and Smackdown.
On Raw, Michael Cole will call the cruiserweight matches. He isn’t as bad as his detractors think, but does a poor job of actually calling moves. He’ll say things like “what a move” or “look at that” and it’s just annoying to those of us that appreciate what the performers are doing. At least heel color analyst Corey Graves should do a good job of explaining things for the viewers. The other Raw analyst, Byron Saxton, is just an okay announcer that doesn’t add much in terms of personality. I hope the commentary team is ready for the division because if they fail to put over the performers properly, then the division will be doomed from the start.
Which Cruiserweights Are Headed To Raw?
While there is no official list released by WWE at this point, names have appeared in the credible Wrestling Observer Newsletter noting that 10 wrestlers have all signed deals to start full-time on Raw as well as NXT starting next week. Here are the names that we know about with brief notes on each:
T.J. Perkins – As the new Cruiserweight Champion, TJP will be the focus of the new Cruiserweight Division at least in the short term. He had a pretty good run in TNA Wrestling as Suicide (others wrestled under that character name) and Manik (his Twitter handle is @MaskaraManik at the moment), but this is his first time as a regular in WWE.
Gran Metalik – The story is that he still has some commitments in Mexico, but he’s signed to a WWE deal. He’s the only man in this group of 10 who is a Mexican wrestler that wears a mask. Since Rey Mysterio left WWE, the company has been looking for a masked wrestler to win over the fans. It could be Metalik, although it doesn’t appear as though he speaks English well.
Johnny Gargano – He has been a regular on NXT for the last year as a team with Tommaso Ciampa. Recently, he signed a new deal with WWE where he’s finishing up his independent wrestling commitments this weekend. It wouldn’t shock me if he and Ciampa win the NXT Tag Team Titles soon.
Tommaso Ciampa – Everything I said about Gargano applies to him as well. They’re both great performers.
Cedric Alexander – He is my favorite in this group. Great athlete that has thrived after dropping 20 pounds to become a cruiserweight. I think he’s going to end up as the biggest star in the group and a likely future Cruiserweight Champion.
Brian Kendrick – He’s a former WWE star from the mid-to-late 2000s. He trained with Daniel Bryan at Shawn Michaels’ wrestling school about 17 years ago. At 37 years old, he’s the oldest guy in this group, but he showed in this tournament that he’s still an awesome performer.
Noam Dar – The youngest guy in the group at 23 years of age, Dar is a submission-based wrestler that can keep up with the high fliers. As an Israeli-born Scottish wrestler, he also brings some international appeal to the group.
Rich Swann – Going into the tournament, he was one of only three guys that already had a WWE NXT deal (along with Gargano & Ciampa). Swann’s one of the smaller guys that has incredible athleticism and a personality that won over the crowd.
Jack Gallagher – The look of a wrestler is important. Gallagher rocks the handlebar mustache well. He’s not a high-flyer, but he won over the crowd with the style in which he moves around the ring.
Akira Tozawa – He’s an experienced wrestler that has worked in America quite a bit, although not in WWE. I enjoy his mannerisms in the ring when he yells out while hitting a move or applying a submission.
In addition to those 10 guys, it wouldn’t shock me if Raw superstar Neville was also part of the division. He really doesn’t have anything else going on, so I hope they involve him as well. Another guy they should use in the division is current NXT star Austin Aries, who is one of the best performers in the company.
Now that the CWC is over, I can sit here and say it was a huge success. I loved watching the show every week, writing about matches and seeing wrestlers win over the crowd, whether they won or lost a match. It showed that even without over-the-top wrestling storylines, talent can get over if you simply allow them to show what they can do in the ring.
I hope WWE does other tournaments like this in the future. That’s the advantage of having WWE Network. You don’t have to rely on a television network to pay you money to show WWE content. Air it yourself. Make it unique. It’s what has made NXT so successful, so to see WWE apply it to the CWC has been a breath of fresh air.
A women’s wrestling tournament would be a welcome sight because there’s a lot of talented women’s wrestlers out there who could thrive in a setting like that. Plus, WWE needs more women’s wrestlers anyway, so it would be an easy way to develop talent. Another idea is a tag team tournament. It wouldn’t shock me if they do a second Cruiserweight Classic next summer using some of the guys that were in this year’s tournament and also bringing in some new people as well.
If you missed any of the Cruiserweight Classic, you can watch all 10 episodes on WWE Network on demand. I highly recommend it if you’re a fan of in-ring action.