The first round of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic is over and it was absolutely fantastic. As an outsider to a lot of indie wrestling, this was the first time I saw the majority of competitors in action and this gives me a chance to grade most of them based purely on my first impression of them. Looking at these guys with fresh eyes and not knowing what to expect meant they all had to get over from scratch and a large number of them succeeded in doing so.
This also meant a few guys didn’t quite live up to the hype that I was told to expect. Whether it was simply their match-ups or their styles, the likes of TJ Perkins, Noam Dar and Anthony Bennett didn’t shine as much as I was hoping. The other disappointment was Ho Ho Lun who was the surprise first round winner, but at his size was simply unable to make his offense feel believable. You can’t help but feel that others would be better placed in the round of 16.
Moving away from the negatives, here are my top 10 performers in the opening round of the CWC:
- Akira Tozawa
Tozawa immediately stood out with his high impact style and loud grunting. It was unique and with the crowd getting right into it, he was fun to watch. Tozawa had a lot of charisma and backed it up with some hard hitting offense. He certainly seems like someone the WWE will want for their RAW Cruiserweight Division.
- Tony Nese
Nese was another guy I’d never seen compete before, and going into the match, I thought Anthony Bennett was the favourite based purely on his flashiness and the crowd’s reaction to him during the introductions. Nese’s mix of aerial offense and high impact strikes certainly captured my attention. He provided quite a few unexpected highlights and made a name for himself in the process.
- Zack Sabre Jr
Sabre is another one I haven’t seen before. I knew how highly rated he was, but seeing him perform for the first time, it’s easy to see why he’s so popular. While his move-set isn’t the type to get the crowd off their feet, his smoothness and technical knowhow is enough to impress any wrestling purist.
- Raul Mendoza
I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t the only one who’d never seen Mendoza in action before. It’s also fair to say he was the biggest surprise packet of the competition. Coming up against an established veteran in The Brian Kendrick, Mendoza stole the spotlight and had the whole crowd on their feet by the end. When you can turn a crowd that’s never heard of you against someone like Kendrick, you can do anything. Props to Kendrick as well for acting more like a heel as the match progressed to get Mendoza over.
- 6. Jack Gallagher
Daniel Bryan expressing his love for Gallagher may have stolen the show, but this man’s suave charisma and smooth grappling made for a fantastic combination that made him a fantastic babyface. Gallagher seems to have caught the attention of a lot of the WWE officials and so don’t be surprised if he goes further than you think in this tournament.
- Kota Ibushi
Ibushi was the face of the tournament coming in. The biggest name, the final guy introduced during the Facebook Live stream and the man many people think will win the tournament. With those expectations, it’s almost impossible to live up to them and yet Ibushi put on a fantastic performance. Ibushi will get better as his opponents get better too and we’re certainly in for a treat as he progresses through the tournament.
- Cedric Alexander
Alexander was the first guy to really win over the crowd in this tournament. He got a big ovation coming to the ring, but that may have been more to do with him being the first American of the competition. He worked the match perfectly as a babyface and certainly seems like the perfect guy for the RAW Cruiserweight Division. Ibushi versus Alexander in round two is going to be something special.
- Rich Swann
Swann was never going to do anything other than impress. He’s an athlete like no other and has scary amounts of charisma to back it up. His arsenal is so diverse and acrobatic that it separates him from anyone else out there. Regardless of how far he goes in this tournament, he is an absolute lock for RAW.
2 & 1. Tomasso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano
Gargano won, but these two men deserve to share top spot. Their match was a masterful piece of storytelling that was backed up by some brilliant wrestling. The fact that they’re in the NXT Tag Team Championship picture right now makes it all the more compelling and some of the near falls late in the match were phenomenal. This is a genuine match of the year candidate.