An infamous buzzsaw from Japan and a catch wrestler from the Australian outback; a ball of fire from the Philippines (by way of Los Angeles) and a curious upstart from Germany; a high-flying luchador from Puerto Rico and a risk-taker from Pakistan (by way of Chicago); a veteran from Dragon Gate and an underdog from Detroit Rock City. All this can only mean one thing, week two of WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic.
TAJIRI DEF DAMIAN SLATER
After a 10-year hiatus Tajiri finds himself back inside a WWE ring once again. At 45-years-old the former WWE Light Heavyweight and ECW Cruiserweight champion is easily the oldest competitor of the tournament, but with age comes the ability to work smarter not harder. Class was most definitely in session as Tajiri walked the fine line between saving his body for future matches while still giving the audience a decent show. Of course the Japanese buzz saw incorporated his familiar offensive arsenal; a flurry of stiff roundhouse kicks, a handspring back elbow and the always popular tarantula submission. But if fans tuned in to see the Tajiri they grew to love in 1998, well then they were sadly disappointed (and possible delirious). For his part, Slater came across as relatively smooth if not somewhat forgettable in the ring. The unknown from Australia (at least to me) landed an impressive corkscrew pascata to the outside of the ring, but that was the peak of his offense. The calculated and reserved veteran landed his trademark buzz saw kick to the chest; unsurprisingly advancing to the second round. **
T.J. PERKINS DEF DA MACK
T.J. Perkins was one of the many personalities highlighted in the Bracketology special that preceded the start of round one, and one that immediately stood out as a potential threat to go deep into the later rounds. Though still relatively young, Perkins’ charisma and command of the ring was obvious right from the opening bell. Sadly, the same could not be said for the much-hyped, Da Mack from Germany. Described as a flashy high flier, Da Mack showed little flash and even less high flying ability. One part bad Michael Jackson impersonator, one part bad Alex Wright circa 1996 impersonator and one part bad Shinsuke Nakamura impersonator gives you all the ingredients you need to bring The Urban German into your living room. Though it was stated that Da Mack has spent time training with current WWE superstar Cesaro, a series of incredibly poor European uppercuts barely came across as glancing blows. Needless to say, nobody did Perkins any favors by throwing him into the ring with Da Mack. Nevertheless, Perkins didn’t appear phased by Da Mack’s feeble attempt to portray of pro wrestler. Perkins’ offense was as fluid as it was crisp as he did his best to work with the broomstick he was forced to wrestle. A lackluster kneebar submission put Da Mack out of his misery and allowed Perkins the opportunity to advance to the next round, where he will hopefully get the chance to highlight his obvious talent with a more capable opponent. * ¾
LINCE DORADO DEF MUSTAFA ALI
The penultimate match of the evening lived up to its billing more so than any other match on the card; a battle between high-flying risk takers. Though obviously green Ali managed to hold his own against the much more experienced luchador from Puerto Rico, connecting with a flying knee off the ring apron out to the floor and an impressive Spanish Fly launched from the top rope to the center of the ring. Dorado wowed the audience with a classic Lucha-style offensive display, including a beautiful moonsault from the ring to the floor, a scary looking springboard reverse rana (that seemed to spike Ali’s head directly into the canvas) and a textbook Shooting Star Press that ultimately proved to put his opponent away for good. **½
AKIRA TOZAWA DEF KENNETH JOHNSON
Similar to last week’s main event involving Kota Ibushi, the story surrounding Tozawa and Johnson’s encounter was primarily one of an underdog looking to knock off an established veteran capable of winning the tournament. The early stages of the match established Johnson as a credible opponent as the two battled to a stalemate using basic headlock and wristlock chain wrestling psychology to set the tone. Each time Tozawa appeared to gain the upper hand, Johnson responded like a determined underdog, allowing his character work to make up for some of his technical deficiencies compared to Tozawa, a polished veteran. A body scissors roll near-fall spot popped the crowd in the later stages as Johnson came close to achieving the upset before Tozawa kicked out at the last possible second; expertly milking the drama. The hope spot was followed by an absolutely gorgeous German suplex from Tozawa before a deadlift German suplex earned the Dragon Gate star a ticket to the next round. **¾
The theme of the night was clearly talented veterans matched against developing upstarts. The main event managed to tell the best story within that dynamic by far. Likewise, Tozawa came across as the most impressive talent of the evening, with Dorado coming in a clear but not distant second place. Slater and Ali held their own but ultimately did little to stand out in defeat. The match quality of the overall show left much to be desired, a fact that is not all that important in the grand scheme of things. Still in the early stages, the table is in the process of being set for the more important and memorable rounds to come.