Just four slots in the 2nd Round remain, as eight men battle this week to advance. A high-flyer who doesn’t need to climb the ropes to earn frequent flyer miles; a Kung Fu practitioner with lightening quick hands; the first Israeli-born pro wrestler to work inside a WWE ring; the last chance for a Bollywood Boy to advance; an extraordinary gentleman; an Italian powerhouse; oh yeah and Johnny Wrestling versus the Sicilian Psychopath.
Needless to say, the best of round one was saved for last.
Rich Swann def. Jason Lee
The lone NXT singles competitor to compete in the tournament, Rich Swann, stepped back into the ring after nursing a shoulder injury that took him off television for several months. The upbeat dance moves of the Baltimore native came off as disrespectful to Jason Lee, who was hoping to be the second Hong Kong representative in the second round. A series of flashy open-palm strikes from Lee wowed the crowd and forced Swann to leave the dancing for later. While Lee carried himself well, Swann was most definitely the star of the match.
The flashy indie star executed an impressive standing hurricanrana while Lee sat on the top turnbuckle before transitioning into a frog splash for a near fall. Later Swann pulled off a standing 450 splash to perfection with no assistance from the ropes, earning him the victory. Those who were introduced to Swann for the first time were given plenty of reasons to remember him. Swann’s win sets up an enticing second round match with the risk taking luchador, Lince Dorado…look out below. **3/4
Noam Dar def. Gurv Sihra
At just 22 years old Noam Dar is the youngest competitor of the tournament, but you’d never know it from his expert technical ability. The Israeli-born shooter from Scotland was fluid in his chain wrestling as he exhibited a tactical style light on flash but heavy on value. For his part, Gurv Sihra proved to be the more talented of the Bollywood Boys, managing to match Dar hold for hold in multiple exchanges in the early going.
Guy in Trump shirt taking a stand by boycott-napping during any matches with foreigners at the fabulous CWC. pic.twitter.com/SMYpsJPgDP
— Human individual (@JoeyOnEarth) August 4, 2016
As the match progressed Dar honed in on his opponents leg, isolating the limb as any good tactician does. After connecting with a fisherman-buster suplex, Dar transitioned into a knee bar and ultimately earned a submission victory; a second round date with the flamboyant Ho Ho Lun is his prize. It is somewhat surprising that both Bollywood Boys have been eliminated from the tournament’s first round considering the amount of pre-tape material that focused on the two. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised to see the energetic tag team from India on an NXT show near year in the near future. **3/4
Jack Gallagher def. Fabian Aichner
The Extraordinary Gentleman was near the top of my list of unfamiliar faces that most intrigued me after the Bracketology special preceding the tournament. The catch wrestler from England possessed a unique charisma that drew the audience in from the moment he stepped through the curtain. Once the bell rung, the throwback shooter proved he was most certainly not an indie knockoff of the Vaudevillains’ act. Aside from some overly comedic facial expressions, Gallagher was the real deal in terms of the catch-us-catch-can wrestling.
At 203 pounds, Aichner entered the match as the heaviest wrestler in the tournament and he used every bit of is weight advantage to combat his wiry opponent. At the same time, Aichner could hardly be categorized as one dimensional. The Italian showed a willingness to grapple with Gallagher before executing a double springboard moonsault to show off his high flying abilities. Later Aichner used his power to escape from a guillotine choke before transitioning into an impressive sit-out powerbomb for a near fall. As Aichner turned up the heat, Gallagher refused to stay down, showing a tough side that will be valuable to the character as the tournament progresses. Gallagher connected with a high-impact standing dropkick in the corner for a somewhat abrupt win, setting up an interesting match with Akira Tozawa in the next round. ***1/4
Johnny Gargano def. Tommaso Ciampa
It should not have been a surprise that this was the match selected to bring home the first round; WWE has highlighted the clash between current NXT tag team partners Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa since the brackets were first revealed. An intense pre-match promo involving both men set the tone for the match; a fitting creative choice that resembled Bret Hart and Roddy Piper prior to their epic WrestleMania VIII encounter. Gargano explained that their friendship didn’t matter once they stepped into the ring; Ciampa insisted his partner would remember the night for all the wrong reasons.
— TDE Wrestling (@totaldivaseps) August 4, 2016
When the bell rang the action in the ring matched the intensity of the promo. Ciampa, true to his word, held nothing back; Gargano absorbed one heavy blow after another and attempted to out-wrestle his way to the next round. The friendship angle was present throughout but not in such a way that made the match feel secondary to a larger story; a testament to the disciplined storytelling abilities of both men. Ciampa was the clear aggressor, landing a series of stiff strikes, back-elbows and knees that the Sicilian Psychopath has become associated with on the indie scene. As the two traded blows on the apron outside the ring, Ciampa landed a boot to the face before slamming his partner to the canvas with a devastating air raid crash slam.
With victory in his sights Ciampa lined Gargano up for a vicious running knee, but hesitated slightly as he saw his partner struggling to grasp his bearings. The slight hesitation proved fatal, as Gargano ultimately used the pause to initiate a sequence that culminated with him earning a pinfall victory from a crucifix roll (after kicking out of a devastating powerbomb lung blower). The psychology of the match was top notch as was the work rate. ***3/4
The first round certainly ended with a bang; the perfect pace as we sojourn on to the Sweet 16. As expected, Gargano and Ciampa stole the show and managed to put on the best match of the tournament thus far in the process. Cedric Alexander versus Kota Ibushi next week… get the popcorn ready!