The first episode of the inaugural WWE Cruiserweight tournament started with a voice-over from Triple H highlighting the “rich history” of Cruiserweights. Included was footage of Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio, and more legacy stars. Now, a new generation blazes their own trail, stepping out of the shadows into the spotlight. 32 men. 16 countries. One prize.
An intro video played looking like the start of a classic wrestling video game with the wrestlers in animated form. That was sick.
From Full Sail University, Mauro Ranallo and Daniel Bryan introduced the show from up high in the arena overlooking the ring. Ranallo and Bryan talked like sports announcers about this 32-man tournament.
Ranallo sent it to the control room for Corey Graves to go over the bracket. Tonight, it’s HoHo Lun vs. Ariya Daivari. Plus, Cedric Alexander vs. Clement Petiot, and Kota Ibushi in action against Sean Maluta. The tournament kicks off with Gran Metalik vs. Alejandro Saez.
Video Package: Gran Metalik introduced himself in Spanish, with English subtitles. Metalik was representing Mexico against Alejandro, representing Chile.
In-ring: Gran Metalik was introduced from a different ring entrance than a typical NXT show at Full Sail. Alejandro Saez was out next, tipping the scales at exactly 205 pounds – the weight limit for the tournament. The announcers talked about Saez dropping about 30 pounds to make weight.
1 — GRAN METALIK (Mexico) vs. ALEJANDRO SAEZ (Chile)
Before the bell sounded, referee Charles Robinson asked for both men to meet in the middle of the ring, shake hands, and back away. No clock on the screen, but Ranallo and Bryan noted there is a 20-minute time limit in the tournament. Saez controlled early on, complaining to ref Robinson about his counts. Metalik then surprised Saez with an impressive dropkick sending him to the floor. Metalik followed with a running flip dive to the outside firing up the crowd.
Back in the ring, Metalik walked into a kick to the head from Saez, clearing Metalik to the outside. Saez climbed to the ring apron, then nailed a running Shooting Star Press. “Running Shooting Star Press!” Bryan and Ranallo said in unison.
Back in the ring, Saez tried a twisting corkscrew plancha, but Metalik moved and nailed a corner clothesline. Metalik followed with a Michinoku Driver out of a fireman’s carry position for the pin and the win.
Post-match, Metalik and Saez stood together in the ring with Charles Robinson. Metalik was announced as the winner as the Mexican flag was displayed over his shoulder. WWE showed a graphic of Metalik advancing in the bracket.
WINNER: Metalik at 4:04 to advance to the Sweet 16. Metalik was very impressive in this match.
Video Package: Ariya Daivari was spotlighted as the brother of former WWE wrestler Daivari. HoHo Lun spoke in English about proudly representing Hong Hong in this tournament.
In-ring: HoHo Lun was introduced first for the second match of the tournament. Lun was checked by referee Charles Robinson, then villainous foreign music played to bring out Ariya Daivari representing Iran. Ranallo noted he’s from Minnesota, though, and Daivari claims to be the best wrestler from Minnesota.
(2) HOHO LUN (Hong Hong) vs. ARIYA DAIVARI (Iran/U.S.)
Before the bell sounded, Ref Rudy brought both men to the middle of the ring for a handshake. Daivari refused to shake, drawing boos. It was clear WWE positioned them opposite each other to present Lun as “affable,” per Ranallo, contrasted with the “foreign menace” caricature.
Daivari controlled early on, getting sympathy on Lun. Daivari pounded away on Lun’s back with running knee strikes, trying to wear him down. Meanwhile, the crowd picked up a “Ho, Ho, Ho” chant to the “Ole!” rhythm. Meanwhile, the announcers went over Lun’s wrestling background, including wrestling in Japan. Kawada reference from Ranallo and this is already a five-star tournament.
Daivari scored a close two count with a windmill kick, but got too frustrated after only getting a nearfall. That allowed Lun to smash him in the face with a spinning heel kick. Lun fired up and nailed a missile dropkick. Lun followed with a running knee to the back of the head into a superkick to the side of the head for a close two count.
Lun followed with a German Suplex with a bridge and it was good for a three count. Post-match, both men met in the middle of the ring and Lun was announced as the winner. Daivari sold on the way out. A graphic showed Lun’s potential Sweet 16 opposition.
WINNER: Lun at 5:03 to advance to the Sweet 16.
Still to come: Kota Ibushi against Sean Maluta.
Up Next: Cedric Alexander against Clement Petiot.
Video Package: WWE highlighted Clement Petiot from France. He said he’s inspired from Lance Storm. He said he’s not here to do flips or dives because he will use his size to out-match his opponents. That first opponent is Cedric Alexander, who was inspired by Ric Flair being from Charlotte.
In-ring: The French flag produced Clement Petiot as a clear heel walking to the ring with an attitude and yelling at ringside fans. Ranallo said Petiot will bend the rules and do whatever it takes to win this tournament. Big reaction for Cedric Alexander out next to face Petiot. Bryan said Alexander cut 25 pounds to make this tournament.
3 — CEDRIC ALEXANDER (USA) vs. CLEMENT PETIOT (France)
Before the bell sounded, Petiot used the pre-match handshake to pull in Alexander attempting to intimidate him. The ref pushed them away, then called for the bell for a clean start. Alexander landed consecutive deep armdrags clearing Petiot to the outside. Alexander showed up Petiot, who returned to the ring to walk into a reverse rana and beautiful dropkick for a two count. So fluid.
But, Petiot cut off Alexander’s high-flying with a knee to the face. Petiot went for power offense, nailing a huge discus lariat, but he could not put away Alexander. Suddenly, Alexander tossed Petiot into the air for a double-knee backbreaker. It was good for the pin and the win.
WINNER: Alexander at 5:58 to advance to the Sweet 16. Alexander is so good. Nice to see him showcased in this match after finishing up his ROH run and beginning with WWNLive.
Post-match, Alexander and Petiot stood together in the ring for Alexander to be acknowledge das the winner. Petiot threw his arm away in disgust from the loss. And look who’s up next. The winner of Kota Ibushi vs. Sean Maluta.
Backstage: Kota Ibushi was shown warming up backstage as Bryan and Ranallo talked him up. They reviewed the tale of the tap for the main event of the show. Bryan said Maluta has “to do his Samoan thing” to have a chance against Ibushi.
Video Package: Kota Ibushi. Such greatness. Ibushi said in Japanese that he wants to make the crowd happy and WWE is a new audience for him. He said he wants to make them happy, too. Sean Maluta talked about being part of the Samoan Dynasty. He said this is a dream come true for him.
In-ring: Sean Maluta was introduced first representing American Samoa. Maluta has an interesting look. A bit gimmicky, but he showed good intensity. After a pause, Kota Ibushi was introduced to a decent reaction. This match was taped in the third set of episodes, but aired in this first set of episodes, so the crowd was a bit worn at this point.
The former New Japan star marched down to the ring fired up for this first match in the tournament. Ranallo said he’s had the pleasure of calling Ibushi’s matches in New Japan and described him as a bonafide superstar.
4 — KOTA IBUSHI (Japan) vs. SEAN MALUTA (American Samoa)
Before the match, they shook hands and accepted the referee’s instructions. Ranallo noted Ibushi is looking for a new challenge after beating the likes of Finn Balor (Prince Devitt) and Low Ki in Japan. Ibushi quickly kicked Maluta in the leg, stunning him. A dueling chant broke out with about three fans chanting “Sean Maluta” and the crowd responding loudly with “Ibushi.”
Ibushi nailed another swift kick, this time to the chest. Ibushi smiled after impressing the crowd. Maluta sold and recovered in the corner, then landed an elbow strike. Maluta tried a top-rope frog splash, but Ibushi rolled out of the way.
Ibushi followed with a big dropkick, drawing a comparison to Lance Storm and Kazuchika Okada from Ranallo. Ibushi followed with rapid-fire kick strikes into a kick to the chest. Standing moonsault for a two count. But, Maluta dropped him on his surgically-repaired neck, drawing concern from the announcers.
Ibushi suddenly dropped Maluta to the outside, then he flew off the top turnbuckle with a moonsault down on the floor. Ibushi rolled Maluta back into the ring and covered for a two count. Suddenly, Maluta surprised Ibushi with his signature kick, but Ibushi kicked out of a pin just before three.
Bryan again expressed concern for Ibushi’s neck as Maluta followed up with repeated kick strikes to his face. However, Ibushi absorbed and tossed Maluta into the ring for a Last Ride sit-out powerbomb. It was good for the pin and the win.
Post-match, both men stood together in the ring. Maluta sold the effects as Ibushi was announced as the winner. The bracket graphic showed Ibushi vs. Alexander in the Sweet 16. That’s something else. Back in the ring, Maluta held up Ibushi’s arm to salute the winner. Ibushi was shown celebrating to close the arena portion of the show.
WINNER: Ibushi at 9:40 to advance to the Sweet 16. A small taste of what Ibushi brings to the ring. Maluta was impressive as an unheralded U.S. independent wrestler getting an even match against a superstar like Ibushi. The Sweet 16 match of Ibushi vs. Alexander should be spectacular.
Voice-over: Corey Graves recapped the first four matches of the tournament, then previewed next week’s matches:
Tajiri vs. Damien Slater
T.J. Perkins vs. Da Mack
Mustafa Ali vs. Lince Dorado
Akira Tozawa vs. Kenneth Johnson
The show wrapped with more highlights from Week 1 and copyrights closed out the show.
OVERALL THOUGHTS: Clean, simple, effective, focused show. It was a very strong debut episode making it about what happens in the ring and giving everyone a little back-story to connect with the audience. Plus, a Kota Ibushi match on WWE TV was surreal.
The lack of a timeclock and WWE just depending on a verbal note about there being a 20-minute time limit was a glaring weaknesses, though. There should at least be a graphic when a match is over noting the winner and time of the match. That was missing if this is supposed to have a sports-like presentation.