With the first round recently concluded, we’re ranking every Cruiserweight Classic wrestler based on their initial performances!
The WWE has recently concluded the first round of its biggest tournament ever; the Cruiserweight Classic. More than two decades after WCW brought in lighter and faster wrestlers to help fill time during two (and three) hour episodes of Monday Nitro, WWE is now leaning on lighter international wrestlers to, yes, fill time amongst their five live televised hours every week, but also expand their fanbase.
With independents worldwide going strong and Lucha Underground proving there’s an audience for smaller high-flying wrestling, WWE’s has in full force with an epic tournament of 32 wrestlers. It’s so big that it took A WHOLE MONTH to air the entire first round, but now that we’ve seen each of the wrestlers take part in a match, it’s time to rank the entire bracket based on their equal in-ring time. Please note that just about everyone is a talented in-ring performer; even the lower-ranked wrestlers were worth lauding. Additionally, the wrestlers were only judged on their first Cruiserweight Classic match and the promo packages made for the tournament, with past performances not judged as part of the ranking.
32 – ANTHONY BENNETT
As one of the smallest Cruiserweight Classic competitors, Bennett should be at a disadvantage, but he’s got a great look that makes you overlook his short stature. He’s got personality, which is important, but he’s still a few years away from breaking out as his match ended awkwardly without much in the way of memorable moves.
31 – HOHO LUN
Hoho Lun does deserve credit for heightening the popularity of wrestling in China, and you can bet he’ll be vital in WWE’s success in a relatively untapped market. However, his first Cruiserweight Classic match wasn’t quite as good as it could be due to Lun’s over-emoting. Hopefully that can just be chalked up to first match jitters.
30 – GURV SHIRA
If anything, Gurv Shira was handicapped by going AFTER his younger and flashier brother. The duo will likely make a great WWE tag team in time (and will help fill the gap in Indian talent since The Great Khali’s departure), but Gurv alone wasn’t quite the Bollywood attraction his brother was.
29 – DA MACK
Da Mack’s idolization of Michael Jackson might seem strange in America where the King of Pop’s credibility is a bit more tarnished, but he does deserve credit for having one of the strongest personalities in the Cruiserweight Classic. His match was okay with some great moves, but this was an instance of the gimmick overshadowing the match.
28 – CLEMENT PETIOT
Petoit was trained by Lance Storm, and is almost a modern-day reimagining of the stoic star. Unfortunately, since he was one-and-done in the Cruiserweight Classic, his technical prowess had to take a backseat to putting over another opponent. Most other mat-based wrestlers got to showcase their skills and advance, but Petoit couldn’t, so he slips in the rankings.
27 – JASON LEE
If anything, Lee should have been China’s representative in the second round, as he’s got a bit more experience and had some better moves than Hoho Lun (plus a pair of nunchucks). However, his story wasn’t quite as inspiring, so he had to settle for playing second fiddle to one of the tournament’s biggest crowd favorites in the form of Rich Swann.
26 – DAMIAN SLATER
Slater has a great look and is very talkative, which would match him up well with Buddy Murphy, should NXT need another Aussie. He did his best with one of the tournament’s biggest (and oldest) names, but couldn’t really showcase many skills against an enigmatic star who rarely takes to the air.
25– HARV SHIRA
There were two slight disappointments in the first round of the Cruiserweight Classic; the first was that there were no major upsets, and the other was that the Shira brothers were both eliminated in their first match. Younger brother Harv would have been the better pick to move on as his flashier style and more youthful exuberance were perfect to give the Bollywood boy an upset victory. He had a decent showing against Drew Gulak, but I’m betting the Shiras show up again in WWE before long.
24 – FABIAN AICHNER
There may have been taller and heavier wrestlers in the Cruiserweight Classic, but few competitors looked as imposing as Aichner. He had some great moments of showing his strength and speed in his loss to the small yet cocky Jack Gallagher, but it’s a shame Aichner didn’t get to face off against a bigger opponent.
23- ARIYA DAIVARI
With his family connection to former WWE star Khosrow Daivari, it’s a bit mystifying that Ariya Daivari didn’t progress in the Cruiserweight Classic, especially since he was paired with the unknown and under-appreciated Hoho Lun. If WWE ever brings back Ariya’s older brother (especially with the goodwill he’s gained with airport heroics and Lucha Underground return), both Daivaris should get the call.
22– NOAM DAR
Noam Dar has a decent look and a very interesting mixed heritage, but the first round match for this relative unknown didn’t quite work due to the lack of high-impact moves from this more technical fighter against a similarly unknown opponent in Gurv Shira. Dar should hopefully catch on as audiences learn more of his style in the second round.
21 – KENNETH JOHNSON
As far as underdogs in the Cruiserweight Classic, Kenneth Johnson may have been the easiest to sympathize with. His backstory of overcoming a speech impediment to get on WWE TV combined with his long travels to train already made KJ an inspiring figure, but also he looked great (and competitive) in defeat against Akira Tozawa.
20 – TYSON DUX
Dux’s hard-hitting style and (slightly) more imposing figure was a great alternative to his first-round opponent Zack Sabre Jr. He was also game to get stretched to hell and back from the Cruiserweight Classic’s most seasoned technical wrestler and make the submission expert’s moves look seamless. The 38-year old should have had more of a focus on his long journey, but that had to take a backseat to more well-known vets.
19 – MUSTAFA ALI
For a wrestler who made it into the tournament as an alternate, Mustafa Ali made the most of his break. For a pair of relative unknowns, Ali and Lince Dorado put on one of the best first-round matches with some excellent high-flying moves that brought the crowd from indifference to “this is awesome” chants.
18 – TJ PERKINS
TJ Perkins is one of the most experienced Cruiserweight Classic competitors that hasn’t ever seen serious time in WWE, so it’s a bit of a shame that his first match was a bit more of a dance-off than a wrestling showcase. Fortunately, he made it into the second round where his great look and high-flying style should prosper. Why did TNA put this guy in a mask, exactly?
17 – TAJIRI
Easily the most recognizable face amongst the Cruiserweight Classic talent base, Tajiri’s four years as a major player in WWE probably drew many eyes to this tournament of undersized competitors. To that end, his first match was slower and less eye-catching than the fights featuring younger talent, but his next match against the high-flying Gran Metalik should show more of Tajiri’s skillset (particularly his heelish stuff).
Who are the top half of the Cruiserweight bracket in terms of performance? Find out on the next page!