16 – ALEJANDRO SAEZ
Alejandro Saez stands out amongst the first round losers for a variety of reasons. For one, he held his own in the show-stealing opening bout that started the first round of the tournament off on a great foot, but he also cut an incredible amount of weight to even make the Cruiserweight Classic. Without weight restrictions, Saez could be even more impressive, both in look and in terms of moveset.
15 – DREW GULAK
Drew Gulak had the unfortunate draw of being billed as a technical wrestler in a match that aired immediately after Zack Sabre Jr’s showcase. He did show off a grittier style against a pretty good foil in the form of Harv Shira, but I think we’ll see more of DG’s upside when he faces off against another great grappler in the form of ZS
14 – SEAN MALUTA
Of all of the first round exits, nobody left the Cruiserweight Classic with their stock raised quite as high as Sean Maluta. He began his match with Kota Ibushi looking like a slightly smaller Uso, but was so competitive in defeat and believable in pulling off potential upsets that there’s no surprise that he was picked to face Hideo Itami after the NXT star’s 15-month injury rehab. With so many of his extended Samoan family currently making waves in WWE, Maluta’s third match with the company will likely be sooner rather than later.
13 -TONY NESE
I’m not just saying this because he’s from Long Island, but Tony Nese (like his promos have said) might go through this tournament under-appreciated. His Neville-like mixture of a great physique and high-flying skills didn’t have the best partner with the smaller and less-experienced Anthony Bennet, and his second round opponent is the more grounded Brian Kendrick. Hopefully his highspots will work against one of the tourney’s pure heels.
12 – RAUL MENDOZA
It’s weird to even consider Raul Mendoza a loser in the Cruiserweight Classic, because he looked so great. For a wrestler who was unknown and was matched up against one of the bigger names in the bracket, Mendoza ended up looking fantastic and won over a crowd set on cheering Brian Kendrick (BK’s heel moves helped, too). Not only did he have great moves, but a guy with braces willing to bleed profusely from the mouth deserves plenty of future work.
11 – AKIRA TOZAWA
Akira Tozawa is a hard-hitting Japanese wrestler who just had a match for organization that has had four hard-hitting Japanese wrestlers on episodes of NXT this year (Asuka, Itami, Nakamura, and Ibushi). However, Tozawa differentiated himself in his first match (and has a good future) with his slightly rougher fighting style and look. As great as NXT’s Japanese talent are, they’re all good-looking. Tozawa looks like a dude who gets into fights, which makes him unique. Hopefully there’s even more of that coming in the Cruiserweight Classic.
10 – LINCE DORADO
Lince Dorado had some great moves and one of the first round’s most pleasant surprises as LD and fellow relative unknown Mustafa Ali tore things up during their match. Dorado’s only shortcoming is that his match happened after (and thus was overshadowed by) Gran Metalik’s superb tournament-opener.
9 – CEDRIC ALEXANDER
Cedric Alexander had a great first round match against one of the Cruiserweight Classic’s lesser-known competitors, but was still able to pull off some amazing pin-point headscissors and hurricanranas. His high-flying skills should make for an even better against Kota Ibushi in the second round.
8 – TOMASSO CIAMPA
Before the Cruiserweight Classic started, Ciampa and Gargano hadn’t really developed much in the way of personalities while teaming together in NXT. After his first round match, Ciampa’s mostly dominant performance showed why he’s been called “Psycho Killer”. He’s got a great look for singles competition, and his intense performance in the first round-closer was proof.
7 – GRAN METALIK
Gran Metalik already stood out by opening the show with the exact kind of mind-blowing high-flying moves you’d expect out of the Cruiserweight Classic. He’s also what the WWE desperately needs (in the face of Lucha Underground) with only a few Mexican wrestlers of note on their roster. He’s a real good Lucha thing, woo!
6 – JACK GALLAGHER
Jack Gallagher was an immediate standout amongst the competitors in the Cruiserweight Classic due to his smaller stature and more old-school look, and his match ever furthered his internet fandom. Despite his size, his running attacks looked particularly devastating with some great grappling to boot. I look forward to seeing that pinpoint dropkick once again in the second round.
5 – ZACK SABRE JR.
Perhaps the biggest independent star amongst the Cruiserweight Classic’s ranks, Zack Sabre Jr.’s Cruiserweight Classic match was unlike any other, and that’s a pretty strong compliment amongst the 16 first round matches. Few wrestlers actually link submission moves like you might see in MMA, so hopefully we can see more of these unorthodox moves from ZSJ in round two.
4 – RICH SWANN
Already a member of the NXT roster with a few bouts under his belt, Rich Swann’s Cruiserweight Classic bout showed why he’s got a bright future with WWE. Not only does he have an infectious personality that gets fans singing and chanting before the bell rings, he also has some of the most innovative moves. He’s rarely won while wrestling at NXT, so I’m glad we got to see his crazy standing 450 splash at least once in this tournament.
3 – BRIAN KENDRICK
With their high-flying movesets and smaller nature, cruiserweights make natural good guys, but it’s a bit crazy that 31 of the 32 competitors in this tournament played variations of face characters while The Brian Kendrick stood out with his heelish antics. His pre-tournament “this is my last chance” promo made it seem as though he’d take a redemption arc, but his “do anything to win” mantra fits far better, whether he’s making opponents bite the ring ropes or using a nasty choke to win after a desperation move. I look forward to seeing even more of Kendrick’s bag of tricks in the next round.
2 – JOHNNY GARGANO
The Cruiserweight Classic proved that Johnny Gargano has the potential to be WWE’s next great underdog. He’s got the relatable look, a great amount of skill that easily translates to WWE’s storytelling style, and a general underdog nature that could put him in the same league as Daniel Bryan and Sami Zayn. He was rarely the aggressor in his first round match with NXT teammate Tomasso Ciampa, but his offense always elicited a great reaction. This 15 minute match and preceding promos did more for the team’s career than the last year they had teaming, and while it bodes well for both NXT tag team experts, Gargano came out slightly better for it.
1 – KOTA IBUSHI
Kota Ibushi came to the Cruiserweight Classic with plenty of hype (and an impressive resume from New Japan Pro Wrestling), and he delivered with one of the tournament’s best first round matches against a relative unknown. Ibushi’s high-flying moves and hard-hitting strikes were already laudable, but he also pulled off a match that was simultaneously competitive (with many upset hope spots for Sean Maluta) but also made Ibushi continue to look powerful. As great as NXT’s many strong-style wrestlers are, Ibushi has the potential to stand out with his aerial skills.
What do you think of the Cruiserweight Classic so far? Who is your favorite competitor in the tournament? Let us know in the comment section below! Join our Patreon for our monthly wrestling podcast Cheap Popcast, and subscribe to our YouTube for great free wrestling content, like this insane Pokemon Go-inspired Royal Rumble!