Wednesday night saw the second round of WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic open up. The first bout saw Gran Metalik defeat Tajiri- but the main event was a match that wrestling fans all around the world have been looking forward to since the CWC bracket debuted: Kota Ibushi versus Cedric Alexander.
On paper, the result looks like this: Kota Ibushi defeats Cedric Alexander with the Golden Star Powerbomb. But when you watch it, there’s so much more that went into making this match an instant classic and potential MOTY candidate. Here’s why.
Professionalism: Like most bouts in the CWC, the match is based on pure competition and not various kinds of typical “wrestling” finishes. There are no distraction roll-ups or cheating the ref. The CWC is predicated on the very best cruiserweights showing why they were invited to the tournament and what they can do. Ibushi and Alexander met in the middle with each showing proper respect to their opponent. There were no egos here- only pride in one’s abilities and representing their country on one of wrestling’s biggest stages.
Flow: The match progressed naturally, starting slowly and building to a crescendo of strikes, counter strikes and possible winning maneuvers. Both Alexander and Ibushi showed their physical advantages early and were essentially even for most of the match. The rapid pace had fans at a fever pitch, and didn’t allow for eyes to leave the ring/screen. Due to the twenty-minute time constraint and the fact that both men are amazing talents, the fans were left wanting more- and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Believeable Offense: Coming into this match, we knew to expect a striker’s affair between two high flyers. Submission/ground-based wrestling wouldn’t be the focus here. Alexander’s back elbows to Ibushi’s head were brutal. I don’t recall seeing ones connect that hard before. Ibushi is famous for his incredibly powerful kicks, and surprisingly his first kick didn’t connect until a few minutes into the match. The buildup was worth it, as it floored Alexander and left you generally feeling bad for “Queen City’s favorite son”.
Later in the match-up, Alexander would hit a sickening chop to the face of Ibushi. Ibushi sold it like he was just hit with a ton of bricks, crumpling to the mat. At one point, Ibushi connected with one of the most devastating dropkicks, seemingly sending Alexander into a state of semi-consciousness. All of these strikes were incredibly accurate, with neither whiffing even once. This brings us to the next point.
Selling: Offense can only look as good as one’s opponent sells the damage. Both Ibushi and Alexander ran a clinic on showing the effects of being on the wrong end of a great move. (CWC competitor Zack Saber may be a prodigy, but this is where he could improve.)
Ibushi’s selling of the jaw chop was one example. He also sold a springboard elbow by landing on the back of his head and kneeling on the mat before Alexander could pin him to it. Despite those examples, Alexander excelled here. He sold the kicks, chops and Ibushi’s “Pele kick” brilliantly. Alexander staggered, eventually succumbing to gravity as he fell to the mat.
Athleticism: Both cruiserweights are on the shortlist of athletic specimens in the CWC. Agility, balance, coordination and accuracy despite going full-tilt never suffered or looked off. To put it in a nutshell, none of this resembled a Sin Cara match whatsoever. The timing from both was there all match, with counters and pin attempts fast, furious and unpredictable.
Ibushi’s standout athletic moment was his second attempt at his running moonsault out of the ring. In almost one motion, he leaped to the top rope, turned and executed a beautiful backflip. The part that amazed me most about it was that while on the top rope, both feet remained level and never quivered- making it look like he was standing on a flat surface five feet above the mat. A runner-up for him was a corkscrew moonsault from the mat onto a prone Alexander. Yes, a standing corkscrew moonsault was Ibushi’s second most impressive move in this match.
Alexander showed off, too with his landing feet-first after Ibushi attempted the hurricanrana from the top rope. It was hard to tell if the timing was intentional, but nonetheless it was a stellar counter from Alexander.
Competitive atmosphere: The CWC has delivered in spades on feeling like an actual tournament and not just a predetermined series of wrestling matches- and this match was a beautiful microcosm of that.
This didn’t feel like “just a match”. There would be no Dusty finish here. The stakes were evident, as the winner of this would be an even bigger favorite to win the entire thing. The two countering each other with moves and pins showed how badly they wanted it. Near falls and moments of temporary befuddlement showed the desperation of each fighter. This allowed for the audience at Full Sail and at home to get lost in the match.
This was never clearer than when Alexander hit a brainbuster and tried for a pin, with Ibushi kicking out after a close two count. Immediately following the pin attempt, Ibushi didn’t even inhale a breath of air before Alexander dropped him back to the mat with a spinning kick to the head and another pin attempt. After what seemed like 2.99 seconds, Alexander looked absolutely lost trying to figure out the Ibushi conundrum. Which brings us to….
Facial expressions: Alexander edged Ibushi out in this department as well. His ability to convey a multitude of motions with just a facial expression was astounding. I put him right up there with Alexa Bliss in that category. Need an example? Here’s his face at two crucial points: following a Michinoku driver and after the spinning kick to the head:
Virtually mistake- free: There’s not much more to be said than despite a few hiccups, the two were almost flawless. The hurricanrana looked just a bit off, while an Ibushi exploder suplex to Cedric could have ended up a lot worse. Thankfully, both stayed healthy.
Audience: When NXT is at Full Sail, the audience balances a line between being endearing and being too into themselves and sabotaging matches. During the CWC, they are purely fun and add so much to every match (aside from Dar/Singh).
Tonight they were at their best, with a solid “FIGHT FOREVER!” chant following Ibushi’s moonsault. But a moment that stood out to me was when they reacted to Ibushi’s dropkick like Alexander had been put through a table. I don’t recall many times the cameraman cut to a live shot of a crowd after a dropkick, but that’s how good it was.
Their post-match “PLEASE SIGN CEDRIC!” request was perfect and caused Alexander to lose it. That bit of validation was a moment in time, and one fans and the talented star will remember forever.
Announcers: Both Mauro Ranallo and Daniel Bryan have been just as good at the announce table as the cruiserweights have been in the ring, and tonight they were at their absolute best. Ranallo has a bad habit of reaching for pop culture tie-ins during Smackdown Live, but leaves that at the Full Sail door for the CWC thankfully. Bryan’s been a natural and breaks down matches with insight like only he can, and both show a level of announcing intensity lacking on both RAW and Smackdown Live. (Looking at you, Michael Cole and Byron Saxton. Corey Graves-never change.) The announcing duo focuses strictly on the match and not superfluous/irrelevant things.
Not everything in WWE comes off authentic, but this match and everything after it will remain genuine forever. Here’s the audience showing their appreciation afterwards:
Ibushi and Alexander both gave post-match interviews:
The wrestling world was on fire following the match. Here’s just a few examples of the universal validation for both competitors:
What an incredible match between @CedricAlexander and @ibushi_kota! The crowd chanting #PleaseSignCedric says it all. #RealEmotion @WWE_CWC
— Daniel Bryan (@WWEDanielBryan) August 11, 2016
That @CedricAlexander @ibushi_kota match was nothing short of incredible! @WWENetwork @mauroranallo @WWEDanielBryan pic.twitter.com/FxGDMKIzsz
— Mick Foley (@RealMickFoley) August 11, 2016
This seems appropriate right about now. Congratulations, my brother. @CedricAlexander https://t.co/GAAkpUA6R5
— Tommaso Ciampa (@ProjectCiampa) August 11, 2016
Just got into Melbourne Australia went to @WWENetwork@ibushi_kota@CedricAlexander what a match, goosebumps watching it. What a competition
— Fit Finlay (@ringfox1) August 11, 2016
This may be nitpicking, but there’s a few slight things that may have improved this instant classic:
-It would have been great to see just one Lumbar Check used for a 2.9 count. I understand protecting their finishers, so that’s likely why it was not used.
-The time limit did put a cap to the potential of this match. If not for that, seeing them go 30-40 minutes would be a dream come true.
-The one gripe I have that was in complete control of the WWE was where this match took place in the tournament. It had the feel of a semi-final or even the final match. I would have had the two separated until at least the “elite eight”.
What do you feel made this match special? Anything I left out? Let me know @SeanNeutron.