Last night, he showed what a lot of people already know: Brian Kendrick is amazing.
WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic has been quite the breath of fresh air. While I think some wrestling fans overrated the first round matches simply because the presentation made the product feel special, the end of the first round, the second round, and now the quarterfinals has been nothing short of fantastic.
If you enjoy different styles of wrestling, you appreciate the CWC’s premise, which is to showcase lighter weight wrestlers from all over the world. If you’re more of an old school wrestling fan who simply lives with WWE’s current product because it’s the only game in major cable networks town, but still wishes for the days of psychology and selling, you may not be too happy with many of the matches. It’s not that they’re devoid of psychology completely, but the emphasis is on highlight moves and athleticism.
There have been a couple matches that blended both aspects perfectly. While I still think the best match of the entire tournament thus far has been Kota Ibushi vs Cedric Alexander, there are two others that were close, but because of the logic and psychology.
Johnny Gargano has proved in his NXT stint, and in this tournament, that he deserves every opportunity possible to succeed in WWE. His match with Tommaso Ciampa told the story of friends facing each other in a high stakes match. Both had to do whatever it took to advance in the tournament. When Gargano won, it felt like a real accomplishment. His ability to sell is second-to-none in this tournament. Maybe WWE thinks that because he’s in NXT, he has enough visibility with their audience, but I don’t think I’d have put TJ Perkins over him. Perkins has been really good so far, but not as good as Gargano.
The second match is one that we just witnessed last night between Kota Ibushi and Brian Kendrick. This entire tournament, with the stakes as high as they are, I’ve been wanting to see someone try to win by countout or disqualification. Kendrick did that early in the match with Ibushi by sticking his foot in the barricade and running back into the ring. There was a lot of logic in Kendrick’s work as well. Ibushi is spectacular, but he was even more spectacular thanks to Kendrick’s storytelling.
Kendrick was working on Ibushi’s neck, which Mauro Ranallo told the audience had been surgically repaired. It’s the one kryptonite for Ibushi. There was a moment late in the match where Ibushi came off the top rope with the Phoenix Splash. He missed it and without missing a beat, Kendrick put on the Bully Choke, stretching Ibushi’s neck backward.
Ranello and Bryan were tremendous. Bryan’s been Kendrick’s biggest cheerleader, which is kind of odd in an analyst role. Bobby Heenan’s done it so well before, but he was a heel (okay, a lovable heel). But Bryan was more subtle in his commentary during this match. It was almost as if he knew, deep down, that Kendrick couldn’t beat Ibushi. Rather than cheerleading throughout, he was hoping instead that Kendrick could pull it off. That was a huge part of making this match so great.
I don’t want to diminish Ibushi at all in why this match was great. He’s such a pro. One of my pet peeves in wrestling is when the guys telegraph the two count. After a big move, you’ll see John Cena, or the Miz especially, roll their eyes back to look directly at the referee so they know when to kick out. The Miz’s eyes get huge while he’s watching the referee. But in both near pinfalls for Kendrick on Ibushi, Ibushi’s eyes weren’t anywhere near the referee. He simply listened to the count, which made his last kick out very dramatic.
I hope that Kendrick gets a spot in the new cruiserweight division. If the matches are simply going to be spot fests with little psychology, I’m not sure it will survive on Raw. But guys like Kendrick will help make sure that it does.