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WWE Cruiserweight Bracketology Special
June 6, 2016
Aired on WWE Network
One week before the Cruiserweight tournament begins, WWE aired a “Bracketology” special previewing the 32-man tournament.
The special opened with footage of Triple H standing in the ring at the Performance Center addressing the tournament field. Hunter said they are on the ground floor of something special.
– Corey Graves introduced the special, then Mauro Ranallo and Daniel Bryan were shown at the studio to discuss the tournament. Ranallo wanted to know about Bryan returning to wrestling after retiring in February. Bryan said he thought he would have a very difficult time being around wrestling again, but this brought him back because of how much emphasis there is on a clash of wrestling styles.
Bryan and Ranallo highlighted some of the top match-ups and stars, like Kota Ibushi. Bryan also talked about some of the wrestlers he faced during his career being in this tournament.
Bryan and Ranallo briefly talked about the history of Cruiserweight wrestling and it being about weight, going back to when WCW started their original CW division. Bryan said they have a strict 205 lb. weight limit for this tournament, forcing some guys to cut a lot of weight.
The focus went to Zack Sabre, Jr., who Ranallo described as perhaps the best pure wrestler on the planet. Cue up a video package on Sabre. Footage of Sabre wrestling for EVOLVE and the U.K. indies was included in the package. Yes, indeed, Sabre has arrived.
– Back at the studio, Canyon Ceman joined Bryan and Ranallo to discuss putting this tournament together. Ceman said they’ve been having try-outs all over the world trying to find the best talent around the world. Ceman said it provides an opportunity for guys who have been wrestling for passion their entire career now getting the WWE platform. Ceman said the key words he focused on during the evaluation process were “dynamic” and “diversity,” trying to give fans from around the world wrestlers to root for.
Next was a video look at another Englishman, Jack Gallagher. Gallagher said he has a personal preference in his style of scientific wrestling. He said he has to use his mind and technique to overwhelm his opponents because he’s not the biggest wrestler in the tournament. Gallagher said he considers himself a proper English gentleman. His presentation just screams “Vaudevillians third man.”
The video continued to Gurv and Harv Sihra from India. Their parents are from India and they are from Vancouver, Canada. And they decided to call themselves the Bollywood Boyz. Harv definitely has the personality and look of a future WWE star. At the studio, Bryan said they are at a disadvantage with a lack of experience. But, what they do have is each other to support their tournament runs.
Next up was Rich Swann, who was featured in a video package. EVOLVE footage was included in the package on Swann, who said wrestling saved his life. He shared his story of his father and mother dying when he was in his teen years and not having direction. Swann said wrestling changed him. Swann said the perfect ending to a movie would be standing in front of the audience as the first-ever Cruiserweight Classic winner. Back at the studio, Bryan and Ranallo talked about Swann’s story lifting himself out of despair through wrestling.
– Ranallo shifted to some opening round match-ups. At the “control center,” Corey Graves ran down the left side of the tournament bracket. Graves highlighted Akira Tozawa vs. Kenneth Johnson at the top of the bracket. Also highlighted were Jack Gallagher and Tajiri. Plus, Gran Metalik against Alejandro Saez, who dropped 20 pounds to make the cut.
Graves also focused on Zack Sabre, Jr. vs. Tyson Dux, then Noam Dar vs. the aforementioned Gurv Sihra.
– At the studio, Ranallo and Bryan focused on the intriguing first round match-up of Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa. In separate sit-down interviews, Gargano and Ciampa talked about becoming a tag team in NXT and clicking as best friends. Now they have to face-off in the first round of the tournament. Ciampa said he doesn’t want to injure Johnny, but he doesn’t want to lose.
Back at the studio, Bryan and Ranallo broke down this match-up. Included was Bryan referencing Gargano’s long DGUSA Title reign lasting more than two years. He said he thinks they will go full-force against each other.
Next was a video package on T.J. Perkins, with the set-up of a difficult journey to get to this point. TJP said he’s been wrestling for 18 years and finally made it to this point. Perkins said he was homeless for a little while and he felt like he failed mid-way through his career. TJP said it forced him to develop mental toughness. Footage of TJP vs. Ricochet from EVOLVE was included in the video.
– Back at the studio, TJP joined Bryan and Ranallo for an interview. Perkins said he lacked mental toughness in his younger years. He said he has an older mind with a young-man’s body. Bryan interrupted that he’s actually been wrestling longer than he did. Perkins said his experiences changed him as a man, which helped him get to this point.
How confident are you? Perkins smiled and said he makes it look easy. He said he’s very versatile. Bryan asked him about being the youngest American to ever wrestle for New Japan. He said that’s correct, and that helped him prepare for this stage being on the ground floor for something similar to the Super J Cup. Perkins said he’s representing the Philippines, so he’s hoping to build on Batista’s success.
– Back to Graves at the “control center” to review the right side of the bracket. Graves highlighted Brian Kendrick vs. Raul Mendoza atop the right side of the bracket.
Graves also highlighted the “Golden Star” Kota Ibushi as an early favorite to win the whole thing. T.J. Perkins was highlighted next, followed by Gargano vs. Ciampa. Graves closed with a look at Rich Swann vs. Jason Lee from Hong Hong.
Graves threw it back to Bryan and Ranallo to discuss returning veterans Tajiri and The Brian Kendrick. Graves narrated a video package on the former WWE stars returning for one more shot at glory and redemption. Kendrick noted he’s 37-years-old and he’s more mature after losing his first WWE shot because he was too busy patting himself on the back. Kendrick choked up thinking about life without wrestling. He said he’s been wrestling since 1999 and his career culminates with this event. He said falling short would be a reflection of his life.
– Back at the studio, Kendrick and Bryan sat down together with Ranallo. Bryan said he had his very first pro wrestling match against Kendrick in October 1999. And… Kendrick had his first match against Bryan. They reminisced about their first match, then Ranallo asked about being part of a tournament like this. Kendrick said it’s a long time coming and he’s glad to be part of it.
What are you looking to get out of this? Kendrick said he’s never won a tournament, and he’s lost to Bryan a few times. So, Dragon, I need you here to push me harder. Bryan said he wants Kendrick to win this tournament, but are you worried about the age factor? Kendrick said he’s changed since being 23, being smarter and realizing this is his last opportunity. Kendrick said he has a willingness to win.
Ranallo asked Bryan and Kendrick about training under Shawn Michaels. Bryan said it was his passion. He said HBK wasn’t supposed to be doing anything physical after back surgery, but he was so passionate about training his students that he took a back body drop to demonstrate how to take a bump. Ranallo swung it back to the tournament. Kendrick said he wants to beat everyone.
– The last wrestler to be highlighted was Kota Ibushi, labeled one of the favorites to win the tournament. WWE showed Ibushi sitting in the crowd at NXT Takeover: Dallas, introducing Ibushi to the WWE audience. Ibushi spoke in Japanese about transitioning to WWE. He said he doesn’t mean to represent Japan, but he wants to show how good Japanese wrestling is.
Ibushi talked about wrestling Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, and Shinsuke Nakamura earlier in his career, giving him an advantage in the tournament. Ibushi vowed to win the tournament because he loves pro wrestling the most among the other competitors.
Back to Bryan and Ranallo to hype Ibushi’s entry in the tournament. Ranallo talked about calling Ibushi’s New Japan matches, and referenced Low Ki as a former opponent. Bryan said Ibushi is one of the hardest kickers he’s ever been in the ring with. He did reference Ibushi having a herniated disc in his neck that put him on the shelf last year.
Ranallo wanted to talk about Strong Style. Bryan said it’s about knowing you are going to take punishment to win. Whereas Zack Sabre, Jr. is about “escapeology” trying to use technique to escape a hold, rather than being physical with elbows and strikes.
In the final segment of the special, Ranallo and Bryan were joined by Triple H for an interview discussing the tournament.
Ranallo said he never thought he would see something like this on WWE Network. Why now? Hunter said he’s thought about this for a long time, thinking about it as a piece of the industry that is missing. He said there wasn’t that singular platform for everyone to shine and let their passion come out.
Ranallo asked if this tournament marks a shift in philosophy for WWE, especially brought on by someone like Bryan’s success. Hunter said Bryan is definitely one of those guys who changed the way WWE views talent. He said he thinks that thought of WWE being the “land of giants” has shifted. “You don’t have to be a 300-pound giant guy to succeed in this industry,” Hunter said. Hunter said it’s a chance for guys from different backgrounds to find success.
Ranallo said this reminds him of the beginning of UFC trying to find out which combat style is best. He said there is often a misnomer about Cruiserweights just being about high-flying, but this tournament includes wrestlers from so many different styles and backgrounds. Hunter said one of the mistakes people make is “Cruiserweight” or “Lightheavyweights” and just think it’s about acrobatics and flips. But, they were very careful about selecting talent from different countries and having diverse styles. Hunter said all of the different styles make for intriguing matches.
Bryan said he’s excited about fringe styles from Chile and China, mixed with the traditional Lucha Libre and Japanese styles. Bryan said he and Hunter haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, but they can agree this is an awesome concept. Hunter joked that he knew this was going to be a success when he listed the roster to Bryan, and even he did not know who some of the guys were. So, they felt good about the talent recruitment process.
Ranallo asked if this is a one-and-done tournament, or what is the future? Hunter said this is absolutely not a one-and-done, and only the beginning of an opportunity for guys to be part of the platform. Hunter said he’s not 100 percent sure what the “opportunity” is in the future, but it’s there. “This opportunity for cruiserweights is not going away,” Hunter said.
Bryan talked about his independent background and this tournament being a huge chance for the WWE audience to see indies wrestlers who they never would have seen before. Hunter said this tournament and the Performance Center is “always a hungry environment” for anyone in the wrestling business. He said he hasn’t seen the PC at a higher level than seeing the 32 tournament wrestlers trying to stand out with a hunger, passion, and energy in the ring. Hunter said he walked into the building and was beyond excited.
Ranallo thanked Hunter for putting this together. He said he and Bryan thought something like this would never happen. Hunter said it took a long time for the tournament to come together, and when they got to the announcer portion of the planning, he put Ranallo & Bryan on top of his dream team list. He didn’t think it would happen, but he was glad to put them together to call the tournament. Ranallo signed off with a final plug for the first week of the tournament kicking off next Wednesday after NXT.
OVERALL: This was one-part surreal and one-part intriguing to see if this tournament actually does leak to the main television in some form or another, whether re-introducing the CW Title or just showcasing different independent wrestlers on Smackdown or Raw.
The wrestler profiles, sit-down interviews, and video packages were outstanding. The “Bracketology” element was missing two items, though – how the opening round match-ups were decided and the tournament schedule. If they really wanted to make this a sports-like tournament, like how it’s done in Japan, they needed to announce the tournament schedule, or at least which matches are kicking off the tournament next week. That was a key item missing from this special.
Hunter hinted at the match-ups being a mix of styles, but the special did not explain why tag partners like Ciampa and Gargano were matched up against each other in the first round, as opposed to being kept separate for a potential big quarterfinal, semifinal, or finals match-up. The general overview of the tournament was great, but some of the nuts & bolts of the presentation were missing if they want this to be viewed as a sporting event.