|Welcome back, Tajiri!|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Grumpy Old Men - I've long wanted Yoshihiro Tajiri back in WWE in some capacity, and while his show-opening match with Damian Slater wasn't given the most time or laid out in the most sophisticated manner, it showed why he can be a huge boost to any part of the promotion where he lands. While most of the competitors in the tournament are youthful, innovative, and fresh, Tajiri brought with him veteran savvy and grumpy old man attitude that helped diversify the field. Much like Clement Petiot last week, the differences Tajiri brought to the table helped the other guys stand out even more. He and Slater timed out the rope-a-dope routine from start, when Tajiri turned a seemingly innocent ring-out on an arm wringer into a rope-assisted wristlock. The match was a great back and forth, with Tajiri using slick old guy guile to keep himself in it, and Slater making the most of his offense with some impressive hops. They also freshened up one of the most tired tropes in modern wrestling, the "boo-yay" strike trade volley by throwing big roundhouse kicks at each other simultaneously at one point. Tajiri is reportedly back with the company, but I hope an offer is made to Slater. He has a lot to give.
Now Is The Time on Sprockets When We Dance - Da Mack won me over before he even stepped in the ring just based on his look. The "Urban German" is the kind of character the industry needs, and honestly, while he started out slowly, especially in the face of TJ "I make this shit look way too easy" Perkins, he bounded into form and gave a dazzling display of both aptitude for the big spot and a flair for the dramatic. Seriously, watch his dance kicks while Perkins was seated on the mat. It's everything that pro wrestling should be. Much like Ho Ho Lun last week, Mack feels like he could be one of the top high flyers in the world with just a little more seasoning.
In an unrelated note, the camera zooming on a fan in the front row with the most struggle sign possible in support of Perkins made me smile. While TJP is quite the dazzling worker, his combination of male rights shitposting and nuclear bad basketball takes makes me hope that someone goes into business for himself on him in later rounds of this thing.
Fireworks! - Lince Dorado and Prince Mustafa Ali probably was the most evenly matched contest of this episode, similar in style, experience, and stature on the indies. Ali came with high marks from the folks at Freelance Wrestling, where he's Champion, and he did acquit himself well for the most part. However, he showed some of the most glaring lapses. He looked way slow on a backfist, which was actually covered well by Bryan on commentary, who spun it as a way for Dorado to take advantage. But he totally leaped across the ring to get in position to take a crossbody. Then again, I'm not sure whether that was more on him or Dorado for not going far enough across the ring. Either way, it looked kinda ugly. Still, the bulk of the work in the match was flashy and satisfying, especially the end sequence where Ali missed an impressive looking imploding 450 splash that led to Dorado's winning shooting star press. I also appreciate that Dorado sold the impact on it, a la Rob van Dam. Too few people sell the impact on a high flying move.
Feelgood Story of the Summer - I honestly thought that Bryan or Mauro Ranallo were going to say that Kenneth Johnson walked uphill both ways in the snow to go to school, just because WWE loves adding in hyperbole to its competitors' stories. Still, Johnson's rise from poor kid in Detroit with a speech impediment to CWC participant was heartwarming and inspirational. He even held his own going counter for counter with Akira Tozawa, which is impressive to say the least. I enjoyed a lot about this match, but it ended up being my least favorite of the night and the tournament to date. Johnson feels like the rawest piece of clay featured so far, and Tozawa felt like a terrible matchup for both guys. Neither really looked like they felt at home. Plus, they injected a lot of what I hate about modern wrestling, namely the multiple uses of the boo-yay strike trading and Johnson horribly misusing the "pop-right back up from a German suplex" delayed sell. Despite that, I still found a lot to like about the match, and hopefully, Johnson gets a place at the Performance Center to help hone his craft.
And Now, Your Mauro Ranallo Name Drop Dump of DOOM - This week, everyone's favorite dorky play-by-play announcer dropped the following names during the one hour telecast: Alex Wright, Curtis Hughes, David Hasselhoff (!!!), Dynamite Kid, The Kangaroos, Keiji Mutoh, Ken Jones, Kenta Kobashi, Mitsuharu Misawa, Outback Jack, Shawn Michaels, Shoichi Funaki, Super Crazy, Tiger Mask (Satoru Sayama), Toshiaki Kawada, and Ultimo Dragon. This episode marks the second straight week where Ranallo name-dropped three of the Four Pillars of Heaven from All-Japan Pro Wrestling. Somewhere, Akira Taue is shedding a single tear.
Next week should be a goddamn dandy of an episode. Zack Sabre, Jr. and Drew Gulak and the "Post Apocalyptic Scavenger" Brian Kendrick all have matches. Kendrick's nickname, by the way, only makes me even more wistful and regretful that WWE didn't also bring aboard his intrepidly traveling partner, Paul London for the proceedings. Then again, I guess officials have to save new big names for next year's tournament, dot dot dot.