|The spot of the night, nay, the first round|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Escapology - The show kicked off with prohibitive tournament favorite Zack Sabre, Jr. battling indie veteran and former WWE jobber Tyson Dux. The broadcast noted Dux's tenure and even highlighted a shredded knee he suffered in a C/D-show match, and by God, when Sabre worked over that leg, both Mauro Ranallo and Daniel Bryan made damn sure to mention that he had an injury history on that knee. Of course, after 12 years, one might think the knee was in better shape, but in pro wrestling, any strand one can use to provide intrigue to a match has to be yanked, no matter how old or obscure it is. Anyway, for those who are familiar with Sabre, you knew exactly what you were getting with him, and outside of digit manipulation, he hit nearly every single beat. If not, then you got a pretty good intro into why hyper-dorks like me love the guy. He makes that technical wrestling action look smooth and slick and easy. Placed against a capable opponent, like Dux, the #grapplefuck, she is art.
But his style wasn't named as colloquially as it is on Twitter on the broadcast last night. Bryan said that Sabre likes to call it "Escapology" which makes sense since, a) #grapplefuck is decidedly not PG, and b) apparently the workers HATE the term. Either way, Sabre/Dux put the style on at its most pleasing and still told a majorly good story. I can see how someone might not like Escapology, especially in the flashy, almost cocky way Sabre does it. Lord knows Fit Finlay isn't a fan. But I've always found something relaxing, entrancing, hypnotic even about watching dudes or dudettes trading holds and counters like they were on the BBC in the '70s. I find nothing better than watching the master apply the Jim Breaks Special, finish off an arm wringer with a Pele kick, or countering a Dux cloverleaf into a modified prawn hold pin combination.
The Rougher Side of World of Sport - If Sabre makes Escapology look easy, then Drew Gulak makes it look hell on the other guy. His opponent was one-half of the renowned Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling and Ring Ka King tag team, the Bollywood Boyz, Harv Sihra. Sihra, unlike Dux, was not all too interested in dabbling in the art of counterwrestling. However, for as basic as his style was in comparison to some other guys who didn't make it to round two, Sihra's repertoire looked fantastic. His timing was on, his flips were tight, and he looked the part of someone competing in a high level tournament. Unluckily for him, Gulak was his opponent, so when he was on the sell, it looked like he was getting roughed up for real (which obvs is the point but some are better than others at doing it). If Sabre's application is silky smooth, then Gulak's is coarse, rough-and-tumble, angry even. One could see it in his top rope clothesline, where he came flying from height with a scowl on his face like someone just farted in the room and battering ram action with his arm that looked as if he was the ill intent Wilson Fisk described himself as in episode 13 of the first season of Daredevil. Bryan sold that aggression, calling Gulak's finishing Dragon sleeper the most violent he'd ever seen.
The Kid Got Played - The most one-sided match of the tournament to date was Tony Nese basically squashing Anthony Bennett, who described himself as the kid who don't play. He was the smallest competitor in the field and probably the least experienced too judging by his execution. He was out of place in some spots, but it was hard to tell because Nese was just so on point. Everything about this match really screamed that it was to showcase a guy who, if he wasn't winning the damn thing, was probably a lock to get signed and at least get to NXT if not the RAW cruiserweight division when it launches. Otherwise, I got not a whole lot to say about this one.
Post-Apocalyptically Scavenging Victory - Before the Raul Mendoza/Brian Kendrick match started, I didn't think anything from the first round was going to top Sabre/Dux. Then again, I also didn't think that match was going to top Yoshihiro Tajiri vs. Damian Slater, which in turn I didn't think would surpass Kota Ibushi vs. Sean Maluta. But then again, Kendrick is pretty much the OG of the current crop of junior heavyweight standouts, so he had to have something up his sleeve. Luckily for him, Mendoza turned out to be maybe the best individual performer in the whole damn first round so far. As easy as ZSJ made Escapology look is how effortless Mendoza made lucha libre, or at least the World Championship Wrestling cruiserweight version of it look. Dan Pittman, on his episode of The Podcast, referred to a spot that would make jaws drop, and he was referring to Mendoza going coast to coast on Kendrick. He made a move that had become kinda cliched over the years and put all kinds of wonder back on it. If WWE doesn't sign him, then man, it ain't serious about this new cruiserweight division.
But Kendrick deserve a ton of dap as well for reinventing himself as a sleazy, sneaky veteran, even down to his poisonous smile and thick goatee. Kendrick didn't work the flashy, high flying style as much as he might have in 2003, which is okay since he's older now and needs to take better care of his body. But he compensated for it by pulling out every old time heel trick in the book. Even his current finisher, the Bully Choke, was pitch-perfect for what his current story is all about. The best part may have been Bryan, who along with Paul London and the late Lance Cade started out in wrestling at Shawn Michaels' and Jose Lothario's school with Kendrick, cheering him on, not caring that he was basically Senor Cardgage from Homestar Runner with a tougher constitution at this point. If only Lacy were back from vacation to swoon over the swell in friendship.
Mauro Ranallo's Name Drop Depository - This week's performative name-dropping from Ranallo wasn't as excessive as it's been in the first two weeks. Fortunately, he didn't mention three of the four Pillars of Heaven again, but unfortunately, he didn't give Akira Taue his day in Sun all by himself. Curses! Anyway, the names Ranallo dropped this week were: ECCW, Jim Breaks, John Cortez, Johnny Saint, Mikey Whipwreck, Minoru Suzuki, Shawn Michaels, the Super 8 Tournament. Ranallo mentioned Suzuki, and his former stablemate Shelton Benjamin is en route to Smackdown. Can Suzuki be expected to follow suit? No, but stay woke anyway!
Next week will conclude the first round matches, which means the other Bollywood Boy, Jack Gallagher, Rich Swann, and Noam Dar make their entrances in the tournament. Also, Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano EXPLOOOOOOOODE. I don't think you're gonna want to miss it.