Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Vanilla Midget Report, Vol. 1, Issue 5

A match for the ages
Photo Credit:
The first round of the Cruiserweight Classic is OVER, and the second round has finally arrived. While the opening salvo from round two had half the matches as a given individual round one episode, it wasn't light on the action. In fact, one might say that it packed more intensity into two matches than the first three episodes did in their four apiece (episode four aired Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa, which right now is leader in my clubhouse for Match of the Year, so of course). In fact, I'd suggest that Yoshihiro Tajiri vs. Gran Metalik and Cedric Alexander vs. Kota Ibushi is the best pair of matches ever aired on an hour of television taped on a prior date before airing at Full Sail University. Why don't you and I delve a bit deeper into why that was the case.

The Old Veteran's Last Stand - Tajiri was billed as the oldest competitor in the field, and boy did he sure act like it. "Cranky old man" is one of my favorite in-ring personae anyway, so of course I loved what the old stalwart brought to the table. He was "no sell a chop, smirk, and kick your face" grumpy. I think he nearly went full Tenryu. Metalik was the perfect opponent for him, young but seasoned, flashy, and complete with an infamous "lucha ego." Seriously, the line about how he has been using new moves he invented was unintentional gold.

Anyway, the match had a really long feeling out sequence which bordered on pornographic for grappling lovers, of which I admit to being. Some of those escapes and counters got me all hot and bothered. It highlighted how well Tajiri and Metalik played off each other. The commentary hinted on this point a little bit, but I think it oversold how much Japanese strong-style was being used, especially on Tajiri's end. The opening sequence of the match felt very much like it was straight out of lucha libre. The match got even better as it ramped up. Tajiri's old man shtick played well off Metalik's big spots, and the finish, Metalik ducking a kick and going seamlessly into the Metalik (Samoan) Driver really popped off the screen. I'll be sad to see Tajiri exit the tourney, but he showed he could still go. Hopefully, reports of him re-signing with WWE are true and he becomes a fixture on Monday nights once more. As for Metalik, he'll get the winner of Akira Tozawa and Jack Gallagher if the brackets don't change anymore, and let me just say that holy shit I'm already salivating at the prospect of either match.

"PLEASE SIGN CEDRIC!" - In the five years he'd been with Ring of Honor, the closest thing to relevance Cedric Alexander got was ending Moose's New New Streak in a move that eventually collapsed for both wrestlers. He was never pushed according to his talent, which is honestly a sad but common refrain for many wrestlers under the Sinclair banner. In two matches as a "guest" talent for WWE, Alexander has become one of the most beloved figures at the company's developmental home, Full Sail University, to the point where Triple H was compelled to console him and put him over after his loss to Kota Ibushi. I'm not saying that everything will turn out roses and winner's purses for Alexander, especially given WWE's ghastly track record at pushing Black wrestlers and its only recent acceptance of smaller guys, but how the fuck did Trips' vanity project make him one of the hottest commodities in pro wrestling when five years in a "name" promotion only made people forget him?

The answer to that question isn't as complex as one might think. He was allowed to ball the fuck out in two matches in front of a hot crowd, and he was treated as a big deal in both. His match with Petiot was outstanding, but given a platform to wrestle Ibushi, who is one of the most well-regarded and talented men on the planet at pro wrestling, he knocked it out of the fucking park. The highspots and big strikes resonated really high. Ibushi did some dives to the outside that made me question whether or not he'd ever been injured in the first place. But what made this the second best match of the tournament was how tightly paced their intricate counter sequences were, and in turn how they made the nearfalls explode even harder. Alexander ended one of them with a super-snug Michinoku Driver that I and the Full Sail crowd both thought was going to end the match. But after the finishing sequence, which, by the way, may have been the best bit of wrestling in the entire tournament so far (Alexander missing a top rope Goomba stomp into a high angle German by Ibushi followed by his Golden Star Bomb), it was Ibushi who moved on to await the winner of Tony Nese and Brian Kendrick.

But while the crowd showed appreciation for the winner, it was Alexander who got the biggest pop. The fans were ravenous for Trips to award him a contract right then and there, so when NXT Papa came out, it was his most appropriate and appreciated entrance maybe ever. In all, the ending of episode five of the Classic may have been wrestling in its purest essence recognized in its most ideal format. Man wrestles the match of his life. Crowd cheers for him in raucous approval. Promoter recognizes it. It was the perfect storm in what fans such as myself believe to be the utopia of meritocracy. Sadly, in reality it doesn't exist, but most of the time, the work far more glorious than what it takes to get there.

Mauro Ranallo's Name Drop Soup - Ranallo kicked off the show by apologizing to the nWo and The Club for predicting the episode would be "too sweet," which ushered in a banner 20 minutes of quality name-dropping from the master. He threw in references to Antonio Inoki, Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre, Dr. Wagner, Jr., Keiji Mutoh, Super Crazy, Ultimo Dragon, and New Japan Pro Wrestling's signature event WrestleKingdom all before the end of the Metalik/Tajiri match. He even capped it off by referencing rapper Desiigner, which for his most vocal critics was a groan-inducing moment. Personally, I like when Ranallo happens to reference popular culture on Smackdown, even if he sounds like the biggest dork in the world doing it. He at least tries to make it fit in, unlike his broadcast colleague JBL. The second half of the show either didn't feature as many name-drops as the first or I didn't catch them because I was so rapt by the fantastic display of professional graps by Ibushi and Alexander. Either way, it was a testament to how good that match is.

The CWC is up to three matches next week, and I will be awaiting all of them with bated breath, yes, even Ho Ho Lun vs. Noam Dar!