|This, my friends, is #grapplefuck|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
A Gentlemanly Exit - Jack Gallagher was one of the darlings of the first round for his unique look and old-fashioned take on grappling. His second round match against Akira Tozawa showed that he was more than just a novelty, that he could wrestle angry and with a story behind him. Tozawa was the perfect opponent in a non-continuous tournament setting to bring more out of Gallagher than a less cottony form of Gentlemania because of his agility and rapid-fire delivery of kicks and other strikes. Tozawa also was adept at playing the counter game, which added more layers to the proceedings. Of course, Gallagher brought the grapple magic the way he did in the first round. Like, I'm not sure anyone should be able to escape a headlock by headstanding and then walking back on one's hands, but Gallagher did just that.
Of course, Gallagher's time in the tournament is done, and Tozawa will move on to face Gran Metalik in what should be a mile-a-second spray of kicks and flips. It will be awesome for sure. But honestly, if WWE let the Extraordinary Gentleman leave the compound after round two without a contract offer, it has fucked up. Gallagher is what WWE wants the Vaudevillains to be so badly. It's a shame he'll be at home for the quarterfinal round, because honestly, I'd rather see him go up against Zack Sabre, Jr. than...
Rebounding - ...Noam Dar! Okay, maybe I'm being a bit too harsh on Dar, because he and Ho Ho Lun were a lot better in this match than they were in their first round encounters. They were the only two winners who didn't jump off the screen as dudes who belonged. But against each other, they acquitted themselves well enough. They actually were able to pull off a match that would be okay as filler between promo segments on RAW. The problem is that the CWC's floor for acceptability is WAY higher. Regardless, both guys did at least show promise. Dar as a prick villain will play well in at least one later round. I loved his stomping of Lun's hand while he had him a submission hold. Still though, this was my least favorite match of the whole second round so far.
The Bully Lives - Tony Nese was the only guy in the first round who actually got to squash his opponent. Brian Kendrick had perhaps the best match of the whole slate that wasn't between two tag team partners. I didn't know how to read the second episode's main event, but it certainly surpassed any nebulous expectation I had. Nese showed that he didn't have to be on top the whole time to look good, and Kendrick did Kendrick things.
The match played on threads from the previous round, with Nese coming out of the gates with a brutal and commanding advantage that Kendrick had to use veteran savvy to snake back into the match. Nese was one of the dudes in the tournament who looked like he was only a kayfabe 205 lbs. or below, but man, some of his evasions and counters were more acrobatic and athletic than ones done by the far smaller dudes, like Kendrick might have been known for in his early career. They weaved around big spots and bumps with great aplomb, and the Bully Choke tease into the big pumphandle bomb near fall into the counter into said Choke was one of the best end sequences I've seen in this tournament.
The Trophy - I missed the first hour of Takeover: Brooklyn II, so I didn't see the unveiling of the trophy until the beginning of the most recent episode. I heard it was ugly, but after seeing it for myself, it's inoffensive at the very least. Between the uproar over that and the new Universal, Smackdown Tag Team, and Smackdown Women's Championship belts, I'm starting to think that I don't share the same idea of aesthetic that other wrestling fans do. I kinda like all of them.
SPOT SALAD! - The third and final episode of the second round opened up with Rich Swann and Lince Dorado going straight HAM with flips and corkscrews and other kinds of stuff that would make the veins in Vader's forehead twitch uncontrollably. Like, it was so uncontrollably fast that if one were to look down for a second to take a drink of coffee or write (mostly illegible) notes, they'd miss something pretty big. It wasn't just the big dives and twists that got me all hot and bothered either. At one point, Swann broke out a modified stretch muffler that placed the base of pressure on Dorado against his own knee, a move which Mauro Ranallo reminded everyone was innovated by Jushin "Thunder" Liger.
For those who remember Monday Nitro, this match was pretty much the platonic ideal of that company's cruiserweight division. It had hard hitting action with big spots and synchronicity that kept the audience engaged and titillated the whole time. And the action had logical escalation as well, ending with a Swann Phoenix Splash that landed right on Dorado's face, ouch! If this match and stuff like the next two matches on this episode are the stuff that the cruiserweight division will feature on RAW, then sign me up for the whole damn thing, even if I'm fundamentally opposed to weight classes in wrestling on a philosophical level.
This Ain't Escapology, This Is #grapplefuck - When Drew Gulak and Zack Sabre, Jr. kicked off their match, all pretenses of sportsmanship went out the window. From the moment Gulak refused a handshake with Sabre, the shit got real, and it showed from the moment the match began. The amateur/World of Sport-inspired art of Escapology can look too slick at times, but Gulak and Sabre pawing at each other, looking for any sort of advantage, looked about as real and raw as it could be. Honestly, the beginning of that match is why the style has also been called #grapplefuck. Even after the match settled into a less chaotic groove, the violence and attitude remained. The best example happened when Gulak had Sabre in a seated abdominal stretch, and Sabre turned around and angrily shouted "C'MON" at him. When Gulak replied with a slap to the face with his free hand, it encapsulated everything I love about the rough and tumble, grapple-and-counter based style these two guys are at the forefront of.
Of course, not everyone digs #grapplefuck. It can be an acquired taste, especially for people who like wrestling for the less realistic styles that involve flips and workrate. But I find an inherent beauty in the constant counters and grapples, how these guys can go seamlessly from hold to hold making it look both rough and slick at the same time. If amateur wrestling or mixed martial arts were as beautifully laid out as Escapology was, I might be into the real thing more than I am right now. Gulak and Sabre are masters at this leg of the art, and the only disappointing thing out of the entire second round is that one of them, Gulak specifically, had to go home.
Johnny Gargano For Most Improved - Going into the CWC, I wasn't the biggest fan of Johnny Gargano as a singles wrestler. The last time I really enjoyed him in singles competition was way back in 2010 when he had a nice series of bouts for the Young Lions Cup in Chikara against Frightmare. But he's been a revelation in this tournament in his two matches. Unfortunately, he was upset in his second round match against noted garbage person but outstanding technical wrestler TJ Perkins, but he left his mark and made me excited for his eventual singles career within NXT and beyond. I mean, c'mon now, everyone knows Tommaso Ciampa is turning on him.
His match against the aforementioned Ciampa remains my favorite in the whole tourney and in the entire year so far (although AJ Styles vs. John Cena at SummerSlam came close) because of the layered story told in it and because of Gargano's masterful selling. The Perkins match didn't have that layered story between the two, but Gargano still made a mastery of selling his leg, which showed dedication to planning. The Gargano/Perkins match was filmed at least two weeks before the match where he "injured" his leg at Takeover: Brooklyn II. The psychology was layered in between levels of breakneck back and forth counters and strikes, and it was hard to keep up taking notes while paying attention to what was going on in the ring. The biggest testament to how good this match was was locked in the near falls, which had the crowd on the edge of its collective seat. This match and the first round match have me salivating for what Gargano can do in the future, something I couldn't say even three months ago.
Mauro Ranallo Double-Stuf Name Oreos - Two weeks of episodes mean double the Ranallo name drops. The names that spilled out of his briefcase the last two weeks are as follows: AJ Styles, Billy Robinson, Cesaro, Don Frye, Eddie Guerrero, Hiroshi Hase, Jushin "Thunder" Liger, Katsuyori Shibata, Keiji Mutoh, Mick Foley, Mike Quackenbush, Mikey Whipwreck, Minoru Suzuki, PANCRASE, Rob van Dam, Roy Wood, Satoru Sayama, Shawn Michaels, The Snake Pit, Yoshihiro Takayama, Zack Ryder, and in his esoteric non-wrestling sports namedrop of the last two weeks, Rollie Fingers. Keep on truckin', Mauro. Keep on truckin'.
The next show will start with the quarterfinal matches, and they're all doozies on paper: Gran Metalik vs. Akira Tozawa, Noam Dar vs. Zack Sabre, Jr., Brian Kendrick vs. Kota Ibushi, and Rich Swann vs. TJP. With 24 matches down already, the CWC is already high on the list of best things WWE has ever done. The expectations are super high, but does anyone out there think this group won't meet them? I didn't think so.