The WWE Cruiserweight Classic debuted on the WWE Network two weeks ago to nearly universal praise, and last week's episode didn't disappoint either. That momentum will hopefully continue tonight as technical wizard Zack Sabre Jr. makes his debut inside of a WWE ring.
Also scheduled for tonight's show is the return of The Brian Kendrick, the debut of EVOLVE talents Drew Gulak and Tony Nese, and more competitors hoping to prove themselves as they step foot in a WWE ring for the first time.
In order to help get you familiar and/or learn more about the competitors, we brought together some of our talents that have expertise in covering many of the wrestlers' home regions and promotions.
- Matt Farmer: MLW radio host & wrestling historian
- Alan "4L" Counihan: Dr. Keith Presents host, Japanese wrestling & indie wrestling expert
- Alan Boon: Wrestling Observer columnist for "This Week In British Wrestling"
- Bryan Rose: Wrestling Observer NJPW & CWC reporter
- Joseph Currier: Wrestling Observer editor & news writer
- Mike DellaCamera: Wrestling Observer writer
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tyson Dux --
Zack Sabre Jr. by Alan Boon
If the last few years of Zack Sabre Jr.’s career haven’t been a carefully-orchestrated plan, then it’s a remarkable series of happy accidents that have brought the 28-year-old to where he stands today.
A grounding on the British and European indies was parlayed into a lengthy run with Pro-Wrestling NOAH and all that entails, then followed by the past year of returning to Europe and expanding his time in the US.
Add in holding one of the big four titles in the UK and one of the big three indie titles in the US, and you have a man poised to take the next step into where this has surely always been leading: WWE.
Sabre Jr. began with the rump of the Hammerlock Gym in his native Kent, the former UK NWA affiliate which many years before also produced Doug Williams, Jody Fleisch, Jonny Storm, former NWA World champion Gary Steele, and Jimmy Havoc, as well as having a hand in the development of both Finn Balor and Becky Lynch.
Sabre Jr. received training in the traditional British style which he has carried through the 12 years of his career. Now that it has once again became a sought-after style, he finds himself as one of the master practitioners.
He has moved around the UK and European indie scenes, holding titles in IPW:UK, wXw, and Triple X Wrestling, where he held their main title for two and a half years, defending against Balor amongst others, and a promotion where he faced CWC commentator Daniel Bryan in a match spoken fondly of by the former WWE champion.
Then came NOAH, where he held the GHC junior heavyweight tag team titles twice (with Yoshinari Ogawa), and cemented his name as one of the foremost lighter weight contenders the whole world over.
With show-stealing performances in Pro Wrestling Guerilla (where he holds the title) and Evolve furthering his name in the US, his appearance in the CWC is surely the final step before WWE proper comes calling, and the whole world gets to see this charismatic technician with a swift, brutal side to his work beamed into their homes on a weekly basis.
Tyson Dux by Matt Farmer
Tyson Dux may be one of the competitors people are the most familiar with aside from the tournament favorites. He has been one of the more traveled independent wrestlers of the past 15 years, and he's competed with major promotions like Ring of Honor and All Japan Pro Wrestling.
He may be most well-known for his time as a member of Team Canada at the 2006 TNA World X Cup. In the last few years, he's been wrestling for some of the top independent promotions in North America like AIW, AAW, Smash, and CZW.
Competing out of Ontario, Canada, Dux has a tough challenge as his first round opponent is CWC favorite Zack Sabre Jr.
Harv Sihra vs. Drew Gulak --
Harv Sihra by Matt Farmer
Harv Sihra, along with his brother Gurv, is based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, but both brothers will be representing their country of India.
The younger Sihra brother, Harv, followed in his brother's footsteps and became a professional wrestler. After a short time in wrestling, they formed a tag team called the Bollywood Boyz. The duo has traveled all across Canada and have attended many training camps and seminars around the United States. Some of their highest profile matches came when they competed with TNA's Ring Ka King promotion in India.
Earlier this year, I interviewed both Harv and Gurv for my Indyriffic podcast on MLWRadio. I see big things in the future for these two men, and it's just a matter of time before promoters across the United States and internationally start booking them consistently.
Drew Gulak by Joseph Currier
While many of the competitors in this tournament don’t conform to what is traditionally thought of as the cruiserweight style, few do it as noticeably as Drew Gulak.
Gulak isn’t going to amaze the audience with his ability to fly around the ring, and he may not even leave his feet voluntarily. Instead, Gulak will look to wear down his opponents on the mat.
He is a throwback to the early days of wrestling. Along with wrestlers like Timothy Thatcher, Gulak is revitalizing a style of mat-based wrestling that had been written off by some audiences as boring in an industry that has become increasingly dependent on fast-paced action.
Gulak is the leader of Evolve’s Catch Point stable along with “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams, TJ Perkins, Matt Riddle, and Fred Yehi. Gulak and Williams are the current Evolve tag team champions, and Gulak defeated his partner in a qualifier to earn his way into this tournament.
He describes the group’s philosophy as foregoing flash in favor of substance. They isolate their opponents' weaknesses and aggressively attack them, and Gulak is at his best when that aggression is apparent in all aspects of his work.
A veteran of the American independent circuit, Gulak has worked extensively for CZW, CHIKARA, and Evolve. He has also been a fairly regular feature on PWG cards.
In addition to his career inside of the ring, Gulak has been lauded for his ability to train talent. He currently works as a trainer at CHIKARA’s Wrestle Factory, and leads seminars for Gabe Sapolsky’s World Wrestling Network.
Anthony Bennett vs. Tony Nese --
Anthony Bennett by Joseph Currier
Anthony Bennett is one of many largely unknown wrestlers in the Cruiserweight Classic, which is strange given that he is from the United States. It will be interesting to see what WWE talent recruiters saw in Bennett to give him one of the tournament’s 32 coveted spots.
Bennett’s defining characteristic is his high-top fade. He enters the ring with two pairs of light-up glasses, one for his eyes and one for his hair.
A product of the Monster Factory wrestling school, Bennett is a former Supersonic and heavyweight champion in their promotion.
Little video of Bennett is available online, and he unfortunately almost immediately botches a springboard spot pretty badly in one of his only singles matches available on YouTube, but he appears to be a solid athlete that grasps the importance of entertaining the audience.
Whether he’s able to make it past the first round or not, the Cruiserweight Classic is going to be invaluable for Bennett’s career.
Any appearance on WWE produced programming increases an independent wrestler's profile and Bennett will see an increase in bookings if he is not signed by WWE. That will allow him to get more experience and further establish himself to wrestling fans.
Tony Nese by Joseph Currier
The man who calls himself a “premier athlete” is one of the competitors with the most to gain in this tournament.
It’s difficult to argue with Tony Nese’s categorization of himself as his impressive athleticism and strength allow him to do pretty much everything he wants to in the ring.
He says that he “moves like a cruiserweight and hits like a heavyweight.” And with one of the most impressive physiques in the field, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the WWE seriously consider signing Nese after the CWC is over.
But for all of his athleticism, Nese has yet to establish himself at the highest level of independent stardom.
The Long Island native and Mikey Whipwreck trainee has had an impressive career, working extensively in the New York area. He even had a brief run in TNA and is now a regular in Evolve, where he formerly held the organization’s tag team titles with Caleb Konley. Nese earned his way into the CWC by defeating Drew Gulak, Johnny Gargano, Lince Dorado, and TJ Perkins in Evolve’s Cruiserweight Classic Flashpoint elimination match.
Despite all of that success, Nese has yet to become the type of talent that regularly headlines the highest profile independent shows in the United States as a singles wrestler.
This tournament is a showcase for Nese, whether it ultimately gets him signed by the WWE or increases his profile outside of it.
Raul Mendoza vs. Brian Kendrick --
Raul Mendoza by Mike DellaCamera
At only 24, the sky might be the limit for this young luchador out of Mexico.
Debuting in 2009 for the legendary AAA promotion, Mendoza has wrestled all over the world under different names including a stint in Japan’s Pro Wrestling NOAH – the former home company of WWE’s own Hideo Itami – as Jinzo. Mendoza will look to make an immediate name for himself when he takes on WWE veteran Brian Kendrick in round one.
Brian Kendrick by Bryan Rose
One of the more established veterans on the roster, Brian Kendrick was known as someone with a lot of potential early on in his career, but booking and size pretty much kept him down from achieving really great success.
At this stage of the game, other workers are far better than he is, but Kendrick is still really sound and should do well in this tournament if motivated.
Breaking out around the same time Daniel Bryan and Paul London entered the indy scene, Kendrick was trained by Shawn Michaels, someone that you probably heard of. He was quickly signed to a WWE deal in 2000 and when called up a few years later, was known as a bit of a goofball. Eventually, he morphed into someone that had potential, but was cut before he ever really got a chance to show it.
A few years late,r he was re-signed and teamed up with London for years on the Smackdown roster. They were one of the best teams in WWE at the time, but politics eventually caused them to break up and be put on different brands.
Kendrick established himself as a singles wrestler, calling himself The Brian Kendrick, to mixed results. He had a push at first, but like with so many other guys on the WWE roster, eventually it fizzled out and he wound up being a casualty of roster cuts in 2009.
Since then, Kendrick has mostly worked independents, along with a somewhat memorable run as X Division champion in TNA.
Kendrick has been off and on NXT for the last year, best known for having a match with Finn Balor on TV, as well as being known as the person who is trying to make Eva Marie into a competent wrestler.
At 37, Kendrick is one of the older participants in this tournament, and he's out to prove that he's still got it.