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WWE Cruiserweight Classic Preview pt. 4: Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Rich Swann

After months of anticipation, WWE officially launches the Cruiserweight Classic Wednesday, a 32-man tournament designed to play off the success of NXT, find new talents to get into the WWE pipeline, and to provide new content for the WWE Network during the summer months.

In order to help get you familiar and/or learn more about some of those new talents, 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

Because WWE didn't break up the entire bracket NCAA-style (East, Southwest, etc) and because we want to give each match preview some time to breathe without doing one long mega-post, we decided to break them the bracket ourselves into A/B/C/D.

We began with Bracket A, moved on to Bracket B, stopped by Bracket C, and we now come to the end.

WWE CWC

Let's begin.

TJ Perkins vs. Da Mack --

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TJ Perkins by Bryan Rose

Although he's just 31, TJ Perkins has been wrestling since 1999.

A few years after making his debut, he went to train at the short-lived NJPW Dojo in Los Angeles with the likes of Daniel Bryan and Rocky Romero. At 18, he was already wrestling on main cards for New Japan Pro Wrestling, making him the youngest foreign talent to ever wrestle for the company.

He is more well known for his run in TNA as he went through a series of start and stop pushes under various gimmicks. His big run started when he took the helm of Suicide and ran with it, winning the X Division title in the process.

The gimmick was convoluted and didn't make much sense as he appeared on TV both masked and unmasked for some unknown reason. He eventually renamed himself Manik and donned new attire, but didn't find much luck in terms of a push before eventually being released after months of not being used.

Since leaving TNA, he's worked for other companies that include PWG and Evolve.

TJP is another veteran who should do really well in this tournament if given the chance. He has the ability to go very far and already has a decade plus of experience wrestling all around the world. No matter who he faces, there's a good chance he'll be able to adjust to whatever style his opponent is the most comfortable with and should have great matches in the process.

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Da Mack by Mike DellaCamera

They say you should always dance with what brought you here, and it's safe to assume that’s what Da Mack will do.

Whether it’s putting on a show between corner chops or moonwalking across the ring, CWC viewers will have a hard time forgetting this compelling German wrestler. Some wrestlers have an innate charisma that resonates, and if you watched the introduction video, it’s easy to see that with Da Mack.

Spending the better part of the last five years with German-based Westside Xtreme Wrestling (wXw), he currently holds their Shotgun championship. He also comprises half the European Wrestling Promotion (EWP) tag team champions along with Axel Dieter Jr. Together, they make up the team Hot and Spicy which should immediately make them your favorite tag team.

The real matchup to root for is a dance off between Da Mack and Rich Swann. That way, we all win.

Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa --

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Johnny Gargano by Joseph Currier

“Johnny Wrestling” was initially thought to be a favorite to win the entire tournament, but with a tough draw against tag team partner Tommaso Ciampa, there is no guarantee that he even advances past the first round.

Gargano will face-off against Ciampa in the first round’s toughest matchup, and unfortunately, that means that one of NXT’s brightest rising stars isn’t going to get a chance to continue to showcase what they can do as a singles wrestler in the tournament.

Both Gargano and Ciampa debuted as a tag team in NXT in 2015. They were initially used mostly as glorified enhancement talents, but after signing with the company, they have been on an impressive win streak lately and are looking to take the NXT tag team titles from The Revival.

The still 28-year-old Gargano has become one of professional wrestling’s most promising young stars, and it’s his versatility that really makes him stand out.

He is good at almost all aspects of the game. In just the lead-up to this tournament, Gargano has had an incredible match in PROGRESS with Mark Haskins, grappled with Zack Sabre Jr. in AAW, and brawled with EC3 and Drew Galloway in Evolve. Working all over the world has made him so good at so many different styles, he’s only gotten better as he’s gained more experience. Along the way, he has even developed the skills to deliver a more than competent promo.

Gargano has been arguably the top star in Gabe Sapolsky’s World Wrestling Network promotions, and has become the face of Evolve in the last few years. After getting his start in Cleveland, Gargano has worked for AIW, CHIKARA, Dragon Gate in Japan, and PWG in addition to his role in WWN.

His future has always been bright, but Gargano might have already become even better than most expected. He can become one of the NXT’s biggest stars, whether it’s tagging with Ciampa or as a singles wrestler. And with the WWE always becoming more open to showcasing smaller talents, there’s no reason that Gargano can’t succeed on the main roster.

Whether he is able to win the CWC or not, this is only the beginning for Gargano.

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Tommaso Ciampa by Bryan Rose

Ciampa should be well known to those who follow NXT -- a regular on the roster since last year thanks to the strong relationship between Gabe Sapolsky’s Evolve promotion and NXT.

Along with tag team partner Johnny Gargano, Ciampa has been dominant in NXT’s tag team division with a title shot looking very likely in the future if he and Gargano can continue their momentum.

An interesting part of Ciampa's past is that he's a former developmental talent from another era, working in Ohio Valley Wrestling from 2005-2007. When he was released from his contract, that didn't deter him as he continued working in independents until joining Ring of Honor in 2011 where he started to build his reputation by being a part of their roster until last year. 

Ciampa chose to leave the promotion and began working all over the world, later getting dates for NXT. While Ciampa has been a part of WWE developmental off and on for years, he's proven to be one of the most well-versed talents in this tournament.

But an interesting twist here is that he'll be facing his tag team partner Gargano in the first round. Whether or not he makes it past Gargano, Ciampa is one of the better seasoned athletes on the roster that can bring it if the occasion calls for it.

Mustafa Ali vs. Lince Dorado --

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Mustafa Ali by Mike DellaCamera

The current DREAMWAVE World champion and holder of the Freelance Wrestling championship, “Prince” Mustafa Ali enters the CWC looking to add another title to his resume.

The Illinois-based veteran has over a decade of experience on the independent scene, and Ali is the first Pakistani to wrestle for WWE. His expansive independent career has seen him have matches with a veritable “who’s who” of indie stalwarts like Chris Hero, Jigsaw, and CHIKARA founder Mike Quackenbush, just to name a few.

Both technically and aerially proficient, Ali is equally comfortable both on the mat or in the air. Audiences could see Ali end his matches with either his trademark implosion 450 he calls “The Weapon of Mass Destruction” or make someone tap to “A Call to Arms”, his crossface chicken wing variant.

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Lince Dorado by Joseph Currier

Lince Dorado is the sole representative of Puerto Rican heritage in the CWC. The tournament comes at a good time with the Golden Lynx looking to find a regular home in wrestling.

Dorado began his career in CHIKARA, learning from Mike Quackenbush, Chris Hero, and Cesaro. He was regarded as a promising prospect and was a regular for CHIKARA from 2007-2010 before parting ways with the promotion.

Dorado has since been largely based in Florida, working for a plethora of independent promotions.

Adept at lucha libre, Dorado is an impressive high flyer and will look to provide the tournament with a more traditional cruiserweight style.

Rich Swann vs. Jason Lee --

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Rich Swann by Joseph Currier

It is almost impossible not to root for Rich Swann to succeed.

His backstory was briefly profiled on the CWC Bracketology show, but the full story is even crazier than WWE let on.

Swann is from Baltimore, Maryland -- one of the most notoriously rough areas in the United States. He lost both his father and mother when he was a teenager. Forced to live a life without his parents, he began to associate more with friends who were gang members. He got hooked on cocaine and only stopped when his supplier died of a heart attack from its effects.

But wrestling saved Swann’s life. He moved in with his aunt and went to a wrestling school in York, Pennsylvania, and his career has been on the rise since.

Swann is a multi-talented performer who is adept at dancing, beatboxing, and making music. He’s also an incredible athlete and one of the best high flyers in the tournament. Few people in this field, or the entire wrestling world, have the combination of charisma, athleticism, and ability to work a crowd that Swann does.

Prior to signing with the WWE, Swann was probably best known for the infectious energy of his entrance, set to “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie, on the independent scene.

But even if you didn’t know the difficult road that Swann took to get to the WWE, and even without the soothing sounds of Richie, it is still difficult not to root for him. His love for life and professional wrestling is apparent in everything he does in the ring.

As a member of the NXT roster, the Full Sail crowd will be at least somewhat familiar with Swann. He has wrestled on television in short losses to Finn Balor and Baron Corbin, and has wrestled on many NXT live events in Florida.

Before reporting to the WWE Performance Center in 2015, Swann was one of the fastest rising stars on the independent scene and even had a lengthy stay in Japan with Dragon Gate. He has been a regular at CZW, Dragon Gate USA/Evolve, and PWG.

Swann has yet to really get going in NXT, and the CWC could be the perfect springboard for his career. Regardless of the CWC outcome, here's hoping he is featured regularly on NXT TV after the tournament.

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Jason Lee by Alan Counihan

Hong Kong’s Jason Lee may end up as one of the surprise packages of the CWC.

The talented high flyer has been wrestling with the ZERO-1 promotion in Japan since 2012 and as a result, he has put a lot of time on the mat with greats like Ikuto Hidaka, Shinjiro Ohtani, and Masato Tanaka. He’s improved leaps and bounds in that time and won’t look out of place against any of the competitors in the field.

In the first round, Lee goes up against Rich Swann which could end up being one of the sleeper matches from the first few episodes of the show. They could compliment each other very well.

On the opposite side of the draw is Lee’s countryman HoHo Lun, and an all Hong Kong final would definitely be a dream come true for both men. With that realistically very unlikely to happen, it would be nice to see them cross paths in non-tournament action in the later weeks as the field is whittled down.

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Our live coverage begins Wednesday night courtesy of Bryan Rose.