Pro Wrestling

10 Top Contenders In The WWE Cruiserweight Classic Source:

You may have heard something about the upcoming WWE Cruiserweight Classic, a 32-man tournament that will be taking place on the WWE Network, with hopes that it might be an annual thing going forward. However, if you’re not someone who obsessively follows every independent wrestling organization on the planet, you might have looked at the list of participants for the Classic and wondered who most of them were. Well, we decided to come up with some introductions for a few of the bigger names in the tournament. Some of them you might recognize, some of them you probably won’t, but in our opinion, these are the names to watch when the Cruiserweight Classic gets underway!

10. Tajiri

The oldest competitor in the Cruiserweight Classic at 45, Yoshihiro Tajiri is someone who should be easily recognizable to WWE fans. After first building up his career in Japan and Mexico, Tajiri burst onto the scene in Extreme Championship Wrestling and became one of its most recognizable stars, thanks to a memorable feud with Super Crazy, and a tag team with ECW favorite Mikey Whipwreck. When ECW was on the way down, Tajiri found his way to WWE. After debuting in a non-wrestling role as GM William Regal’s assistant, Tajiri moved into the ring and quickly found success, having several reigns as WWE Cruiserweight Champion and WWE Tag Team Champion (although in one of those reigns, he was a replacement on a championship team for an injured Chavo Guerrero). After leaving WWE in 2005, Tajiri went back to Japan, where he appeared in both All Japan and NJPW, then found himself in charge of upstart promotion SMASH, which became Wrestling New Classic, before the Japanese Buzzsaw finally settled into a wrestling contract with Wrestle-1, where he remains active on a part-time basis. Source:

10. Rich Swann

Swann has already made appearances on NXT, in high-profile (but losing) efforts against Baron Corbin and Finn Balor, but even if Swann never makes it all the way to the WWE main roster, he’s already one of wrestling’s great success stories. Coming from a troubled childhood that saw him orphaned by 16, Swann fell in with the wrong crowd and battled substance abuse issues from a young age. Swann began training as a professional wrestler at the age of 14, and through help from his aunt, kicked his drug habit, graduated from high school, and set off on a new path. Swann began his professional career in earnest with Combat Zone Wrestling, becoming one of the promotion’s top stars. Swann then moved on through several top North American independent organizations, including Dragon Gate USA, Evolve, Chikara, Full Impact Pro (FIP), and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), holding several company’s top titles along the way (and also gaining notoriety for using Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” as his entrance music). But it was a post from noted rapper Wale on social media that got Swann his biggest break, as Wale called him (and current WWE Superstar Apollo Crews) “the future of the business”. This somehow caught the attention of WWE Superstar Mark Henry, who managed to secure Swann a tryout, and from there, a developmental contract with NXT. Source:

8. Brian Kendrick

You may recall Kendrick during his last WWE run as THE Brian Kendrick, or from his tag team with Paul London which held the WWE Tag Team Championships for nearly an entire year in 2006. Kendrick was originally trained by Shawn Michaels, alongside future WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan, and actually had several stints with WWE over his career. After he left WWE in 2009, Kendrick also had stints in both TNA and New Japan, but these days, Kendrick has moved into more of a training role. Kendrick has appeared on NXT in recent months, and currently works as a guest trainer with the company. Most notably, he had the dubious distinction of being Eva Marie’s personal trainer, in an attempt to turn her into something resembling an actual wrestler. Kendrick has also worked with several former contestants from the most recent season of Tough Enough, who signed developmental deals after failing to win the competition. Source:

7. Cedric Alexander

The athletic Alexander has been a mainstay in Ring of Honor since 2011. Originally debuting as a tag team with Caprice Coleman, the two (who competed under the name “C & C Wrestle Factory) were constantly in contention for the ROH Tag Team Championship, but regularly came up short in their quest to gain the titles, and in fact would never win the championships a single time before breaking up in 2014. Alexander would also find some success as a singles competitor, earning shots at both the ROH TV Title and ROH World Title, although he was unsuccessful at winning either. Alexander had many matches against some of the top talent in Ring of Honor, including current WWE Superstar Kevin Owens, Roderick Strong, Adam Cole, Jay Lethal, and newly signed WWE developmental talent Moose. In 2015, Alexander was ranked as one of the top 100 singles wrestlers in the world by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Source:

6. Johnny Gargano

Also known as “Johnny Wrestling”, Gargano has made several appearances on NXT in recent months, but remains active on the indepedent circuit. He has been a fixture in the North American pro wrestling scene for over a decade, but is probably best known for his time in Dragon Gate USA/Evolve, where he was a multiple time champion who regularly wrestled some of the top independent stars in the world, including several competitors in the Cruiserweight Classic, such as Akira Tozawa, Rich Swann, Brian Kendrick, and Drew Gulak, as well as current Lucha Underground star Prince Puma (Ricochet), and a long-running feud with indie sensation Chuck Taylor. Gargano also formed a tag team with former WWE Superstar Drew Galloway (McIntyre). In 2015, Gargano signed a contract with NXT that also allowed him to work independent shows, and immediately got himself noticed as part of a tag team with Tommaso Ciampa, winning their first NXT match as part of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Gargano also recently got engaged to fellow wrestler Candice LeRae, who is considered one of the top female talents in North America, and has been rumored to be in consideration for an NXT contract as well. Source:

5. Tyson Dux

A Canadian wrestler who has been working around the world for nearly two decades, Dux is a well-respected veteran of the independent circuit. During his years as a wrestler, Dux has fought some of the top talent in the world, including Tyler Black (aka WWE’s Seth Rollins) and Shinsuke Nakamura. Over his lengthy career, he has also made several appearances as enhancement talent on WWE programming, wrestling on both Heat and Velocity, as well as several untelevised dark matches. He also had a brief stay in TNA, as part of the Team Canada faction that also included Bobby Roode and Eric Young, wrestling in the 2006 TNA World X-Cup. Following the break-up of Team Canada, Dux appeared in the 2008 TNA World X-Cup as part of “Team International”, which included British star Doug Williams and former WWE Superstar Daivari. In addition, when he was announced as part of the Cruiserweight Classic, WWE Superstar Kevin Owens congratulated Dux on social media, and anyone who Kevin Owens actually likes must be someone worth paying attention to. Source:

4. TJ Perkins

After starting his wrestling career at the age of 14, Perkins trained in Los Angeles at a New Japan-run dojo, as part of the same class as Daniel Bryan. When he debuted in New Japan officially, he adopted the masked gimmick of Puma, in tribute to the original Tiger Mask. In America, Perkins wrestled both under the Puma gimmick and his regular ring name for organizations like PWG, Wrestling Society X, and Ring of Honor, and even appeared as enhancement talent on WWE programming. Eventually, Perkins managed to land a full-time contract with TNA, again under a mask, first as Suicide (a wrestler based on an original character who appeared in the TNA Impact! video game), then, once he was unmasked by Ausin Aries, in a modified version of the gimmick known as Manik. Eventually, he abandoned the persona completely and wrestled under his regular name. During that period, he won the TNA X Division Championship a single time. Perkins left TNA in early 2016 when his contract was not renewed, and has been a free agent since then. Source:

3. Noam Dar

Dar is considered one of the top UK (actually Scottish-Israeli) wrestlers in the world, finding great success in both the United Kingdom and North America. A wrestler since 15, Dar has worked for most of the top wrestling organizations in the UK, and has also wrestled at Ring of Honor events in North America, against top talents such as Christopher Daniels, Rob Van Dam, Drew Galloway, John Morrison, and fellow UK-based wrestler Prince Devitt, who now wrestles in NXT as Finn Balor. In 2014, Dar was a contestant on TNA’s British Boot Camp reality show, where the winner received a contract with TNA. While he did not win the contract, finishing sixth, Dar made several appearances on TNA programming and at live events in the UK. Most recently, Dar has been a fixture in PROGRESS Wrestling, the top wrestling promotion in the United Kingdom, where he has consistently been a top contender for the company’s World title. Just before the Cruiserweight Classic began, it was announced that Dar has signed a developmental contract with WWE. Source:

2. Zack Sabre Jr

Sabre is one of the biggest stars in independent wrestling right now, and the current PWG (Pro Wrestling Guerrilla) Champion. The UK-based wrestler has had success all over the world, including the US and Japan, and might be the best technical wrestler in the world not currently signed by WWE (although many assume that his participation in the Cruiserweight Classic is basically a formal application for a WWE contract). Sabre rose to prominence in 2008, after a Match of the Year candidate against “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson, better known these days as former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Byan, and has only gotten better in the ring since then. Most recently, Sabre has been voted the Best Technical Wrestler by Wrestling Observer Newsletter readers in both 2014 and 2015. If Sabre isn’t a contracted WWE talent by the end of the Cruiserweight Classic, we’ll be very surprised. Source:

1. Kota Ibushi

Possibly the hottest current free agent in professional wrestling, Ibushi most recently competed in New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he is a former three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and one-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, in addition to winning the Best of Super Juniors tournament in 2011, and the New Japan Cup in 2015. Ibushi also wrestled for Japanese promotion DDT (Dramatic Dream Team), which is a more sports entertainment-based company (in many ways a parody of WWE). In 2015, Ibushi challenged Shinsuke Nakamura for the NJPW Intercontinental title at Wrestle Kingdom 9, a match which was voted Match of the Year by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. After spending time on the shelf with a reported herniated disc in his spine, he resigned from both NJPW and DDT in early 2016, and after appearing in the crowd at an NXT TakeOver special, rumors are that Ibushi officially signing with WWE (and perhaps having some rematches with Nakamura) is only a formality at this point. Source:
Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle is an avid wrestling and film fan. He's been writing about WWE, movies, and video games for Goliath since 2015.