(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Cedric Alexander vs. Kota Ibushi – WWE Cruiserweight Classic
This is another match recommendation that came from one of our many loyal readers here at TJRWrestling.
Many fans look back fondly at Triple H’s Cruiserweight Classic tournament. It was a sampler plate of the kind of booking and promotional ideas he had. He wanted to prove that he had a different mindset compared to Vince McMahon and wanted to give a previously-neglected fanbase something new to sink their teeth into.
But was this tournament really as great as everyone thought in the moment, or was it just another case of people losing their minds over something simply because it was different from the status quo? Read on to find out.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
Ibushi beat Sean Maluta to advance to the Round of 16 and Cedric beat a wrestler named Clément Petiot to do the same. That’s the whole story.
This match originally took place on July 14, 2016. It was rated ****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.
The two wrestlers start with a technical hold exchange until Cedric takes Ibushi’s arm. Ibushi flips out of it and takes Cedric’s head. He knocks Cedric down and then a standoff ensues. More technical exchanges and Cedric goes back to the arm, but this time Ibushi counters and attacks Cedric’s arm instead. Cedric escapes via single-leg takedown and then lands some arm drags. A complicated counter routine ensues with flips, headscissors, and avoided kicks. Each wrestler gets a two-count on a quick pin and another stalemate ensues.
After a brief pause, Cedric applies a standing headlock and maintains it as Ibushi tries shooting him off the ropes. Ibushi tries fighting out a few more times but Cedric isn’t letting go. As soon as Ibushi does manage to escape, Cedric lands another shoulderblock to known Ibushi down. Then Cedric decides to try his hand at striking with an uppercut, but this is Ibushi’s strength and he shows this with a huge roundhouse kick.
The crowd chants for Ibushi as he rushes towards Cedric in a corner. Cedric sends him onto the apron but Ibushi hits back with a springboard dropkick. Ibushi follows with a triangle moonsault but Cedric dodges, which causes Ibushi to wipe out on the floor. Cedric follows with his own suicide senton dive to the floor.
Cedric tosses Ibushi back into the ring and hits a springboard clothesline for a two-count. he gets another two-count following a pair of stiff chops and then again after a jumping stomp. Ibushi fights back with a few strikes but Cedric catches his leg and slaps his jaw for a two-count. Cedric goes for a suplex but Ibushi lands behind him. Cedric elbows out of a German suplex attempt but then he runs into a standing dropkick. A stiff forearm exchange ends in a martial arts rush from Ibushi. Cedric ducks a roundhouse kick but Ibushi hits a standing corkscrew moonsault splash for another two-count.
Cedric blocks a corner charge but runs into an exploder suplex. He rolls to ringside and this time Ibushi’s triangle moonsault is successful. Ibushi gets a two-count in the ring and goes for a powerbomb. Cedric escapes and hits a Michinoku Driver for another two-count. Ibushi avoids a corner charge but then eats an uppercut. He cuts Cedric off and goes for a top-rope Frankensteiner. Something looks to be off as the move looks to either miss or have a delay. Either way, Cedric lands a running elbow smash but then Ibushi hits a backflip kick. Then Cedric escapes a Last Ride Powerbomb attempt and hits a corner enzuigiri. Sheerdrop Brainbuster by Cedric. Ibushi kicks out at two. Then Cedric kicks Ibushi’s head in. Ibushi kicks out again. Cedric goes for a diving double stomp. Ibushi dodges, misses a kick, but then lands a snap German suplex. Then another roundhouse kick to the head connects. Last Ride Powerbomb connects. One, two, three! Ibushi advances to the next round.
Winner after 15:00: Kota Ibushi
This was a fun little match. It was a quick little cruiserweight sprint that kept in the spirit of the tournament in which it was held. It was quick, high-impact, and full of athleticism. There was lots of hype going into this match and it pretty much delivered. And while it wasn’t the deepest or most complex match but it didn’t have to be, especially with the style.
It was a fine match…but that’s it, just fine.
I don’t see any world-class qualities about this match, especially after so many years of hindsight. Time hasn’t been kind to this match, to be honest. While there was certainly a novelty factor in Ibushi wrestling for WWE, that novelty factor alone does not a classic match make.
Simply put, this was a cold match without any heat, story, or tension. Between all the flashy moves the selling felt a bit underwhelming. Something about the motions between moves made this look less like a contest and more like a cooperative performance. And for the first half of the match there was this overall feeling of sterile and polish that sapped it of any soul. It took a while for any real story to begin and for any sort of true excitement to start. As a result, the first five minutes of a fifteen-minute match came across as listless and pointless.
And while the athleticism and acrobatics made sense given that it was a cruiserweight tournament, there was still something off about this match. This wasn’t like the cruiserweight matches of 1990s WCW or any top-tier lucha libre from Mexico, or even anything resembling NJPW’s junior heavyweight peak. This match felt like a bog standard WWE-style match but with more flips and dives. Cruiserweight-style wrestling is much more than that, yet what we got here was more like the bare minimum than something truly unique.
Final Rating: ***1/2
I’m trying to find something truly unique that would make this match into something truly exceptional and worth going out of your way to see but I’m drawing a blank. “Ibushi wrestling in WWE” isn’t it, especially since there’s a treasure trove of videos out there of him doing better stuff in New Japan, NOAH, and elsewhere. “High-flying cruiserweight action” isn’t it either since there are plenty of other matches – involving these wrestlers and others – that do a better job of showcasing the craziness central to cruiserweight wrestling.
Unfortunately, there was nothing truly memorable about this match. There was a satisfying post-match sequence with Cedric and Triple H, but that is completely disconnected from the match that proceeded it. The athleticism and skill displayed in this match was interesting, but it doesn’t hold up so many years later. There have been plenty of matches that have taken place before this one and after it that have done what it did and more.
Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.