A tournament of 32 competitors from around the world who bring different fighting styles to the table, vying to fulfill their dreams sure sounds like the story of Street Fighter. So if the EVO tournament didn't sate your thirst, you can watch real-life athletes from 16 countries perform in the first annual Cruiserweight Classic (CWC) on the WWE Network ($9.99 per month after free one-month trial, available everywhere).
Yes, I said WWE. Yes, this means outcomes are predetermined, as this is pro wrestling, but watch one episode and try telling me these guys are fake. The three episodes aired so far packed in tons of stiff, loud strikes and MMA-esque grappling, to the point where it isn't difficult to suspend your disbelief.
Even the CWC's imagery pays homage to video games, with CGI ninjas flying everywhere and match-up graphics that look straight out of a loading screen from any fighting title you've ever played. But unlike those video games, all of these matches take place in the same venue, the WWE Performance Center at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida.
Unlike most WWE programming, the CWC is light on soap opera melodramatics, focusing on in-ring performance. The WWE defines Cruiserweights as performers weighing 205 pounds or less, which means the show is more about technical skill and less the feats of brute strength that some associate with the WWE.
Standout performances so far include the ingenious reversal-based wrestling of England's Zack Sabre Jr., the stinging strong-style kicks of Japan's Kota Ibushi and the high-flying Lucha Libre-style of Mexico's Gran Metalik and Puerto Rico's Lince Dorado. Even if you're suspicious of what those terms mean, the WWE Network's free one-month trial means there's no risk to sample the CWC.
And while these athletes prove their technical skill, they're not light on personality either. In a backstage interview, Sabre Jr., known for his ability to seamlessly escape submission holds, noted that "Harry Potter isn't the only wizard from England." Indian brothers and wrestlers Gurv and Harv Shira dance to the ring when they perform under the team name Bollywood Boyz.
The show sizzles thanks to the electric play-by-play of MMA announcer Mauro Ranallo and color commentary from retired wrestler and former WWE Champion Daniel Bryan. The two may be the best announce team I've heard on any sporting event, imbuing meaning without Joe Buck's football melodrama and providing more information and pop culture references than Mike Wilbon does for a basketball game.
Another major difference between the CWC and programs such as WWE Raw, SmackDown Live and NXT is that most of the athletes in this tournament started it without long-term contracts with the company. This irregularity is already changing, though, as Ibushi and Metalik have reportedly signed contracts with the company following their initial performances.
Where To Stream It
You can find the CWC on the WWE Network, which streams to practically every device available. It's available on web browsers on both PCs and Macs, Rokus, Tivos, Amazon Fire TVs, the Amazon Kindle Fire, consoles (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One), iOS devices, Android devices and Apple TVs. New episodes stream on Wednesdays at 9pm ET every week.
The CWC's tapings are ahead of what they've broadcast, so avoid the Wikipedia entry for the tournament unless you want to be spoiled. The first four episodes each include four matches, and the format of later episodes is to be determined. Of what we've seen so far, episodes 1 and 3 show feature the best matches.