The Wrasslin’ Essay: The Brian Kendrick Komeback

At 37 years old, Brian Kendrick is proving that he still has it.

With the second round of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic half complete, one name already destined for Round Three stands out: Brian Kendrick.

After Tajiri’s loss to Gran Metalik, it felt like the gold watches had been handed out and it was time for the honorees to get off the stage so people could eat. Kendrick’s second round match with Tony Nese, however, proved that main roster veterans can be every bit as exciting as fresh faces. The victory also completed Kendrick’s transformation from “You still got it!” chant nostalgia star to the perfect vicious foil for his next opponent, Kota Ibushi.

In spite of every crowd’s natural desire to cheer wrestlers they remember from when they were younger, Kendrick has styled himself into the ideal heel for the fast-paced, high-flying tournament. Against Nese, his offense was little more than boots, cheap shots, holds on the mat, and infractions of the rules. That may sound less than thrilling, but some of the most important forgotten or unrecognized “Inside Baseball” knowledge is that the heel’s offense isn’t supposed to look impressive – it’s supposed to look like they could beat the babyface, which the crowd should be afraid of.

If the heel sticks his tongue out and hits a 450 splash or hits moves repeatedly as fans count along, he’s showing off, and not in a heelish way, but rather a way that prevents the babyface from getting over. In recent years, it’s become a truism that it’s hard to be a good guy in 201X, but the fact of the matter is that’s because the heels don’t work in a way that protects one of the babyface’s most valuable assets: his/her ability to do exciting moves.

Kendrick, however, bucked that trend to great effect. The utter lack of exciting wrestling maneuvers on his part made every high-flying or heavy-lifting move Nese did that much more impressive, impactful, and crowd-pleasing. When the good guy was on offense, the match felt exciting and the crowd wanted to see more. When the bad guy was on offense, the match felt like a grind and the crowd wanted the good guy to get back on top. It was the barebones structure of the genre executed to perfection.

Kendrick also understands how a heel has to go over. In a tournament full of incredible holds, the simple bully choke is the perfect move for the cagey veteran to stretch the necks of his young, innocent opponents in unspectacularly brutal fashion.

His match with Tony Nese enhanced the credibility of the choke even further, as Nese hastily worked to escape twice before ultimately tapping instantly to the full application of the hold. The finish demonstrated that Kendrick can beat anybody he gets the hold on, even for a second, and his opponents are scared of it. This harmony of good booking and good in-ring execution makes the bully choke far more dramatic when Kendrick locks it on Kota Ibushi in Round Three.

One of the few things working against Kendrick is the against-type support from babyface color commentator Daniel Bryan. While their deep roots are natural feel-good emotional fodder, it would be just as simple for Bryan to spin that truth into stories about Kendrick’s arrogance, dishonesty, and obnoxious tendencies. Although it’s untrue, it’s much more consistent with the character he’s portraying in the ring, and after all, a few mega-important, well-timed lies are the basis of professional wrestling as a genre.

It’s hyperbolic to call him a wrestling phoenix, but Brian Kendrick is at least the Edmond Dantes of the tournament: he’s returned triumphantly from ignominy, he’s had time to plan, and he’s not concerned about being nice anymore. Whether he beats Kota Ibushi in the next round or falls to the decided favorite, Kendrick has written the perfect cover letter for his comeback application in the Cruiserweight Classic.

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David Gibb

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