All Continental Classic 2023 reviews linked here.
So here’s the thing, I don’t think Daniel Garcia’s all the way there yet in this current iteration. As much as I’ve sung his praises and positioned him among the best in the world over the last two years, a vast majority of that work has been as a heel in control or conniving his way to a victory. That’s what made the JD matches so great, the pair of Danielson matches, all of that. Perhaps the only real exception for Garcia as a babyface would be the IWTV 100 broadway against YUTA, a match that still thrived on those two being presented far more as equals.
Right now, as Garcia continues telling this story of trying to work his way out of a rut, he’s not necessarily being presented as an equal to his competition. That’s certainly true, both in presentation and reality, when in the ring against someone like Claudio Castagnoli. It’s easy to leave this match in the hands of Claudio, he’s been having a great year, and he’s a fantastic wrestler that’s tuned in to how to pace and control a match like this. This one’s all about Garcia crashing up against someone who’s on top of his game. They do well with that concept, Claudio’s not strictly a heel here but it’s an antagonistic attitude he brings to the match. There’s the brutality of the giant swing into the barricades, but even before that, he’s real dismissive of Garcia with those short kicks early on.
The problem is that Garcia’s not quite finetuned his underdog babyface act quite yet. He’s working with a moveset designed for heels–cutting off Claudio with guillotines, snaking around on Claudio’s back for Sleepers, things like that. It’s not impossible to make that compelling as a babyface, but there may be just some slight adjustments necessary to really get the timing and energy of a strong underdog character working here.
Despite all that though, Garcia’s got enough baseline talent that while this doesn’t quite hit its ceiling, it’s still a sight better than a lot of what we might get elsewhere on TV. Garcia’s still got that scrappiness that’s always separated him from the pack at least, those small kicks on the mat to fluster Claudio or create space, the constant adjustments to get back on offense. And Claudio has spent 2023 basically tapped back in to the kind of high level work that made his early 2010s such a joy to watch. This is still a strong match. It’s just that it feels like something even better’s waiting to be revealed still.