The 2016 Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic is powered by the same win-or-go-home premise that makes playoffs in sports magical.
Tye Dillinger and Bobby Roode will join forces in pursuit of glory. The monstrous Authors of Pain are poised to used the second edition of the annual tournament as their welcoming party. Tag team champions Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder of The Revival will look to demonstrate their superiority at the event.
One loss will end those quests. And that alone will make every one of those matches more compelling.
WWE has leaned more on the dynamism of the tournament format of late, using it to build new stories and stars, to introduce and elevate. It has been the genesis for bad blood and a showcase of great chemistry.
This is the foundation on which NXT will construct its programming over the next month. The first round kicked off on Wednesday's NXT. Teams will now battle each week until the tournament climaxes at TakeOver: Toronto on Nov. 19.
The winner will take home a massive trophy, as Finn Balor and Samoa Joe did after winning the inaugural Dusty Classic.
Former WWE tag champ Bubba Ray Dudley compared last year's event to the Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup Tag Team Tournament from 1986-1988:
WWE has been wise to resurrect that tradition and make it its own.
The company has drawn plenty from that well recently. The Dusty Classic will be just the latest tournament to air on WWE TV.
Heath Slater and Rhyno enjoyed a Cinderella run to win the SmackDown Tag Team Championship in September. When WWE world champ Seth Rollins went down with injury last fall, the company put together a single-elimination contest to decide who would supplant him.
The first Cruiserweight Classic tournament was appointment TV on Wednesday nights throughout the summer.
These kinds of events are invaluable. They make storytelling easy, and they are ideal launchpads for wrestlers in need of momentum.
Thanks to the tournament's compact nature, they are often good places to welcome new or rising stars. The audience gets to see them in one high-stakes situation after another.
At last year's Dusty Classic, Baron Corbin made a name for himself by slugging out the competition alongside Rhyno. Up to that point, Corbin had been an unproven commodity, a guy who steamrolled over no-name foes in record time.
We got to see him be tested, to see him triumph in the tournament.
The event also brought Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa from the independent circuit to the WWE stage. In knocking off Tyler Breeze and Bull Dempsey, then providing Corbin and Rhyno with a hell of a test, the newcomers sparked interest in themselves.
Gargano reflected on last year's event as he prepped for the 2016 edition:
The Authors of Pain are likely to be the beneficiaries of the tournament's spotlight this year. They entered the event as mostly unknown bruisers fed largely on a diet of jobbers and local talent.
The Dusty Classic can change that, putting Akam and Rezar against quality competition as part of a compelling event in the rounds ahead.
Tournaments are also natural places to kick off rivalries.
Losses in an early round can inspire one grappler to obsess over another. Intense showdowns during the event can lead to overflowing animosity that continues past the tourney.
We have already seen that take place in the 2016 Dusty Classic.
Andrade "Cien" Almas turned on Cedric Alexander after the newly formed team failed to advance to the second round. Alexander took the pinfall, enraging Almas, who bashed his supposed ally in response.
That change in character is just what the former La Sombra needed.
He was floundering as a babyface showboat and acrobat. Failure in the tournament has now set a fire under him.
Stories like these are easy to come by with this format. There are always multiple moving parts to work with, and the pressure of advancing is an apt place to breed high emotion.
Matches mean very little too often.
The Hype Bros bested The Vaudevillains on Tuesday's SmackDown. Tony Nese defeated Rich Swann on Monday's Raw. In each case, the action was good, but there was no urgency with the matches, no energy crackling around them.
Tournaments provide exactly that because they have a clear beginning, middle and end.
And every bout has a built-in high-stakes dynamic. A win means survival. A loss means goodbye.
That made for great TV when WWE featured a chase for its World Heavyweight Championship last fall.
Rollins tore his knee to shreds, forcing him to relinquish his crown. Rather than just anointing someone or putting a single match together to decide the next titleholder, WWE made would-be champs go through a gauntlet.
A tournament played out on Raw, SmackDown and eventually Survivor Series.
The whole roster sought the Holy Grail, adding importance to every show along the way. The quality of the matches benefited.
The same was true for the Cruiserweight Classic.
Excellent bouts like Kota Ibushi vs. Cedric Alexander would have been tremendous as standard matches, but put into the context of the CWC, it generated far more emotion. Falling short left Alexander tearful, gutted, distraught.
That's not something one sees in everyday contests.
Should Gargano and Ciampa fall in the first round of the Dusty Classic or The Revival drop an early match, the losers will express fury and passion made more powerful by the tournament format.
WWE has a chance to tell great stories during the event, be it Dillinger's rise or an underdog duo marching to the finals. And the playoff feel of the tourney will bolster every match up to that point.
NXT is assured some top-flight bouts, just as we have seen in the CWC and other single-elimination contests.
Trophies and Triumphs
Not everyone can battle for WWE's championships.
There have to be other prizes, other goals for characters to strive for. Wrestling matches often offer abstract awards, from momentum to respect.
Looking to etch one's name in an event's list of winners is a more intriguing objective. Claiming a trophy or a crown, in the case of King of the Ring, can boost a wrestler's career.
Even before Triple H announced that the winner of the Cruiserweight Classic would be Raw's cruiserweight champ, every wrestler in that event had something clear to fight for. A medal, a trophy and the right to be called the very best cruiserweight in the world awaited the winner.
Balor and Joe held up a trophy of their own after outlasting the field at last year's Dusty Classic. This year, a new team will do the same, adding a lasting image to their resume.
The prestige of the King of the Ring has faded in recent years, but it has been a career-launching tournament in the past.
There is no better example than "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's victory in 1996.
Austin made an emphatic statement by tearing through the competition, last throttling Jake Roberts before delivering an iconic speech during his coronation. His journey to megastardom started then.
That promo wouldn't have meant as much had it followed consecutive victories over Bob Holly, Savio Vega, Marc Mero and Roberts. Austin could then claim to be the King of the Ring for the next year.
Wade Barrett's tailspin after winning the 2015 King of the Ring is a reminder, though, that the tourney win itself must be the start of something, not the climax.
Barrett told Nick Hausman of Wrestle Zone Radio, "The title of King of the Ring can be prestigious, but if it's followed up by nonexistent writing, then it's pointless." He should know. WWE did nothing with him after he earned the crown.
That's something WWE should keep in the back of its mind as it continues to showcase CWC winner T.J. Perkins and draws up a plan for whoever is the last team standing in the Dusty Classic.
Done right, winning that tournament can catapult a pair of wrestlers into the top tier.