Finally getting a chance to dive into this, and am hoping to get caught up before the live final next week. Excited for this not only based on what I’ve heard, but also as a longtime fan of women’s wrestling as well as being familiar with a majority of the field. Nearly half of them have previously wrestled in Shimmer (a fantastic Chicago based women’s wrestling promotion – find more information here), and a number of other highly regarded wrestlers from around the world are involved as well.
Let’s get started.
The tournament introduction narrated by Stephanie McMahon walks a line between appropriate and heavy handed / self indulgent.
1) Princesa Sugehit vs. Kay Lee Ray **1/2
The video packages seem quite short. Sugehit’s really gives no background on her other than the meaning of her name. Kay Lee Ray’s does a much better job getting her over, being just a little longer and using a fair amount of Shimmer footage to good effect. Never seen Sugehit before, while KLR’s a personal favorite.
I understand why Jim Ross and Lita were chosen as the announce team, but right off the bat they are all over the place and detracting from the action to a frustrating degree. JR comments about the tournament having a “very unique format: single elimination.” Uhm, actually single elimination ladder brackets is the most standard tournament format there is.
They spend the match trying to sell the “rookie” story of grappler Kay Lee Ray needing to ground high flying veteran Sugehit to have any chance (including constant criticism of KLR’s strategy EVEN WHEN SHE’S IN COMPLETE CONTROL OF THE MATCH. Seriously – WTF?), but every once in a while they remember that KLR is herself an eight year pro AND a high flyer herself and say something that contradicts all their previous points. They repeatedly mention the talking point of Sugehit’s “confusing style” being hard to handle, yet she does pretty much NOTHING odd or unique in this match. It’s like they wrote a story before the actual match took place based and were sticking to it no matter what. Not a good first impression.
As for the match itself, it was a solid enough start to the tourney, though a little disjointed. A particularly great sequence saw KLR reverse a sunset flip attempt into gory bomb attempt, but Sugehit reverse that into a code red instead. Overall KLR looked better than Sugehit, and it’s a shame to see her out so early.
2) Vanessa Bourne vs. Serena Deeb *1/4
Former cheerleader who’s only hook is apparently claiming to be more than that against former WWE star and redemption story for the tourney. No uncertainty here, and the short video packages do nothing to change that. Deeb did create the slightly bit of doubt/drama through eating the corner hard on a spear miss though, which was a nice touch. Nothing match otherwise, with Bourne mostly dominating in basic fashion (and looking a bit lost at times) until Deeb hit a “surprise” spear for the win.
3) Shayna Baszler vs. Zeda *1/4
The conversion Baszler’s made from MMA to pro wrestling has been incredible (as I’ve talked about here), and she’s been really impressive in Shimmer. I know nothing about Zeda. Her introduction as “representing China from Richmond VA” screams WWE stretching to make the tourney seem more international.
So the role model who’s trying to “be her own superhero” gets destroyed in 2 minutes by an unsportsmanlike bully who has three friends cheering her at ringside. I feel like literally ANY other story would have better here. Shayna’s the clear star, so crowd cheers her regardless of her being the heel. Just a squash, but with a beautiful finish that sees Baszler counter a guillotine into a suplex position then drops right into the choke. The point of Baszler’s choke being deadly was made, but her character and skills come across much better in longer, more even contests. Rousey’s getting as much attention than the actual competitor, which is understandable but disappointing.
4) Jazzy Gabbert vs. Abbey Laith ***1/4
Nice intro for Alpha Female (Gabbert), whose video has the best distillation of a competitor/character yet. Haven’t seen her wrestle before but obviously have heard quite a bit about her. Her opponent, the former Kimber Lee, references Mae Young as an inspiration and points out she indirectly inherited a finisher from Mae (the Alligator Clutch). That doesn’t bode well for the apparent favorite Gabbert.
One thing I have liked about the commentary is reference to past accomplishments, including acknowledging Laith as former Chikara Grand Champion (a hell of an achievement as she’s the only woman to hold that title). Gabbert comes out carrying a German flag and carries herself like a star.
Abbey goes straight at the imposing monster to little effect, and the combination of her determination and Gabbert just setting herself and playing immovable object fires the crowd way up. This was good, with both getting a chance to shine with some back in forth. Although I will say Gabbert shouldn’t be using rear naked choke in the middle of the match right after Baszler established it as instant death.
Unsurprisingly after the intro, Laith eventually counters into the Alligator Clutch for the win. Another curious early exit, but in terms of getting Abbey over as a threat by beating the imposing Gabbert mission accomplished.
Decent beginning overall. The presentation isn’t what I’d hoped, from superficial video introductions to the competitors to disappointing commentary, but the important things still get across just enough. This round is definitely being built for episodic format, with some matches clearly more about making a point or just introducing someone in as little time as possible rather than extended action with longer ones to open and end each episode.
Effective enough, just remember it’s the early part of a tournament and not everything’s supposed to be tearing the house down at this point. Already wishing certain people had gone farther, but we’ll see how things shake out going forward. And I suppose some big matches needed to happen early to provide main events for each episode.
Twelve more matches left across three episodes for round 1. Onward to episode 2.