Again we open with a nice summary of those who had advanced so far and quick introduction of this week’s competitors and matchups before the standard opening video. Nice narration and presentation here.
Round 1 (continued):
9) Ayesha Raymond vs Toni Storm 3/4*
This is my first time seeing either, but I’ve heard a lot about Storm. She’s an 8 year veteran at 21 years old and has significant hype around her. Her video showcases her rock star attitude and she gets a great line to encapsulate everything: “Poor girl. I’m just sorry in advance for the damage I will be causing you.” Ayesha gets a nice chance to talk about her deadlifting and strength, comparing herself to powerful felines. Nothing wrestling related is shown for her though.
Storm pulls back the handshake to “ooohs” instead of boos, and seconds later the crowd is chanting for her. If she’s trying to work heel it’s not going to happen. If she’s not and it’s just “attitude” she shouldn’t be doing the same thing numerous heels in the tourney are doing to try to generate heat.
Really nothing to this. Trying to get Storm over as resilient in three minutes is a story that’s never going to work well. Raymond looked fine until the end (when something clearly went wrong with the finish and they improvised stalling, a missed splash, and an awkward rollup) in a limited role using power based offense. Storm did less than ten moves, and half of them were thrusting her “hip” at Raymond’s face. Lungblower and Northern Lights suplex looked good, but mostly I’ll have to wait until she gets a proper match to see what the fuss is about with Toni Storm.
SARA DEL REY (Amato) is next to Charlotte Flair. Bringing Sara (on of the greatest wrestlers in the world) as a trainer has paid glorious dividends for WWE’s women’s divisions.
10) Kavita Devi vs Dakota Kai **
TEAM KICK!!! Dakota Kai is the former Evie and a fantastic wrestler I’ve had the privilege of following in Shimmer, where she held the Tag Team Championships with Heidi Lovelace (Ruby Riot). She self describes as a girl next door, being quick, and “Ido a lot of strikes. I kick hard.” Enough said. 🙂 Kavita is the first Indian woman to wrestle for WWE and mentions being trained by the Great Khali.
The debuting Devi works within her limits well here, with it being all about her stalking Kai using her power and size. The pace is awkward, but it’s an effective story and Kai BOUNCES all around the ring to make Devi look impressive. Devi does a nice ropewalk arm drag (twice, which is once too many for a showcase like that) and a gorilla press drop that pop the crowd.
She eventually stalls too much, allowing Kai to dodge out of the corner, nail the parabola kick (always looks so awesome) and a top rope double stomp for the victory. Short, inoffensive, and got both over. Kai worked her ass off here holding it all together She advances to face Rhea Ripley, which will be a similar dynamic and should be a good matchup.
11) Bianca Belair vs Sage Beckett *1/4
Another pair of two new to me competitors. Wait, check that – Beckett is the former Andrea from Shine. Decent power wrestler. She’s presented as “a shaman, not a witch.” Good look and gimmick for her. Belair’s intro focuses on her strength, track star past, and long braid.
Basic power offense from Beckett, which Belair counters with speed and hard shots of her own (including some sadly awful looking face slams to the mat). Bianca gets the better of her larger opponent for most of the match, eventually capitalizing on a miss from the top rope with a whip of her braid (uhm, shouldn’t that be illegal) and a short spear for the victory (which honestly looked ridiculous given the size differential and the lack of building up momentum).
Belair controlling so much of the match and often kicking out of Beckett’s offense at 1 undermined what would have been a better story of her weathering the storm to upset the monster. She also needs a different finisher badly. Beckett’s capable of more, and I’m surprised to see her go out here. All that said, there was good effort and a couple nice sequences in this.
The brackets remind us that even in advancing Bianca’s just destined to be fodder for the winner of Tessa vs Kairi.
12) Piper Niven vs Santana Garrett ***1/2
Viper (Piper Niven) is a great wrestler who’s extremely agile for her size and has incredible charisma. Santana is a highly decorated independent wrestler who’s held numerous titles across various companies and seems exactly the type WWE’s trying to attract with this tournament, but honestly I’ve personally always found her decent but a bit dull. Let’s see how this shakes out.
Santana talks about staying humble and “being you,” while being called wrestling’s “Wonder Woman” and wearing capes. Ok then. Piper’s video includes a great soundbite from JR talking about her headlining Korakuen Hall, impressive footage from her time in Shimmer, and emphasis on how she can do things people half her size would have trouble with. Both wrestlers were well presented and from just the intros it’d be hard to say who was favored (which is what they should always be aiming for).
Piper’s out in bright blue gear as opposed to the dark colors larger female wrestler usually wear in WWE and (as always) comes across as totally comfortable in her own skin. We need to see more of that in wrestling.
Santana described by JR as a veteran looking for her break, but Piper actually has slightly more experience of the two. Nice exchanges in the early going varying the size versus speed dynamic we’ve seen in several matches by building it around grappling and counter wrestling. Piper throws a great crossbody at one point that wipes Santana out. Crowd getting behind both. These two are using holds and strikes no one else has thus far in the tournament, letting this stand out. Nothing crazy, but simply adding a cravate and striking while in a hold sequences for variety goes a long way.
Commentary actually better than usual for this match, focusing on good points like Santana having trouble trying to out quick Piper because the larger athlete is quite agile in her own right and the specific strategies each wrestler is using. Santana with Eat Defeat at one point, which shouldn’t have happened since it was established as Mia’s finisher earlier in the round. Seen things like that a couple of times so far, and the agents should be more on top of it in this kind of tournament.
Santana catches Piper up top with a handstand rana late (after Piper fought it off once in a great sequence) for a close 2 count, and the crowd totally bought it as the finish. Superkick and she goes for the backflip splash but Piper moves, drops a huge elbow, and nails a Michinoku driver for the win!
Perhaps the best I’ve seen from Santana. These two had fantastic chemistry and this is easily my favorite match so far in the tournament. Pleasantly surprised to see Piper advance, as while Santana definitely made the most of this appearance and would have been a fine choice for round 2 I feel Piper’s better overall and there are more interesting stories to be told with her proceeding. She’ll face another veteran in Serena Deeb in round 2.
We again end with a well done summary of this episode’s winners as well as the remaining competitors and matches. Big names in LaRae, Savoy, Sane, and Blanchard still to come.
The formula of these first round episode continues, with several quick matches focused on a particular aspect and a longer, more impressive main event. Hoping to see better showcases for Storm and Kai in the next round.
Down to the last four matches left for round 1 next episodes. Let’s go KAIRI!