My thoughts on round 1: episodes one, two, three, and four.
Not much was known about this tournament before it started, so there wasn’t a full participant list until after round 1 was taped. Going into the second day of tapings (which included everything else except the upcoming finals) I made predictions based on the apparent brackets. The brackets were wrong so my predictions ended up pure fantasy booking, but I left them up for amusement here.
Things open with all 16 remaining participants on the stage around the trophy looking excited. Always a great visual.
1) Abbey Laith vs Rachel Evers **1/2
Video packages tailored to the matchups this time, with the wrestlers talking about each other a little and the task in front of them. It makes a big difference in getting the viewer into things.
Kassius Ohno shown ringside supporting Rachel.
Titles have height, signature move, and ring style listed by each woman’s name as they enter. Great touch. Laith gestures towards the trophy with a smile in another.
Commentary’s trying to sell the story of Laith being the underdog due to Evers’ size and power, but the veteran is the clear favorite. Lita actually with a great note though about Laith’s background wrestling men and being used to bigger, stronger opponents.
Rachel looked much better here than in round 1 and got to show some nice offense, including a sweet powerslam off the top late. Being past the first round is apparent in Abbey getting to pull out a tope to the outside (which nearly goes horribly wrong when her foot catches on the rope but they adjust enough where she still mostly hits Rachel). Story was Abbey striking back just enough to stay in things until she’s able to surprise the rookie with the Alligator Clutch for 3. Would have gone more even, but was a nice spotlight for Rachel and (as is becoming a theme) was good for the short time they had.
2) Serena Deeb vs Piper Niven ***
Back to more generic video packages where each just talks about wanting to win instead of their specific opponent. Shame. The wrestlers continue to acknowledge the trophy on their way out (with Serena bowing to it in reverence) which again is a little thing that really makes the tournament and winning seem important. It’s pointed out that Piper’s only 25, which is surprising given her experience and the way she carries herself.
Once again Piper starts by powering her opponent into the corner and playfully giving a super light punch to the jaw, and once again her opponent is not amused and fires back with hard shots to pick the pace up.
The determined Serena kept trying to prove she could overcome Piper’s size, but it kept backfiring with Piper mostly powering through whatever Serena was trying, forcing Deeb to adapt and try new tricks. The story of the stubborn vet refusing to give up on slamming Piper in various ways and whether the eventual success was worth the cost of trying was a strong one, and I wish they had twice the time to tell it in full. Still a good match, with a great finish.
Piper hits a second rope avalanche for 2 and goes up top for a splash, which misses and makes her vulnerable for the spear. However when Serena charges Piper moves out of the way, grabs Serena, and pulls her right back into a quick, super smooth Piper Driver (Mikonuchu Driver) for the somewhat surprising win. Glad to see Piper advance, and ending Serena’s comeback run makes her seem like a beast.
3) Princesa Sugehit vs Mercedes Martinez *3/4
This seems like it should be a solid contest between veterans, but from what I’ve seen in the past Mercedes’ style doesn’t necessarily mesh well with Lucha. We’ll see.
Sugehit talking about how Mercedes should be wary because she doesn’t have Sugehit’s experience is silly given the entire buildup for the match is how they’re the two most experienced wrestlers in the tournament. JR mentions Martinez’ time in Shimmer, and I think I forgot to mention in the first round that she’s the reigning Shimmer champion and I’m extremely familiar with her from her work there. The Fisherman’s Buster is also specifically mentioned, which is Mercedes regular finisher that she did not use in round 1. Hint, hint.
Kalisto shown ringside.
Sugehit wearing Wonder Woman themed gear, which is odd only because a point was made of nicknaming Garrett Wonder Woman in round 1.
This was an abbreviated version of a longer, better match. It was fine overall and had some nice spots, but from the feeling out chain wrestling period going less than 30 seconds to transitions that seemed to be on fast forward the pace was just off. Mercedes fights off the armbar and plants Sugehit with the Fisherman’s Buster for the win. Martinez vs Laith set for the quarter finals.
4) Kairi Sane vs Bianca Belair ***1/4
Belair hasn’t a hope in hell here, but the match could be fun. Reenforcing that prediction, Belair talks about thinking she’s the best and that Kairi’s not a threat in the video packages, while Kairi talks about being an inspiration, leaving her mark, and giving “power and passion to people all over the world.”
Kairi gives a delightfully excited reaction to seeing the trophy on the way out and blows it a kiss.
JR continues to sound ridiculous stumbling around Kairi’s gimmick like it’s the strangest and most surprising thing ever. “It’s somewhat obvious that the lovely Kairi Sane is a boating aficionado. She’s a yachtsperson. She’s very aquatic Lita.” “JR she’s a PIRATE.” “Oh, a pirate. Well, I’m working it.” Shoot me now.
Belair twirling her braid as if to strike right away flagrantly in front of the ref as Kairi rightly backs up and objects and Lita does her best to mitigate. “There’s no weapons in the ring but I guess if it grows out of the top of your head it’s allowed to be used as a whip.” At least she’s trying to explain the lack of logic.
Belair controls with strength a bit, using headlocks and shoulder tackles. She blows a mocking kiss at Kairi and the latter exaggeratedly pantomimes catching it, throwing it to the ground, and repeatedly stomping on it in one of the most wonderfully physical bits of comedy I’ve seen in a long time. It’s exactly this charismatic delivery she adds to EVERYTHING that makes Sane the star she is.
Kairi ducks a couple of clotheslines from the flustered Belair, hits a dropkick for 2, then blows a kiss back in highly amusing fashion. The mind games are done and they appear to be about to start a forearm exchange, but Kairi’s so quick she keeps hitting hers in succession before Bianca can respond with any. Love those type of variations on standard spots.
Bianca fights off a waistlock and whips Kairi in the stomach with the braid, then continues with numerous hard shots with it as the ref’s shrugs apologetically as if there’s nothing he can do, JR nonchalantly explains it’s legal, and Lita calls it innovative. So stupid. Kairi being whipped in the corner should NOT be treated as a normal part of a match nor as clever. At least act outraged so Belair can get the proper heat from this. The crowd’s going nuts booing though so the intended effect is achieved live at least.
Bianca continues to press the strength advantage, with Kairi bouncing around like a pinball and screaming her head off when in holds to make Belair look devastating. Bianca really needs to drop the head smashes to the mat though, as like with Beckett she again does them such that her opponent is visibly nowhere near connecting with the mat each time and it looks absurd.
Back and forth between Kairi’s striking speed advantage and Belair’s power continued until Bianca hits a 450 from the top and actually has the crowd biting on the upset. They erupt for Kairi’s last second kickout. Belair charges the corner and eats the post, and it’s marching time. Sliding forearm, backfist, top rope elbow, and we’re done.
Belair needs some polish but she’s quite good already and could be great with time. They told a strong story and made this more dramatic than it could have been given the obviousness of the outcome. Kairi’s a joy to watch as always.
Nice batch of matches here hampered only by the structure of taping everything so quick and the often limited match times that resulted. Most importantly, the tournament feels significant and like something the wrestlers involved value and care about winning, which makes all the difference.
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