Been psyched for the return of the WWE’s women’s tournament after its inaugural edition last year (check out my thoughts starting here). The taping format limited the matches in certain respects and the presentation and commentary was hit or miss, but it was a decent showing overall leading to a strong final and deserving winner (who just recently won the NXT Women’s Championship). This year the lineup is even more impressive, with several returns as well as numerous exciting WWE debuts.
Instead of the episode dump of last year the tournament is airing weekly after NXT. Episode 1 will start things off in a big way, as one of the biggest names will main event.
1) Tegan Nox vs Zatara ***
Nice video packages to hype both wrestlers. Zatara’s got into her background as 10 year vet and WWE’s first Chilean wrestler. Tegan’s focused on her missing last year’s tourney due to an acl tear and being inspired by Molly Holly.
Renee Young, Beth Phoenix, and Michael Cole calling this, which with all due respect is a big step up from last year’s team. They all talk up Tegan as a possible favorite for the tourney, while also commenting it won’t be easy because she had a tough draw in the first round of a physical vet who’s looking to make a statement.
Great to see Nox back from the injury. I’m familiar with her from Shimmer (as Nixon Newel), while this is my first look at Zatara. The latter started in sportsmanlike fashion but slowly allowed the heel tendencies to emerge as the match continued, reacting to Tegan’s hot start and the crowd’s lack of support for her against the darling Nox. Solid, well worked match with an easy to follow story that culminated with Nox overcoming trouble with her previously injured knee to nail the Shiniest Wizard to advance. Both looked good and this was a great choice to start with.
Ember Moon and Alexa Bliss are shown watching in the crowd.
2) Rhea Ripley vs MJ Jenkins **3/4
Rhea’s been repackaged, claiming to be a darker, better version of herself and is out to make up for “making a fool of myself last year.” Interesting angle. MJ’s charisma comes across instantly, and although there seems to be no real hope for her here she’s getting the crowd involved and generally playing her part well. Rhea mentioned as a darkhorse. Commentary is excellent so far, sounding informed about the competitors and genuinely interested in what’s happening.
Rhea won’t shake hands to open. Jenkins shows a bit of fire early, but Rhea takes over with a HARD dropkick counter to a springboard that sends MJ to the floor. Rhea’s all heel here but the new look and aggressive attitude has the crowd behind her for a bit. The two do get the crowd behind MJ later on, which is a credit to both. Rhea grinds Jenkins down little by little and while the newcomer got to look tough for holding on as long as she did and had a couple of nice flurries Rhea eventually picks up the expected victory with a SWEET pumphandle sitout powerbomb. Solid.
3) Lacey Lane vs Vanessa Kraven **1/2
Kraven’s a Shimmer mainstay who I’m thrilled to see getting a shot here. Nice use of Shimmer footage in here intro package matching up with a calm, even delivery from Kraven about here ambitions. Lacey’s new to me. She has a unique look and comes across well in her video. As she comes to the ring it’s mentioned she’s signed to the performance center, which doesn’t bode well for the Mountain. 😦
Lio Rush is shown in the crowd.
Big size advantage for Kraven, and the commentators go right for the David vs Goliath comparison. Cole mentions though that it’s not just that: there’s also a big experience advantage for Kraven. Nice touch. They mention Lane’s intergender wrestling background, which is good context for her taking on an opponent who has 100 pounds on her. Lane flubs a rope bounce early, but recovers well (and again Cole, Phoenix and Young explain/cover it well talking about big match nerves). Kraven catches Lane on a dive outside and then dominates with nice power style for a bit. Some of Lane’s stuff didn’t quite hit clean and the pacing was off, but she looked decent overall with some real fire and flare. She picked up the victory with a crucifix bomb, and is on to round 2. It was sold as a huge upset over the 14 year veteran, which is at least a good amount of respect for Kraven and a good story even if I’m disappointed to see the Mountain out so quick. Lane’s your Cinderella story at this point.
Natalia gives an interview backstage and says she’s rooting for Io and Mia.
4) Meiko Satomura vs Killer Kelly ***3/4
Meiko is a legitimate legend and quite possibly the best wrestler in the world. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see her wrestle several times live in Japan, including against another MYC participant in an incredible match on a show by Meiko’s promotion Sendai Girls this past April. Footage is show from 22 years ago when Meiko wrestled a match for WCW. Killer Kelly comes across as no nonsense and seems a good choice for Meiko’s opponent just from her attitude and style alone.
Funaki’s in the audience with Tye Dillinger.
Meiko being presented as the legend she is (Cole even uses the word). Crowd explodes for her too. Handshake and a bow before the match. Strikes and chain wrestling early, and I can’t stress how much of a treat it is to see Meiko ply her craft. Kelly holding her end up wonderfully and the crowd’s well invested. Meiko wow’s the crowd with some of her incredible transitions and counters and gets Kelly in a STF that puts Cena to SHAME. Kelly forces a rope break but Satomura continues to pick her apart bit by bit. Kelly gives the vet all she can handle at times though, including locking in a dragon sleeper on the tope rope, and getting a 2.9999 off a fisherman’s. Meiko’s just too much however, and the Death Valley Driver puts Kelly away. Meiko pulls Kelly up afterwards to hug her and bows to an emotional Kelly who congratulates Meiko on the win. Kelly clearly know what an honor she received being able to wrestle Satomura in a main event. And she looked great. Meiko of course is Meiko, and this was a blast.
Fantastic first impression here. And we’re just getting started…