This year’s Mae Young Classic got off to an impressive start with good matches, improved production and commentary over last year, and the introduction of legend Meiko Satomura to the WWE universe. I was only able to watch last week’s episode peripherally, so in terms of these reviews I’m skipping to this week’s episode 3.
Two big rivalries exploding in the first round tonight, a former champion returns, and a wrestler from last year’s tourney faces off with someone I’m familiar with from outside WWE in four intriguing matchups.
A really nice quick intro to all eight of tonight’s wrestlers opens the show, which will be built upon with the longer packages later. The presentation this year has been top notch.
Round 1 continued:
9) Kaitlyn vs Kavita Devi **
Devi loss last year to Dakota Kai is highlighted and she’s determined to win this time. Kaitlyn’s this year’s Serena-like return story. Nice package on her focusing on her being a former champ and her personal redemption/transformation.
Cole admits he’s not impartial here because of excitement for Kaitlyn’s return after all she’s overcome. She looks quite different, and comfortable. Davi seems to be playing quasi-heel, but her importance and fame as the first Indian woman superstar is also emphasized. Cole owns up to past problems with WWE’s presentation of women during Kaitlyn’s original run and his own part in it, and apologizes.
Kaitlyn, referred to as the “Hybrid Diva,” trying to overcome Devi’s power and size was the focus here. The spear eventually ends it and sends Kaitlyn on. “Will she be the Cinderella Story of this tourney?” Basic but decent, with the story more the point here, and it was a good one. I’m happy for Kaitlyn, and while Devi’s still green she’s improving. Kaitlyn will face the winner of tonight’s main in the next round.
10) Toni Storm vs Jinny **3/4
The Fashionista has arrived. “My style is ruthless. I don’t care about my opponent.”
Toni made the semis last year, and “got a taste of my dream.” Presented as a rock star to Jinny’s haughty refinement, Toni gets a longer package and is clearly being positioned as a tourney favorite. I hope we get more of the Toni I’ve heard so much about on the indie scene around the world and less of the one who I honestly thought underperformed last year.
Big crowd reaction for Toni. Jinny has fantastic heel presence, body language, etc. Curiously there really isn’t much mention of the history between these two. Jinny wants no part of Toni’s handshake and slaps it away. Throughout the match the more vicious Jinny became, the better this got. Both looked decent, and this was the most I’ve liked Toni so far. One highlight was a beautiful snap German by Toni. Toni wins with the “Storm Zero” (tiger driver). She doesn’t get much height on it, and honestly it looks dangerous to me as it seems her opponent could easily under rotate and come down on her head. Decent, but this could have been more. Seems to be a theme with me and Toni’s tourney matches. We’ll see how next round goes.
11) Karen Q vs Xia Li ***
Karen Q looked good when I saw her at Shimmer, and it’s nice to see her get a chance here. It’s stressed that Xia debuted at last year’s tourney (against Martinez), and she’s the clear favorite from the way things are being presented.
Both square up for martial arts immediately and the crowd goes wild. Karen discards respect early and slaps Xia, which backfires a bit as Xia unloads on her, but then the ref pulls Xia back and Karen ambushes her with a kick to take control. Mocking bow and Karen’s gone practically full cocky heel in attitude, but is still using speed and martial arts back ground for some crowd popping strikes. The mixture actually works well here, given the two showed respect again once the match was over. Anymore heel work by Karen and that would have felt odd.
Xia’s kicks look brutal. She’s come a long way in a year. These two hit the hell out of each other and put on a really nice little match. Both should be proud, and I’d love to see a rematch when both have more experience. Karen missed a frog splash (that had shades of Dash Chisako in its beautiful form), and Xia capitalized with a flipping axe kick for the win. Heat of competition aside, Karen congratulated Xia afterwards.
12) Mia Yim vs Allysin Kay ***3/4
Pinkies up! Great intro package for Kay, including background on Mia breaking her nose and how they’ve feuded all over. Her discus lariat finish is stressed. Mia talks about bringing a whole different game this year. Unlike with Toni and Jinny the history between these two is greatly emphasized.
Via Shimmer footage of Mia’s matches Aja Kong and Aoi Kizuki appear up on WWE tv, which is an amusing little treat for a Joshi fan like me, particularly with Aoi retiring in a couple weeks.
Allysin Kay is constantly refining her craft, and has really evolved and grown over time. She went from someone who I found ok to someone I get excited to see and cheer for. Really happy to see her included.
Glad to hear commentary bring up Mia Yim’s history as a domestic violence survivor and her efforts to spread awareness and encourage others to break the silence.
Tense stare off, no handshake of course. “Let’s go Mia!” “Pinkies up!” dueling chants throughout. This was intense, well worked and paced, and had a great underlying story. Neck and neck with Kelly vs Meiko for best match of the tourney so far. Kay hits the lariat but was slow to cover, so Mia survived. They kept going toe to toe until Mia got the better of an exchange on the turnbuckles and nailed a sweet second rope Seoul Food for the win. Mia will face Kaitlyn in round 2, which I’m quite interested to see after tonight.
I really enjoyed this week’s episode overall, and the tournament is nicely living up to its potential thus far.