Mae Young Classic Episode 6 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

Continuing to (slowly) work my way through.

My thoughts on round 1: episodes onetwothree, and four.

And part 1 of round 2: episode five.

 

Round 2 (continued):

Video packages are getting better and better in hyping up the impending matches.

More clips of MMA’s Four Horsewoman coming to support Baszler. It would not end there…

 

5) Lacey Evans vs Toni Storm *3/4

Hoping to see more from both of these wrestler than what they showed in round 1.

“Oh I’m not gonna lose. No.” Geez Toni, watch the spoilers. 😉

The ref checks Lacey’s gloves and then Lacey removes them, which bothers me much more than it should. Toni’s move of powering herself back to the mat in a wristlock in order to counter it is more weird than unique. And her “hip attacks” (butt butts to her opponent’s face) are not my cup of tea. Lacey countering one into a schoolgirl for 2 was pretty nice though.

Lacey looked much more comfortable with her offense than in round 1, landing some unusual strikes pretty smoothly and controlling most of this short match. Storm was again very limited on offense, doing nothing she didn’t in the first round (butt based offense, a couple of strikes, lungblower, and a Northern lights suplex) except debuting her finisher Strong Zero (Air Raid Crash across the knee) for the win.

This was fine for what it was. With time and polish (and a new gimmick) Lacey has all the tools to succeed. Storm plays the ragdoll underdog well and I can tell she’s skilled, but honestly she hasn’t been able to show much and so far I’m unimpressed compared to her hype.

 

6) Shayna Baszler vs Mia Yim **1/4

“All it’s going to take for me to beat her is just to exist.” Baszler’s playing the heel well (and that was a great line), but the problem with the message is she’s conceivably RIGHT about having combat experience over everyone else and having an edge because of it. Heels should be talking sideways, not stating truth.

This was interesting, as there was a disconnect between the in ring story and what the announcers / producers were stressing. It was played just right for the story the WRESTLERS were telling (the bragging Shayna found Mia was more than capable of giving her an even fight) but not for the story the ANNOUNCERS were force feeding (Shayna dominantly plowing through her opponents).

The match was good within its constraints, including a gorgeous dive by Mia, nice back and forth striking, and a fantastic finish that saw Mia’s 450 countered into the “Rear Naked Sleeper” for a Shayna victory. On the other hand the compressed length hampered certain aspects, like a tease of Mia’s first round finisher getting no reaction due how early it was done, and having to go to the finish so quickly after Shayna’s legwork leading to a noticeable and unusual lack of selling from Mia as she did a powerbomb and the 450. I enjoyed this overall, but like Mercedes vs Sugehit it was a snapshot of sequences from a longer, better match.

As expected, the focus here was again as much (or more) on the two groups of four horsewomen as the match, particularly afterward when Shayna celebrated with her friends and got into a staring contest with the carefully placed Charlotte, Bailey, and Becky directly across the aisle.  Well, the angle will likely be a success so I’ll keep my complaints minimal, but Shayna’s better than a way to pull Rousey in.

 

7) Dakota Kai vs Rhea Ripley **1/2

Looking forward to this battle of strikers. The mini story of Kai having to go through much bigger, more powerful opponents so far is a nice touch.

Ripley looked a tad lost at moments but in general seems to have good instincts. Better pacing will come with time, and she’s already showing unique touches in her ringwork.

This was a nice little back and forth match with a couple of clever counters and big impact moves to draw the crowd in. Kai eventually moves on with her hanging double stomp, which was 100% the right call. Since they’re both signed, a longer rematch down the road is definitely possible and something I’d like to see.

 

8) Candice LeRae vs Nicole Savoy *3/4

Billed as the “Queen of Suplexes” vs the “Modern Day Mighty Mouse.” Not really digging either nickname to be honest.

“Can Mrs. Johnny Gargano win this one?” I can’t even.

I’ve seen a lot of both competitors (including against each other), and they’re both capable of much more than they achieved here. So the match was disappointing in that regard. It’s like they were going at half speed and the pacing was odd. A very awkward and contrived setup to get to Candice’s Wild Ride for the finish didn’t help. Of course with these two even on an off night there was some solid action mixed in. Most of the criticism I’ve seen has been leveled on Savoy (and no doubt she wasn’t at her best and unfortunately had a lackluster tournament), but it’s more Candice that felt not her usual self to me here.

 

——-

This was definitely the weaker batch of matches of the second round, although there are still highlights. The action isn’t quite what it could be (and the commentary is still driving me insane) but things are unfolding nicely and despite my criticisms the tournament has been interesting and enjoyable. Best of all it’s shining a light on numerous deserving, talented wrestlers and giving them something to fight for that’s portrayed as important. It really makes a difference in getting the viewer involved.

On to the quarter finals with a couple of unexpected names still around and several intriguing matchups.

Wave 8/30/11 Live Thoughts

August 30, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

The final show of my week long trip I caught was “Weekday Wave” at Shinjuku Face.

 

 

The opener was a bit of a pleasant surprise for me. I was glad to see a favorite of mine, Aoi Kizuki, added to this show a few days before as I wouldn’t have seen her otherwise. I was even more excited to see her put in the ring opposite my favorite tag team (whose matches with Best Friends were the reason I made this trip) as So on Flower (Aoi & Moeka Haruhi) faced Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami).

 

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This was a short but great opener with strong structure and story. Moeka and Aoi jumped their decorated and certainly favored opponents during their entrance pose and never let up, going full throttle trying to prove themselves in Avid Rival’s league. Misaki and Ryo fought back of course but couldn’t ever quite get full control of their opponents nor stop the underdogs’ onslaught. Aoi and Moeka essentially overwhelmed AR and Moeka eventually pinned Mizunami for the upset. This was action packed and really well worked to the point it was satisfying despite (and felt longer than) the literal few minutes it actually ran.

 

 

 

Kaori Yoneyama & Cherry were the obvious heels in mannerisms and anctics in their match with Yuki Miyazaki & Nagisa Nozaki, but were too amusing for crowd to boo. This wasn’t bad per se, but there was nothing to it really. As opposed to the opener this felt every bit it’s short length (under three minutes).

 

 

 

The next match was another surprise for me, and another extremely pleasant one. I knew Yumi Ohka would be on the show (and was happy I’d get to see her), but didn’t have any idea Mio Momono would be. What a great pairing. Mio’s the hottest rookie there is right now (as I’ve mentioned many times), and Yumi’s a consummate veteran and the perfect opponent for her.

 

 

I’m noticing Mio working in nice touches of humor into her matches lately too. For example she has one “playing mind games” spot where she goes outside and under the ring, then appears on the opposite side to mock her opponent (who of course was looking for her on the original side). The key is she does it a second time, and “smartly” Yumi decides to ambush the youngster on the far side instead of following. So Mio goes out the side instead and again gets into the ring and mercilessly mocks the vet.

 

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It’s silly but amusing and adds a nice bit of cleverness and attitude to Mio’s act. I’ve seen her do it in two matches so far and it will get old eventually, but I trust she’ll find a way to mix things up and keep it entertaining. Best of all, Mio does this to annoy her opponent into leaving an opening for Mio to attack, making a logical part of the match that enhances rather than derails the action.

 

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They got a decent bit of time here (a little under ten minutes I think) to tell the story of upstart Mio giving Yumi all she could handle until the more experienced wrestler could only just keep leveling Mio with kicks until she stayed down. This was exactly what I hoped for from them and tied with the opener for my favorite of the show. The tension and hostility between the two continued after the match.

 

 

 

Sometimes comedy in wrestling can be overdone, and honestly that’s how I generally feel about both Fairy Nipponbashi’s and her partner Sakura Hirota’s ring styles. Their match here, with Fairy’s magic malfunctioning due to not having her regular wand and Hirota’s usual offense based around striking at her opponents’ backsides, did little to change my mind (though admittedly the rest of the audience seemed entertained).

 

 

What was amusing however was Hirota’s impersonation of her opponent Saki’s usual partner Mizuki, which led to great impatience from Saki’s partner here Rin Kadokura at Saki’s hesitance to attack “Mizuki.” Both Saki and Rin are quite good in the ring, so this did have periods of solid action when they went on offense and things got more serious.

 

 

Afterwards the announcer had a rather lengthy statement to deliver to Fairy and then someone came out afterwards who had Fairy’s wand and tossed her around with her own magic before making his escape. Sure whatever.

 

 

 

This probably goes without saying in a Wave review, but this semi main event features Wave’s Asuka, not the former Kana who’s using the name “Asuka” in WWE. Here she faced Hikaru Shida in a decent contest that served as good way to build up Asuka as a threat. She’ really hitting her stride and kept up with the more experience and polished Shida nicely, and they wrestled to a draw that made both look good.

 

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The main event was and interesting tag title match featuring champions Kaho Kobayashi & Hiroe Nagahama defending against Wave’s singles champion Rina Yamishita and her partner Natsu SumireKaho is another extremely good wrestler that just keeps improving, and it’s wonderful to see her in the spotlight and a champion in several companies. I’m also a big fan of Rina and it’s a joy to see her come out with the Regina di Wave belt. 

 

 

Sumire’s still a bit awkward at times (including not completely tucking her head when taking a Northern Lights suplex and coming within inch of being spiked in a scary moment), but she has has improved and played a fine role in what ended up being a solid match. This was rightfully the longest match of the show and suitable both as a main event and a title contest.

 

 

To close the show there was announcement of the Dual Shock Wave tag team tournament with various teams from the show excitedly volunteering for spots. The tag champions were involved too and the titles were announced as on the line. In addition to established teams, Yumi Ohka wanted to be involved and begged her earlier opponent Mio Momono to team with her.

 

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Mio was initially have none of it, and as far as I could tell she essentially called Yumi washed up and old enough to be her mother (to the howling amusement of everyone else in the ring as Yumi crumpled to the mat in shock at the scathing words). She eventually agreed, but only if she was the “the boss.” Yumi’s exaggerated delight and trying to placate Mio with nods and flattery was amusing. The gist of it all was pretty easy to follow even without understanding Japanese, which is a testament to the wrestlers’ delivery and reactions.

 

 

There was also a promo clearly setting up Asuka as Rina’s next challenger, building off the spotlight match she had with Shida earlier in the night.

 

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Fun show overall, although it did feel like they tried to cram a little too much in. Shorter promo segments and slightly longer undercard matches would have been nice. But they used the format they chose well, with generally engaging angles integrated with the matches. Even the super short early tag matches ended up having important significance in setting the stage for Dual Shock Wave. Add in good effort and a pair of matches I adored and this was a nice way to wrap up my trip.

 

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Photo with Msiaki Ohata while wearing her awesome new Sky Blue Suplex t-shirt.

Ice Ribbon 8/27/17 Live Thoughts

August 27, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

Seeing Ice Ribbon at Korakuen Hall is always a treat, and one match in particular had me even more excited that usual for this event.

 

The International Tag Ribbon championships were in limbo at this point due to co-holder Tsukushi’s hiatus (legal trouble related, exact details withheld since she was a minor in Japan at the time). She’s since returned in a limited, non-wrestling role with a public apology and the titles have been vacated. Her partner Kurumi was scheduled to team with Manami Toyota on this show to face #1 contenders The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi) in a match that was speculated to have title implications, but Kurumi was injured shortly before resulting in shuffling around of the card. Kurumi was at the event working the merchandise tables and in good spirits, and I hope she recovers/returns soon.

 

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Hamuko Hoshi’s new match ended up being against her recently debuted daughter Ibushi Hoshi, and they opened the show.  This was one of many matches on the show that were more about a less experienced competitor putting up a good fight in defeat than having a believable chance of winning. As such I was hoping that Ibushi would be allowed to show a little more against mom, but it was a fine opener all the same. I’d actually really like to see a longer, more competitive rematch in the future. 

 

 

A second match with the same dynamic followed as another new roster member Asahi debuted, playing the role of totally overmatched but determined underdog well against legend Manami Toyota. I thought this worked a little better, with the confident, somewhat dismissive Toyota acting more and more surprised at Asahi’s resiliency and the length she had to go to in order to beat the upstart. Tsukka and others cheering on Asahi excitedly each time she got a little edge on the veteran or survived a pin attempt added a lot to the atmosphere.

 

 

Miyako & Jun Kasai were involved in a triple threat tag, which of course meant plenty of shenanigans. Their opponents were regular team Kyuuri & Maika Ozaki and makeshift team of  Mochi Miyagi and the visiting Yoshiko from SEAdLINNNG. I could do without Yoshiko ever being in Ice Ribbon but, as I discussed a little in my review of SEAdLINNG’s show from a few days before this, I’ve hesitantly decided not to avoid shows she’s on or her matches. Her presence can provide an additional barrier for me to really get involved in a match though. I found it in mild effect here. She does play her role well and the story of her adopting Miyako’s antics to antagonize the latter gave the Dancing Queen plenty to play off of.

 

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The match was amusing, never talking itself too seriously but still providing a good deal of action in between things like water gun and aerosol can fights. One of my favorite things here was Kyuuri slinking off during said silliness and quietly taking a seat in the bleachers among the crowd (right behind me) and contently watching her opponents battle with a self satisfied expression on her face. Of course since this was a tag match she was kind of abandoning her partner, but sacrifices must be made in water gun wars I suppose. 😉

 

 

Eventually Miyako was Miyako and got annoyed with Kasai, unwisely provoking her partner physically and getting leveled by him. This left her easy pickings for Yoshiko and Mochi to finish off for the win. During this Kyuuri and Maika got on the apron and were casually knocked back down to take them out of the equation. I personally really like their team and wish they weren’t treated like cannon fodder for the other teams here (and in general). Regardless of that and my least favorite team of the three winning, this was again decent and fun overall.

 

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It’s great to see Akane Fujita back in full force from injury, and she seems to be carving out a nice niche in hardcore matches. Against the veteran KAROU from Marvelous in one here I expected this to be another “valiant effort in defeat” story, and while in some sense that’s exactly what we got Akane looked Karou’s equal and had the crowd primed for an upset at several moments.

 

 

The ending was a bit weird. Karou misted Akane in the eyes while they were fighting on a ladder then floated around to hit a powerbomb for the win, but Akane sold the mist by acting stunned instead of reacting much (which initially made it hard to tell what had happened). She then rolled right to her knees after being pinning instead of selling the effects of the powerbomb, making the whole sequence feel odd. Otherwise this was a very good hardcore match with strong work from both, including a gorgeous moonsault by Karou from the very top of the ladder and them brawling right through my seat on the outside.

 

 

During my first trip to Japan in 2015 I was lucky enough to see some of my favorite wrestlers battle for Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championships at Ribbonmania in a match that immediately became a favorite of mine and I consider the teams involved two of the very best in the world. Seeing some of the best of three series of rematches (one hosted by each wrestler’s home promotion) between Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) and Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) was the impetus for this trip.

 

 

This was the last of the series, with Avid Rival up 1-0 (after winning at Wave on August 12 and wrestling to a time limit draw at SEAdLINNG on August 24) and the teams even overall counting the 2015 match.

This match being just prior to intermission and a little early in the card for its magnitude is likely due to Avid Rival needing to make it out to Osaka for a Wave show that evening. Both were out the door and on their way as soon as intermission started.

 

 

The time limit draw at SEAdLINNNG was great, if just a touch below the original match that inspired this series. This one is neck and neck with the original, and a fantastic way to close things out for now. I was actually partially anticipating the “upset” victory and Avid Rival sweeping the series given the way difficulties between Best Friends were being stressed, leading to somewhat of a feud between Tsukka and Arisa. But them coming together on the same page as a team to dig down and prove they could still win was an equally satisfying story.

 

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One great thing I’ve noticed in Avid Rival’s development over time is the way they add and modify actual double team moves in their arsenal (in addition to having awesome versions of the also great rapid fire alternating offense a lot of Joshi teams rely on). It makes them feel more like a cohesive unit and gives a sense of evolution.

 

 

Much like the first time Best Friends beat Avid Rival, they exchanged fantastic hard hitting offense with a lot of close calls until Tsukka and Arisa were finally able to just keep wearing someone down with a succession of their multitude of individual finishers. This time it was Mizunami that finally fell to Tsukka, and Misaki consoled her partner after the loss.

 

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In a nice touch for the way the feud had been built (with the opposing team members all being quite tense and in each others faces about who was better) there were no handshakes afterwards, just smug looks from Best Friends and grudging acceptance from Avid Rival from a distance. Can’t recommend this match (and the whole series) enough. Hope to see the one I haven’t (and the only one Avid Rival won) from Wave soon.

 

 

I was a little late coming back from intermission and unfortunately missed the begining of the big blow off elimination match featuring Team DATE (Nao, Nori, Hanna, & Karen) vs Maruko Nagasaki, Tequila Saya, Uno Matsuya, & Satsuki Totoro. As such Hanna was already eliminated and on the outside (and seemed to be nursing a knee injury of some sort) and I came in just as Uno also left the match. Uno’s actually my favorite on that team and I wish she was featured a bit more in general.

 

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Even coming in partway, what I saw was excellent and this was my second favorite match of the night. Everyone was constantly fighting as appropriate for the intense rivalry that has been the cornerstone of the feud. This was my first look at any of the DATES as well as Totoro and even though the nature of the match meant not everyone got a lot of chance to shine they all looked good and payed their roles well. Nao and Satsuki went next (and in rapid succession), leaving Saya and Maruko against Karen and Nori. Nori and Saya had been mostly paired off throughout the match, and they had some really good exchanges in this section until Karen and Nori were able to isolate and eliminate Saya, leaving Maruko in a 2 on 1.

 

 

The most experienced of Ice Ribbon’s rookie team persevered to eliminate Karen to even things up and eventually get the better of Nori (in a really good final section) to win for her team. This was 100% the right outcome, as the building story had been the DATES’ dominance and this last battle was Maruko and company’s final chance to prove their equals and gain some respect. Great story, great match. Nori impressed me the most here, and I hope to see a lot more of everyone involved going forward.

 

 

After the match Maruko’s team seemed to head to the back without any consideration for their finally defeated rivals, but they came back with Ice Ribbon jackets for Team DATE instead, finally fully accepting them into the roster and leaving things peaceful and in a state of mutual respect between all eight wrestlers after the feud’s end. Again, really well done.

 

 

The main event saw Azure Revolution do battle as Risa Sera (c) defended her ICE Cross Infinity Championship against her partner Maya Yukihi. I’ve commented before that I think these two have better chemistry as opponents than as a team, and it continued here as they had a very good match overall.

 

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But Risa’s defenses always seem oddly paced to me, as if she just doesn’t quite know how to smoothly build matches once they get past a certain length (with the same opponent that is, her multi-opponent ironwoman matches are great). Also, with the story of Maya trying to prove herself by defeating her more decorated, respected partner this needed more urgency. Given the story (not to mention Maya’s new gear) I was surprised at the result, but I also think Maya’s not quite ready for a title run and she’ll certainly have future opportunities so Risa overcoming this challenge and continuing on as champ works just fine.

 

 

A lot of this show was a bit “by the numbers” booking-wise, but there were a couple of surprises and predictable is perfectly fine if done well, which pretty much everything was. Having an underdog (ideally Akane) win one of the “proving ground” story matches would have been so nice since there were several, but that’s a mild criticism. Overall this was excellent, and in addition to the tag match I will continue to gush about forever the whole show is well worth checking out.

 

NXT Takeover Brooklyn III Live Thoughts

August 19, 2017 in Brooklyn, NY

A bit late getting this finished but I still wanted to share my thoughts on what ended up another great Takeover in Brooklyn  I was lucky enough to see live. I thought both the first NXT Takeover Brooklyn and last year’s were excellent.

 

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The previous formula appeared to continue with a big fan favorite opening the (pre) show as No Way Jose came out and the crowd erupted, but he was jumped and laid out by Lars Sullivan to enormous heat. Effective segment to start, even without an actual match.

 

Peyton Royce vs Sarah Logan was a decent little match from both. Royce has been improving lately. I was a bit surprised at result considering Logan was part of the Mae Young Classic, which was just about to start airing.

 

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It was particularly great to see Pete Dunne recovered enough to wrestle after he missed Progress in Queens due to being busted open the night before. He teamed with Wolfgang against Dunne’s regular stablemates in Progress Trent Seven & Tyler Bate. Crowd was over the moon when it became clear who was coming out and these guys are fantastic.

 

The Takeover show proper then started with Johnny Gargano vs Andrade “Cien” Almas. Cien has really found new life as a heel, owning it so much more than his bland babyface character, and the angle with his renewed success and focus due to manager Zelina Vega is great. Gargano is of course the classic overachieving babyface, and perfect at it.  This started a trend for the evening, as literally every match from here on was good for around the first half or so, then reached another gear late and became incredible.

Here the turning point was an INSANE counter from Cien as he flipped out of a top rope sunset bomb attempt and landed on his feet. They built to a clever finish in which Vega threw a DIY shirt at Gargano, which distracted him just enough for Cien to pull out the victory. It gave Gargano an out without halting Cien’s needed momentum.

 

 

The NXT Tag Title match between the Authors of Pain (c) and Sanity was quite honestly better than I expected, with all four members of Sanity getting involved to make it exciting and memorable yet still somehow playing solid de facto babyfaces. The brawl based action was comfortably in AoP’s wheelhouse too and they more than held up their end. The title change was a nice moment, AoP is now free to move up, and RED DRAGON (Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish) make a big statement laying out the new champs afterward.

 

Hideo Itami’s another wrestler who seems to have new life and more motivation thanks to a heel turn, and he’s growing into the character nicely. He did his best to mock and frustrate Aleister Black in a match that as expected built into a great striking battle, but Black eventually came out triumphant with his signature kick.

 

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This was the most uncertain I’ve been going into one of my favorite wrestler’s title defenses, as if there ever was a time to end Asuka’s reign in NXT it was right here. Ember Moon was set up not only as a threat but as the person Asuka needed to stretch the rules to beat last time, and it was totally believable that she’d unseat the dominant champion and Asuka would move on to the main roster. On the other hand having Asuka’s record breaking undefeated streak intact as she was called up also had numerous advantages.

So I was mildly surprised at Asuka’s victory, but I was actually much more surprised at her kicking out of Moon’s deadly finisher. That moment alone made this feel like a goodbye for Moon and not Asuka, and that feeling intensified when Ember seemed to have a bit of a farewell moment after the match. Of course since then it’s been revealed that Asuka was hurt during the match (and finishing and having the great match they did with a broken collarbone is crazy tough), she’s surrendered the title, and is headed to RAW.

 

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Getting back to this match, I really enjoyed it. It built well and got crazy towards the end. Probably the best NXT work I’ve seen from either, and though they didn’t know it at the time they put on a fantastic farewell match for Asuka’s time in NXT.

 

In any of the given title matches for this show I slightly favored the challengers, but didn’t expect all the belts to change hands. Once Asuka retained I was fairly sure Bobby Roode would end up losing in the main event against Drew McIntyre for the NXT title. That feeling didn’t take anything away from the drama of the match, as when done right even a predictable outcome can be highly satisfying.

 

 

Again, this got great late and Drew eventually landed the Claymore to become the new NXT champion. The Glorious One would go to Smackdown a few short days later, and it was certainly time. As big as the celebratory moment was for Drew, a bigger one would follow with the debut of Adam Cole, who used a distraction from Red Dragon to ambush the new champ the way they did earlier and the ex-ROH trio stood tall to end the show. 

 

Overall

Takeover Brooklyn is one of my favorite events of the year, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all three. Everything ended up excellent here, and I can’t recommend the replay enough. 

Mae Young Classic Episode 5 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

My thoughts on round 1: episodes onetwothree, 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.

 

Round 2:

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.

Mae Young Classic Episode 4 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

My thoughts on the firstsecond, and third episodes.

 

Round 1 (continued):

 

13) Renee Michelle vs Candice LaRae **1/2

I’ve seen Renee Michelle only once, in a basic tag match at Marvelous USA’s first show. Candice LaRae is a mainstay in Shimmer and an all around solid performer, although I’ll admit I’m not quite as high on her work in general as most of indie fandom.

Michelle taking about being excited and having charisma in total monotone during her video isn’t the greatest way to make a strong impression. LaRae’s “high risk wrestler” self definition and acknowledgement of her marriage to Johnny Gargano (and stating she made it clear to him she wanted to get here totally on her own) was pitch perfect.

Michelle carries herself like a star out to the ring though, and matches Candice nicely in back and forth counter wrestling in the early going. Candice is the clear favorite, with “Candice Wrestling” chants from the crowd (riffing off her husband’s “Johnny Wrestling” chants, and Gargano’s ringside cheering right along with them).

Both made the most of the time they were given here, and playing them roughly even until Candice pulled away and hit “Ms. LaRae’s Wild Ride” (second rope neckbreaker) for the victory was the right approach. Although I’ve honestly never cared for that move as a finisher and wish she was using something else. Renee sold it beautifully though and made it convincing.

Renee seemed the tiniest bit hesitant at times, but not super noticeable nor to the detriment of the match, and looked fine overall. Decent match to establish LaRae, but could have used more time.

 

14) Lacey Evans vs Taynara Conti *

Evans’ video package can’t make up its mind whether it wants to tout her toughness and praise worthy Marine Core background or push her “Lady of NXT” diva like gimmick. The juxtaposition doesn’t give a clear idea what to expect from her. Conti’s succinctly highlights her 15 years of judo experience and being the first Brazilian woman in WWE.

Alexa Bliss shown in the front row, for some reason desperately trying to look and smile at absolutely anything except the camera pointed at her.

Conti out first carrying a Brazilian flag and wearing a gi and her black belt which is a striking image. Evans comes out in her “all American mom” outfit carrying an American flag. Gee, wonder who’s winning this? Oh, and it’s mentioned Lacey’s dedicated the match to her daughter…

They tried, but both were too green to make this cohesive. Conti’s throws were a highlight and both threw some nice kicks, but it was disjointed otherwise. Lacey gets the expected win with a (sloppy) Dudebuster in a match that felt too long at just a few minutes. Lacey needs a different gimmick, and I would have preferred to see Conti advance based on what little we saw from each here. Evans gets Storm in the next round.

 

 

15) Nicole Savoy vs Reina Gonzalez 1/4*

Reina gets a solid introduction focusing on her size, skills, and second generation status. Nicole Savoy is an incredible mat based wrestler with natural heel instincts and mannerisms. I’ve spotlighted her in the past as one to watch and really enjoyed her work in Shimmer. Not sure why she’s going with the “Queen of Suplexes” nickname, as there’s much more to her arsenal and they’re usually only a fraction of what she does in the ring.

Nicole bragged about her attitude and trash talk in her video but is apparently the face here as she offers a handshake and Reina refuses to start and it’s Reina pulling hair, etc throughout the match. Reina uses her strength to “block” Savoy’s moves in very odd ways that don’t look natural. After a couple of minutes of awkwardness Savoy counters a fireman’s carry into the cross armbreaker for the win. Suplexes thrown: ZERO. This was not good, which is a shame. Savoy gets LaRae in round 2.

 

16) Kairi Sane vs Tessa Blanchard ***3/4

Well, here’s the match the whole round’s been building towards. Second generation star against the most hyped participant. Kairi Sane (formerly Kairi Hojo of Stardom) is arguably both the most charismatic AND most technically proficient wrestler in the tournament. I’ve had the privilege of seeing her perform live and it’s always a treat. Tessa, currently one half of Shimmer’s tag team champions with Vanessa Kraven, is honestly better at promos and generating crowd reaction that in the ring, but is decent overall and continually improving all aspects of her craft.

“It’s my turn to make my own name.” Tessa’s video walks the line of being proud of her heritage but not wanting to get by on it well. Sane has presence that’s immediately engaging even though she really said nothing other than she’s the only Japanese competitor, has her own style and wants to win.

Nakamura ringside for Kairi’s WWE debut.

This matchup is interesting, as before the brackets were formed I’d have put money on both advancing past round 1. I actually expected Tessa to be signed long before now. Kairi out in full Pirate Princess garb, which the crowd goes wild for. Tessa waltzes out like she owns the place, and this immediately feels like a huge, main event confrontation.

Tentative handshake. Dueling chants from the crowd. JR’s awkward, bungled attempt to explain Kairi’s pirate persona makes me want to cry. Everything Kairi does is with speed and precision, and Tessa’s keeping up every step of the way. Great chain wrestling early and back and forth strikes.

Tessa lands a beautiful codebreaker out of the corner with Kairi on the middle rope to a big pop to take over, and follows with a sound, vicious looking abdominal stretch. Kairi strikes her way out but Tessa with some NASTY forearms to counter. She steps back for momentum though and when she heads back towards Kairi the latter LEVELS Tessa with a short spear. Looks so much better than what Belair finished her match with and (yet again) the agents should be more on top of different wrestlers using each others signatures/finishers. Hard chops from Kairi put Tessa down in the corner, and the Pirate Princess with a cry of “here we go!” and marches to the opposite corner, then charges back with a sliding forearm to Tessa.

She goes to the top for the elbow for Tessa’s up, so Kairi just levels her with a flying forearm instead for 2. Kairi locks in an octopus, but Tessa powers to the ropes to break. Tessa dodges a charge and chokes Kairi against the ropes for a brief advantage, then hits a dropkick and elbow with Kairi still against the ropes. The choking has finally turned this into a face / heel match instead of the even split so far. A pair of short clotheslines and a belly to back suplex get 2 for Tessa.

Tessa goes up and gets caught by Kairi, but the former knocks her opponent back to the mat and hits a nice senton for 2. Side note: I’m sick of JR talking about people “not getting everything they wanted” on moves as an explanation for their opponent kicking out. Sometimes things don’t connect perfect and it should be pointed out with that phrase. He’s used it far too often and in cases where the move looks fine, so instead of praising the resiliency of the person kicking out it casts shade on the wrestler on offense.

Moving on, Tessa drags Kairi up by the hair and grabs a hammerlock / front facelock combo, which Kairi tries to backdrop out of but Tessa hangs on for a sunset flip for 2. Kairi reverses for 2. Kairi back to her feet first, but the diving forearm is countered into a crucifix for 2. Tessa kick to the face attempt countered into a trip, and Kairi hits a big axe kick to Tessa’s back. Alabama Slam by Kairi in the corner, and that should mean the end is neigh. Sure enough, Kairi points to the elbow pad, goes up top, and hits her GORGEOUS top rope elbow for the win. Kairi’s nearly crying in elation over winning, and Tessa IS in devastation at losing. Tessa claps for Kairi after the announcement and gives her a hug and raises her hand out of respect.

“Anything can happen in the Mae Young Classic, as we saw tonight with Kairi Sane’s victory.” Uhm Lita, you presented her as the TOURNAMENT FAVORITE. Her victory should not be considered an upset. Sigh.

In addition to her general athleticism and excellent wrestling skills, it’s Kairi’s natural charisma and the little details of how she acts in the ring that set her apart as one of the greats. Tessa also looked PHENOMENAL here, easily the best I’ve ever seen from her. She’s putting it all together and constantly pushing herself and would be a tremendous pickup for WWE. This was great.

 

——-

Well, they certainly chose the right match to close out the opening round. Overall things have been fun so far with some really good matches mixed in with the perfunctory ones, which is spot on for the early going in a tournament like this. There are people capable of more than they showed, things could have better with more time devoted, there were some curious eliminations, and the commentary was generally atrocious. But a nice variety of styles and competitors was showcased and these first four episodes set the stage nicely, making a good impression and building excitement for the later rounds. 

While there’s plenty of praise deserved across the field, I’d like to single out a few wrestlers. Tessa, Jazzy, and Santana should be particularly proud of their performances among those not moving on. The continuing group is strong overall, but for me Piper and of course Kairi are the two to watch (based on round 1). Hoping Savoy, Storm, and Kai in particular get to show more in round 2.

Mae Young Classic Episode 3 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

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.

My thoughts on the first and second episodes.

 

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!