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.

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!

Mae Young Classic Episode 2 Review

 

maeyoungclassic

Nice highlight video of the first episode and quick summary of this week’s competitors before the standard opening video.

 

Round 1 (continued):

 

5) Xia Li vs. Mercedes Martinez *3/4

Interesting setup here with a debuting wrestler against a 16 year veteran and Mercedes really sinks her teeth into it, doing an excellent job of getting herself over in the short time given in her intro package. In under a minute we know her experience, style, outlook, and attitude. Well done. Xia’s wisely emphasizes her martial arts background and desire to prove herself in this new environment.

Mercedes mocks Xia and wipes her hand after the handshake to a fair amount of heat, which the announcers immediately undercut by saying she’s “having fun with the inexperienced Xia” and ridiculously talking about how it was to intimidate through the language barrier. JR’s also still talking about single elimination tournaments like it’s an alien concept. I’m going to try to ignore the commentary dumpster fire from here on out so I don’t go insane.

This is kept brief, with Xia countering Mercedes’ superior grappling skills with hard strikes to show fighting spirit while being overmatched. The veteran ties Xia up in a leg trap dragon sleeper for the submission victory in short order though. Made its point. Xia is of course super green and a bit awkward, but she kept it basic, connected with everything, and there’s definitely potential for her going forward.

 

6)  Marti Belle vs. Rachel Evers – UGH (zero stars)

Evers is new to me, while I’ve seen a fair bit of Belle in Shimmer and elsewhere. She’s honestly a pretty generic heel who’s ok but doesn’t remotely live up to her near decade of experience. Evers’ video package focuses on her being adaptable in style and growing up the daughter of Paul Ellering yet isolated from his profession until now. Marti’s touts her being a “powerful Dominican woman” with “street smarts.” Neither did much to make the viewer care.

This was the first actively bad match of the tourney. Pace, timing, execution were all off all match long, and most of it looked to be on Marti’s end. At one point the relative rookie actually had to stop, walk over and pull the wrestler with seven+ years more experience back into position for a senton when Marti forgot what they were doing and started to roll away. Neither looked very good, but Rachel did look better between the two and was the right choice to advance (which may have been an audible do to Marti’s poor performance if rumors are to be believed).  Really though, either going to round 2 when Kay Lee Ray, Jazzy Gabbert, etc are already out is nonsense.

 

Wow, the placement of a clip of HHH telling the 32 participants to make the most of the opportunity they have right after that last match is (unintentionally?) biting.

 

7) Miranda Salinas vs. Rhea Ripley *1/4

I know nothing of either competitor coming into this one. Miranda’s summary primarily explains her “look sets her apart,” she’s short (and doesn’t care), and was trained by Booker T. Rhea’s shows a quirky personality, highlights her nine year soccer career at just 20 years old and the kicking ability it gives her, and JR calls her “one of the most highly regarded performers in this tournament.” Am I supposed to think Miranda’s going to do anything except be demolished after that?

Indeed, the match lasts just long enough to Miranda to cheat a couple of times, the six foot tall Rhea to show off some nice dropkicks, a couple of strike exchanges, and Rhea kicking Miranda’s head off then hitting a full nelson slam for the win. Like Baszler’s and Mercedes’ matches this was about making a point, and it did.

Ok, I have to break my silence on the commentary for a minute. “These women don’t care about how they win. It’s just winning. Nothing wrong with that quite frankly – the losers go home.” YES THERE IS. There are RULES and you’re supposed to be praising those who do care and win while following them! How the hell are heels supposed to get heat when the announcers are advocating winning as everything and cheating as a normal, justifiable part of the match? Blah.

 

8) Mia Yim vs. Sarah Logan ***1/4

In a nice touch, Mia’s video mentions her devotion to raising awareness about domestic abuse and how she shared her own story to help others. Her martial arts background is spotlighted with clips that give a good idea of what to expect from her in the ring. The wild woman gimmick is an interesting hook for the former Crazy Mary Dobson. The matchup is interesting, although given Logan appeared in a losing effort to Peyton Royce at NXT Takeover tapings just days before this aired I’m not sure why we’re supposed to believe she has a chance here.

Solid back and forth match of a style we haven’t really seen yet in the tournament. Early the story was Logan countering Yim’s mat skills with ferocity and strikes, but of course Yim’s an accomplished striker herself and eventually lays in hard kicks to fight fire with fire. So Sarah adapts and goes to some submissions herself.

They have a great exchange of seated palm strikes and kicks at one point. Logan also hits some fun offense like a cartwheel dodge into a double knee strike and a fisherman suplex out of the corner. Mia keeps wearing her down with German suplexs, etc though and eventually hits “Eat Defeat” for the win. This edges out Laith vs Gabbert as the best so far. Mia’s got Shayna in round 2.

 

——-

Presentation and background packages were little better this time overall, although the commentary’s still a problem. Format’s still fine, with two matches there to serve a specific purpose (which they did) and the best match in the main (let’s just forget about that other match in the middle).

Eight more matches left across two episodes for round 1, including two of the participants I’m most excited for (Savoy and Sane). Onward to episode 3.

Mae Young Classic Episode 1 Review

Finally getting a chance to dive into this, and am hoping to get caught up before the live final next week. Excited for this not only based on what I’ve heard, but also as a longtime fan of women’s wrestling as well as being familiar with a majority of the field. Nearly half of them have previously wrestled in Shimmer (a fantastic Chicago based women’s wrestling promotion – find more information here), and a number of other highly regarded wrestlers from around the world are involved as well.

 

Let’s get started.

 

maeyoungclassic

 

The tournament introduction narrated by Stephanie McMahon walks a line between appropriate and heavy handed / self indulgent.

 

Round 1:

1) Princesa Sugehit vs. Kay Lee Ray **1/2

The video packages seem quite short. Sugehit’s really gives no background on her other than the meaning of her name. Kay Lee Ray’s does a much better job getting her over, being just a little longer and using a fair amount of Shimmer footage to good effect. Never seen Sugehit before, while KLR’s a personal favorite.

I understand why Jim Ross and Lita were chosen as the announce team, but right off the bat they are all over the place and detracting from the action to a frustrating degree. JR comments about the tournament having a “very unique format: single elimination.” Uhm, actually single elimination ladder brackets is the most standard tournament format there is.

They spend the match trying to sell the “rookie” story of grappler Kay Lee Ray needing to ground high flying veteran Sugehit to have any chance (including constant criticism of KLR’s strategy EVEN WHEN SHE’S IN COMPLETE CONTROL OF THE MATCH. Seriously – WTF?), but every once in a while they remember that KLR is herself an eight year pro AND a high flyer herself and say something that contradicts all their previous points.  They repeatedly mention the talking point of Sugehit’s “confusing style” being hard to handle, yet she does pretty much NOTHING odd or unique in this match. It’s like they wrote a story before the actual match took place based and were sticking to it no matter what. Not a good first impression.

As for the match itself, it was a solid enough start to the tourney, though a little disjointed. A particularly great sequence saw KLR reverse a sunset flip attempt into gory bomb attempt, but Sugehit reverse that into a code red instead. Overall KLR looked better than Sugehit, and it’s a shame to see her out so early.

 

2)  Vanessa Bourne vs. Serena Deeb *1/4

Former cheerleader who’s only hook is apparently claiming to be more than that against former WWE star and redemption story for the tourney. No uncertainty here, and the short video packages do nothing to change that. Deeb did create the slightly bit of doubt/drama through eating the corner hard on a spear miss though, which was a nice touch. Nothing match otherwise, with Bourne mostly dominating in basic fashion (and looking a bit lost at times) until Deeb hit a “surprise” spear for the win.

 

 

3) Shayna Baszler vs. Zeda *1/4

The conversion Baszler’s made from MMA to pro wrestling has been incredible (as I’ve talked about here), and she’s been really impressive in Shimmer. I know nothing about Zeda. Her introduction as “representing China from Richmond VA” screams WWE stretching to make the tourney seem more international.

So the role model who’s trying to “be her own superhero” gets destroyed in 2 minutes by an unsportsmanlike bully who has three friends cheering her at ringside. I feel like literally ANY other story would have better here. Shayna’s the clear star, so crowd cheers her regardless of her being the heel. Just a squash, but with a beautiful finish that sees Baszler counter a guillotine into a suplex position then drops right into the choke. The point of Baszler’s choke being deadly was made, but her character and skills come across much better in longer, more even contests.  Rousey’s getting as much attention than the actual competitor, which is understandable but disappointing.

 

4) Jazzy Gabbert vs. Abbey Laith ***1/4 

Nice intro for Alpha Female (Gabbert), whose video has the best distillation of a competitor/character yet. Haven’t seen her wrestle before but obviously have heard quite a bit about her. Her opponent, the former Kimber Lee, references Mae Young as an inspiration and points out she indirectly inherited a finisher from Mae (the Alligator Clutch). That doesn’t bode well for the apparent favorite Gabbert.

One thing I have liked about the commentary is reference to past accomplishments, including acknowledging Laith as former Chikara Grand Champion (a hell of an achievement as she’s the only woman to hold that title). Gabbert comes out carrying a German flag and carries herself like a star.

Abbey goes straight at the imposing monster to little effect, and the combination of her determination and Gabbert just setting herself and playing immovable object fires the crowd way up. This was good, with both getting a chance to shine with some back in forth. Although I will say Gabbert shouldn’t be using rear naked choke in the middle of the match right after Baszler established it as instant death.

Unsurprisingly after the intro, Laith eventually counters into the Alligator Clutch for the win. Another curious early exit, but in terms of getting Abbey over as a threat by beating the imposing Gabbert mission accomplished.

——-

Decent beginning overall. The presentation isn’t what I’d hoped, from superficial video introductions to the competitors to disappointing commentary, but the important things still get across just enough. This round is definitely being built for episodic format, with some matches clearly more about making a point or just introducing someone in as little time as possible rather than extended action with longer ones to open and end each episode.

Effective enough, just remember it’s the early part of a tournament and not everything’s supposed to be tearing the house down at this point. Already wishing certain people had gone farther, but we’ll see how things shake out going forward. And I suppose some big matches needed to happen early to provide main events for each episode.

Twelve more matches left across three episodes for round 1. Onward to episode 2.