Mae Young Classic Finals Review

maeyoungclassic

 

After four previous rounds featuring thirty matches it’s all down to Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler to see who will be crowned the inaugural Mae Young Classic winner.

I watched this live, so while it’s taken a while to catch up on writing up the previous rounds to get here the thoughts are from the initial airing. I wasn’t sure who would win. I predicted this final with Baszler taking it before the tourney started, but going into the match were reasonable arguments for either outcome.

 

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

Round 2: episodes five and six.

Quarters: episode seven.

Semis: episode eight.

 

Mae Young Classic Final

 

 

 

“I want to prove size is not what it takes to be #1.”

“I wanted to send a message. Everyone knows now. If people weren’t shaking in their boots before, they definitely are now.”

Great video package hyping the final, both highlighting the competitors and making winning seem important. Why this wasn’t all over RAW and Smackdown is beyond me.

There’s a special guest feature with interviews focusing particularly on HHH, & Steph, WWE’s 4 Horsewomen, some of GLOW’s cast, and MMA’s 4 Horsewomen (well, Rousey). Did it’s job to make this seem like an important event, although the continued not-so-subtle use of the tourney as a backdrop building a feud between the two 4 Horsewomen factions is a bit heavy handed.

The final video packages with the two competitors specifically addressing each other were incredibly well done. Shayna talking about Kairi’s perseverance and wanting to finally break her will in front of her fans while Kairi acknowledged Shayna as a MMA star but said it doesn’t matter because wrestling is “my turf” was pitch perfect.

Lots of crowd shots of attendees such as Beth Phoenix, Alundra Blayze, prior round competitors, etc.

Around ten minutes of well done hype is over and it’s time for the match to start.

 

Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler ***3/4

Commentary highlights past accomplishments of both participants during entrances, including the fact that both have won important tournaments in their areas of expertise in a really nice touch. They’re walking a fine line of trying to make Shayna seem dangerous and dominant while still making it believable that Kairi has a legitimate chance against her, and doing it quite well. Specific mention of Kairi being a top star and multiple champion in Stardom.

Kairi showing no fear in the face of the 6 inch taller and about 50 pound heavier Baszler, raising her elbowpad defiantly into Shayna’s face during the ring announcements. Crowd is split and vocal.

The first exchange features Shayna going for submissions and Kairi reversing them into pin attempts. Great way to start. From there the story is Baszler’s strength, submission skills, and powerful strikes against Kairi’s speed, resiliency, and experience edge.

As I’ve stressed before Kairi’s selling is absolutely amazing. Little touches in the way she reacts to being hit and the pain she conveys when trapped in submissions makes everything Baszler does seem that much more lethal.

As the match goes on Shayna focuses her attack on Kairi’s elbow and Kairi targets hers on Shayna’s ribs. Nice strategy and psychology. It paid off in spades for Kairi in wonderfully logical fashion when she was able to land shots to Baszler’s ribs to become the first person to break out of Shayna’s deadly Rear Naked Choke. Great tease of a finish there as Baszler had reversed Kairi’s top rope forearm into the choke and it was a plausible end to the match.

Other highlights included them exchanging hard shots on the top turnbuckle leading to Kairi nailing a hanging double stomp, a beautifully targeted sliding forearm in the corner again to Shayna’s ribs, and of course the InSane Elbow connecting to give Kairi the win and the tournament.

 

 

Shayna accepted Kairi’s help to get to her feet afterwards and hugged Kairi in a gracious show of respect in defeat. It was the right call – Baszler’s heel persona can be reenforced later. Baszler sold the ribs constantly during the aftermath. HHH, Steph, and Sara Amato come in to congratulate Kairi and present her trophy, and we end on her celebrating her victory.

 

Winning the MYC put Kairi in the title picture for Asuka’s vacated NXT Women’s Championship, and Baszler has since been officially signed and I’d imagine is likely to show up directly on the main roster at some point to jumpstart a 4 Horsewomen feud.

Great endcap to a great tournament overall, and it was wonderful to see this spotlight on women’s wrestling featuring so many exceptional competitors.

Mae Young Classic Episode 8 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

Here we go. These were the last matches that was taped over the July weekend and this the penultimate episode of the tournament.

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

Round 2: episodes five and six.

Quarters: episode seven.

 

Semi Finals:

Opening video package spotlights recaps the quarter finals and shows how each of the four remaining wrestlers advanced.

Crowd’s still nicely fired up despite two long days of tapings.

 

1) Shayna Baszler vs Mercedes Martinez ***

These two are stablemates on the indies (along with Nicole Savoy) in Trifecta. Mercedes is also the reigning Shimmer champion. Shayna justifies her post match actions towards Candice LaRae in her quarter final as sending a message in the build up video, while Mercedes talks about her long path to get here. They reference Mercedes being Shayna’s mentor and show footage of them together without mentioning Trifecta by name. Really good build up stating winning is more important to both than their history and pitting the experienced veteran trying to culminate her journey against the hungry, dangerous protege willing to stop at nothing to claim this for herself. 

Camera lingers of course on Rousey and company in the front row as Shayna comes out. Handshake to open, which is more respect than Shayna’s given anyone else in the tourney. Mercedes is the first to go heavy with the strikes and the story seems to be seeing if Shayna can take as well as she gives. Good approach.

Nice spot early on sees Mercedes seemingly about to go for a running kick on a seated Baszler, who is ready to counter it. Mercedes instead slips around and applies a chinlock. Crowd oohs in appreciation of her outmaneuvering her opponent.

After more dominating offense from Mercedes Shayna’s finally had enough and takes over with a frustrated flurry of strikes. Now Baszler in firm control for a bit, but Mercedes eventually reverses a submission into the Regal stretch. When Baszler powers out they end up exchanging strikes on their knees. After more back and forth once they get to their feet Mercedes hits the Fisherman’s Buster, but takes too long recovering and only gets 2 when she finally covers Baszler.

Martinex just wears Bazler out with a pair of Saito suplexes and a German, then goes for the Fisherman’s again. Baszler fights it off once, then reverses another attempt into a suplex. At the top, she reverses direction and drop Mercedes right into the choke. Mercedes fights longer than anyone else has, but has to tap.

Good, hard hitting match here with another cool finish of Shayna smoothly transitioning into her finisher. Easily Shayna’s best match of the tourney so far. One half of the finals is set.

 

Baszler selling effects of the battle, furthering the story of this being her biggest test to date. Stephanie, HHH, and Sara Amato are in the ring to congratulate her. Martinez hugs Baszler in congratulations and HHH presents Baszler with a rose bouquet signifying her win. I understand the real emotion behind the way this played out, but after being built up as a cocky heel for three rounds Shayna should have continued that role here instead of playing mutual respect with her mentor. The crowd was already cheering her a little because of her deadly finisher and skills. This made her a full face going into the finals. Of course that said, her opponent will be a bigger face, so perhaps it doesn’t matter much.

 

2) Toni Storm vs Kairi Sane ***1/2

Kairi sites Storm’s “classic wrestling technique” as her strength, then we cut to footage of Storm’s swivel “hip” attack to a seated opponent’s face. Sigh. Kairi plays up her elbow drop as the equalizer, and both are determined to win. Short and to the point.

Kairi salutes the trophy with a determined look on her face on her way to the ring. Near everyone has been acknowledging it in some way as they come out, and again little things like that really do a lot to drive home that there’s value and prestige to what they’re all fighting over.

Great chain wrestling sequence to start with constant smooth reversals from both. Insert shows Bazler watching on from the back. The early going is about them feeling each other out and mostly having an answer whenever the other gets an advantage. Well done. A bit in, Kairi goes for a crossbody from the top to Storm on the outside and Storm doesn’t quite catch her flush, leading to Kairi taking a header into the steel mesh ramp as they land. This is no doubt where Kairi got the concussion she was out with in the weeks following the tournament, and it’s amazing she didn’t get knocked completely cold there.

She gets right up and rolls Storm into the ring to continue. She works Toni’s back for a while with crab variations, but then gets caught with a nice kick counter by Storm when she goes for a sliding strike. Storm follows with a nice release German that sends Kairi to the corner and hits the running hip attack, but Kairi explodes out with the spear to counter a second. Great sequence.

Kairi’s got a nasty welt forming on her face from hitting the ramp. They both struggle to their feet and exchange hard strikes for a while, which Kairi eventually gets the better of to put Storm down and go up for the elbow. Storm gets to her feet and catches Kairi on the top turnbuckle though, pulling her off in Muscle Buster position and dropping into a Fisherman’s suplex for an extremely close 2. Toni’s in shock. She sets up for Strong Zero but Kairi fights out. Kairi looks to capitalize with a back fist but it’s blocked and Storm takes her down into a bridging armbar on the arm Storm’s been working all match. Storm’s working of the hold combined with Kairi incredible selling and expressions makes this look deadly. Kairi toughs it out and eventually manages to turn onto her back beneath Storm and roll the latter up for 2.

A hard strike from Storm lays Kairi out and Storm hits the top rope legdrop that beat Viper to Kairi’s back, but Storm’s hurt too from the move and can’t cover. Kairi’s actually the first to crawl up. When both are on their feet Kairi nails the backfist this time to put Storm right back down and abuses Storm’s back some more. With Storm face first on the mat Kairi goes up again and this time her beautiful signature elbow drop connects to Storm’s back and the after that the pinfall is academic.

 

Perfect endcap to the pre-taped rounds and one of the best matches in the tourney. This is the performance I’ve been waiting for from Storm, and Kairi has just killed it all tourney long.

Kairi’s crying in joy as her hand is raised and gives Storm a huge hug as the latter congratulates her on advancing. As with Shayna, HHH, Steph, and Sara come out again to celebrate with the winner.

 

Baszler comes out to square up with Sane at the top of the ramp, Kairi offers a handshake with a respectful smile, but when Baszler ignores it to stare her down and place her fist under Kairi’s chin the Pirate Princess gets a deadly stare of her own in her eyes and simply returns the gesture. Great moment resulting in a fantastic visual to build anticipation for the final. Kairi shakes her head at Baszler to indicate she can’t be intimidated, then pulls her arm back only to present the other in her standard way of calling for the elbow drop. Shayna smirks slightly and they keep eyes locked as we fade out. That whole confrontation was pitch perfect.

 

——-

This is the final I expected, and Baszler’s strength and grappling against Kairi’s speed and explosiveness is a great pairing. Two extremely good matches here set it all up wonderfully. One match to go.

Mae Young Classic Episode 7 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

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

And round 2: episodes five and six.

 

Quarter Finals:

Opening video package spotlights all eight of the remaining wrestlers and who they each beat to get this far in a nice touch. Six of the eight (all but Storm and Sane) are former or current members of the Shimmer roster (including current champ Martinez), which is great to see.

 

1) Abbey Laith vs Mercedes Martinez **3/4

Commentary’s a little better here with the previous rounds to refer back to and provide structure for them. They focus heavily on Mercedes being the most experienced participant left, both in terms of the advantage it gives and the nagging injuries she may have hindering her.

This was all about the two just straight up striking at each other until one fell. Abbey had a nice dive from the tip onto Mercedes on the outside at one point, as well as a close near fall off of a sweet German suplex (one of her finishers on the indies). Their kick exchanges looked stiff as hell and were a highlight here. Mercedes planted Abbey with the Fisherman’s Buster to win this one. Solid.

In some ways I would have preferred Laith advancing, but she got a decent chance to shine in the tourney, I understand why Martinez won, and the competitor using Mae Young’s finish going out in the quarters instead of marching to the finals gives a nice appearance of unpredictability.

 

2) Shayna Baszler vs Candice LaRae **

The story here was Candice giving her overpowering opponent more than Shayna bargained for. Like in previous rounds, it wasn’t designed to allow Baszler to show her full range of skills, just flashes of dominance, power, and heel mannerisms. Another out of nowhere but pretty cool finish sees Baszler reverse Ms. LaRae’s Wild Ride in midair directly into the rear naked “sleeper” for a quick tapout.  Baszler viciously keeps it on after the match until Candice passes out. Then after having her hand raised Baszler goes BACK over to LaRae and literally kicks her while she’s down (to the consternation of Gargano, who was in the ring checking on his wife) in mocking fashion. Very well executed for what it was: a vehicle for making Baszler seem dangerous and callous. She’ll face her fellow Trifecta stablemate Martinez in the semis.

 

3) Toni Storm vs Viper ***

This had several fun exchanges and was a much better showcase for Toni than the first couple of rounds. Piper’s versatility was on full display here as she effortless alternated between chain wrestling, displays of her agility, and straight up power moves that made the most of her size. 

I had forgotten who won this so was a bit surprised when Storm pulled it out (with an unfortunately weak looking top rope leg drop to boot that didn’t seem like it would be the finish). I like Storm (and she looked the best yet here), but really wish Piper had advanced. She was extremely impressive in all her matches and more than earned a further look by the WWE. I hope she gets more opportunities in the future.

 

We get look at three of WWE’s Four Horsewomen (Charlotte, Bayley, and Becky) confronting Shayna’s three MMA Four Horsewomen stablemates backstage as the latter were being interviewed about Shayna’s success in the tournament. Rousey’s acting is not good, and the whole thing was surprisingly cheesy and awkward for a ten second posturing segment. The march of inevitability towards the two groups facing off continues.

 

4) Kairi Sane vs Dakota Kai ***1/4

It’s admittedly weird seeing Evie with the size advantage. This featured great strike battles and other highlights including a gorgeous cross run spear from Kairi, a vicious sliding kick in the corner by Kai, and Kairi following up a great double stomp dodge with her beautiful top rope forearm. Kairi’s selling is impeccable, and always does a lot to draw the viewer into her matches. Eventually Kairi lays Kai out and nails her deadly top rope elbow for the win. 

For me, this was the best of the quarters. I’ve heard some were disappointed and yes, they could have done more with a proper allotment of time, but they certainly made the most of what they had to work with and I liked the way this built as it went even within its limitations. Taping four rounds in two days (as well as the general structure WWE used for these tournament episodes) is going to impose some restrictions. I really enjoyed what we got though, and of course with both under contract a future rematch is definitely possible.

 

——-

Solid quarter final round, and we’re down to four competitors left. The pairings are interesting, and while everything’s building towards the final I expected all along getting there has been fun.

Mae Young Classic Episode 6 Review

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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!