WWE MAE YOUNG CLASSIC – EPISODE EIGHT (SEMIFINALS)
TAPED JULY 13-14 IN WINTER PARK, FLA. AT FULL SAIL UNIVERSITY
AIRED ON WWE NETWORK (RELEASED SEPT. 4)
REPORT BY ZACK HEYDORN, PWTORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Announcers: Jim Ross and Lita
Guests at Ringside: RONDA ROUSEY and one member of the UFC HORSEWOMEN
INTRO: WWE presented a wonderful video package highlighting the full tournament. It didn’t include any special voice overs, but only JR’s commentary. The next video promo was equally as magnificent. It highlighted the tournament journey of each woman in the semifinals. JR plugged the fact this was the semifinals and that the live final would be in Las Vegas, Tuesday night on the WWE Network. Lita then welcomed the audience to the episode as the bracket was shown on the screen.
(1) SHAYNA BASZLER vs. MERCEDES MARTINEZ
The WWE hit a homerun with the video package they showed prior to this match beginning. It highlighted how close Baszler and Martinez really are while hyping the match as teacher vs. student. Baszler entered the ring first to more boos from the Full Sail audience. She still exuded a really nice confidence and intensity as she walked to the ring amidst the heat. Martinez came out next to a decent pop. The love for her got bigger and bigger as the match would go on. As Baszler and Martinez came to face to face with each other, the audience had already begun chanting for Mercedes. In an interesting turn of events, Baszler respectfully shook Martinez’s hand. Baszler avoided showing any respect to athletes in the first three rounds so it was surprising to see her do so here.
The match kicked off slowly. Both Baszler and Martinez worked with a cautious mindset to feel the other out. Here and there, each would land kicks on one another that did limited to no damage at all. After the kicks, they both took each other down to the mat and each attempted a pin fall. Both received one counts. Martinez was the first to establish a rhythm in the match by landing some nice punches and chops that she followed up with stiff forearm shots to the head. The crowd loved this offense and swayed even more toward Martinez’s side. Baszler briefly tried to put a stop to the strikes by working to land kicks of her own, but Martinez countered those with very hard slaps to the face and then with a headlock takeover. With Baszler down, Martinez locked in a sleeper hold which the crowd cheered loudly for. Baszler was in this hold for a long time. To escape, she struck Martinez with some well-placed punches and then hit two consecutive gut wrench side slams. Now, Baszler was in control of the match which prompted the audience to chant on Martinez’s behalf. With the crowd totally on the side of Mercedes, Baszler locked in a painful looking knee bar submission hold. Martinez was writhing in pain, but was able to eventually counter by putting Baszler in a crossface submission. Baszler and Martinez then traded punches with the crowd cheering every time Mercedes landed a strike and booing every time Baszler did.
From there, Martinez got the slight advantage with more slaps and forearms to the face before she grabbed Baszler and dropped her with her Fisherman Buster finisher. Immediately after hitting the move, Martinez grabbed her leg to sell the pain from the knee bar submission that Baszler utilized earlier in the match. Because of that, she didn’t cover Baszler right away which allowed her to kick out of the eventual pin attempt at two. After the near fall, Martinez confidently yelled to Shayna that they were in “her world” after which she nailed Baszler with two driving suplexes and a German release suplex. This also netted her a two count. Martinez maintained her composure while working for a second Fisherman Buster. Baszler saw the move coming and countered. Even with the counter, Baszler still got tagged with a kick to the face. Martinez then tried to lock in the Fisherman Buster for a third time, but Shayna countered again which led to her lifting up Martinez for a vertical suplex. Baszler hit the vertical suplex and immediately transitioned it into her rear naked sleeper submission hold. Martinez held on for a very long time but eventually tapped out to give Baszler the win.
WINNER: Baszler by submission at 8:10 – After the match, Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and NXT coach Sarah Amato entered the ring to celebrate with Baszler and award her flowers.
Heydorn’s Analysis: There were parts of this match that I really enjoyed and parts that I just didn’t understand. I enjoyed how physical it was and that Baszler was able to show some vulnerability when she was getting beat up by Martinez. In particular, I thought the suplex combination at the end of the match was a believable moment in which the notion was placed in our minds that Shayna could lose. Shayna sold it well too. That said, for a semifinal match, I was looking for a bit more. This match was still very short and I expected something a little longer with a quicker pace. My biggest critique is that Shayna showed no signs of the heel character that she started to portray against Candice LeRae. With Martinez being a mentor to her, it was a perfect opportunity to get heat. They went the opposite route and it made me confused on who I was supposed to be cheering for.
(2) TONI STORM vs. KAIRI SANE
WWE aired another fantastic video package that hyped this upcoming match. Sane entered first to her typical large pop. She has come out using the same pirate-esque getup throughout the tournament, but I thought it clicked particular well on this entrance. Storm came out next and right as she appeared you could feel the stylistic differences between her and Sane. She presented herself as much rougher around the edges while Sane was more put together. Their music choices showcased these differences as well. Storm still had the top hat and still received a nice pop from Full Sail. Both respectfully shook hands before the bell and then locked up. Just like the earlier semifinal match, this was slow to start. The crowd was split on who they wanted to win and dueled it out with their chants for both women. During the tie ups you could see just how much of a size advantage Storm had on Sane. After the third tie up, the women went to the mat and chain wrestled through a few sequences. Neither got a leg up on the other and Shayna Baszler was shown watching the match on the monitor.
After trading some pin attempts out of the chain wrestling, Sane locked in a headlock that gave her the first real bit of momentum in the match. That momentum halted when Storm smoothly escaped the hold with a back bridge. Storm then gave Sane a little smile which she seemed to appreciate in a competitive way. JR made the point that Sane was wrestling Storm’s style of match thus far and to win, she would have to pick up the pace. Sane did just that by hitting a running dropkick on Storm. Sane owned the next few minutes of offense until Storm countered a move by using an armbar and slowing the entire match down to her pace again. This showcased incredible ring psychology from both women as they each used this time in the match to highlight their styles and how different they were from one another; Speed and quickness from Sane compared to strength and dominance from Storm. After Sane escaped from the armbar that Storm locked in, she intently sold the pain in her elbow. That added another layer of psychology to the match as Sane’s big finisher is a top rope elbow drop. Storm sensed the pain and connected with three uppercuts to the face of Kairi Sane. Storm covered for a two count.
From there Sane was in a tough position but still worked to gain momentum by striking Storm with many different parts of her body. Storm countered one and sent Sane flying through the ropes and onto the floor. The two battled out there until Sane finally got the upper hand. Sensing she needed something big and playing into her fast paced character, Sane climbed to the top rope and jumped off to connect with a cross body splash on Storm who was all the way down on the floor. The two went crashing into the steel ramp as the crowd cheered Sane’s bravery and will to win. After this, Sane rolled Storm back in, covered her, but only received a two count. She then kept the offensive momentum on her side by trapping Storm in a one legged Boston Crab. Storm sold the pain well which prompted her half of the audience to chant her name. Eventually Storm grabbed the ropes to break the hold. With Storm on the ropes, Sane attempted her running neckbreaker which was well scouted and countered by a Storm German suplex. From there, Storm cued up her running hip attack and crushed Sane with it who was propped up in the corner. She got greedy and went for a second running hip attack but was countered with a massive spear from Kairi. Both women were laying on the mat to 50/50 cheers from the audience after that impressive spot. Sane was shown to be bleeding from the move on the metal ramp earlier which added a great element of realism to this fight.
Both then began to stir and when they got to their knees they exchanged tiring offensive strikes. Some were forearms and some were punches but they all were very stiff looking. They kept this up until they were both on their feet standing while continuously pummeling each other. Eventually, Storm bounced off the ropes and got massacred with a lethal double arm chop to the chest. Sane then went to the top rope and called for her patented elbow drop. Storm anticipated that and grabbed Sane off the top rope to hit her Strong Zero finisher. Storm connected with it but Sane kicked out at two. Both JR and Storm were incredibly surprised by this turn of events. After that big move, Storm looked to capitalize by using a cross armbar submission with an impressive bridge to eliminate Sane’s use of her elbow. Sane was brilliant in selling this move and actually had people in the audience at the edges of their seat in an effort to not see her tap.
This was the most emotional part of the match by far and one that the fans really bought into. To escape the hold, Sane rolled Storm up for a two count. Storm kept her momentum up though by clocking Sane in the face immediately after she avoided the pinfall. She then went to the top rope and connected with a top rope leg drop on Sane’s lower back. Both women sold their lower back pain after this move. Both appeared to be very hurt and Storm did not make a cover attempt. Storm was the first to her feet and attempted to lift Sane up for another Strong Zero. Instead, Sane countered with a knockout backhand strike to the head that sent Storm crumbling to the mat. Sane then went to the top rope again and called for her elbow drop. This time, she connected, and covered Storm for the 1,2,3.
WINNER: Sane at 12:27 – After the match, just like for Baszler, Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and Sara Amato were in the ring to congratulate Sane and shower her with flowers.
Heydorn’s Analysis: Both Storm and Sane had nice chemistry in this match. They used that chemistry well and constructed something that had multiple layers of psychology. They showcased their differing styles, while also working over different body parts. As those layers intersected it made for some entertaining action. Sane looked great as usual. Toni Storm was fantastic as well, but I would have liked to have seen her character and personality shine through within the match a little more than it did. This is not really a critique of her so much as it is a wish because I enjoy that character so much.
POST-MATCH ACTION: After Sane left the ring she walked up the ramp with Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and Sara Amato. Shayna Baszler then came out and they both stared each other down with the Mae Young Classic trophy in the background.
Final Thoughts: The matches on this episode were each good. There is no question about that. Personally, I was expecting a little bit more. I was hoping for these matches to be a little longer so that the women would have more time to tell even better stories that showcased more of what they could do. Many of the matches in this tournament were short and with only two to get through on this episode, I was expecting them to be longer. At the same time, I think both matches accomplished their goals of showcasing the winners properly while not completely burying the loser. Sane and Baszler looked very strong and I’m excited to see what that match looks like and how a live audience reacts. Overall, great stuff. The length thing is minor and mostly a residual effect from my own brain assuming something that wasn’t ever promised.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS REPORT: Mae Young Classic Report (Episode Seven): Quarterfinals coverage with Ronda Rousey and Johnny Gargano at ringside