My first thought on the inaugural Mae Young Classic tournament is how much I enjoy the tourney format. WWE stuck with the basics and didn’t try to “girl” it up because it’s a women’s event. It is a straight forward athletic endeavor built on high stakes and a willingness to fight tooth and nail to grasp those stakes. There is no condescending sparkling butterfly or pink ribbons built into the promotion of this tournament; just easy to understand backstories, a trophy, honor to win, and fists, throws, and kicks! This event was called by WWE Hall of Famers Jim Ross and Lita and it also featured the first female referee in WWE in three decades.
Like the Cruiserweight Classic tournament from last summer, the MYC is starting off with 32 competitors. Unfortunately, unlike the CWC, the MYC doesn’t get the opportunity to get a ten week tournament journey. All 16 first round matches were dumped on the WWE Network in four episodes at once. It seems as if Triple H and others involved in the decision-making has firmly planted their flag on the side of WWE being an episodic TV show that can be dumped and binged rather than a pure sport that must be watched live for maximum effect and on-demand only as a last resort. I am positive that their internal numbers show that the dump and binge method is smarter for business, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Another thought I had watching round 1 is the size of a lot of the women involved. Eight of the 32 women involved are close to or over six feet tall. Sage Beckett is six foot and 200 plus pounds. Piper Niven is a short, round, fat woman whose gimmick isn’t that she’s fat, it’s that she’ll clothesline your head off if you make a mistake! As someone who pays very little attention to the indy circuit and even less attention to the women on the indys, that was one of the most surprising and refreshing aspects of this event. Years of a roster full of women 5-0 to 5-7, 110 to 140 pounds has gotten stale. Nia Jax isn’t particularly good yet, but being the size she is opens things up a bit. Adds a different psychology to matches and feuds – something entertainment and pro wrestling especially has thrived on, being different. That has yet to be fully exploited in the WWE Women’s Division, something that I can only assume scouting for this tourney and the reaction some of these big, fine, curvy women are getting changes that.
The opening match of the tournament featured Mexico’s Princesa Sugehit vs. Scotland’s Kay Lee Ray. The most interesting thing about this match unfortunately was Sugehit had braces on her teeth underneath a fancy, sparkling lucha mask. Princesa did that lazy lucha thing were they seem to move from the center of the ring as little as possible while waiting to do an overly cooperative sequence. As much as I didn’t care for Ray, I’d have rather seen her move on to the next bracket instead of Princesa.
Serena Deeb beat Vanessa Bourne in the next match. I’m not sure why Deeb got the call, let alone the win, since this was her comeback after retiring in 2015. Vanessa Bourne is super fine and carries herself like a star, but she isn’t ready for prime time so I guess focusing on and giving Serena a platform to showcase her in a comeback/redemption story makes a lot of sense.
Up next was a match up between two MMA fighters, although I couldn’t tell with Zeda because Shayna Baszler washed her in two minutes! I mean, she gave Zeda nothing then tapped her out with rear naked choke. Zeda is a gorgeous woman with a ridiculous lower body and, based solely on that, I think she has a future. If she can actually work, she’ll be trouble. Shayna is a scumbag. She does her whole Four Horsewomen gimmick with Ronda Rousey and that squad. I do not like her one bit! Just a meathead, bully MMA chick. I’m not a fan, but she can make money doing what she does.
The final match of episode one showcased the best and longest match of the show and two of the most over women in the tournament, especially Germany’s Jazzy Gabert. She faced off against Abbey Laith who used to go by Kimber Lee. Jazzy’s pure power offense and her scary demeanor got her over with the crown immediately. Abbey, even though she took a beating early, showed off some great athletic moves. The former ballerina hung in the match until she was able to outmaneuver and outwrestle Gabert, leveraging her into a pinfall.
Episode 2 was the weakest of the four shows to me. Mercedes Martinez walked through Xia Li in two minutes, being a jerk bully the whole way through. Boy is Xia Li a good looking woman, but was this really her first pro wrestling match? That’s not a good look for the scouts and match makers. Marti Belle lost to Paul Ellering’s daughter, Rachel Evers. Marti Belle is close to being TV ready, but she takes the L. The six footer, Rhea Ripley, defeated the barely five foot Miranda Salinas in easy fashion. The Aussie, Rhea, got spoken about and put over huge in the match. It is clear they are grooming her for the future which is a very good idea. And the best match of the night, almost by default, was Mia Yim besting a very game Sarah Logan. Mia Yim is another wrestler that I’d put on WWE TV as soon as possible and Logan isn’t far behind.
Episode 3 was my personal favorite block of the four. Show 4 had the one epic match, but show 3 had three really good, very different matches that again showcased some very different body types, in-ring styles, and levels of competition. Toni Storm beat Ayesha Raymond in the opener. Toni is a giant dork, but she has something – something that needs to be cultivated and honed over the next two years or so. She is going to be hell to deal with down the line.
The almost minuscule, Dakota Kai somehow managed to beat the giant Indian Kavita Devi who was trained by the Great Khali. This Indian woman is tall, fine and a power house. After treating Kai like a rag doll for most of the math, Dakota managed to hit Devi with a vicious running corner kick and a top rope double stomp to eek out a victory. I’m not sure if Kai has what it would take to be a main rostr competitor because she is just so tiny, but I am sure Kavita will be busting heads and press slamming women in WWE sooner or later.
My baby boo Bianca Belair then took on Sage Beckett. Bianca Belair is everything, BTW! Like, she’s finer than a MF, she carries herself like a veteran, like an unbeaten veteran at that. She is tall and fit and is in absolute control of who she is as a character and in control of her body in the ring. Belair doesn’t bump and sell like the rookie she was portrayed as. She is a standout athlete in the SEC and it shows. Sage, who won me over by talking about shamanism and the power of nature, had an awesome showing as well, but Bianca, Bianca, Bianca!!
The pattern continued as the last match of the show was the best of the block. Scotland’s Piper Niven took on and beat Santana Garrett with a fantastic and all-powerful Michinoku Driver. Niven had a great showing. She used her size to her advantage and in logical, fighting ways. She showed the audience and her opponent early that she is an athlete in that ring and not some token fat girl. Santana, on the other hand, has a dime-a-dozen look and was rather bland. A fine athlete and decent worker, but nothing particularly special or unique about her or her presentation.
Finally, I carved time out to watch the final episode in round 1. As I alluded to earlier, this block of matches was rather blah until Sane vs. Blanchard ended the show. The show opened with Candice LeRae vs. Renee Michelle. I had heard so much hoopla over LeRae, but I was left unimpressed. It could have been because her opponent had an unsure look about herself from the start. Candice got the W with a very cool second rope spinning neckbreaker.
The Brazilian, Taynara Conti took on the former marine and swat team member Lacey Evans who we are familiar with from NXT. Evans has a tremendous look and backstory, but she just hasn’t quite put it all together yet. Her outlandishly long hair is becoming a personal distraction. Similar goes with Conti; she has a great look and heel attitude, but she’s even further behind in her progress and she took the pinfall in the match. Reina Gonzales, another multi-generational wrestler in the Mae Young Classic, has a decent look to her. She has great size and height and, having a young Mexican woman around who looks and sounds like a contemporary, young Mexican woman is a good thing. (I even told my 27 year old, Mexican girlfriend about her!) She unfortunately tapped out to Nicole Savoy who was dubbed, “The Queen of Suplex” and I saw her attempt not one suplex during the match.
In the match of the night, match of the first round, and most highly anticipated opening round match, Kairi Sane took on and defeated Tessa Blanchard. These women are two of the most state-of-the-art workers today. They had a faced-paced, hard-hitting match. The crowd helped this match sustain its energy for the full match. Both women showed what makes them so sought after. The only negatives I had for this match was that it went only eight minutes and the finishing sequence took so long it made Tessa look like a bit of a dolt. The lead up to the finish and the top rope elbow from Sane was more than enough to make up for any minor perceived negatives.
Overall this was a solid first round of action. There were some questionable match ups and one or two match outcomes that I thought were suspect, but I trust the match-makers are doing what is best for future business, the talent themselves, and logistics.
I believe this Mae Young Classic tournament will be looked at as as a watershed moment in women’s pro wrestling. I think in three years when the look, feel, tone, and body sizes of the women’s division is different and has progressed, the 2017 inaugural MYC tournament will be looked at as another major development in the evolution of women’s wrestling as main eventing PPV’s was before it, as Takeover Brooklyn was before that, as Charlotte Flair vs Natalya Neidhart was before that.
Travis Bryant’s column are published usually exclusively on PWTorch’s VIP website and in the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter most weeks. You can listen to Travis talk pro wrestling and other topics every Wednesday night on the PWTorch East Coast Cast. Follow him on Twitter @travlord.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUNN: BRYANT’S TAKE: Where is the Hype, Where is the Promotion For the Mae Young Classic Tournament?