SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
WWE MAE YOUNG CLASSIC – EPISODE THREE (CHARLOTTE FLAIR AND NIA JAX AT RINGSIDE)
TAPED JULY 13-14 IN WINTER PARK, FLA. AT FULL SAIL UNIVERSITY
AIRED ON WWE NETWORK
REPORT BY ZACK HEYDORN, PWTORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Announcers: Jim Ross and Lita
INTRO: The WWE skipped over a recap video of episode two and went right into the hype for episode three. The promo video introduced the show’s matches and highlighted the updated Mae Young Classic bracket. Then, they immediately dove into match number one.
(1) TONI STORM vs. AYESHA RAYMOND
Toni Storm entered the ring first and she did it with some attitude. The look on her face alone screamed that she belonged on that stage. Storm had some unique ring gear including a black mini top hat. As Storm made her way to the ring, Lita stressed that she was the very first Progress Women’s Champion. Raymond came out next to a nothing reaction from the audience. She clearly was not in the same league as Storm in terms of natural charisma and talent. Both competitors went face to face for the handshake and Raymond openly denied Storm for it which enraged the crowd. The match began with a headlock takedown from Raymond which Storm quickly escaped. The audience loved the escape and quickly got a “Let’s Go Toni” chant going. As the chant chimed through the arena, Storm once again went for a handshake. This time, Raymond looked ready to accept it and Storm arrogantly pulled her hand away instead. This spot seemed so natural for Storm and got her even more over with the crowd. With the fans 100 percent on her side, Storm took Raymond down and hit her with a nice smooth hip attack to the face. Storm then taunted Raymond a bit who countered her next offensive move with a massive sidewalk slam. Storm quickly got her edge back and hit Raymond with a backstabber, a running knee strike, and then a perfect northern lights suplex. She then kipped herself up and headed to the top rope. Raymond came to and countered Storm’s potential top rope maneuver by pushing her off the turnbuckle. Raymond then headed to the top rope herself to a chorus of jeers from the audience which she actually acknowledged by insulting fans as she climbed down. After her tussle with the fans, Raymond climbed back up to the top rope, missed her high impact splash, and then was rolled up by Storm for the 1,2,3.
WINNER: Storm at 4:28
Heydorn’s Analysis: Toni Storm is a superstar in waiting. She oozes charisma and manages to get some heel tendencies over as a babyface. Simply put, nobody in the audience really cared for Raymond who came off pretty bland when compared to Storm. Raymond did interact with the audience to garner a nice amount of heat but she was overmatched in every area. The match itself was a pretty straightforward A to B bout with the heel foolishly allowing the fans to help the babyface by distracting her. Overall it was a nice little match and I can’t wait to see more of Toni Storm in round two.
(2) DAKOTA KAI vs. KAVITA DEVI
Dakota Kai entered the ring first with a very flashy outfit and an energetic presence. She then proceeded to receive the largest pop of episode three from the Full Sail audience. Kavita Devi followed next and received the polar opposite reaction of dead silence. Devi looked very strong but didn’t show any personality. Both competitors took part in the pre-match handshake and after it, the “Da-Ko-Ta” chants rang loud in the crowd. Both Kai and Devi tied up to start the match and Devi immediately showcased her strength and power by shoving Kai down numerous times in a row. Devi then further established her power by working Kai’s wrist via a good looking hammerlock and a Undertaker-esque rope walk. Kai sold the beating and the pain to her wrist in epic fashion which drummed up a significant amount of sympathy from the audience. This got her over even more. Dakota kept showing her grittiness by trying to fight off the bigger Devi with kicks. At this point, Devi was extremely impressive in showcasing her power and the crowd began to move to her side. The audience especially popped big for Devi’s “RKD” move in which she planted Kai in the middle of the ring. After the “RKD” Devi wasted time in going for the cover which both JR and Lita scolded her for on commentary. Kai kicked out of the extremely late cover and then hit Devi hard with a boot to the face after ducking her clothesline. After the boot, Kai feverishly climbed the top rope and delivered a top rope double foot stomp for the win.
WINNER: Kai at 3:57
Heydorn’s Analysis: This was an old school wrestling match and I loved it. It also worked particularly well between these two women because of their styles and size differences. It followed the classic formula of the bigger wrestler dominating for most of the match, the smaller wrestler selling for most of the match, and then their roles flipping at the very end because the larger wrestler makes a calculated mistake. In this match, the calculated error was Devi not pinning Dakota Kai quick enough after nailing her with the “RKD”. Had she done this, she would have completed her dominant performance. Instead, after taking a massive beating, Kai snuck away with a clean victory. In the match Devi looked really good and got the crowd on her side because of her impressive power within her offense. I was impressed as well. On the other side, I thoroughly enjoyed Dakota’s selling. It made Devi look great, but also made her own comeback look great when the time came. Smart working by her. The right woman won the match and Dakota Kai vs. Rhea Ripley in the second round is can’t miss.
(3) SAGE BECKETT vs. BIANCA BELAIR
Beckett entered the ring first and we finally got a taste of her shaman character live and in living color. It’s a really cool gimmick that she played up well as she made her entrance to the ring. Belair was next to hit the ring and the crowd popped relatively loud for her when she did. Belair sported a unique look as well that featured a long braid in her hair. For as great as Belair looked in her entrance, the overall vibe I got from her was that she was pretty nonchalant about the match. Why? She skipped down to the ring as if she didn’t have a care in the world. If done right, the skipping can mean confidence. That wasn’t the emotion that was displayed for Belair. Both Beckett and Belair agreed to the handshake and got right into each other’s face afterward. From there they tied up and were off to the races. Beckett struck first with some stiff shoulder tackles to Belair. Belair seemed unhurt by the stiff attack and kipped up to a loud applause from the audience. Beckett was very large in size but moved really well as she executed her offense against Belair. After getting beat down for much of the first 30% of the match, Belair finally showed some signs of life and began taking it to Beckett with forearm shots and clotheslines. That offensive attack was short lived and Belair got chopped down again due to Beckett’s strength and methodic attacks. Again, for someone as big as Beckett is, she moves incredibly well against a smaller opponent. Belair finally got the leg up with a flying elbow that combined nicely with a huge running splash and then a submission move. Beckett wasn’t close to tapping out and she reversed the submission into a Bubba Bomb. The match was very back and forth to this point when Beckett took over again with strikes and a jump kick to Belair’s head. I was wowed by this because once again it showcased Beckett’s innovative move set and skills. After the striking attack, Beckett climbed to the top rope, executed her shaman pose, and then dove off only to miss Belair who had rolled out of the way. Belair ended the match by whipping Beckett HARD with her long braid and finishing her off with a spear in the middle of the ring.
WINNER: Belair at 5:43
Heydorn’s Take: Thank god Belair used the braid! I thought that was a very unique element to Belair’s character and I’m glad she used it in the match. Overall, I was impressed with Bianca Belair. At first I graded her down due to how she entered the ring, but by the end I was cheering for her to win this thing. On the flip side, though I was impressed with Beckett’s agility and move set in the ring, I was disappointed that she didn’t use the shaman character more. She only did her shaman pose once and that was at the very end of the match. She missed some opportunities to get that over in the middle and earlier parts of the bout. The match had a nice pace to it and I was surprised on how much offense Belair got in on the bigger Beckett. Without a heel/babyface storyline to work with, the match had to strictly be about the action and it was.
(4) PIPER NEVIN vs. SANTANA GARRETT
Nevin hit the ring first and looked menacing and a bit endearing at the same time. That is hard to pull off, but she did it and did it well. Garrett made her way to the ring next and received a very nice pop from the crowd who certainly knew of her from her minimal work on the NXT roster. Both stars shook hands and then the bell rang for the match to begin. Nevin held on to Garrett’s hand longer which caused a minor ruckus in the crowd and a smile to appear on Garrett’s face. At this point because the crowd was really into both wrestlers, they took it upon themselves to create a fun environment for the match to take place in. They duel chanted Garrett and Nevin’s name as the two tied up and cheered as the two traded head locks. Nevin was the first to gain the upper hand by throwing Garrett into the corner and taunting her with a fake punch to the face. Nevin then focused her attack on Garrett’s arm and shoulder. Garrett immediately countered with a nice backflip and began to work Nevin’s shoulder and arm. Garrett then went on the offensive by hitting a modified swinging head scissors and stiff forearms. Garrett worked to continue her attack with an Irish whip into the ropes but Nevin countered in a big way with a running splash. From there it was all Nevin. She used her massive size and beat Garrett down with a variety of power moves including a lateral press slam. Garrett got some sympathy from the audience during this but not enough to take away their intrigue of seeing Piper Nevin do cool moves. After the lateral press slam, Nevin got a near fall two count. Garrett had been beaten down to this point for a good one to two minutes. She finally worked to get back on offense and hit Nevin with an impressive tornado DDT from the outside of the ring to the inside. The move only merited a two count though as Nevin kicked out at the last second. The crowd was fully into that particular spot and cheered both women on as they laid on the mat after the kick out. From there until the finish these women went all out and worked at a very fast pace to win the match. Near falls appeared left and right with Garrett connecting on a gorgeous spring board back elbow and Nevin connecting on another running splash with Garrett sitting on the canvas. The audience was shocked that the match didn’t end there with the move being so impactful. Garrett then gained some momentum out of her near fall and worked to get Nevin up on the top rope for a high risk move. Garrett instinctually went for a top rope hurricanrana but was countered by Nevin. Garrett insisted on the move and pummeled Nevin with a stiff left hook to knock her out enough to execute it. Garrett hit the move but Nevin kicked out at two. With Nevin injured because of the top rope hurricanrana, Garrett went for it all and attempted a running moonsault. Nevin countered the move by rolling away, hitting Garrett with a seated butt bomb, and finished her off with a Michinoku Driver in the center of the ring for the 1,2,3.
WINNER: Nevin at 7:11
Heydorn’s Analysis: I’m very surprised that Garrett lost this match. With WWE referring to her as Wonder Woman, she seemed like a favorite to win. That said, I enjoyed Piper Nevin quite a bit and this match was fantastic. Certainly the best match of the tournament thus far. The entire thing was full of back and forth action that both women executed and sold properly. The match was constructed around Nevin using her brute strength and Garrett working to secure a victory by overcoming it. That formula was interesting though because they utilized it without clear cut heels and babyfaces. The match seemed to be building toward Garrett overcoming all odds and winning, but the opposite happened and that should keep everyone on their toes for the rest of the tournament. Really loved all the splashes that Nevin did and the moonsaults that Garrett hit throughout the match. Excited to see where they go with Piper Nevin from here as I really believed she turned some heads in this one.
Final Thoughts: This was the best episode of the tournament thus far. All of the matches had nice back and forth action and were entertaining to watch. They also were different from one another and made sense from a booking perspective. Pay attention Monday Night Raw! Stars shined all over the place on this episode with some truly special performances taking place from women like Toni Storm, Bianca Belair, and Piper Nevin. Even in a losing effort Santana Garrett looked like she belonged. Personally, I’m still looking for more character and I’m excited as that could be coming in round two when the women have more time. All in though, I’m really happy with this episode and ready for the fourth.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS EPISODE: Mae Young Classic Report (Episode Two): Martinez vs. Xia Li, Evers vs. Marti Belle, Ripley vs. Salinas, Logan vs. Yim