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The Smark Henry Mae Young Classic Review: Quarterfinals and Semifinals



By Ardelle Costuna, Miyann Bruan, and the cryptic, inscrutable wordsmith known only as KP

The Mae Young Classic enters its last two stages before the live finals next Tuesday (Wednesday local time), September 12. Before this momentous occasion, we're here to give a brief rundown of all the quarterfinal and semifinal matches, noting their top performers before giving our two cents on the release format of the tournament.

Let’s get this started.

Quarterfinals

  • Mercedes Martinez (def. Abbey Laith)
  • Shayna Baszler (def. Candice LeRae)
  • Kairi Sane (def. Dakota Kai)
  • Toni Storm (def. Piper Niven)

Abbey Laith vs. Mercedes Martinez



Miyann: I felt Abbey Laith’s laking anime-ness (fighting spirit). I believe she’s the second-most effective babyface in the whole tournament. Meanwhile, I find Mercedes’s build up from the first round up to this amazing. She showed her abilities bit by bit to avoid showing her hand; a true veteran move.

KP: I admit: this was my pick for the Sailor Pluto Award below. I thought this could have been more exciting, but after a rewatch, I realized that their cautiousness is explained by their experience and fatigue from the earlier rounds. This made me appreciate their bursts of energy more.

Both JR and Lita kept mentioning Mercedes's shoulder throughout the match and this bore some fruit when Abbey executed her crossbody to the outside. Abbey wrapped her arm around Mercedes' right shoulder and cushioned the fall with her left before cradling Mercedes' left shoulder. Protecting each other while making it look like you're about to slaughter the other is the nature of the beast, and I'm glad to see that here.


Ardelle: This was a good match. It showed that both women were exhausted from their previous matches, but it seemed that it even added layers. Abbey’s exhaustion added to her fighting spiritwhich Mercedes seemingly knew of—while Mercedes pushed through and used her sass and experience to her advantage.

It was back and forth in the first few moments, and Abbey eventually had the upper hand for the most part. But Mercedes was just too fast in avoiding the Alligator Clutch. She busts out the Fisherman Buster, and clips Abbey’s leg and arm for a secure pinfall for the win.

Also, if you want to be an underdog babyface, enroll at the Abbey Laith School of Selling.

Shayna Baszler vs. Candice LeRae



Miyann: Here we saw more of what Candice can actually do, as her previous matches saddened me ‘cause they made her look weak. Shayna, of course, overpowered Candice’s submissions but their transitions were pretty good. I also like that Kirifuda Driver comes out of nowhere—you’ll never know when it’s coming.

KP: I felt like the quick ending was justified by the quick beginning. Candice's logic here was to overwhelm Shayna with her wrestling and submission skills before going for a quick Wild Ride. What she didn't account for was Shayna's stamina, sheer power, and frightening ability to counter any move to her signature rear-naked triangle chokes.

Also, I loved Shayna being such a dick here, and her countering another move mid-air to her finisher. Given who she will face in the finals, it's a sign of great things to come.

Ardelle: I was expecting to be disappointed because this received a lot of hate from a lot of people, and I understand why. I think the main point of this match is to get so much heat on Shayna, and it delivered.

Candice perhaps knew that Shayna isn’t like her other opponents that she even had her “work hair” on. I loved that there was a possibility that she can actually get a win over Shayna after a flurry of offenses and submission moves—I LOVED that octopus hold/Garga-No Escape combo from Candice—but Shayna was Shayna Baszler. She reversed a Miss LeRae’s Wild Ride attempt from the top turnbuckle and choked Candice until she submitted. Shayna held on to the choke even after the bell rang AND I HATED HER FOR IT.

I liked this match a lot but I’m slightly disappointed that the bracketing didn’t show what Candice can actually do until she faced Shayna.

Kairi Sane vs. Dakota Kai



Miyann: Amazing match! I love how Dakota transitioned from being a total babyface to a half-baked heel. Did you see how she fixed her hair? She dropped the dumpling buns! I love that detail, it showed that she was done playing games and she was ready to give it all. This aggressive side of Dakota made the battle of babyfaces interesting.

KP: Can't lie, I giggled like a kid all the way through this match. These two, along with Abbey Laith, are the biggest babyfaces of the tournament, have an impressive arsenal of strikes, and had the crowd in the palm of their hands.

Yet I couldn't really cheer for Dakota in this match, which is a damn shame since she gets some convincing near-falls, including the one after her Kaio-Kick. But the bandage around her right knee told me early on that this was Kairi's to take. Still, I adore Dakota for her selling after her Kaio-Kick to running knee strike and missed footstomp.


Ardelle: Man, I didn’t know mean Dakota is a great Dakota. Both women were all business here, but that 90-degree transformation by Dakota Kai was compelling for me. I only noticed that she was actually limping all throughout when I watched it again, so it was a good, consistent factor in the match. This was physical, with Kairi putting on an Alabama Slam on Dakota and dropping her elbow for the win.

Toni Storm vs. Piper Niven



Miyann: This is a great match ruined by business protocols and commentary. How? Both of the women showed how well they know each other in and outside the ring but the commentators did not acknowledge or put emphasis on that. Why? They’re trying not to mention Stardom during this match. (For those who may not know, they currently work for the said promotion, and they have had amazing matches.)

I noticed that they did mention Stardom during a Kairi Sane match (because she’s already with the WWE) but refrain to mention it in other matches. That’s how business works, but I was not happy with unsynchronized storytelling. It made me pretty upset, but what tipped it for me was the lack of build-up from commentary when Piper looked hesitant to deliver a top rope splash. Boooo!!

KP: This was the kind of match you'd only get between good friends, where they get to make some great sequences and play off each other's personalities. The opening exchange was ridiculously fun and generated the charge that the rest of the match fed off on. Toni's facial expressions after every big splash, Piper's silent frustration at her inability to put Toni out of the way, and the latter's need to tap into the dark side that she said she didn't need helped move the story along. Concluding it by having Toni finally lift Piper into a German after failing repeatedly throughout the match, and end it with a leg drop was satisfying.

Though Piper lost, her effort throughout her entire run should put her on the map.


Ardelle: I think Toni and Piper are wrestling soulmates. It also helped that they are good friends in real life, so the chemistry between them is impeccable. Usually the chain wrestling and test of strength segments to open the match are the “feeling out” parts, but in this match, they were so much fun! Heck, I wouldn’t complain if it went on much longer.

Piper had the upper hand against Toni for the most part, but it seemed like she was distracted with Toni kicking out of the Michinoku Driver, so she grabbed the opportunity to capitalize. She was finally able to hit the German suplex on Piper from the second rope when she attempted a splash, and then her legdrop to advance to the semifinals. While this was a good match, I found that it lacked something. Maybe I wanted more of Toni getting the upper hand before winning?

Semifinals

Shayna Baszler vs. Mercedes Martinez



Miyann: I love every single detail in this match.

First was the handshake: it showed how much respect Shayna has for her mentor. The second one was how Mercedes answered most of Shayna’s defense. I love how Shayna transitioned from being an Alpha to being an Omega.

If we’re going to analyze this deeply, both of them had a nice build up until this match. Shayna being the dominant newcomer and Mercedes being the smart veteran. This match is a story we have seen in different forms, but it still gets us. Lastly, I love that they made Mercedes stay in the ring after the match, she really is the Tita we all want to have. #TitaGoals



KP: The long pacing gave me the impression of an MMA match. There's a long feeling-out process between these two just because Mercedes was Shayna's mentor and like the later Kairi vs. Toni, they know what makes each other tick. It's this build-up that put more kick in the action-packed second and third act.

All this being said, I loved the fact that Mercedes took control of Shayna for most of the match after the latter's always-impressive gutwrench slams. She almost got the Queen of Spades to submit at some point and a near-pin with a Fisherman Buster, but in the end, Shayna won with another surprise Kirifuda Driver. Barring a slugfest, this was what I wanted to see from these two in the semis, and they did not disappoint.

Ardelle: I was so hyped for this because these two are the toughest women in the tournament, and it delivered. They have so much history coming in: Mercedes and Shayna, together with Nicole Savoy, are SHIMMER’s Trifecta. Shayna also considers Mercedes to be her mentor inside the ring. If we put together two badass women with that much history between them, it’s one heck of an emotional ride (for me, at least).

Both women open the match with a handshake, which Shayna dodged in her previous matches. It looked like they had an answer to each other’s offenses: if Shayna can choke her opponents, so can Mercedes. If Mercedes can slam her opponent’s body, so can Shayna. It even looked like Mercedes had this in the bag, but she failed to capitalize on her momentum after she hit her Fisherman Buster suplex due to a bum knee. Despite a sequence of suplexes from Mercedes, Shayna sees an opening and hits the Kirifuda Driver to open her road to Las Vegas. This is perhaps my favorite match of the quarter and semifinal rounds.

Kairi Sane vs. Toni Storm



Miyann: In the quarterfinals, Toni’s match with Piper showed that they know each other too well. This round Toni and Kairi (despite knowing each other) started with chain wrestling, with Lita saying “You know what they said, these two have never touched.” WWE wiped their history clean (because business protocol), but they did a great job telling that story.

Kairi’s will power was very commendable. It was reported that she had a minor concussion after that match (because her head hit the ground after delivering a top rope splash outside the ring) but, as we all saw, she still continued and acted like she was not in pain. *three clap emojis*

Overall this match is amazing, my friends are here to technically analyze it for y’all.



KP: This is one of my top three matches in the MYC because of its consistency and story. Toni and Kairi know each other from Stardom so they targeted each other's weak spots after some great chain wrestling. Toni aimed for Kairi's right elbow while Kairi concentrated on Toni's legs, all while keeping up the energy through powerful strikes and wicked spots like Kairi's crossbody and Toni's Fujiwara armbar.

Another thing I love about this match is the fact that the momentum kept shifting between Kairi and Toni, painting them as equals who only need one opening to permanently turn the match toward their favor. For Toni, it could have been the Strong Zero she turned to a suplex with a bridge; if she just went for it without walking around, as Lita noted, or dropped Kairi to a proper Strong Zero, she could have won. But as JR said, her age and inexperience compared to Kairi did her in in the end.

P.S.: The TRUST Toni must have in Kairi to take that diving elbow to the back...

Ardelle: I did not expect this match to be THIS physical. Both Kairi and Toni were hard-hitting, and phew, those submission holds looked like they would pull each other’s limbs apart.

The match started with really good chain wrestling, and the back-and-forth momentum shift between these two made for a compelling match. Kairi is one tough cookie for taking that bump on the metal ramp after a crossbody from the top rope to the outside!

This match looked like it was for anyone to take, with Toni targeting Kairi’s arm, and Kairi targeting Toni’s lower back. Toni was even able to deliver what looked like a Muscle Buster, but she failed to capitalize on that momentum. Kairi took the win with a diving elbow ON TONI’S BACK. Really good match that also made me wince in pain.

Sailor Senshi of the Outer Solar System

Sailor Uranus - Most Likely To Win The Tournament: Both?

Miyann: “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.”

Ardelle: I both love Kairi and Shayna for different reasons, but I think it would be a big opportunity to capitalize on Kairi right now. The Pirate Princess is universally loved, and strapping a jet pack on Kairi will take her to the next level. I believe Shayna can still be huge without the tournament win, so my money is on Kairi.

KP: Listen: I low-key rooted for Shayna from the start even with her lackluster first round match. Her style's not traditionally the most exciting, but because of her strength, submission knowledge, and explosive offense, I feel like I should stick to her. However, Kairi has my heart in a vice grip. So yeah: My mind says the Queen of Spades, but my heart says the Pirate Princess.

Sailor Neptune - Best Performer This Round: Toni Storm

KP: It’s not a surprise that Toni had great matches with Kairi and Piper: both are phenomenal performers and it would take a miracle for one not to have at least a decent match with them. But it takes two to tear a house down, and Toni is an excellent demolition partner. She’s determined—almost to a fault—and her ability to connect with the crowd makes up for her lapses, e.g. her dogged need to lift Piper and showboating on the Strong Zero. Cannot wait for her to rack up more years and eventually become a headliner.

Miyann: Toni Storm’s magic comes from her personality. Her funkiness can attract the crowd easily and her moves can make them attach to what she’s doing in the ring. I have seen some of her matches in Stardom and just like what KP said, she had great matches with both Kairi and Viper. She’s so young, but she’s talented and she’s a workhorse. She's done an amazing job during the tournament.

Sailor Pluto - Wish You Could Go Back In Time (aka Match You Wish They Could Redo)

Ardelle: They could make Piper vs. Toni even more compelling if Toni had more offense, I think.

Miyann: I wish they could redo Candice LeRae vs. Shayna Baszler. I just want it to be longer and to see more how they’ll work against each other.

Sailor Saturn - Most Dominant Wrestler: Mercedes Martinez

Miyann: I’m typing this with Mercedes’s theme playing in my head. I have done her profile in the preview articles we published for this tournament. After learning about her achievements, I was hooked and I expected to see more of her. She didn’t fail me. I love how smooth and intelligent she was in the ring especially during her last three matches. I love her swag and how she represents Latinas. Kudos, Tita Mercy!

KP: A combination of aesthetics, ring awareness, and knowledge that can only come from fighting tooth-and-nail for nearly 16 years that made Mercedes Martinez so authoritative in all her matches. She found tough competition in Princesa Sugehit and Shayna, but in both instances, it felt like her opponents struggled to get their offense in, and in the latter, win. Her impact was so complete that I began this tournament with no knowledge of Mercedes Martinez and came out with a deep longing for more Tita Mercy fights.

The Netflix Effect

KP: In a media conference call prior to the the MYC, Triple H said they released the episodes in chunks as “a little bit of an experiment” on their part. Part of the reason behind this gamble was the waning interest of people in the latter half of last year’s Cruiserweight Classic. Here’s a quote from a Triple H interview, via Wrestling Inc:

"What we found with the cruiserweight thing was people loved the tournament and they loved all of it, some of it started to wane as you got into the later weeks," he said. "People have busy lives, right, and appointment television, there's a lot of stuff to watch. Now especially it's like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, if you watch NXT, there's a lot of stuff there. And even if you watch NXT, you know in a particular timeslot, the majority of people watch it within like in the first seven days. The majority of people they watch it when they want to watch it. It's a little bit of experiment."

Triple H specifically mentioned Netflix and binge watching being in vogue. However, some critics pointed out that the binge format made the MYC feel like less of a big deal, though viewing numbers on the WWE Network revealed that episodes one to eight were the top 8 most viewed content from August 28 until September 8.

What did you two think of the release schedule?

Miyann: I liked it at first because the first four episodes covered the first round. It was nice to binge the first round because it set my expectation for the next one, and waiting for it for a whole week made me excited.

But releasing the third, quarter, and semifinal rounds in one go killed the hype for me. It was a bit tiring to watch, especially because we can see how tired the wrestlers were knowing that it was all taped within a day. But I like how they tried to cover it up by changing hairstyles and gears.

Ardelle: The setup was fine for me in the first two rounds. I was on board for the Cruiserweight Classic last year, and I found myself having to cruiser-wait for a week (LOL see what I did there) for the next episode, which was hard to do because of the adrenaline rush!

For the quarter and semi-final episodes, I’m wishing that they weren't added in the same drop, just to add more anticipation, maybe? There was little fanfare when those episodes dropped. Maybe they should have added the quarterfinal episode a week after the round two drop, and then the semifinal episode the week after for more excitement.

Wicked End

After four brutal rounds, Shayna Baszler and Kairi Sane emerged victorious against 30 other competitors and earned their golden ticket to the red carpet finals of the MYC in Las Vegas. With the big man Vince McMahon himself reportedly flying cross-country to make the show, the women they bested wrestling in the undercard, and the waning energy of the crowd from SmackDown, Shayna and Kairi have a tall order ahead of them this Tuesday.

The finals of the MYC will be aired at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT/10 a.m. Philippine Time on the WWE Network.

Photo from WWE

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