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The Smark Henry Mae Young Classic Review: Round 1



By Ardelle Costuna, Miyann Bruan, and KP

The idea of an all-women tournament in the WWE might seem baffling to anyone who watched the product in their era of five-minute Bra and Panties matches, but the standing of women in the WWE has improved leaps and bounds since then, and the Mae Young Classic’s first round is proof of this.

Released in a four-episode format on Monday and Tuesday, the Round of 32 proved to be a good introduction to these women and gave long-time followers a shock with some of its results. If you still haven't seen the thing, there's still time to catch up before the next rounds drop on Tuesday, Manila time. And you can get to read our previews here.

If you're ready to proceed, then let's go. The 16 women who advanced to the next round are:
  • Princesa Sugehit (won vs. Kay Lee Ray) 
  • Serena Deeb (won vs. Vanessa Borne) 
  • Shayna Baszler (won vs. Zeda) 
  • Abbey Laith (won vs. Jazzy Gabert) 
  • Mercedes Martinez (won vs. Xia Li) 
  • Rachel Evers (won vs. Marti Belle) 
  • Rhea Ripley (won vs. Miranda Salinas) 
  • Mia Yim (won vs. Sarah Logan) 
  • Toni Storm (won vs. Ayesha Raymond) 
  • Dakota Kai (won vs. Kavita Devi) 
  • Bianca Belair (won vs. Sage Beckett) 
  • Piper Niven (won vs. Santana Garrett) 
  • Lacey Evans (won vs. Taynara Conti) 
  • Nicole Savoy (won vs. Reina González) 
  • Candice LeRae (won vs. Renee Michelle) 
  • Kairi Sane (won vs. Tessa Blanchard) 
We picked seven of these matches that we believe stood out from the rest and discussed (in excruciating detail) what exactly made them special.

Jazzy Gabert vs. Abbey Laith


Ardelle: This is my favorite round one match. I don’t know how to explain it, but I liked the storytelling. Abbey was the underdog who won in the end, but there’s something to her…

Miyann: It’s her facial expressions; you can see what’s going on in her head. Her unique moveset, her ballet background, helped. Abbey’s another wrestler who we call Laking Anime, the type of person who won’t stop until they get what they want, even when their opponent is unstoppable.

KP: The next big spot was Jazzy’s arm trap sleeper and I thought that showed her MMA background. As for Abbey... I can’t see this match as a David-and-Goliath match, not in the same way Kavita Devi vs. Dakota Kai was. Abbey always matched Jazzy by pure spirit.

M: What happened there was a test of speed and power ‘cause Abbey was also strong. Her advantage was she has both, whereas Jazzy was built here as just a powerhouse. Was there a spot where Jazzy showed some speed?

KP: For me, her lariat and ground-and-pound combo was quick, and her transition to the Omega Slam set-up was fast too.

A: When Jazzy threw punches at Abbey in the corner, that’s where she showed speed for me.

KP: Jazzy’s second attempt at an Omega Slam was countered with an Alligator Clutch by Abbey. Did you think the finish was good?

A: Abbey mentioned in her promo that Mae Young passed down the Alligator Clutch to her trainers, then passed it down to her. I think it was a nice touch. Cliched, but it was a nice.

M: It was good because even when Abbey struggled, she knew she could get it but she can’t quite pull it off. It was a nice touch because she won with a quick pin. I liked the pacing of the match, not too fast, not too slow, it’s just right. The breaks between sequences was well-placed too and they both looked strong.

A: Yeah, even when Jazzy lost, her presentation was still great. But I love Abbey Laith.

M: Abbey’s great at selling. Abbey and Princesa Sugehit were great at selling… and Abbey is a great babyface.

KP: On a final note, their choice for the lighting and set-up was similar to NXT Takeovers. It really isolated the in-ring action, which I thought was neat.

Sarah Logan vs. Mia Yim


KP: Holy shit, I did not expect this. I didn’t know anything about Sarah Logan coming in.

M: All I know is she’s Raymond Rowe’s girl.

A: They also mentioned that one of Sarah’s first matches in Japan was Mia. With their match here, it feels like they’ve come full circle.

KP: I also didn’t expect the banjos. I was Revival’d. But yeah, for some reason, this match felt different. When they started shaking hands there was something inside me that said, “Shit, this is gonna be a good match.” Later, I realized I felt like I was watching an indie match tailored for the WWE. In short, a match on an NXT Takeover.

M: Na-realize ko rin. For me, nothing stood out, things were very even—their energy, their moves— then they took it to the next level, to pure style. It’s a tournament match. They’re both babyfaces, they don’t need a story, they just need to fight. They’re equals.

KP: After the tarantula, Mia hit a running dropkick to Sarah in the corner, locks in a running guillotine, rolls, and holds on, and that was so cool?!? Something for her Baszler match.

M: If you look at Sarah Logan’s eyes here, you can see the fire, the hunger. There’s a pause here where they seem to be asking each other, “Can you still do this?” and they seem like they’ve come to an agreement and continue striking each other.
KP: I guess the one spot, not mark but spot ‘cause it’s small, was when Mia hit a German suplex on Sarah and Sarah’s legs were on one side, raising her shoulders. The referee had to remind Sarah to get into position. But the second German was perfect.

M: There were a lot of little spots like that in this tournament, but the referees were great, especially the female ref. Except for that ref who told Tessa to wait until Kairi stopped celebrating so she can talk to Kairi.

KP: Anyway, Sarah comes back from the German with a backdrop, then double knees Mia to a corner for a fisherman suplex and pin. And I think Sarah must’ve thought she had it cause instead of just going for the double knee to a kneeling Mia, she had to do a cartwheel, and Mia capitalized on that with a kick and an Eat Defeat.

M: Again, the finish was good because this is a tournament match. Pit a striker and a redneck against each other, and that’s that. But it wasn’t a throwaway because this match had sense, had great move placement and sequences. Similar to Laith and Gabert, no one sunk. They came in as equals, they came out as equals. This was a good NXT Takeover match.

KP: It was plausible for either Mia or Sarah to win. What made Sarah stand out was also what made her lose, I think. She finally felt like the match was hers at the end and instead of going straight for the double knees, she did the cartwheel and Mia came back. Also, I kinda laughed ‘cause someone else also did an Eat Defeat but it didn’t finish that match.

Santana Garrett vs. Piper Niven


A: I hope both of them get signed.

M: Nah, just Santana. Piper’s got a good deal in Stardom.

A: And I’m afraid for Piper because of mean fans. Mostly that.

M: Piper’s personality fits with what she can do—she said in her promo that just because she’s built, she always has to be strong, always have to wear black. In her view, she can be funky, have an attitude. You can see that in the opening with Santana. But you can still see that she gets fatigued. So when she can’t go for speed, she can rely on her power.

KP: Garrett was able escape Niven’s attempt to drop on her and it’s here that Piper’s power factors in. Santana flips, does a tilt-a-whirl rana, tries to follow but Piper catches her with a cross-body and holy crap, the elevation on that! But to back up a little: the rana made me think that Santana’s got a classic style. Whereas Princesa Sugehit is old-school lucha, Santana is old-school Americana babyface. I also noticed that what strung this match together is their technical prowess; not in a ZSJ way, but in a mastery of moves kinda way.

A: There’s a part here where I thought Piper pulled off a rainmaker.

KP: Oh, it’s the clothesline takedown after Piper’s cravat. Piper whips Santana to the corner, Santana catches her with a boot, then a very, very nice tornado DDT. Ah! This is where the non-finisher Eat Defeat happened!
A: The crowd was hot.

M: I think the crowd was hot because they may not be used to seeing a big girl move like this. Piper doesn’t focus on power; personality-wise, she’s funky. When Nia Jax is up against Bayley, they get a headlock. Or if it’s Tamina, it’s just Tamina. Power-power stuff. But I don’t understand Santana’s facial expressions.

A: She smiles too much? I don’t know if she’s in pain, or if she’s laughing because she’s in pain?

M: Yeah! Kinda like when she’s still smiling after taking a powerslam. It would’ve been okay if her smile was sarcastic, but her smile was just there.

A: But her smile during her handshake, it was effective. It was dry and challenged Piper, as if she said, “Yeah, come and get it.”

M: The ending was classic too.

Kairi Sane v Tessa Blanchard


KP: We already know that Kairi is a cute girl, but she does this cute marching thing and to a running forearm on Tessa’s face and I just can’t.

M: Kairi’s adorable until the bell rings, then her personality does a 180. You can see in her it in her face. Not all of them has a game face, but she has one.

A: Kairi’s great at selling “death” on the lungblower and when she was up against the middle rope and Tessa dropkicked her. She looked like she was gone.

KP: What did you think of Tessa’s facial expressions?

M: They’re okay, aggressive, sometimes overacted, but good. Kairi’s facial expressions on the other hand seem genuine.

KP: What about the presence of this match? It’s weird because we can’t pinpoint what made it great. We have strong arguments for what the worst match is and why we had to bump off some off our list. But we can’t articulate why we unanimously agreed to pick this match.

A: I’m not sure, but this is the weakest main event for me. Didn’t feel like it had an impact. I guess I expected a brutal match but I understand why they didn’t go hard since they’re reserving their strength. Can’t give the exact reason why I feel this is the weakest.

M: I told you two that I watched this match obsessively, unlike Laith and Gabert which I liked more. The difference between the two is I can watch Tessa and Kairi forever but I need to be in a certain mood for Laith and Gabert.

A: It was the most solid match in the entire tournament. Nothing stood out but Tessa and Kairi were able to show their strengths and styles.

M: Style? I notice in joshi matches that they add extra movements. Like Kairi’s neckbreaker, her landing is different from the others and her elbow drop, her legs are up and her body’s well-elevated. Tessa’s brawler style has a bit of that extra flair and that’s new to viewers who don’t watch Stardom. Tessa hasn’t been in Japan for too long though so her style’s predominantly Western. That’s why she fits, that’s why this is refreshing to the eyes. Sometimes when a match is good, it doesn’t evoke emotion, like a Yoshi-Hashi match. But I can’t say that this is a Yoshi-Hashi match because there’s excitement and chemistry.
KP: Can I just say na fuck WWE’s camera angles kasi jusko, what the hell was that cut during Kairi’s elbow drop?

M: They have so many camera angles even when they’re not necessary. You’re focused on what’s going on in the ring then all of a sudden they cut to another angle.

Kay Lee Ray vs. Princesa Sugehit


KP: Good matchup in terms of speed and style, ‘cause KLR’s a fast kid and Princesa Sugehit’s agile as ever even when she’s been wrestling since 1996. For most of the match, I thought this was a Sugehit showcase, but KLR didn’t look like she was fodder. Sugehit reminded me of old lucha, the kind that we got with Eddie Guerrero from around mid-2000s. KLR was smart with her aggression; she knows her high-risk offense can’t match a luchadora, so she grounded Sugehit. She’s using her ring savvy to counter Sugehit’s expertise and experience.

M: KLR was hard—not stiff in terms of wrestling, but her mannerisms are hard. Strong and beautiful. I thought she would get to show off more and win, but Sugehit tapped her out.

A: They’re veterans to different degrees. Princesa Sugehit’s been doing this for 20+ years and KLR’s also a vet but, in terms of martial arts, KLR has a first degree black belt, but Sugehit already has a second degree black belt. And KLR’s actual age is showing.

M: It’s as Ardelle said: “Both of us have been doing this for a long time, which one of us is better?” That’s the story. Showing off their skills as a vet made this match good. Sugehit also took those bumps gracefully. She does have a touch of old-school lucha.

Taynara Conti vs. Lacey Evans


A: The crowd immediately had an impression when Taynara Conti came out with her black belt.

KP: And it fits into her attacks, because she does what she does best with no frills, very cocky too. It’s like she’s saying “this is me, I’m going to dominate this, no flairs.” At the same time, I’d love to see them fight again in a few years once Taynara adds a bit of landi in her moveset. Her throws are amazing, but she needs something more in her arsenal to connect with the crowd. For Lacey, I love that she does her best to counter Taynara. She uses her core strength in her offense, very grounded, matches Taynara to a T.

A: I feel they’re presenting Taynara as a purist. In terms of presentation, I guess that’s where the flair is needed. And I think the story here is Taynara’s younger, more immature. Lacey debuted earlier. The match was solid and I didn’t see them waiting on each other. To think that Taynara’s only been in the PC for a few months. She did well for herself.

Sage Beckett vs. Bianca Belair


KP: I was pleasantly surprised by just how athletic Bianca Belair was. She’s only been wrestling for a year and has a limited moveset, but she can do what she can do with polish. Bianca’s a good fit for her ‘cause Sage retired for a while in 2015. Bianca’s also so built that Sage’s size advantage is negated and Sage is quick on her feet. You can’t archetype this match.

A: I have been reading a lot of good comments about Belair even before the tournament because she’s actually pretty good even if she only started wrestling for less than a year. When I watched the match, she was actually pretty good. The hype was justified.

M: This is the first time I’ve watched Belair and she’s good. She’s got a personal touch on all her moves, like in her body splash. You can’t find that anywhere else. I couldn’t focus much on Sage. She needs to work on her character. Sage said in her promo that she’s a shaman but I didn’t see that, didn’t see her during the match. I did like her single leg dropkick though, and she’s a clean worker.

KP: Bianca left her mark with basic moves, and flair is fine, but when you’re in a pinch, maybe focus on the impact. But that’s just me. Except for the last spot: Bianca whipped Sage with her hair and stunned her long enough for Bianca to deliver a stiff spear that shookt Roman Reigns.
M: To be honest, Kairi and Belair’s spears look better than Roman Reigns’s ‘cause they both have aggressiveness, whereas Reigns’ seems like he’s running to hug you and OOPS, it’s a bearhug to spear.

A: And Belair’s spear didn’t come from the corner. She was close to Sage.

KP: She was close to Sage but the impact was huge.

A: Her hairwhip’s so fun ‘cause it’s impactful. I watched a clip where she used it against Ruby Riot and it cracked so loud.

The rest of the pack

Some wrestlers and matches couldn’t quite make the top 7 spot, but we still couldn’t forget them, for better or for worse.

Shayna Baszler vs. Zeda

A: It’s a shame that this looked like Zeda was fed to Shayna. Match was too short for me, I wish they gave it more time to develop so Zeda could have shown more of her MMA and pro wrestling training. Whenever the camera closed up to Zeda’s face, she looked like she was thinking of ways on how to out-wrestle Shayna, so that added a layer to their match.

M: I really wanted this match to be on the list storytelling-wise. It started with both of them using their MMA backgrounds to put each other down but Shayna always ended up with the upper hand. Zeda’s monkey flip nearly got her the pin though, and this sequence showed that Shayna’s not the undefeated monster we expected her to be. Perhaps she’s being built as someone who’s overconfident and still has room to improve.

Dakota Kai vs. Kavita Devi

A: Kavita’s the monster here. She dominated most of the match, Kai's experience allowed her to capitalize on Devi's error. Kai’s being ragdolled also made her a believable babyface. I really liked the run-around Helluva Kick she did before doing the double stomp finish.

M: This is a typical power vs experience match but I love how powerful Kavita is, she has a bright future especially now that we are in an era where we want to see different styles in the women’s division. Kai’s persona and perseverance are also notable, she’s a great babyface.

Rachel Evers vs. Marti Belle

A: Belle did her best to heel it up and make Evers the babyface, but the match was very sloppy. Evers' weaknesses were very evident here, did not help that Belle isn't much of a ring general.

KP: I guess Evers just needs more time in the Performance Center. Would love to see her work on her strength more, ‘cause her nearly dropping a pop-up powerbomb showed that her strength’s not up to what she wants to do just yet. Marti did a great job with her talking ‘cause it masked Evers’ weaknesses to an extent.

Rhea Ripley v Miranda Salinas

A: RHEA RIPLEY IS A STAR IN THE MAKING. So much charisma and skill at only 20 years old! Their size difference was very obvious, but Miranda Salinas did well herself in showing her personality in this match; looked like it didn’t matter that she’s just 5-foot-ish to Ripley’s 6-foot-ish. Also, I give Ripley an 8/10 on the Okada Dropkick Scale.
M: Rhea Ripley’s charisma and athletic ability stood out! I also like how Miranda was able to show her cockiness and how she used it to play with Rhea, which was not really effective.

Mercedes Martinez

A: She made Xia Li look good and strong. This is the first time I watched her, and her presence and performance screamed 10-plus-year veteran. Mercedes vs. Xia Li is what Shayna vs. Zeda could have and should have been.

M: Mercedes Martinez’s facial expression after Xia kicked out from a spinebuster went way beyond the line. It was evident that she was underestimating Xia because of her lack of experience, but she sold it like someone kicked out from her finisher.

Toni Storm

A: It’s Toni Storm being Toni Storm. Also my first time seeing her (apart from GIFs on Twitter), and I enjoyed watching her. Her match with Ayesha Raymond looked like it depended on their personalities, so I hope to see more of her wrestling style.

KP: I wasn’t a big believer in Toni Storm despite the hype before this match and I feel blessed to have watched her in action. Her confidence was matched by her technical ability and speed, and she was just plain fun to watch. Really got my blood going!

Xia Li

A: She has a presence and THE GIRL CAN KICK. While Mercedes Martinez had a dominant finish in their match, she got a lot of offense in that showed that she had the chance to upset Martinez. Also excited to see more of her in NXT.

KP: Kinda wished Xia applied her wushu speed to her kicks and movements in ring. I guess she wasn’t too comfortable moving around yet? I see a lot of potential for a lightning-quick striker in her and it would go well for her if she incorporated her martial arts into her movesets more.

Sixteen down, eight to go

Next week, the next set of matches will touch down on the WWE Network. While all of them have potential to be something great, some piqued our interest enough that we had to babble about them a little more.

  • Princesa Sugehit vs. Mercedes Martinez
  • Kairi Sane vs. Bianca Belair
  • Mia Yim vs. Shayna Baszler
  • Dakota Kai vs. Rhea Ripley
  • Lacey Evans vs. Toni Storm
  • Abbey Laith vs. Rachel Evers
  • Nicole Savoy vs. Candice LeRae
  • Serena Deeb vs. Piper Niven
Which second-round matchups are you most excited to catch? Let us know in the comments!

Photos from WWE. GIFs from @totaldivaseps.

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