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The Smark Henry Mae Young Classic Review: The Finals


By Ardelle Costuna, Miyann Bruan, and KP, the scribe shrouded in mystery and intrigue

From a field of 32 women, two women stood out as the toughest and most determined of them all: 16-year MMA veteran Shayna Baszler, and Japan’s top joshi star Kairi Sane.

It was a clash of styles between the two. Shayna paved her way to Las Vegas with her Kirifuda Driver that made unsuspecting opponents tap out, while Kairi earned her ticket to the finals with what people say is the most beautiful diving elbow in the business.

In the end, it was Kairi Sane who etched her name in history as the inaugural Mae Young Classic winner after a hard-fought 14-minute battle.

The Finals

Before we got to the live finals, though, WWE uploaded a Road to the Mae Young Classic Finals episode on the Network during the weekend. It was your typical recap show building hype, but it also had a six-woman tag match during the MYC recap show a day before the finals that gave us more of the top women eliminated in the first round. The bad-girl team of Jazzy Gabert, Tessa Blanchard, and Kay Lee Ray won against Sarah Logan, Santana Garrett, and Marti Belle. 


Ardelle: This was a fun match! My favorite part was when everyone had the chance to show off their offense a-la-tag team matches in Japan. Jazzy was so over with the crowd, and it looked like she was overwhelmed by the reaction. My thoughts all throughout this match was just “Wow, I love women’s wrestling.”

Miyann: I was really emotional during this match. When all of them were in the ring, I realized that it was something that the eight-year-old me wanted to see; a ring dominated by women. This tournament in particular made think that women can now stop proving themselves as a wrestling fan. Anyway, I liked how all of them had their spots to show-off their skills. Jazzy Gabert, I love you!
KP: I was really happy to see these six again, since I believe they should have advanced to at least the second round. Then I was really sad because it was over sooner than I wish it did. There’s a fair chance we won’t see these women in this format again, so I hoped for, if not a longer fight, a match that had more lasting impact. I do have to admit that the teams were well-composited and given time to shine individually—except maybe Marti Belle, who spent most of the match being batted around.

Kairi Sane def. Shayna Baszler



Ardelle: I liked this match a lot, from start to finish, because of its continuity. From Shayna denying Kairi’s handshake before the match began, to weakening each other’s strengths—Shayna working on Kairi’s elbow (which Toni Storm also did in the semi-finals); Kairi favoring Shayna’s ribs—it had callbacks to their previous matches in the tournament. The smallest details made this match work.

Kairi and Shayna’s really good selling also helped escalate this match, but Shayna gets a special mention because of her transformation after Kairi started attacking her ribs: from being a shark smelling blood in the water, to being a fish gasping for air. Now tell me again why Shayna can’t wrestle?

Despite a really good match, it was slightly underwhelming for me, because it deserved a full-blown network special—complete with undercard matches, similar to the Cruiserweight Classic finals. They also deserved a much louder crowd reaction, but they were able to engage the crowd midway through their match. Setting these aside, it was an excellent match. Maybe one of the best in the tournament for me.

Shayna’s capability to decimate a targeted limb was the biggest weapon in her arsenal in the entire tournament.
Miyann: I like that the match started with the battle of MMA and wrestling. Shayna tried to outpower and put Kairi in different submission holds, but Kairi was able to get away with it by reversing into multiple pinfall attempts. I also like how Kairi worked on Shayna’s ribs and took advantage of the damage to escape from Kirufuda Driver. This was the smartest match in the tournament, but not the best. I love the small details especially when Shayna “instinctively” covered her face from one of Kairi’s attack exposing her ribs. They have chemistry and the match was technically smart—but why it was not the best? Because they didn’t get enough live reactions.

Kairi was one of the best babyfaces in the tournament not only because of her charisma, but because of her sheer fighting spirit.
KP: It was a little disappointing that this was not the most full-bodied—entertaining, smart, and emotional—match of the MYC.

Still, I did like the story Kairi and Shayna told here. As I guessed in the quarterfinals, Shayna’s preternatural ability to snatch opponents out of mid-air for a rear-naked triangle choke did come into play after Kairi’s first attempt at a diving elbow. And if anyone still thinks that Shayna can’t wrestle and entertain, they should watch how she escalated her disassembly of Kairi’s elbow and her selling of her ribs.

Speaking of Kairi and injuries, damn does she make a great babyface. Her comebacks were believable even with the extent of her injury, and she managed to get the half-dead crowd going, who I’m sure a majority hadn’t known Kairi before this, to invest in her victory. She was the perfect foil for Shayna and yes, I did cry well before she started to cry.

That being said, I think Kairi and Shayna could have used more time. The lead-up, red carpet, and post-match events are longer than the 13 minute-long match, and that’s a huge let-down. 13 minutes is a sprint for these two, and previous matches have shown that they could go for a marathon with a fuller story than this. That, I think, could’ve dispelled notions that Shayna only made it this far to get Ronda Rousey on WWE programming, or that someone else should be in Kairi’s place. And probably could’ve made me cry harder.

This match could have used more time but with the minutes they were given, Kairi and Shayna truly delivered.

Best of the Best

Tournament MVP

Ardelle: The finalists are a given, but our honorary tita Mercedes Martinez is KP and I’s MVP of the tournament because: 1) she never had bad matches from round 1 all the way to the semi-finals; 2) she’s great at making her opponents look good; 3) her theme is such a bop; and 4) she’s just so good. I really hope she gets signed (and goes straight to the main roster, perhaps?) because she has indeed earned her spot at the big leagues.

Miyann: I have said so many words for Mercedes. Experience wise, she is the best competitor in the tournament, evidenced by once having a 73-minute match—yes, 73. She’s a really smooth and smart worker—I hope she’ll be able to show more of what she can do in front of a much bigger audience.

Best Performance Center Product: Bianca Belair

KP: Belair’s a two-time NXT Combine winner, meaning she beat men and women in the Performance Center in tests of strength and endurance for two straight years. Sure, she’s green in the ring, but it really is only a matter of time before her in-ring skills catch up with Bianca’s natural athleticism. Out of all talents who started with NXT, she’s truly the "The EST of NXT."


Miyann: The woman with the brightest future. She may only had two matches for the Mae Young Classics but those matches were actually good and she was able to show off her athleticism. She is born to be a champion.

Fight Forever (Rematch Pls)

KP: I want Sarah Logan and Mia Yim to fight again. These two faced each other in the past twice—in 2012 for Reina and 2016 for Destiny Wrestling Organization—when Sarah was still known as Crazy Mary Dobson, yet I highly doubt that either fight showed off their chemistry as much as their MYC fight. It’s a shame that this was overshadowed by later hits and a rematch may just be a fever dream, since Sarah’s signed with NXT and Mia’s still in the indies.

Ardelle: I’m torn between Toni Storm vs. Piper Niven and Piper Niven vs. Santana Garrett. Basically, I just want more of Piper Niven on my screen, but to elaborate, Toni and Piper have excellent chemistry, as I mentioned in our quarterfinal and semifinal review. I wanted me some more Piper and Santana after their first round match because they just gelled together so well, considering that it was their first singles match with each other. They gave me an impression that they will never have bad matches together a la Kenny Omega and Michael Elgin.

Miyann: I want to see more of Jazzy Gabert and Abbey Laith. I fell in love with their match and their ability to tell a story.

Top 5 Tournament Matches (in no particular order)

KP: We all universally agreed on Mercedes Martinez vs. Princesa Sugehit, Kairi Sane vs. Bianca Belair, and Shayna Baszler vs. Mercedes Martinez; what we have differences on is our last two picks. Ardelle and I agreed on Kairi Sane vs. Toni Storm but had different picks for our last match, while Miyann had a totally different Kairi match in mind.

Miyann: My other favorite Kairi match is her first with Tessa Blanchard. I like this match because of how both competitors used their abilities and experience throughout the match. Their clashing styles blended perfectly produced a great match.

My fifth, as you can guess, is Abbey Laith vs. Jazzy Gabert. This match is a combination of smart storytelling and smart wrestling. Abbey Laith’s fighting spirit was really inspiring, and Jazzy Gabert was built to be an amazon. It was not the usual match or their size. It was amazing.

Ardelle: Being an indecisive person that I am, I’m actually torn (again) between Abbey Laith vs. Jazzy Gabert and Kairi Sane vs. Shayna Baszler, because these two matches made me teary-eyed. Both also follow the plucky, smaller underdog vs. dominant, bigger opponent, but I decided to make the tournament final my number five favorite match because it was much more physical, and Shayna surprised me a lot.

KP: My inarguable fifth is Toni Storm vs. Piper Niven, simply because it was the perfect basic match for two wrestlers who know each other so well. Storm and Niven knew each other’s tricks and weaknesses and worked that knowledge to their advantage. And they had so much fun. When wrestlers have fun, the crowd has fun.

Final Thoughts, and What’s NXT Next?

Ardelle: While the Mae Young Classic was groundbreaking in terms of its reach, they could have made the tournament a much bigger deal. I felt that last year’s Cruiserweight Classic was much more hyped than the MYC.

I was also a bit disappointed with the bracketing, because I was looking forward to seeing more of some of the women eliminated from the first round.

But I still had a lot of feelings on the tournament because a lot of the women are so good, proving the naysayers wrong. It legitimized that the women aren’t just sideshows. They can be money. Also, another Mae Young Classic in the future, please!

Miyann: It was really empowering. Just like what I said earlier, the kid inside me was really happy. This tournament is my Disneyland. It showcased different talents worldwide and it also helped promote independent promotions. I just hope that they made this a big event like CWC.

KP: The Netflix style of release for the MYC worked for me since I do like to bingewatch my wrestling. What negated the good of this format is the inadequate promotion for the tournament on RAW and SmackDown. I didn’t need something extra like a mention during a promo; I just needed reminders from the commentary team that this tournament exists and deserves mainstream attention. I think I can fairly say that this was undeservedly less hyped than WWE’s previous tournaments.

And if they intended to surprise people with the way they led us to the inevitable Kairi vs. Shayna match, maybe they could have done so without handing some of the women the short end of the stick. There were upsets and dream matches in the first two rounds of the Cruiserweight Classic and UK Championship Tournament, but none as bothersome as the MYC. Can you imagine if Cedric Alexander and Kota Ibushi fought in the first round, or if Jason Lee won over Rich Swann? It’s kinda what happened when we got Tessa and Kairi in the first round and when Rachel Evers won over Marti.

But I think all of these complaints are overshadowed by the fact that the WWE finally made a program dedicated to women without the phrase “women’s revolution” anywhere near it. And a part of me really wants Triple H’s dream of having women start wrestling because of this tournament to come true. Just, y’know, maybe overyhype this as they overhyped their “women’s revolution.”
No, WWE, you can’t distract us from this injustice even with this glamor shot of Tita Mercy, Candice, and #Piperoni.

With her win, Kairi has earned the right to compete for the NXT Women’s Title at TakeOver: Houston. While it’s unknown who her opponents will be, it’ll be interesting to see how they’ll treat Kairi after her performance in the MYC, and how she will interact with former champion Asuka when the Empress of Tomorrow returns from injury.


Only time will tell if another MYC is in the cards for the WWE. However, many are hoping that the positive response to the tournament, despite its many shortcomings, will allow all the women in the company to have more TV time and meatier storylines.

More Women's Wrestling!

Hungry for more women's wrestling and tired of only seeing it for less than 30 minutes on SmackDown and RAW? Head over to Joshi City for great match recommendations and these promotions to stream some top quality all-women wrestling:

Women's Wrestling Network

Home of various promotions such as Queens of Combat and Girlfight, this network also offers intergender fights, joshi or Japanese women's wrestling, shoot interviews, and classic matches between Sensational Sherri and Judy Martin, and the like.

SHIMMER Wrestling

Running for well over a decade, SHIMMER is a well-known promotion that revolutionized women's wrestling in the mid-2000s by offering female wrestlers in North America a platform to show off their skills without being objectified.

Mercedes Martinez is the current champion while Tessa Blanchard holds the tag team title with partner Vanessa Kraven. Shayna Baszler, Candice LeRae, Mia Yim and other MYC competitors are also part of the roster.

Pro-Wrestling: EVE

Founded and run by couple Dann and Emily Read, the feminist punk rock promotion is known for their strong narratives and stronger roster.

With alumna such as the legendary Manami Toyota, Nikki Cross, and Jazzy Gabert, Eve continues to impress with current MYC talents such as Toni Storm, Viper, and Kay Lee Ray.

Stardom

Striking in both physical prowess and beauty, Stardom wrestlers are known for their strong style and ability to connect to the crowd.

Kairi Sane is Stardom's most notable Stardom alumna in the MYC, while both Toni Storm and Viper currently hold titles at the Tokyo-based promotion.

Tokyo Joshi Pro

The joshi offshoot of the prolific DDT promotion, Tokyo Joshi Pro offers the same silliness with large slabs of amazing wrestling as its parent company.

Subscribing to DDT Universe allows access to Tokyo Joshi Pro and other DDT offshoots such as Pro Wrestling Basara, DDT New Attitude, and Ganbare Puroresu.

Photo from WWE

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