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31 Days of Wrestling (12/3/17): The Mae Young Classic Finals


By KP

Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. Once again, we're at that point where we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling 2017 produced for us.

Today, we’ll revisit the finale to the WWE’s first all-female tournament, the Mae Young Classic.

It’s no exaggeration when sites refer to the MYC as a historic event. Other than literally being the first iteration of a new program, the 32-women tournament broke new ground for women’s wrestling in the WWE concretely by showcasing wrestling styles, body types, and dynamics either lacking from or mishandled in the good ol’ ‘E.

The tournament, though not quite truly international, also gave us samples of what women’s wrestling fans have been watching for years in Mexico, the US indies, Europe, and Japan, and a peek at talents who’ll be permanent fixtures on WWE programming after spending more time in the Performance Center.


Having Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler emerge as the finalists was a no-brainer for most wrestling websites and forums. Sane was a consistent pick due to her outstanding performance in and high-profile transfer from Stardom; Baszler was swapped with Jazzy Gabert as the perfect foil for Sane, though her status as one of the Four Horsewomen of MMA factored in her favor.

For all the problems the MYC had when it came to bracketing and victors, Sane and Baszler put on good performances in every match that advanced their stories and made them believable in the position they were put in.

Both women had good first round matches that established who they are. Baszler’s grappling and submission skills were put in the spotlight in a quick victory against Zeda in the first round. It would’ve been easy to have her completely dominate Zeda, but by nearly falling to a basic wrestling move—a monkey flip—we were shown that Baszler is still vulnerable.


Easily a second round match, Sane versus Tessa Blanchard was a great way to introduce the Pirate Princess to the WWE Universe. Pairing her with Blanchard allowed Sane to show off her babyface charm through her quirky mannerisms, lung-blowing strikes, and outstanding facial expressions. Whereas Baszler affected a dominant presence, Sane was presented as a champion for all ages.

Mia Yim was a better yardstick for Baszler’s abilities than Zeda. This second round match furthered the narrative that an experienced wrestler can nullify Baszler’s superior grappling skills. Time and time again, Yim’s ring awareness and experience saved her from Baszler’s holds and limb isolation.

Bianca Belair helped Sane further her status as the MYC’s good guy by playing the cocky, talented upstart and tangling up Sane for most of their match with her sheer strength and swagger. Struggling against Belair also allowed Sane to display her wits by having her take advantage of the NXT talent’s inexperience—something that was overshadowed by her character in the Blanchard match.


Now aware of her potential weakness, Baszler saw through Candice LeRae’s flurry of offense in their quarterfinals match to catch LeRae unawares mid-Miss LeRae’s Wild Ride with a rear-naked choke. More visibly than the first two rounds, Baszler’s alpha tendencies were on full display here as she did her best to shut down LeRae’s flashier moveset and held on to the choke well after the match’s end.

Sane’s top babyface status in the MYC was rivalled only by Dakota Kai’s unending positivity; Sane winning against Kai all but cemented her position as a finals contender, despite Toni Storm’s latter performance against her in the semis. Against both, Sane proved that she could be the dominant woman in a fight through her versatility, whether it be chain wrestling, high-risk offense, or pure face-elbowing.

Baszler versus Mercedes Martinez in the semis was a passing-the-torch moment between student and teacher, and showed that the ex-MMA fighter could tell a story in-ring as well as the next gal. Baszler worked intelligently, using the long pacing of the match to pick off Martinez’ weaknesses, ultimately retaking the momentum and the win by using the experience she acquired with her athletic gifts to defeat her mentor. With this match, Baszler became a full-package wrestler and, by overcoming a striker, grappler, and high-flyer, prepared her for Sane.


The subject of today’s #31DaysofWrestling, Sane and Baszler’s finals match, paid off each women’s journey with as much satisfaction as one could get in a main event that was shorter than its red carpet event, introduction, and awarding ceremony.

As noted previously, this was the smartest match in the MYC as the two pitted their strengths against each other immediately, with Baszler trying to wear Sane down with back-to-back submission moves and Sane attempting to exploit Baszler’s wrestling inexperience. When this didn’t work, they set to eliminate the other’s strengths, leading to Sane attacking Baszler’s core to remove her power moves and weaken her holds, and Baszler nearly popping Sane’s elbow off to eliminate her finisher and strikes.

Their offense wasn’t the only thing that made this match great; their ability to look vulnerable on the defense must also be commended. From Baszler’s veneer of toughness cracking under Sane’s relentless attacks, and Sane playing up every hold as the one that could potentially end her, the two made the fight look competitive to the point of stirring the nearly-dead crowd of Paradise, Las Vegas into a frenzy by the end of their match.


While woefully short, Sane and Baszler’s match honored the efforts of every women who participated in the MYC by delivering against the odds, mainly the WWE’s lack of promotion of the tournament, leading to the aforementioned nearly-dead crowd, which the two counteracted by putting on one of the best women’s match in the promotion this year.


Sane winning the tournament put her on the radar for an NXT Women’s Title shot at NXT TakeOver: WarGames and while she lost, she remains one of the best in the developmental territory. After six NXT talents were raised to the WWE main roster in one week, Sane and Baszler will definitely play a huge part in maintaining the prestige of the NXT women’s division in 2018—and a rematch, in whatever capacity, is not inconceivable.

Perhaps the reaction to Sane and Baszler’s match can convince a grander MYC next year, one that will receive greater promotion on WWE’s main programming and give more talented female wrestlers in far-flung countries a major platform to showcase their talents.

*****

31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2017.

Read our previous entries:

#1: The Okada/Omega Trilogy

#2: Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker (WrestleMania 33)

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