Thoughts on… the Mae Young Classic, Episodes 5-6

For the prior episode’s review, click right here.

When last we left the tournament, we’d gone through the first sixteen matches, meaning we’re now into the thick of the tournament proper. The next two episodes are, sadly, still going to be based around the concept of “cram four matches into a single show,” that the prior set were, but we’re about to get into the really good stuff here, in theory, since most of the green workers have been eliminated from the tournament. Well, with a couple of exceptions…

Anyway, let’s get down to business.

Episode Five:

1.) Abbey Laith v. Rachael Evers

Abbey Laith is coming in from an awesome first round match against Jazzy Gabert that made her look like a star, and she’s coming into the second round looking like she’s the best prospect for moving on, considering. Between a high quality first round match, a finisher handed down to her from Mae Young, and an opponent who might well have been a sub-in, Laith looks like the odds on favorite here.

Rachel Evers is coming in from what was probably the worst match in the first round, unfortunately, and may well have not been the expected opponent if the rumors about her match against Belle being changed on the fly are to be believed. For Evers, even if she doesn’t win, this match is going to be her shot to prove that she can do much better than that, and with an opponent like Laith, that shouldn’t be an issue.

The Match was good enough that it could’ve been the headliner for this episode, frankly speaking, as both Laith and Evers beat the hell out of each other and were absolutely on the same page for the majority of this. There was a lot to love here, including a dueling hype portion that ended with stereo pump kicks taking out both competitors, and Abbey countering a kick into a powerbomb that she then transitioned into the Alligator Clutch was a much better way to use that finish; I hope that Laith eventually gets more opportunities to build the Clutch into other moves, as it’s not super impressive on its own, but looks great when combined with powerful offensive setups.

My Final Thoughts are that Evers more than proved she can have an awesome match here, and again, this match could’ve easily headlined this show with how solid it was. I’m not at all surprised with the outcome, in general, but this match more than proved that Laith and Evers deserve a shot in NXT proper, so here’s hoping they get it sooner rather than later.

2.) Piper Niven v. Serena Deeb

Piper Niven is coming into this match after having one of the best matches in the series so far against Santana Garrett, and has far and away shown that she’s a top level talent who could easily carry a high level match in this show. Her aesthetic is one that WWE in specific, and wrestling in general, frequently finds hard to book properly, so I’m not liking her chances in the tournament, but she’s more than proven already that she’s fantastic, and a great match with Deeb would only reinforce that.

Serena Deeb is continuing her return/redemption story here, after a solid carry job in her first match, and this is looking to be the match where she can cut loose with someone on equal footing and let it all hang out. I suspected, going in, that Deeb was going to take it here simply because the WWE loves her sort of story, but either way, she should be tearing it up with Niven this time around.

The Match was electric, as both Deeb and Niven really tore it up here and showed that, no matter who you are, a good old fashioned Sting vs Vader style “big vs little” match will always deliver when you need it to. Deeb looked like she hadn’t missed a step in her time away out there, and more than showed that she’s got the tools she didn’t get the chance to showcase previously, but holy shit Niven looked like an absolute killer out there. Both wrestlers really stepped up and, frankly, by the time it was over I was really wondering why this also wasn’t a headlining match for a different episode.

My Final Thoughts are that, if both of these ladies want a contract, it should be there for the taking, assuming anyone backstage was paying attention. Deeb is still distractingly thin, but her array of neckbreakers was awesome to behold and she could easily slip into a returning veteran or trainer role if it’s a thing she wanted. Niven, meanwhile, is exactly the sort of wrestler WWE needs, in that she offers a strong contrast like a Nia Jax or a Tamina Snuka, but unlike those two, she can go like crazy and could easily have a top-shelf match with anyone on the main roster right now.

3.) Mercedes Martinez v. Princesa Sugehit

Mercedes Martinez is coming into this fresh off of a solid enough match against rookie Xia Li where she showed off her ability to use her veteran skills to make someone less skilled look good, and this should be the chance she needs to show off how good she can wrestle normally. Given a veteran opponent, she should be able to tear it up in the ring, and this match should easily be her showcase.

Princesa Sugehit is coming in off of an adequate match against Kay Lee Ray, and again, should be able to use this match as an opportunity to showcase her veteran skills and show the world what she’s made of. She’s also wearing a Wonder Woman themed costume in the second round, which is neat just on principle.

The Match was better than each of the prior matches these two had, but not as good as you’d expect given the pedigree of both performers, largely due to a couple of sections in the middle where it seemed like the two weren’t on the same page. Most of the match proper was pretty good, but a long-ish sequence on the top turnbuckle and some awkwardness in the final fight to the finish made the match feel like it wasn’t clicking as well as it could’ve. That said, the idea of the finishing sequence was great, and most of the execution was fine, so this ended up being a pretty solid match all in all.

My Final Thoughts are that I hope both ladies get a shot in NXT, though Martinez feels like she’s the one who’s more likely to go further with the tools she has in the company. I’m honestly surprised she played it straight here after a heel introduction, however, but she still showed some real fire and passion that’d take her far in NXT and WWE proper.

4.) Kairi Sane v. Bianca Belair

Kairi Sane is coming in off of the best goddamn match of the first roundperiod, and it’s almost certain this match isn’t going to hold a candle to that one. Sorry Bianca Belair, you’re not Tessa Blanchard.

Bianca Belair is not Tessa Blanchard. She’s coming in off of a match that I honestly have no opinion on, so my expectations are not high going in here.

The Match was honestly really damn good, and while Sane looked awesome, as one would expect, Belair looked way more comfortable in her character this time out, to the point that she got actual, legitimate crowd heat with her actions, something the crowds haven’t been really interested in giving up to now. It’s weird to realize that the crowds have mostly been reacting in a way that’s positive to women’s wrestling as a whole, but when Belair started laying into Sane they booed the shit out of her, and I respect the hell out of that.

My Final Thoughts are that Belair might actually have something with her gimmick as-is, so long as she can work with more top-shelf workers, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her high on the card in NXT next year. Sane, of course, is amazing as always, though she was also sporting a large bandage on her shoulders during the match, so I’m wondering what that’s about; hopefully it’s nothing, but given that the rumors are that Sane injured her neck and got a concussion during the tournament, one wonders what brought on the bandage all of a sudden.

Episode Six:

5.) Toni Storm v. Lacey Evans

Toni Storm is coming into this match after a hot opening round matchup that established her as super over with the crowd, as well as super comfortable in her character and aesthetic. She’s got one of the more unique looks in this show, and she seems really at home in her character and moveset, which is surprising given her experience level.

Lacey Evans is in a comparable position to Storm, in that she has a unique aesthetic and concept to herself, but her first round match made it feel like she was still a bit green, as she knew how to get in her offense but not how to fill in the parts in-between doing that. Given this fact, this match could either be really good or really bad for her, depending on how Storm can do with someone who’s this, well, green.

The Match was honestly good, but formulaic, as Storm and Evans worked a solid face/heel formula match; Storm got in a couple of neat offensive moves, Evans took over the middle portion, then Storm came back with her offense before they went to the finish. Formula matches aren’t bad when you have two workers who don’t know their ring psychology match, but, well, they’re formulaic, and you can pretty easily spot when one’s happening. Not a bad showing from either worker, and the right person went over.

My Final Thoughts are that Storm is basically ready for NXT, as presented, between her look, her understanding of her character, and her silly finisher name, Strong Zero, that shows she’s Japan influenced. Evans, on the other hand, will be someone to watch out for in another year, but she wasn’t ready to carry the middle portion of a match, offense-wise; she knows how to do her neat-looking moves, but not why she’s doing them, if that makes sense. She gets her spots in well, but needs a bit more polish to be ready for prime time.

6.) Shayna Baszler v. Mia Yim

Shayna Baszler is coming in from a match where she looked greener than her rookie opponent, and is also pretty much definitely winning here, so here’s hoping she can have a better match against a vet.

Mia Yim is coming in from a match that was the match of the episode and the second or third best match of the opening rounds, but she’s doing the job here so one can only hope she’s super good at carrying rookies.

The Match was honestly a testament to Yim’s abilities as a worker; Baszler looked much better out here than she did in the first round, but this match looked damn good, and that’s almost certainly due to Yim’s veteran skillset. Baszler has this weird problem where she either looks like she’s stiffing the shit out of her opponent with her kicks or isn’t making contact at all, and while she looked much better than she did in the first round, she feels like she just… isn’t there yet, between striking offense that’s wonky, awkward selling, and a generally limited understanding of her own character.

My Final Thoughts are that they did they post-match celebration with the MMA Horsewomen, followed by a staredown with the WWE Horsewomen, and I have never wanted to see a match less in my entire life than that one. I’m aware I’m in the minority, but since Baszler is pretty much definitely making it to the finals, I’ll address my concerns in the next recap. Also, gonna repeat that the WWE should be throwing money at Yim because she made Baszler look great out there.

7.) Rhea Ripley v. Dakota Kai

Rhea Ripley is coming off of an adequate match against another rookie that showed us Ripley can hang, but needs more seasoning. Having a match with a top shelf veteran is really the thing she needs to do to establish herself as a WWE fixture, and as luck would have it…

Dakota Kai is coming off of having to carry a green rookie through a match… only to find herself carrying another green rookie through a match, so it’s clear WWE knows what her strong points are. The good news is, Ripley seems like she has a better grasp of the fundamentals, so this should probably be a good match.

The Match was honestly about what I expected it would be going in; Kai used her veteran skillset to walk Ripley through a pretty good match, relatively speaking, and I’d honestly call this the match of the show pound-for-pound. Kai absolutely made this match what it was, but Ripley looked far more comfortable filling in the gaps here, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that these two worked really well together.

My Final Thoughts are that Ripley has it, and is almost certainly going to be a huge star sooner rather than later once she polishes off the rookie jitters a bit. Compare her work to that of Baszler; both have a strong grasp of the basics, but Ripley is much better at the chain wrestling and offense portions out there, making her look like a much bigger star in the process. Kai, of course, is also a master out there, but credit where it’s due, both made this match a solid affair, and it’s overall a good showing.

8.) Candice LaRae v. Nicole Savoy

Candice LaRae is coming in off of a solid match where she, again, carried an unseasoned rookie to something enjoyable, but she really needs a match that showcases what she can do as a worker, because she’s one of the best wrestlers on this show and is aching for that show-stealer.

Nicole Savoy is coming off of a power vs speed match where she played face against a larger opponent, and she, too, feels like someone who needs a bigger match to really make an impact for herself. She hasn’t had a chance to showcase why she’s called the Queen of Suplexes, either, so that’s a must this round.

The Match was… meh, honestly, and most of it has to do with the fact that they took the middle portion of a good fifteen minute match and shoved it into a seven minute match. I mean, I knew when this match started with eight minutes to go it wasn’t going to be a killer, but it absolutely should not have ended this episode given the booking the WWE has done prior to this, as it was just… too short to get where it wanted to go. Most of the match was focused around Savoy’s suplex and submission work, which is fine, but it needed some early buildup and late-match storytelling, and instead we got about a minute of feeling out, a lot of psychology where it wasn’t earned, and a finish that felt way too long and forced.

My Final Thoughts are that Savoy needs some polish, and LaRae desperately needs a strong opponent. Sorry, I got nothing.

Well, that’s the second round of the tournament over with, which means our next series of matches looks as follows:

Abbey Laith vs Mercedes Martinez: Ooh, this is going to be a great match. Kimber Lee and Mercedes Martinez have probably worked together on the indies a whole bunch, and watching them tear it up in a WWE ring is almost certainly going to be awesome. I’m betting on Laith taking it here, but wouldn’t be surprised if either worker moved on; of the two, however, Laith feels like she’ll the better fit for her upcoming opponent…

Candice LeRae vs Shayna Baszler: Oh for fuck’s sake. If LaRae doesn’t get a job after all of the carrying she’s had to do this tournament, I don’t know what to tell you. Expect this to be “good, but” and for Baszler to win.

Kairi Sane vs Dakota Kai: Someone had better have a doctor backstage, because THIS MATCH IS GOING TO BE SICK, I DON’T EVEN CARE HOW STUPID THAT JOKE WAS. Kai vs Sane had better close out one of the episodes because it’s going to be insane, and I can’t wait to watch it. Sane is winning, because duh.

Piper Niven vs Toni Storm: I am… tentatively excited for this one, mostly because I didn’t expect either of these two to make it this far, and I want to see how they work together. Niven is clearly great, but so far she’s had great opponents to work against; Storm, meanwhile, has been solid, but hasn’t had a match against a great opponent yet, so her work has been limited. I won’t be surprised if these two tear the house down. I’m honestly expecting Niven to move on here, simply because I think she’ll be better equipped to have the best possible match with Sane, but either one would be fine, probably.

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