For the prior recap, click right here.
When last we left the tournament, we made it down to the final eight competitors, which means we’re getting down to the last six matches in this tournament, in the quarterfinals and the semi-finals. The finals proper are on Tuesday, which I’ll be happily commenting on as the night progresses over on Twitter if this sort of thing interests you, but for now, let’s look at the last two episodes of the Classic and how we get to what is a… fairly obvious main event for that show.
Episode Seven, Quarterfinals:
1.) Abbey Laith v. Mercedes Martinez
(The WWE is kind enough to make these graphics, might as well use them.)
Abbey Laith is coming in off of back-to-back awesome matches with Jazzy Gabert and Rachel Evers, and she’s almost certainly going to be tearing it up with Martinez here, though I’m suspecting, going in, that Laith’s going to be the one moving on.
Mercedes Martinez is coming in with solid, but unexciting, wins over a rookie and a veteran, and if she’s moving on here she really needs this to be a killer match, because so far she’s been fine, but hasn’t had as much to work with as we’d want.
The Match was pretty good, and showed what Martinez can really do with a motivated, top shelf opponent like Laith. The commentary started to lay into Martinez having been on the shelf for a bit due to a shoulder injury, which helped explain her sub-optimal showings so far, though as a narrative mechanic it didn’t really factor into this match. All told, though, this was a solid showing for both women, especially the finishing sequence, where Laith got desperate and kept trying to just lay in the Alligator Clutch, only for Martinez to make her pay for it.
My Final Thoughts are that I think having Martinez move on here would’ve made a lot more sense if not for the events of the next match, for reasons we will discuss when that time comes.
2.) Candice LaRae v. Shayna Baszler
Candice LaRae is not winning this match.
Shayna Baszler is winning this match.
The Match was all angle advancement, to be blunt about it. Scott Keith called a “short but fun” match, and that’s not entirely inaccurate; it’s definitely short, clocking in at about half the time of the rest of the matches on the show, and it’s fun because LeRae is doing the majority of the work. Put another way: the majority of this match is LeRae wrestling around Baszler, and the three minutes of the match was “Baszler takes LeRae down and pushes LeRae around, LeRae comes back and hits a bunch of neat shit, Baszler counters the Wild Ride into a tapout, then refuses to let go like a jerk.” Baszler, aside from the foot pushing, hit three moves, pretty much, and that’s probably the best way to disguise her weaknesses, but it was mostly smoke and mirrors.
My Final Thoughts are that they do a lot of good work to establish Baszler as a mega douche heel here, and, uh, remember that in a bit.
3.) Toni Storm v. Piper Niven
Toni Storm is coming into this match looking astonishingly good as a worker, relatively speaking, and is probably one of the biggest surprises to come from this tournament as it relates to time pro versus skill level.
Piper Niven is coming into this match looking awesome as hell and she almost certainly is going to be a huge star in WWE so long as they sign her and don’t turn her into a joke five minutes later.
The Match was a great escalating match, as the two started off with a friendly rivalry in the beginning before slowly increasing their output, not unlike a NJPW match in its pacing. The finishing sequence was exactly what the match needed as well, from Piper’s reluctance to that delay giving Storm a chance to recover and capitalize, and honestly, it’s a shame either had to lose here.
My Final Thoughts are that both of these ladies deserve a contract if they don’t have one already, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them teaming or feuding by 2018.
4.) Kairi Sane v. Dakota Kai
Kairi Sane is winning this match, but I’m a lot happier about knowing this in advance than I was above.
Dakota Kai is fresh off of carrying two rookies to solid matches, meaning this match should be the opportunity she gets to tear shit up with a top-shelf worker before being knocked out of the tournament.
The Match was… well, maybe it was the hype of what I expect from these two, but this didn’t click like I’d hoped it would. Was it good? Absolutely. But as much as I enjoyed it, there was a lot of wasted motion here, like a sequence where Sane went up, Kai followed her up and knocked her down, and then just… jumped down and went back to offense. To be fair, Kai was wearing what looked to be a compression brace on her knee and was selling the knee a bit, so it’s possible she was working hurt.
My Final Thoughts are that I suspect these two have a better match in them, and since both have contracts with WWE, I’d expect we’ll get to see that match sooner rather than later.
Episode Eight, Semifinals:
1.) Shayna Baszler v. Mercedes Martinez
We went through their status, so I’m just skipping it here.
The Match was essentially meant to be a “student/teacher” deal, in that Baszler studies under Martinez, so Martinez spends much of the match showing up Baszler, only for Baszler to surpass the master. Baszler’s clearly learning, still, as witnessed by her “stand up, stomp a bit, THEN go to the pinning combo into the kneebar” sequence, but this was the most comfortable she’s looked. A lot of the middle portion was drama more than anything else (IE the overlong slap fight that the fans eventually gave up on) and Mercedes beating the shit out of Baszler, which would be fine for a plucky babyface but not for a shithead heel.
My Final Thoughts are that, hah, remember how Baszler was a complete shit to Alexis LeRae above? Yeah, the fans did, so they mostly shit on everything Baszler did in this match and didn’t much care that she won, despite the presentation of the event and the post-match. I get that it was a big deal between her and Martinez, but you’re not going to convince the fans to feel good about that win when Baszler is clearly a jerk (in character).
Also, for as much as they talked up the arm injury for Martinez, it mostly ended up not even being a factor, which was… really weird in retrospect.
2.) Kairi Sane v. Toni Storm
(They didn’t do a tale of the tape for this match for some reason, or at least I didn’t see it, so have this faceoff pic instead.)
The Match was mostly excellent, showing both that Sane is a crazy person and Storm is definitely ready for NXT as is. A dive to the outside looked like it was going to be a concern, and is probably where Sane got the concussion it’s been rumored she received (to the point where there are clear grate marks on her face afterward), but otherwise this match was surprisingly good, to the point that I honestly don’t think the final match proper is going to do anything to better it.
My Final Thoughts are… okay, let’s just break this off.
So, at this point, the final match is looking to be Kairi Sane v Shayna Baszler, which is… basically being done because Baszler is the money prospect at the moment, and that’s… fine in and of itself. The rumor seems to be that whoever wins this match will also win the NXT Women’s Championship, which would be asinine as hell for a myriad of reasons (not the least of which being, “Let’s give the belt to this brand new person who’s never been a part of the brand instead of literally any of the people who have been here for one or more years,”), and conventional wisdom is that either way, Baszler is mostly here to set up a long-term Four Horsewomen v Four Horsewomen match with the WWE Women (Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley) facing off against the MMA Women (who we identified previously as Baszler, Marina Shafir, Jessamyn Duke and Ronda Rousey), and, if we’re being honest, this is being done pretty much entirely to get Rousey into the WWE to get the one or two paydays the WWE thinks it can get from her before her name value bottoms out altogether.
As such, to say that this tournament has been “good, but” has been an understatement, for two key reasons:
1.) The Cruiserweight Classic at least featured top talents all over the card, and
2.) No one gives a shit about anyone but Rousey.
The major difference between the CWC and the MYC is that even though the former was basically always going to end with a WWE contracted worker winning, it featured a lot of top shelf talent all over, and even if you don’t like TJ Perkins (and let’s be clear, I don’t), he worked his ass off in the tournament and absolutely made that win count, making it feel more vital when he won the title in the process. Compare this to the MYC, where Baszler has been carried through her matches up to this point, not because she’s bad, but because she lacks the tools to BE at the level WWE wants her to be at, and then imagine how fast the bloom is going to fall off of that rose when the system isn’t protecting her anymore, which, real talk, will happen before the Survivor Series match, if there is one. If Sane wins, at least that frees Baszler up to train extensively along with the rest of her crew for the relevant angle and match, but if she becomes NXT women’s champ, not only is she going to be exposed stupid fast, but she’s also going to either have to obliterate all comers or she’s going to have to be used sparingly, and neither is a great solution after almost two years with Asuka as champ; I love Asuka, don’t get me wrong, but fuck Baszler, it’s Ember Moon’s time to shine.
The larger problem, though, is that the end result of a Horsewomen v Horsewomen match is “Rousey wins, somehow,” and real talk: absolutely no one gives a single, solitary shit about anyone on the MMA side but Rousey. WWE doesn’t have a huge crossover market with MMA, but even if they did it’d end up with the hype for this match being… interesting; to be blunt, if you don’t know anything about MMA, you’ve probably only ever heard of Rousey, but if you do, you know that Baszler’s a wash-out from MMA with a 15-11 record who was released from UFC in 2015 and went to wrestling as a result, Duke is a washout from MMA who has a 3-5-1 record (and the 1 was a fight where she lost but the fight was thrown out) who turned to wrestling (presumably) as a result, Shafir has a pro record of 1-2 and is so otherwise unnotable that she doesn’t even have her own Wikipedia page (but is mentioned on Rousey and Roderick Strong’s pages), and Rousey has lost her last two fights and is expected to retire by basically everyone, including Dana White himself.
Now, I want to be clear: my beef isn’t with WWE doing this match (because it’s clearly happening); my beef is with the fact that, if it does happen, it’s been set up by way of co-opting an entire tournament toward getting one person over as a killer so that the network fans will know who someone other than Rousey is, all so that we can have a PPV match where the four biggest faces in the WWE women’s division (well, more or less) job to the star from outside of the company, or, failing that, lose via shenanigans to set up a Wrestlemania match between Rousey and either Charlotte or Stephanie McMahon, if the rumors are to be believed.
So, y’know. I’m hoping all of that doesn’t happen, but if it does, well, I just hope there’s a good match to be had in there somewhere. Here’s hoping Sane/Baszler is good. We’ll find out Tuesday.