Well, after eight episodes, we’re finally at the point where this all comes together into one big culmination of pro wrestling goodness: the finals of the Mae Young Classic are (as I’m writing this) upon us, and this will be my final observation piece on the event as a whole, save for possibly some sort of retrospective depending on who’s ultimately announced as having been signed by WWE in the wake of the finals and their respective fallout.
First up, let’s talk about the Road to the Finals. This was mostly a chance for the WWE to show a match they’d filmed during the taping cycle of the tournament without having to incorporate it into one of the actual tournament episodes, and for the most part, it was a fine holdover between the tournament and the final match proper. That said, there’s really only one match to talk about, so let’s hit the high points:
Santana Garrett, Sarah Logan and Marti Belle vs Tessa Blanchard, Jazzy Gabert and Kay Lee Ray
- First off, holy shit that Jazzy Gabert heat. When she’s first announced as coming down to the ring, the fans go absolutely batshit for her, to the point where she breaks character during her intro because she is clearly not expecting this level of love from the fans, and it’s wonderful. The fans didn’t let up all match for their love for Jazzy, from chanting her name during her intro, booing whenever she wasn’t tagged in and popping huge when she was, it was amazing how stupidly over she was after one match. I completely agree with the fanbase here; hire Jazzy WWE.
- That said, dear Full Sail: can we please stop ruining good matches with your bullshit? Like, I know basically every proper wrestling writer on Earth has expressed what an awful fanbase you folks are, but when you’re popping for one person when the other five are having a good match and booing anything that isn’t that one person, you sound like assholes. I mean, Tessa Blanchard put on a goddamn clinic with Kairi Sane and y’all ain’t chanting shit for her (well okay, they did for like five seconds, but even so).
- Outside of that, though, this was basically a match that was meant for these six ladies to “get their shit in,” as it were, and it mostly worked. It wasn’t exactly the technical classic some of the individual matches were, but it wasn’t meant to be; for the fans in the audience, it was likely a cool-down match between tournament rounds, and for us, it’s a fun match with low stakes where everyone gets to look great.
- When I say everyone, by the way, I mean everyone, and I want to give a shout out to Marti Belle for playing Ricky Morton basically perfectly during her sequences of the match. Her offense still looked a little spotty, especially relative to her normal performances, but she sold the hell out of everything out there, and when she was caught in the ring alone with Jazzy for the end spot she sold the idea of Jazzy like death, which was just awesome. I’m still not sold on her getting a look as a WWE competitor, but she redeemed her first round performance, that’s for damn sure.
- Finally, while I appreciate Hunter making the joke that he can’t sign everyone the WWE Universe chants at him to sign because if he did he’d be broke, listen, if you don’t sign Jazzy Gabert you’re a doofus. Do it.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the main reason everyone was watching Tuesday night:
Kairi Sane vs. Shayna Baszler:
One thing I want to note real quick is that various people were in the crowd, including various folks from the WWE and people WWE considers instrumental in women’s wrestling as a concept, and most of the people watching were about who you’d expect. The available Four Horsewomen were there, Asuka was there, even the Rock’s daughter was there (and who’s waiting for that title reign?), but the one shot that stood out to me was of four competitors from the MYC who attended the show, and are probably the four women WWE is most interested in doing something with at the moment, aside from the two in the ring:
Look at this.
Now, I want to be clear here: Mercedes Martinez looks completely fine, Piper Niven looks perfectly fine, and Candice LeRae, even if she’s a little loud in that pink jacket, is quite reasonable.
But it is, at this moment, ninety six degrees in Nevada, and here is Toni Storm, in a goddamn fur coat.
THAT is living the gimmick, ladies and gentlemen.
Anyway, on the match proper:
- Surprisingly, the crowd was pretty much white hot for most of this; for as little penetration as the WWE Network has among the casual fanbase (IE the people who bring their kids to the shows), this match really had a “big fight feel,” as they say, and the fans were completely on board for all of it. For reference, I watched a bit of 205 Live afterward, and the crowd was dead silent for Rich Swan, so this wasn’t a WWE Network friendly crowd as such. I appreciate that the fans were really into this, partly because it shows what the power of sustained hype can do, but also because it’s just plain awesome to see people getting into women’s wrestling to this degree.
- Unsurprisingly, however, Baszler continued her “I’m a big jerk heel” act from the MYC matches, which did immediately get her heel heat, but also felt weird after the Mercedes Martinez match. I get she was respecting her mentor and all, but it’s weird when the WWE features characters with implicitly complex motivations and little to no actual backstory; wrestling tends to be at its best when the fans either have lots of information or simple characters to react to, and I feel like this story would’ve worked better with either more explanation of the relationship between Baszler and Martinez or Baszler just being a jerk to Martinez. Yes, yes, it’s a tournament on the WWE Network that’s mostly being built around the matches telling the story, and no, this isn’t Baszler’s fault or anything, but even so, I want to cheer the face and boo the heel, make it easy guys.
- The story of the match was basically built up in the Sting/Vader fashion, IE, the larger, more powerful wrestler no-sells (refuses to show the impact of) the moves from the smaller, faster wrestler, so the smaller, faster wrestler has to dig deeper than ever before to really deal damage and hurt the opponent. This is fine enough, in that it protects Baszler as a worker and asks Sane to do all the work around her, which was more or less how Baszler’s other matches went. It disguises her selling abilities (such as they are) and puts the onus on Sane to have a broomstick match, basically, and all told, it delivered.
- That said, credit where it’s due, once the match kicked into the final few minutes, Baszler sold the beating she was taking reasonably well, and there was some decent psychology, between the callbacks to Baszler’s prior matches and Sane’s use of the bad ribs to break out of Baszler’s rear naked choke finisher. Little things like that make all the difference.
- As far as the finish itself goes, well:
- Absolutely the right call re: Sane winning the tournament; Baszler doesn’t need that win to feel legit, especially if the build is toward the Horsewomen v Horsewomen match everyone’s predicting, she just needs more time spent working on the fundamentals since she’ll be the best worker in the match on her side. Sane, by comparison, is tiny as hell and super talented, so putting her over here in preparation for an NXT run is definitely the right call, especially since she doesn’t wrestle the “beat the dog mess out of you” style Asuka does.
- This was easily as good as, if not better than, the Mercedes Martinez match for Baszler, and while she still has specific and obvious issues (her selling is wonky, she hasn’t worked out striking entirely and her offense is limited), she did relatively well here and will probably be a top WWE wrestler within a year at this rate.
- Sane, meanwhile, is basically dope as hell, as she’s super magical at the art of throwing herself at the ground in a way that makes you immediately want to cheer her on and see her beat the evil heel. This win will hopefully propel her into the top of the card on NXT, ideally in time for a spot in the title picture. Speaking of,
- I’m glad the rumors about WWE considering putting the NXT women’s title on the winner here came to naught; whether they were unfounded or changed, that’s definitely the right call. While it’s probably not feasible to run a massive tournament between now and the next Takeover show, I’d definitely be interested in a mini-tournament, ideally including the signees from the MYC, where either Kairi Sane is included in the tournament, or the winner faces Sane for the belt, with the final match coming at the next Takeover.
- In the end, if this is going to be an annual thing, I’d love to see the tournament incorporate a mix of main event talent, NXT talent and independent workers, just to see match-ups we’d likely never see otherwise, or at least not for a while.
- That said I really hope they sign Jazzy Gabert, Toni Storm, Piper Niven, Tessa Blanchard and Mia Yim, please and thank you.