I was really excited when the WWE announced the Mae Young Classic as I am a big fan of women’s wrestling. The WWE are developing a nice habit of producing great quality programmes on the Network that are radically different from what they broadcast on their mainstream shows.
I dipped into the Cruiserweight Classic and I was impressed by the talent they had amassed for that programme. I was hoping they would be able to capture the same magic for this tournament.
Mae Young Classic 2017
I’ll be the first to admit that despite my fondness for women’s wrestling I was not familiar with many of the competitors in this tournament. This meant that each match was refreshing. I had no real idea what to expect from those involved and was blown away by the talent on show. Thankfully they did a nice job of introducing all the talent on the Mae Young Classic Bracketology pre-show. Mixing in interviews and non-WWE footage, surprising from the likes of Shimmer, you got a good feel for the women involved and their characters.
This setup the start of the tournament which was oddly released in 4 episode chunks on a Monday. Great for the first rounds as it landed on a UK bank holiday which resulted in a good binge watch from yours truly. Hindsight being a wonderful thing though, maybe they should’ve spread the episodes out. You could speculate that this tournament was a first for them in terms of women’s wrestling. Maybe they were nervous of the response, or maybe it was just an experiment for experiments sake, who knows?
In all honesty there were so many good matches in this tournament and so many standout wrestlers, it was difficult to pick only a few to mention. Reluctantly I have chosen who I thought were the real stars of the tournament and also some of the best matches. So if you just want a taste of how good the Mae Young Classic was, here’s what to look out for.
- Kairi Sane vs Bianca Belair (Episode 5)
- Abbey Laith vs Jazzy Gabert (Episode 1)
- Piper Nevin vs Santana Garrett (Episode 3)
- Honourable Mention – Kairi Sane vs Tess Blanchard (Episode 4)
- Toni Storm
- Dakota Kai
- Rhea Ripley
- Honourable Mention – Kairi Sane
- Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler
Kairi Sane vs Bianca Belair (Episode 5)
This was Kairi Sane’s second match of the tournament after impressing in her opening encounter. The pattern, intentional or not, of the Mae Young Classic episodes was to have a really good match end the show. The fact Kairi Sane was in this match made this even more likely.
As it turns out, it was actually Bianca Belair who was the star here. For someone who has only had a year in wrestling, she was as monster. Credit where credit’s due though. In addition to Belair bringing everything for this match, Sane played her part in putting her over. For a long part of the match Bianca beat Kairi down and dominated her. The hair whip spot is a cool gimmick that really garnered good heat from the crowd.
It is well worth seeing this match just to watch a star in their prime and a future star gel so well in the ring. Kairi Sane won the match with the amazing diving elbow. However, Bianca Belair really made a statement. She has a long future in the WWE.
Abbey Laith vs Jazzy Gabert (Episode 1)
This was a classic underdog versus monster encounter. Both wrestlers were able to tell a good story told in the ring and it was by far the best match of the first episode.
Jazzy Gabert aka Alpha Female came off well even though she lost this match. The prospect of here becoming a monster within the tournament was one of my first thoughts when the match started. I thought that she was going to get the win here and dominate her matches. This would’ve been a good build leading to an eventual encounter against someone like Shayna Baszler or Mercedes Martinez. So the upset came a little out of nowhere.
With the short time they had available they told a great story and the crowd really go into it. I was sucked in as a wrestling fan and viewer. This was really nice and I expected the result to go Jazzy’s way. A little cliché that Abbey won with her first match of the Mae Young Classic with Mae Young’s own finisher, the alligator clutch. But hey, it was an upset of sorts and I should’ve seen that one coming right?
PIPER NEVIN VS SANTANA GARRETT (Episode 2)
Santana Garrett has been on NXT a few times and I was pleased to see she was included in this tournament. Piper Niven was touted as being a rising star from Japan and yet another UK star in this tournament, whoop!
I have to admit I didn’t know what to expect from this match. But this was another cracker and I wish it could’ve gone on longer. It wasn’t the straight power versus speed match I was initially expecting. Especially considering the amount of agility Piper displayed from her moves set. Santana is supremely versatile in the ring and put on an excellent display, as she always does, in the short time they had for this match.
Santana should have a contract with WWE there’s no doubt about that. Piper was a complete surprise and thoroughly deserved her victory.
I had never heard of any of the three wrestlers who ended up being my standouts from the tournament. I hadn’t realised how well travelled Toni Storm was and how much credibility she has earned from across the world.
I’ll be honest, in the introduction to the tournament, Toni didn’t stand out for me. It wasn’t until she walked down the aisle for her first match that I took notice. For me she is he complete package. She is great in the ring, has superb ring presence, great charisma and above all else she has a unique character.
I was genuinely disappointed that she did not make it to the final let alone not winning the Mae Young Classic, but I can understand the reason for this. Still, I am just really pleased to have had a chance to see her in action. I think this is a theme across the whole of this tournament. Getting the chance to see extremely talented women wrestler that have been wrestling outside of the main WWE spotlight.
I have been following Toni since the tournament and hand’t realised she wrestled in the UK Progress Wrestling promotion. As well as being their Women’s Champion. She is also a multi-time champion in the Japanese promotion Stardom. So there are plenty of opportunities to see her matches online. Which I definitely encourage you to seek out.
Dakota Kai was one of a number of wrestlers in the Mae Young Classic who were already on WWE developmental contracts. She was also the first female wrestler, maybe the first wrestler full stop, from New Zealand in the WWE.
I think what first marked her out from the rest of the wrestlers was her stature. She is very much a smaller wrestler than most. But she more than makes up for this with her spark and her kicks. Man, her kicks! That is some seriously good offence and there is no wonder she carries the mantle of #TeamKick.
Going by the name of Evie on the independant scene. She has wrestled in Shimmer and also in Australia. Once again, I urge you to go out and find some of her matches as they are really, really good.
Here was another person who was already under contract with the WWE, and you can see why. At only 20 years of age, Rhea has all the hallmarks of a future WWE star. Strength, speed and charisma in buckets. Yes, she is still very green but when you listen to her speak and see the passion and desire to succeed. You know it won’t take long for her to arrive in NXT.
Prior to the WWE, Rhea wrestled in Austrialia under the name Demi Bennett. As with all of the standout wrestlers in this list, you can still find plenty of her matches to understand how good she already is.
It was great to see her take on Dakota Kai in the second round of the tournament. A few years down the line, a rematch between these two will be an instant classic.
I was disappointed with the final. It became obvious quite soon in to the tournament who the finalist were going to be. This made some of the later rounds a bit less exciting as it was turning out to be a forgone conclusion.
I understand why they went with Kairi Sane and Shayna Bazler. Sane was already under contract and Bazler was very soon to be after the tournament. Shayna Baszler. Ok, so mixed feelings here. Across the the tournament Shayna Bazler was presented as a monster badass and there is no denying that for a second. I’m sorry to have to say it, but can she actually wrestle? Her MMA background gives her an edge and she definitely plays to that strength. However, I was left feeling that there should be more. Granted she also brought the 4 Horsewomen addition with her. Which at some point will no doubt play out in WWE.
Kairi Sane, whilst very good, I felt she was pushed a little too hard in the tournament when compared to some of the others. So when it came to her reaching the final and winning. She was over exposed for my liking. It was as if WWE wanted to make her a huge star before the tournament even started. Rather than let the tournament make her into a star.
The Legacy of the Mae Young Classic
I felt there were far more deserving wrestlers in the tournament that would have made better finalists. But maybe that wasn’t the true point of this tournament. The Mae Young Classic served a better purpose that just showcasing a winner. It showcased everyone. It showcased the amazingly talented women from all across the world. From all different promotions and backgrounds. It’s role wasn’t just to crown a winner, but instead to make a statement. I believe it achieved that. The very fact that I started searching for more matches from some of the competitors I had never heard of. Shows that the Mae Young Classic and it’s legacy will continue long after the tournament has finished.