TAPED 7/13/17, RELEASED 8/28/17

Watch: WWE Network

After months of hype, the Mae Young Classic has finally arrived! Even though it has been awhile since I wrote a review on Voices of Wrestling, when the boss asked who was interested in reviewing the shows, I couldn’t pass up the chance.

For those that don’t know me, I run Joshi City and watch an obscene amount of women’s wrestling. I watch WWE too, and some Lucha Underground, but Joshi has been my primary focus over the last few years as I do better at keeping up with storylines if I focus on one thing at a time.

What attracted me to this tournament in particular was a combination of loving several of the wrestlers in it (including Shayna Baszler, Kay Lee Ray, Toni Storm, Kairi, and Dakota Kai just to name a few) and also wanting to discover more female wrestlers that may have flown under my radar.

WWE released the 32 wrestler tournament in an unusual way. On August 28 the first four episodes were released on the WWE Network, which contains the entire first round. The second half of the tournament will be released next week, with the Finals airing live on September 12.

This week, each episode has four matches and the episodes are only around 50 minutes long, so the matches will no doubt be clipped to fit. Due partly to this, even though I usually do star ratings for Voices of Wrestling I won’t in this case, as I don’t like snowflaking six minute TV matches. But I’ll give a bit of a background of the wrestlers (I am a History Major, I can’t help it) along with some thoughts on each match as we roll along.

A note about the commentary from Lita and Jim Ross so I don’t have to keep saying it—it is not good. It wasn’t the bad type of commentary that distracts me from the action, but I still think it’s fair to note that it was pretty lackluster. I’ve heard worse, but I wish they had gotten commentators that were a bit more invested in the action.

Princesa Sugehit def. Kay Lee Ray

If I had been to the event live, which I would have been if I didn’t lose my front row seat in a game of poker, Kay Lee Ray is one of the wrestlers I was most looking forward to seeing. Kay Lee Ray was 24 at the time of the match but already an eight year veteran, she is simply one of the most exciting female wrestlers on the scene. Most of her career has taken place in the UK, however she has been on several tours for Stardom which is where I know her from. Princesa Sugehit is new to me, she is a Luchadora and 20 year veteran, so she has a number of years on Kay Lee Ray. She wrestlers out of CMLL in Mexico, where she has won many championships over the years.

Considering their styles are completely different and they had never worked together before, I thought this went as good as one could hope. In my 25 years of watching wrestling, I’ve seen many matches where you could tell the wrestlers were still figuring things out as they went along. Chemistry is such a big factor to elevate a match from just good to great, and while I wouldn’t say the match was clunky, it was fairly simply laid out. Course I would have preferred Kay Lee Ray win, since she is the younger wrestler and I feel a future star in the business that has already proven she has all the skills, but I understand putting the veteran through to the next round. I wish the match was a bit longer so Kay Lee Ray had more time to show off, but overall a solid way to kick off the tournament.

Serena Deeb def. Vanessa Borne

This match takes the ‘veteran vs. young wrestler’ idea from the last match and pushes it to the limits. Serena returned from retirement to join in the tournament, she had a ten year career that brought her to just about every major promotion available, including stops in WWE, TNA, Shimmer, JWP, and SHINE. Vanessa is more of an unknown as she has spent almost her entire career under the WWE umbrella. She started her career in NXT as Danielle Kamela in 2016 and made a few TV appearances, but this is her biggest opportunity to impress.

I am not one to knock a wrestler still honing her craft, it can take time, but Vanessa works too soft. Generally this happens with newer wrestlers that don’t want to hurt their opponents (understandable), but she went too far the other way as her strikes just had no impact and it was a bit distracting. A simple short match but Serena looked really good, I don’t think she has missed a beat since retiring two years ago. The best bump of the match was Serena eating the turnbuckles, I guess if Vanessa wasn’t going to do anything to her that looked painful she was just going to have to do it to herself. Vanessa did get in a lot of offense on the veteran which was a plus, but it was almost to the point where it felt like Serena won too easily as Vanessa was controlling the match before a sudden spear ended things. While Vanessa’s string of power moves towards the end was fun, it ended too quickly and the strike exchanges at the beginning didn’t really work. Not a bad match, but my least favorite of this set of matches.

Shayna Baszler def. Zeda

If you went and looked up “Shayna Baszler mark” in the dictionary, you’d probably see a picture of my smiling face. Back in 2015, when I watched one of Shayna’s first professional wrestling matches, I instantly thought she had a future in the wrestling business. Some things you just can’t teach, there are intangibles that you can try to get but if you don’t have it… you don’t have it. Shayna has that aura of an ass kicker, from her walk to her facial expressions to her general demeanor, so even without any wrestling training she was already half of the way there.

Since Baszler is a legit MMA fighter, she already had a move set, so it was mostly just learning how to tie everything together in the most entertaining way possible. I loved her run in Stardom earlier this year, she had a great match with Io Shirai, and I really want her to do well in this tournament as her window of opportunity is likely much smaller than most the other wrestlers (since she is now 37 years old).

I’ll jump off my soap box long enough to talk about Zeda as well. Zeda is more of an unknown entity, she signed with WWE in late 2016 and to the best of my knowledge has never been on TV. She has a varied background, ranging from MMA to modeling, but that is about all I know about her. One of the goals of this tournament was to give less experienced wrestlers some exposure, I was hoping she’d get a chance to show something before Shayna crushed her……

….. but she didn’t get a chance to show something before Shayna crushed her. Everything I said above is true, but they really made no effort to make Zeda looked competitive here, her best move of the match was a monkey flip. Obviously the goal here was to put over Shayna, and she did a good job showing that cocky badass attitude that I love about her, but I wouldn’t have complained if the match was longer than two minutes. An effective match at getting their point across, but not enough actual content to get excited about. I’m sure that Shayna will get more of a chance to show off as the tournament continues.

Abbey Laith def. Jazzy Gabert

Of all the first episode matches, this is the one I was most looking forward to so I am glad it’s in the main event slot and got a bit more time. Both of these wrestlers I am very familiar with, but of course under their names before they joined WWE/took part in this tournament.

Abbey is better known to wrestling fans as Kimber Lee, one of the most successful female indie wrestlers of the last few years. Abbey won titles in CHIKARA, JAPW, Shimmer, SHINE, and WSU just since 2014; she joined WWE in early 2017 and has made a handful of NXT appearances.

Jazzy is better known as Alpha Female, a 15 year veteran from Germany that enjoys crushing people’s souls. Alpha Female has been in a lot of promotions but is probably best known for her long and successful run in Stardom, where she held the singles title, tag team title, and trios title during her time there. After a couple of matches that weren’t really competitive, this one will be much more even.

This was the best match of the night, but it wasn’t without its warts. First, the good stuff. Jazzy is such an amazing and commanding wrestler, she may have the best expressions in the business and she has the size/power to back it up. She doesn’t just look mean, but she wrestles mean in a believable and palpable way. She’s a monster that wrestles like a monster, it doesn’t come across as forced or unnatural, in the ring that is who she is and she is great at it. I also enjoyed the opening section with Abbey trying to overcome Jazzy but having very little success, as it set the tone for the match and got the crowd really into it.

The middle section of the match dragged though which took the crowd back out of it for a bit. The issue is that when you have a short TV match (roughly eight minutes), when there is a two minute chunk in the middle with submission holds you know aren’t going to end the match, the match loses some of its energy. Not that submission moves are automatically bad, it just felt excessive in such a short match. Shorter matches can be great, but a lot of it comes down to structure as I’d much rather see a heavyweight ‘hoss-style’ sprint than WWE still doing numerous mid-match rest holds that neither wrestler needed. But the ending picked back up again, I understand Abbey winning as the tournament needed some ‘upsets’ and Abbey is a contracted wrestler, but I think everyone was pulling for Jazzy so it was a bit of a letdown to end the episode. Overall this was the best match of the show, it wasn’t perfect but they did a lot of things right and anyone watching this that hadn’t seen Jazzy before won’t be forgetting her anytime soon.

Final Thoughts

They way they set up the tournament, my assumption going in was that the first round would have a whole lot of average to good matches, with only a special few going above (or below) that line. When the matches average about six minutes, the good part is it doesn’t give the match time to be bad, but it also frequently doesn’t give the matches a chance to be great. I thought the first three matches accomplished what they were going for, it’s great to see Serena back and Shayna was put over as a force to be reckoned with. The main event was very good, bordering on great if the middle was just cleaned up a bit, but Jazzy is so much fun to watch that its an easy recommendation. A solid start to the tournament but they are just getting started, still lots of matches and incredible wrestlers to come.