Welcome back to Voices of Wrestling’s coverage of the WWE Mae Young Classic. It’s the last stop before the live finals on September 12, as two competitors are about to have their dreams taken from them right before the finish line, while the other two get their shot at the crown.
Kevin Wilson gave biographical sketches of all of the competitors in his first round reviews. Rather than tell the same story again, I’ll point you, dear reader, to his reviews of Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, and Episode 4.
Shayna Baszler vs. Mercedes Martinez
Shayna Baszler reached the Final Four with mostly dominant performances against Zeda and Mia Yim, and then took out Candice LeRae in an absolute sprint of a match. Mercedes Martinez has looked like the cool, prepared veteran she is as she worked her way through Xia Li, Princesa Sugehit, and lastly ending Abbey Laith’s upset run in the quarterfinals.
Trifecta erupts! Someone check on Nicole Savoy! The classic story of the student vs. the teacher gives this already important match some extra emotion. Martinez and Baszler are pretty much the only friend the other person has in wrestling, other than the aforementioned Savoy. Martinez loves to dog her opponents, make them feel small and unworthy, but would she do that to her protege? Baszler has shown no remorse, no mercy, and no hesitation in going for the kill the moment her opponent has given her even a momentary opening. Will there be any hesitation in Baszler pulling the trigger if the opportunity arises?
Even before the match began it was apparent that this was not the usual matchup for these two. Baszler gave the pre match handshake for the first time this tournament in a sign of respect to her mentor. Martinez showed her respect for Baszler by unleashing the wicked skin-flaying chops she’s renowned for. Nothing says love like taking off a few layers of skin.
The previous rounds of Mercedes playing the calm, somewhat arrogant veteran culminated in the early part of this match as she confused and seemed to intimidate Baszler. Martinez stayed a step ahead, and for the first time in the tournament where someone seemed, even for a short while, to be able to stand up to Baszler, even hitting a Fisherman Buster but unable to make the cover in time. At one point Martinez tossed Baszler around the ring with a series of suplexes, and made sure Shayna knew that Mercedes was in charge.
However, the problem with playing mind games is that sometimes the other person decides to play beat the crap out of you games. When Martinez went for a second shot at the Fisherman Buster Baszler was ready for it. One Falcon Arrow transitioned into the so far inescapable rear naked choke / body triangle was all it took to give Baszler the win.
After three rounds of being a physical beast that no one could stand up to, finally someone was able to hang with Baszler. The Martinez of previous rounds, seemingly coasting through and not exerting more than necessary, was nowhere to be seen in this match. She hit the gas from the opening bell and threw herself at Baszler without fear. Baszler marches into the finals having been humanized, but still a force to be reckoned with. Martinez still has the SHIMMER title, and gets to return to fighting alongside Baszler rather than against her. Easily the best match for Martinez this tournament, and overall an easy recommendation to watch.
Kairi Sane def. Toni Storm
Kairi Sane has lived up to the hype delivering three very good matches while getting past Tessa Blanchard, Bianca Belair, and Dakota Kai on her way to the Semifinals. Toni Storm has had what could be seen as the easiest path to the Final Four, defeating Ayesha Raymond, Lacey Evans, and Piper Niven.
Sane came into this tournament treated as the favorite and the biggest star. Even in the introduction show her entrance was last and much longer than anyone else’s. Storm has certainly been given her share of accolades by the announce team, but not to the level of Sane. Either Sane proves that she deserves every bit of the attention, or Toni Storm claims it for her own, making everyone watching think about who the real favorite should be. These two have both worked in Stardom, so they’re familiar with what the other person can do.
Speaking of that familiarity, Storm came out and focused on Sane’s arm early. When your opponent has the most perfect elbow drop in the world, might as well try to take that arm away. One thing I noted that stuck with me during the match is how Storm carries herself so much bigger than she is. Not in the goofy Crash Holly sort of way. Rather she moves to accentuate the full length of her body, and her confidence (hell, call it swagger) gives her an aura of formidable importance.
Sane spent much of the match on the defensive, but when she found opportunities to strike, they were maximized. She hit a stunning high crossbody to the outside early in the match, and for a moment I didn’t believe either woman was going to be able to return to the ring. When later in the match Sane nailed a wicked spear I decided it was definitely better than Edge’s version, right up there with Goldberg’s, but not quite as good as Monty Brown’s Pounce. Upon reflection I stand by this.
The frustration at not being able to find a way to keep Sane down was beginning to get to Storm, yet also driving her forward to keep attacking. Near the end Storm hooked a bridging armbar that she pulled with such fervor and anger, her face contorting with rage at Sane’s continued existence in the match. As had been the story of the tournament though, Storm made one small error. Sane was able to land a backhand shot to Storm, laying her out for just that one needed moment. Sane looked to be saying to herself “I’m going to hurt like hell in a moment either way, so I might as well land a big elbow and advance beforehand.” The pirate found gold at the bottom of her dive, keeping Storm down for the 1-2-3.
Sane advanced to the finals after yet another exciting match. Storm’s run ends here, but it seems almost impossible to imagine that this is the last anyone will see of her in a WWE-owned ring. She improved with every match in the tournament, and was to my mind the most charismatic person involved. I went back and watched it a second time. Storm’s intensity, Sane’s desperate resourcefulness, and the way she fought through everything to advance made for a compelling watch.
Finals Preview: Shayna Baszler vs. Kairi Sane
At last, we have our finals set. The wrecking machine that is Shayna Baszler vs. the risk-taking energy of Kairi Sane. I could see this match being an extended sprint that ends up like the Baszler vs. LeRae match, only with a few more twists and turns. As for who is going to win, I would normally say Sane is the one being hyped, so she’s the obvious pick. But throughout the tournament there have been teases of Baszler’s crew, including Ronda Rousey, being in the face of the WWE Four Horsewomen. Tempting as it is to overcomplicate things when guessing what WWE is going to do, I’m sticking with the pick I’ve had since day one. This tournament is Sane’s moment, and she’s going to claim her prize on Tuesday night.
While the tournament never had moments that reached the heights of the CWC’s best matches, there were plenty of solid contests and some that got really good before they ended. Some very talented women gained exposure to an audience that had likely not seen them before, which is a positive thing.
For those who want to get a sense of the variety underneath the two finalists, here are my Top 5 matches not involving Baszler or Sane.
- Mia Yim vs. Sarah Logan – Episode 2
- Toni Storm vs. Piper Niven – Episode 7
- Candace LeRae vs. Nicole Savoy – Episode 6
- Dakota Kai vs. Rhea Ripley – Episode 6
- Piper Niven vs. Santana Garrett – Episode 3
Thank you for reading, and hope everyone enjoys the Baszler vs. Sane final!