Welcome to the second week of the Mae Young Classic. Four more first-round matches narrow the field down to the Sweet Sixteen. This week’s lineup features a mix of independent superstars, young up and comers, and perhaps the most famous WWE rookie since Kevin Federline. Less of an international flavor to this week’s matches, where we will see our first two second round matchups set up. The lineup is:

  • Deonna Purazzo (USA) vs. Priscilla Kelly (USA)
  • Zeuxis (Mexico) vs. Aerial Monroe (USA)
  • Kacy Catanzaro (USA) vs. Reina Gonzalez (USA)
  • Mercedes Martinez (USA) vs. Ashley Rayne (USA)

Deonna Purazzo def. Priscilla Kelly

The opening graphic for this match is almost a real life example of the meme with the two Spider Men pointing at each other. Priscilla Kelly surprises me by not being British. Deonna Purazzo is a recent WWE signee and is the self-proclaimed Fujiwara Armbar Specialist, so I’m definitely on board with her. ARM-BAR! The announce team keeps talking vaguely about Kelly’s use of “interesting tactics” and “mind games” against her opponents, with Michael Cole dropping the word “sultry” at one point. It sounds like they lifted commentary from Goldust matches circa 1995. I’m a bit nervous as to what is about to transpire.

Match opens with Kelly slapping away the handshake. I love that this actually elicits an “oooooh” from the crowd. I know people have issues with the Full Sail audience, but they get points for this. Some intricate mat sequences establish Purazzo as one step ahead of Kelly, giving Purazzo a chance to grab the armbar but too close to the ropes. A big boot to the face giving Kelly the advantage, and she quickly grounds the match, with a nasty looking dragon sleeper wearing Purazzo down. After some back and forth Purazzo goes for what appears to be an innocuous Russian leg sweep, but as they hit the ground she does a really nifty transition into the Fujiwara Armbar. Kelly tries to fight it off, but Purazzo yanks on the arm like she’s determined to take home a souvenir from her visit to the MYC, getting the submission victory.

This was a fun match, and the mat wrestling sequences were very well executed. To me the most interesting part of watching this was seeing two people at different points in their progression. Priscilla Kelly has some charisma, and was able to do her part in this match. But everything about Deanna Purazzo screams a superstar, right now. Her movements were incredibly smooth and fluid. And her presentation is big league. Kelly’s “scary” faces and gestures scanned as work in progress indie acting. Purazzo looked like she could step onto Raw next Monday and not seem at all unsuited to the moment. I don’t say this to bury Kelly. She is super young, and has potential for lots of growth. But Purazzo is there, and she is there right now. ***

Zeuxis def.  Aerial Monroe

Aerial Monroe is called “Big Swole” and has what I believe the kids call “swag.” From previous experience seeing her live I have to say there’s an element of the “let’s call the big guy ‘Tiny,’” joke with that name, but she does have a ton of personality and is certainly some level of swoleitude. Zeuxis appears to be referring to herself in third person during her video package. That’s always a major power move, letting the world know you’re too important for pronouns.

Match opens with Monroe threatening Zeuxis over any attempts to touch the hair. The crowd is suitably appalled when Zeuxis finally grabs two fistfuls of Monroe’s bright green hair. I love when heels do the small things right, like Zeuxis grinding the elbow into Monroe’s rib cage during an abdominal stretch, or pulling the lips in a camel clutch. Monroe dominating the match, but Zeuxis has a massive finisher in her pocket. A top rope Spanish Fly is enough to give Zeuxis the win. Cut to a postmatch shot of Cedric Alexander (Monroe’s husband) holding their crying child and now I have Zeuxis right up there with Stalin and Urkel as history’s worst monsters.

Sometimes the winner isn’t really the winner, and the loser isn’t really the loser. That might be the case in this match. Zeuxis was fine, doing good heel work, and will be a good foil for someone in Round 2. But she’s not who I’m going to remember from this match, and I suspect I’m in the majority on this. Aerial Monroe has something. The work in this match wasn’t great, as there were some rough spots, and it was relatively A-B-C in execution. But Full Sail absolutely loved Big Swole, and her enthusiasm and personality are big enough that they could work in a much larger room. I had fun watching her work, and when 75,000 people are chanting “SWOLE~!” at Wrestlemania 39, remember who was first on the bandwagon. **

Kacy Catanzaro def. Reina Gonzalez

Reina Gonzalez is a second generation wrestler, six feet tall, and is “a little sunshine and a little hurricane.” She was knocked out in the first round of last year’s MYC (by current SHIMMER champion, and sometime “Little Swole” to Aerial Monroe’s “Big Swole,” Nicole Savoy) and promises to be stronger and meaner this time around. But all eyes, and the majority of the video package time, were on her opponent. From the moment Kacy Catanzaro was announced for this tournament she’s been possibly the biggest wildcard of anyone. Her athleticism and determination were on display for years as a trailblazer on American Ninja Warrior, so we’ve all seen what she’s capable of physically. But how will this translate to wrestling? Kacy says her style will be “different,” and wants to show she can do unexpected things in the ring.

Catanzaro definitely has a different ring entrance, as she climbs up the ringpost from the outside to enter the ring. Gonzalez faces up to Catanzaro and the size difference is really something to see as she dwarfs her ninja opponent. Match starts with Gonzalez using this size advantage to turn a headlock into a giant swing followed by a huge tree slam. Each time Catanzaro tries to use her speed and gymnastics skills to get out of trouble Gonzalez just shrugs her off. The announcers are really laying it on thick, acting as if this is Kramer in the dojo against kids. All that was missing was Jim Ross yelling to stop the damn match. Finally a series of dropkicks to Gonzalez’s knees gives Catanzaro some room, followed up by a unique springboard dropkick from the outside. A second attempt at a tree slam by Gonzalez gets countered into a rollup for the pin.

After the match, Gonzalez appears to be ready to attack, but she instead pulls Catanzaro up on to her shoulder and carries her around the ring to the crowd’s approval. As Macho Man/Elizabeth homages go I’m giving this high marks for being unexpected. Wish the production team had gone all the way and played “Pomp and Circumstance” as they left.

Okay, real talk time. This was rough. And not just because of the wrestlers. The announcing on this felt incredibly forced, as opposed to the relatively organic work the team had been doing until this match. A handful of power moves had Michael Cole sounding like the Nexus beatdown was taking place. At the end of the match the whole booth was putting the winner over as possibly the best prospect in company history. It was distracting, it took me out of the match, and kind of made me wish the post-match activities had gone the other way. Reina Gonzalez did what she could with a very limited opponent, and appeared to usually be in the right places at the right times. But Kacy Catanzaro, who I have been a fan of since her first ANW appearance, has miles to go yet. Her movements are choppy and stuttering. Her sense of timing is still almost wholly undeveloped. She is the very definition of a project. On the plus side, the crowd loved her, and this match established her as a never-say-die underdog. A position she is likely to remain in as she advances to the second round to face the even bigger, meaner, and stronger, Rhea Ripley. *

Mercedes Martinez def. Ashley Rayne

The battle of the veterans is the main event of the evening. Mercedes Martinez has wrestled literally everywhere. I’m pretty sure I bought a VHS of her against Alexa Thatcher at the North Pole back in 2003. Also, Mercedes has some of the best chops around, regardless of gender. In a small building they can sound like a gunshot. Ashley Rayne spent years in TNA as a solid piece of the Knockouts division, as well as working for years on the indies as Madison Rayne. Having often been more of a utility player, this tournament is her chance to break into the levels of stardom that have thus far been just out of her reach.

Rayne enters to music that sounds kind of like the piano riff from “Cornflake Girl” by Tori Amos, so I’m in a good place already for this match. Martinez takes the first significant advantage with a nasty looking power bomb/brainbuster/WTF for a near fall, followed up with an inverted half nelson to keep working on the neck. The crowd was suitably awed as Martinez held Rayne up in a delayed vertical suplex for a good 30 seconds, but an attempt to show off with a second display allows Rayne to hit a stunner to turn the tide. I like the way Rayne hit a crossbody from the second rope, as it actually looked like she was diving to try and hurt Martinez, rather than to just look good. Martinez survives an increasingly desperate Rayne’s pinfall attempts, and on her third attempt this match, hits the Fisherman Buster suplex for the win.

A solid match, with a nice closing sequence of Rayne doing everything she could while she had an advantage to try and put away Martinez, knowing that every second the match continued was a chance for Martinez to hit the one big move that would lead to the three count. With the victory Martinez advances to the second round against, *checks notes*, MeikOH SHIT! Well, I guess it will be a new experience for me. I’ve never reported on a first degree murder before, but someone is definitely getting killed in this one. Since this pre-taped I’ve avoided spoilers, but at least I know they didn’t decide to stop fighting, team up, and begin to unleash destruction as a team. I’m sure I would have heard about Florida ceasing to exist by now if they had. Merceiko Satomartinez would be a terriftying team. **1/2

Wrapup: Overall this show was a bit of a comedown from week one. We saw the first real dud match of the tournament in Catanzaro vs. Gonzales, the most entertaining competitor on this week’s show was eliminated, and the announce team started to show some of the bad habits we tend to expect from this company’s mouthpieces. But there were some good points as well.

Real Emotion

One of the strengths of this event is that the competitors act like it matters. When Deonna Purazzo cried in relief at having advanced, it obviously meant something to her. Aerial Monroe looked almost as devastated in defeat as her daughter. And until the moment when Reina Gonzalez’s heart grew three sizes she looked and acted so angry and confused by her defeat that it would have been hard to blame her for snapping if she had.

Video Packages

The production team continues to do a great job setting the stage for these matches. With so many faces that are unfamiliar to the viewing audience, the balance between giving us a person’s life story versus not giving us any reason to care is a delicate one. So far they have walked that tightrope with grace. By the time each match starts we know both competitors, and have a reason to invest in them and their efforts.

Even the ones we’re supposed to boo, we still know why they’re doing what they do, and the humanity behind their aggression and disdain.

Come back next week as the second round continues to take shape. There’s still a lot of big names that I’m excited to see compete, and some that I’ve never seen before.