Welcome back for another week of the Mae Young Classic. There are some familiar matchups on the docket for this episode, and a big name making a return from a long absence. Here is the list of matches coming up tonight.

  • Kaitlyn (USA) vs. Kavita Devi (India)
  • Toni Storm (Australia) vs. Jinny (UK)
  • Karen Q (USA) vs. Xia Li (China)
  • Mia Yim (USA) vs. Allysin Kay (USA)

Kaitlyn def. Kavita Devi

Kavita Devi reminisces on the highs and lows of last year, from getting to appear at WrestleMania as part of the women’s battle royal, to her defeat at the hands of Dakota Kai in last year’s MYC. Kaitlyn (accompanied by multiple clips of her squashing AJ Lee) is returning from a long hiatus and has gone through what she calls a “tumultuous divorce” and is ready to reclaim her spot. The announce team all seems to have a crush on Kaitlyn. Michael Cole confuses me when he says that sure, Devi lost last year, but the match had 28 million views on YouTube. I blame Kenny Omega for this sort of logic.

Devi refuses the handshake as Kaitlyn gets the “Welcome Back” chant. As Devi uses her power to grind down Kaitlyn, Renee Young points out that Devi’s first match was at last year’s MYC, and her second was the match at WrestleMania. That both makes sense, given how obviously raw Devi still looks, and yet boggles my mind. This does not seem like a plan for success. Also, is this Devi’s third match ever? I have a LOT of questions right now. After Kaitlyn elbows her way out of a fireman’s carry things go all strong style with Devi eating a few solid forearms and a big flying shoulder tackle. The inevitable “you still got it,” chants begin, and Kaitlyn shows she hasn’t lost her power game during her time off, as she scoops up Devi with ease for a bodyslam. Devi can’t find an answer for Kaitlyn’s offense, as a Goldbergian spear puts the novice down for the three count.

Kaitlyn looked good in her return, especially while on offense. She showed off speed as she moved around the ring, flashed her ridiculous strength, and laid in some hard strikes to her much bigger opponent. The combination of Kaitlyn’s athleticism and experience made the rarely seen smaller person dominating a bigger person physically seem appropriate. Devi has an imposing physical presence, and her smirk after faking out Kaitlyn on the opening handshake hints at a personality that could blossom given time. I hope she gets to wrestle more than twice a year going forward. **

Toni Storm def. Jinny

This should be interesting, as these two have plenty of experience against each other. Jinny is known as “the Fashionista” and makes sure to let the world know she is fabulous. Her video clips show that she can be hard hitting as she is well dressed. Toni Storm made it to the semifinals of the MYC last year, before losing to eventual winner Kairi Sane. Her video package shows off her wide array of butt-based offense, as well as some nasty looking suplexes.

Toni Storm enters to a big reaction from the crowd, and I know I said this last year but I’m going to repeat myself anyway. She really has off-the-charts charisma and presence. Every Monday that she doesn’t appear on Raw is a Monday that makes a little less sense to me. Jinny lives up to her reputation with a quite fabulous cape and a disdainful sneer highlighting her entrance. Second straight match without the Handshake of Respect™. Slow paced beginning until Storm decides to slap the hell out of Jinny, and then kick her chest in. The advantage shifts quickly when Jinny catches Storm coming into the corner and drives Storm’s face into a turnbuckle hard enough that the announcers speculate Storm may have broken her nose. Jinny decides to give as good as she gets hitting Storm with two separate forearms that echo throughout Full Sail, letting her lock Storm into a nasty looking rocking horse submission. Jinny’s mean streak is on display as she trash talks and slaps Storm. This may not have been the best idea for Jinny as Storm counters with a brutal german suplex, a high speed cannonball, and the Storm Zero to get the pin.

This was the best match of the tournament so far. Both competitors were leaning in hard on forearm strikes and kicks. Everything looked fluid and crisp. And Jinny is just so damn hateable it makes rooting against her delightful. Despite her loss Jinny will be joining the WWE Performance Center and hopefully appear on NXT sooner rather than later. As for the winner, Toni Storm, she continues to impress me every time I see her. It was a small thing, but the way she took a Japanese armdrag in the corner grabbed me. She charged in so fast, and was able to get into the flip so quickly and in a small space, I ended up rewinding just so I could watch it again. Of course, I kind of did that with the whole match. Only complaint is that it wasn’t longer. ***½

Xia Li def. Karen Q

Xia Li appeared in last year’s tournament, losing to Mercedes Martinez. Her video focuses on her martial arts background and her desire to make China proud. I mention this only because they’ve been such a highlight throughout, but this package feels very paint by numbers, as if created for any Asian competitor who happened to appear. Karen Q has been out on the indie scene, with the wood paneling of the World Famous Berwyn Eagles Club showing up more than once. Her gymnastics background is brought up, seemingly guaranteeing some sort of handspring move occurring tonight.

Karen Q is an elementary school gym teacher. Xia Li, much like Kavita Devi, had her first ever match in last year’s MYC. Because both fighters are of Chinese descent the match begins with a martial arts standoff. I don’t make the rules, I just frown at them. A cheap shot from Karen (I’m going to call her Karen, instead of Q. Are we okay with this?) pisses off Li and the only way she can channel that aggression is to punch Karen 3,000 times in eight seconds. Another sneaky shot from Karen gives her back the advantage, followed up by a double handspring elbow. The nasty shots and suplexes continue in this match with Karen blasting Li with a forearm and an exploder suplex. The announcers seem surprised by Karen’s mean streak, but I could have anticipated that. She’s a gym teacher after all. Xia Li turns the tide with a series of hard kicks to Karen’s legs, and a spinning axe kick to the back of Karen’s head is enough to give Li the victory.

I didn’t know what to expect coming into this match, and honestly my expectations weren’t very high. There were moments where things seemed like they might get bumpy, but usually each time that happened one of the wrestlers would respond by hitting her opponent really hard. That of course is the best solution to most any problem one faces. Karen Q availed herself quite well in this match, and Xia Li covered up her inexperience with quality violence. Li will try to keep her arms safe in her second round match with Deonna Purrazzo, but for now she can enjoy her victory in a surprisingly strong match. ***

Mia Yim def.  Allysin Kay

Both of the competitors in this match took some time to grow on me. Allysin Kay was a generic heel, and Mia Yim couldn’t stop smiling even when she was getting her ass beat. But then something happened. Kay got weird and into MMA. She began to use her size and strength much more prominently in her matches, giving her an in-ring identity that made her fun to watch (best Pounce since Monty Brown returned to his home planet), and at the same time letting her personality come through more naturally. Mia Yim became the War Queen and the Joshi Gatekeeper in SHIMMER. Her smile was there because she loved to fight and test herself against the best the world could offer, and if she broke someone’s nose along the way, well that’s fun too. Kay says she’s bringing the savage, Yim is not going to care about friendship or anything that gets in the way of winning.

The announce team brings up Mia Yim’s personal history as a domestic abuse survivor, mentioning Safe Horizon, the group Yim volunteers and fundraises for. Yim and Allysin Kay have met many times, and the match begins with the two rolling around trading punches on the mat. Yim takes the first advantage with a thudding kick to Kay’s chest. Kay counters an attempted deadlift german suplex, and then hits the POUNCE~! Somehow Yim survives being sent flying into another time zone, attacking Kay on the outside. Kay gets a big break when she ducks away from an attempted chop, causing Yim to clang her hand against the ringpost. The hand injury comes into play as Yim cannot finish an armbar submission before Kay lifts her up from the mat into a half power bomb. Standoff in the middle of the ring leads to a strike exchange that Yim gets the better of. Kay hits her discus clothesline finisher out of nowhere, but is too slow to cover. Simultaneous high kicks send both fighters to the mat, with Yim getting up first and heading to the top rope. As Kay reaches up to grab Yim her jaw ends up meeting Yim’s feet for the finish.

Another hard-hitting match closed out the show with a bang. Allysin Kay makes everything she does look like it is going to end the match, and there were at least 4-5 points where her getting the victory would have seemed perfectly appropriate. I had a moment of clarity during the match and realized why I enjoy watching Mia Yim wrestle. She looks like the wrestling ring is the place where she was born to be. Certain wrestlers just belong there more than anywhere else in the world. Daniel Bryan is probably the best example of this. She’ll be facing a significant test in the second round, facing former Divas Champion Kaitlyn in a match I’m more excited for than I would have been at the beginning of this show. ***

Final Thoughts:

Damn, that was one hell of an hour of wrestling. Throughout all four matches the common theme was violence. Lovely, beautiful, jarring violence. Everyone was fighting like their lives depended on it, and the only way to guarantee their survival was to destroy their opponent. The fact that two of the matches were chapters in already existing rivalries certainly contributed to this atmosphere, with Storm/Jinny and Yim/Kay teeming with the hatred that only comes with familiarity.

Next week we get the last group of first round matches, and after tonight’s action the bar has been set pretty high. See you next week!