Pop Break’s editor-in-chief Bill Bodkin, and staff writer Melissa Jouben collaborated on a review of the first round of the Mae Young Classic on the WWE Network.
Pre-Show Thoughts on a Women’s Tournament:
Melissa Jouben: I was a little nervous when I heard about it, I’ll be honest. Were they going to use the same very limited stable of WWE Divas that they’ve been forcing into different combinations of feuds forever? Were they going to pull talents from all levels from amateur to indie to pro? And most importantly, is this all just a trial to see how well an all-women show would perform? If that’s the case I’d be on board for sure, albeit a bit bummed that the show will be stuck behind the WWE Network’s paywall.
Bill Bodkin: I was hyped. Hot off the heels the brilliant WWE U.K. Tournament, and the CWC last year — I knew the WWE had a lot in store for his tournament. The “women’s revolution” has been in full swing for a while, and it’s not the most uncommon thing in the world to see women’s matches in a main event of RAW or Smackdown, or even a PPV. An knowing Triple H would be spearheading the recruiting for the tournament, I knew this tournament would be legit stacked — featuring a ton of highly sought after female talent.
Announcing – Lita & JR — How’d They Do
MJ: Lita is just about every young girl’s wrestling idol and so it makes the most sense to have her sit at the announcer’s table, and I am VERY excited to see her there. It feels like it lends some credibility to the whole tournament when you’ve got a WWE legend like Lita jumping back into the action. And her commentary is knowledgeable while also fun. And her banter with JR isn’t bad! It could be worse! He seems to be trying to have as much fun as possible, and with Lita next to him, I don’t think he has to try very hard.
BB: I felt this was a tale of two commentaries. The first two episodes were hit-or-miss with neither Ross or Lita really having their footing under them. By the third episode they seemed to be in the groove. You could also hear Ross’ excitement for some of the competitors surprisingly peak through his commentary. He knew when a match was special, and he wasn’t shy about it. Lita was good here too, but I have a feeling by the second batch of episodes, she’ll be exponentially better. I’ll be honest though — Daniel Bryan and Mauro Ranallo were much better in the CWC, as were Michael Cole, and Nigel McGuinness in the UK Tournament.
The Structure of The Series — 4 Episodes At a Time — Did It Work Better than Being Weekly?
MJ: I kind of do like that we can watch all of Round 1 at our own leisure, especially because if you tried to do these episodes one at a time it might led people to believe that Episode 4 might be more exciting and have better matches than Episode 1, which isn’t the case at all. The episodes work better as a package deal, in my opinion. However, because all the rounds have already been filmed (with the exception of the final match) the internet is FULL of spoilers as to who beats who in the upcoming rounds and I’ve managed to avoid them so far but it may be harder as the competition heats up.
BB: One of things I regret most about the CWC was the I ended up missing a bunch of it. The weekly episodic presentation of the show was not overly conducive for my work schedule, and I fell wickedly behind. With this four-at-a-time release, I can take my time and watch as little or as much as I want. Now since WWE Network is an OTT/VOD platform, I could’ve done this with the CWC, but it’s all a mindset thing. It’s out there for me to watch “at my leisure” and not “you gotta watch it now!”
The Presentation of the Women in the Show
BB: WWE knows how to produce a show. The lighting of the ring, the music choices, the video packages — they all hit. The only one that stuck out like a sore thumb was Sage Beckett who went “full character” instead of telling her backstory, and I felt that hurt my investment in her.
MJ: The whole arena setup is pretty cool, and I like the general color scheme. Based on their video packages you can get a good sense of which performers the tournament is pushing for and which ones they didn’t put too much effort into. But you get the sense that they tried their best to respect each and every performer.
The First WWE Female Referee
MJ: This might sound lame, but when we talk about representation, this is big for me. I wish I knew I could be a female referee when I was a little girl! She was all over those competitors and seems super dedicated to reffing a fair fight. It seemed like maybe she could have given them more room at points but hey, she’s got a lot to prove, and she definitely proved it to me.
BB: Congratulations, Kennadi Brink! Trained by the one and only Duane “Gillberg” Gill, she’s now the first full-time ref in NXT, and WWE. She did great, and I look forward to her kicking the door in for more women to referee in WWE.
Who Impressed The Most
MJ: No surprise here, but Kairi Sane. That elbow drop? Jesus. What a showstopper. The instant replay was even crazier. I am so, so excited to see more from her. I am also very firmly Team Rhea Ripley. That girl is so young, so raw, and so talented. WWE would be crazy not to sign her asap.
BB: How can one not be impressed by Kairi Sane. But, having seen her perform before in Lucha Underground, I wasn’t surprised that she captivated the crowd, and was awesome in the ring. The woman who surprised me the most was Abby Laith. I a familiar with her work in Chikara, and elsewhere as Princess Kimber Lee. However, I was a bit shocked at just how well she connected with the crowd, and she hung in there with Jazzy Gabert (aka Alpha Female). She’s a star. Honorable mention goes to Sarah Logan, who was massively impressive, and is also definitely poised for bigger things in WWE.
Best Match of Round 1:
MJ: I gotta go with Kairi Sane vs. Tessa Blanchard. As much as you can tell they’re giving Kairi a push in this tournament, Tessa is still a third generation wrestler with an impressive background that she fought for and earned on her own, without the help of her wrestling-famous name. Even when you’re pretty sure you know the outcome, watching two performers as talented as them going back and forth stealing the upper hand from each other was pretty exciting. And by the time Kairi did her finishing move, I was so caught up in the action that I kind of jumped up out of my seat a little. I’m bummed that this was a round 1 match because I would have liked to see both competitors tear it up in the rest of the tournament.
BB: Kairi vs. Tessa was awesome, but I’m going with Sarah Logan vs. Mia Yim. These two had a knock-down, drag-out brawl filled with some really, really stiff kicks and strikes that seemed straight out of a New Japan PPV match. I loved their chemistry, and both women proved not only to be excellent in the ring, but also extremely capable at commanding an audience. Mia Yim, if not signed already, should be a top priority for WWE, as I think she’d be a perfect fit the NXT Women’s Division.
What Results Were We Not Happy With
MJ: Had Kavita Devi won, she probably would have gone all the way. I’m also sad Jazzy had to leave so soon, but I know this isn’t the last we’ll see of either of them.
BB: I was not a fan of Princesa Sugehit defeating Kay Lee Ray. The luchadora looked good in the ring, but there’s no way she should’ve advanced over KLR. I’ve been a fan of the Scottish wrestler for a while, and I think they could’ve gotten a lot more mileage out of her, and her ability to adapt to her opponent’s style than Princesa.
Your prediction for the final match
MJ: There is a very clear push for Kairi Sane, and I’d gladly put money on her making it to the final match if not winning the entire tournament. The way Tessa Blanchard treated her with so much reverence after she won tells me that she’s going to be our heroine going into the last round. And, if she’s our heroine, we’ll need a heel. For that reason I can’t think of anyone better to pair her with than Shayna Baszler, who is more than likely going to utterly annihilate everyone in this competition. If you can think of a more exciting pair to watch in the final round, I’d love to hear it.
BB: If I had my druthers it’d be Toni Storm vs. Kairi Sane in the most awesome match ever. However, I believe the finals will be Sane, and Shayna Baszler as well. Baszler has the Ronda Rousey connection, and she’s one hell of a performer. This will be a great styles clash, and I look forward to it happened.
The Mae Young Classic Round 1 is currently streaming on the WWE Network.