Thursday, January 27, 2022

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Mae Young Classic Finale: The Princess dethrones the Queen

32 competitors, 31 matches, 13 countries, 8 episodes, 1 winner. The inaugural Mae Young Classic comes to a close tonight as the (Pirate) Princess faces the Queen (of Spades).

Before the final takes place, we arrive at the red carpet where women’s wrestling stars show up to give their support.

We first catch up with the Hugger herself, Bayley, as she’s interviewed by WWE 2015 Hall of Famer Alundra Blayze. The former RAW Women’s champion tells us that her healing process is “going up” and she can now do “everyday things” – like tying up her hair! The topic soon moves on to the tournament and Bayley says that she’s happy about the amount of “new faces” the show has brought out. She admits to not watching anything from Piper Niven before, and the Mae Young Classic exemplified how great the star really is. Bayley also states that with all of the new talent coming in to the company, it inspires her to “step [her game] up” to stay atop of the division. But regardless of her position, she’s happy of the progress that women’s wrestling is receiving because of it.

Cathy Kelley then catches up with Alundra Blayze to ask her for her thoughts on the show. Blayze recaps her Hall of Fame induction as well as finding out about the tournament from the very beginning. She also shares her gratitude towards women that look at her as an inspiration, as well as sharing her not so subtle support for Shayna Baszler.

Blayze is then seen interviewing some of the ladies of Netflix’ G.L.O.W. – starting off the interview with a special cheer dedicated to the programme. She asks cast members Kia Stevens (Tammé Dawson – A.K.A. Awesome Kong), Kate Nash (Rhonda), Rebekka Johnson (Dawn) and Sydelle Noel (Cherry Bang) about season two and they are more than excited about it. Stevens then talks about the difference between professional wrestling and Hollywood’s version, and she states that the main difference is that in Hollywood you wrestle until it’s perfect, whereas in wrestling you only get “one chance.” She then asks the women about their individual careers, and we find out about their work in comedy, music and more. If you’re still watching the red carpet at this point, it’s pretty clear that Blayze is not cut out for a career in journalism.

Triple H is next to be interviewed and shares his excitement about the tournament. He hopes that in ten years from now he’ll be hearing newbies state that the Mae Young Classic is what made them want to wrestle. HHH then praises women like Trish Stratus and Lita for working hard despite not having a clear “pot of gold” to be rewarded with. He then explains the process of making the tournament possible. We hear about how because of the work of the women on RAW, SmackDown and NXT, it was made “easy” for him to pitch the idea to those higher up. #GiveDivasAChance is credited for getting WWE to listen, and he makes it clear that fans have a huge impact on the product. He soon tells us that he does see more seasons of the Mae Young Classic in the future, but it’s not up to him to decide on that.

Charlotte Flair is quickly interviewed and says that when she watched the tournament at Full Sail University, she felt pressure to up her game. She states that every woman in the company needs to feel that pressure because the women of this tournament are coming for their crowns.

Mauro Ranallo reminds us that he called some of Baszler’s MMA fights and now his “two worlds are colliding” as she is competing in WWE. He claims that the two styles that will be competing are quite the “clash” and expresses just how excited he is to witness it.

Dana Warrior, though she’s only around to say something small, expresses how honored she is to witness the finale.

2017 WWE Hall of Fame inductee Beth Phoenix discusses how little content there used to be for women’s wrestling. So, growing up, she had to study male wrestling.

Stephanie McMahon is the final person to talk and she tells us that she is more than proud of how far the women’s division has come. From the change in division name to the similarity with the men’s title, she express her excitement for even more improvement within the division.

Now, onto the show!

An epic promotional package is shown (not the one above), highlighting the tournament from the beginning to now. We get to hear both Shayna and Kairi Sane give their piece on the event, and the hype is real. Baszler claims to be a lot better than the other women as she isn’t intimidated by the bright lights and bigger stage. Kairi on the other hand, is more focused on proving that being smaller “doesn’t matter” as she wants to prove that “size is not what it takes to be number one.” We’re then taken to ringside as Renee Young introduces the SmackDown Live crowd to the programme and we’re on our way!

We see shots of some of the stars that have come out to watch the historic moment. Beth Phoenix, Dana Warrior and Alundra Blayze are sitting together, whilst Mauro Ranallo is sat alone. Other stars in the audience include Mae Young Classic competitors Mercedes Martinez, Candice LeRae, Toni Storm and Pipe Neven, the G.L.O.W. stars we saw earlier, as well as WWE Superstars Asuka, Summer Rae, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Bayley and MMA’s Four Horsewomen Ronda Rousey, Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir. And after a quick look at Lita and Jim Ross on commentary, another promotional package takes place.

To give the match the “big fight feel,” the wonderful Lilian Garcia is here to announce – and what a great announcer she is… The hype is real!

The contest soon begins and we see some attempted grapples that result in Shayna shoving Kairi away. The crowd then share their thoughts on either competitor, with the “Kairi Sane” chants being a little louder than the “Shayna Baszler” ones. Baszler uses her height of 5″7 to her advantage over the 5″1 Sane by shoving her opponent to the ground to initiate her Kirifuda Driver, but Sane constantly reverses it into a failed pin attempt before it can be locked in. This repeats for a short while but neither woman is successful.

Baszler then uses her power to kick Kairi to the ground but a hurricanrana gives Sane a bit of momentum to get inside her opponent’s head. However, a kick to Kairi’s head sends her dazed as she lays outside of the ring. It looks as though Baszler is on her way to gaining the victory. The Queen of Spades then takes control of the moment by attacking Sane with her strong kicks. With Sane being vulnerable at this point, Baszler takes advantage by using it to target her arms and elbows. A smart move for somebody that doesn’t want to be victim to Kairi’s Insane Elbow.

Sane does manage to get her feet on the ground though and uses this time to insert her Interceptor. But with a simple turn to the side, Baszler avoids the spear and leaves her opponent on the ground. The cockiness in Shayna is more than apparent, and it’s pretty clear that she has this match almost fully under her control.

Another Interceptor attempt does come through, but it only lands Kairi in the arms of her opponent, whom uses this time to Suplex Sane multiple times. The focus on Kairi’s arms and elbows continue and the Pirate Princess is left screaming, desperate to grab the ropes. She does end up getting out of the manoeuvre though, and follows through with whips to Baszler’s chest. Although at first this proves to be inefficient, the hard whips eventually have an impact on the MMA fighter is left cornered on the side of the ring. But Baszler quickly takes charge as she inserts a Running Knee.

Looking to put an end to her opponent, Baszler runs to the ropes, but the veteran knowledge of Kairi kicks in and this allows her to successfully apply the Inceptor. She then focuses on the ribs of Baszler with a couple of aggressive moves to keep her down. In order to make sure that the Insane Elbow reaches its full affect, this is the perfect idea. Go on, Kairi!

As the match goes on both women attempt to insert powerful moves. Some end up successful whereas others – like the Sliding D – leave the women vulnerable. The Insane Elbow is the best example. As she jumps in the air, Baszler catches her and implants the Kirifuda Driver, leaving Sane defenseless, aching to break out. As the move is held in even longer it looks as though the Japanese star is going to pass out. The crowd is roaring, begging for Sane to kick out, but it looks as though she won’t… Until she does. With a few desperately strong elbow attacks, Sane manages to get herself out of the move that saw all four of Baszler’s opponents in this tournament tap out to.

An intense battle at the top of the rope follows, and at this point it could be either woman’s match. They’re both punching one another, hoping for the opponent to fall, but neither is budging. But in the end, it’s Kairi that wins out after a punch lands Baszler falling, grasping onto the ropes. But this attempt of survival proves useless as Kairi inserts a Marine Spike, leaving Shayna on the ground, defenseless. But although it seems like the perfect time to pin, Shayna’s ring awareness allows her to grab ahold of the rope to secure the kick-out. And it’s fair to say that Kairi is pretty frustrated.

And this is where the end begins…

Kairi, full of anger and momentum, aggressively attacks Shayna with her first successful Sliding D of the contest. This then places Baszler in position for the Insane Elbow, which is also successfully inserted. And after quickly pinning her opponent, Kairi gets the full three-count and is crowned the very first winner of the Mae Young Classic! Looks like the Princess took down the Queen after all!

After some solo celebrating, Kairi and Shayna shake hands and hug, before Baszler retreats to the back. The likes of Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and Sara Amato congratulate Kairi as she is handed a bouquet of flowers and the Mae Young Classic trophy!

When celebrating her victory, Sane looks up above, as though she is speaking to her best friend that she tweeted about. It’s an incredible moment for all involved.

A defeated Shayna tells Cathy Kelley that she can make up excuses for her loss – like her injury – but instead she just “had to give it to her.” Kelley brings up the fact that WWE Superstar Natalya congratulated Shayna as soon as she came through the curtains after the match. Baszler says that this is a reminder that she has real friends in the industry as throughout her time in combat sports, she’s learned that those that stick by you through one’s losses are the real friends. Aw, we all love Nattie too!

Once backstage, Kairi expresses how “unbelievable” her victory and reactions were. She thanks the WWE Universe for their support and describes it as being “tremendous.” The Pirate Princess expresses how grateful she is to be able to inspire women everywhere by being in this tournament. She is full of pride for herself and for the 31 other women that worked so hard throughout the contest. She also hopes that her win can inspire women’s wrestling fans everywhere. To end the interview, Kairi shares how much she respects Shayna, and believes that she is a tough competitor. What a great show of sportsmanship!

Cathy Kelley also shares the news that Kairi Sane will be competing for the vacant NXT Women’s championship on November 16th in NXT TakeOver: Houston! Unlike the previous video, Kairi doesn’t need WWE Superstar Funaki to translate, and he is pretty impressed by this.

Thoughts: If anyone tells you that they weren’t blown away by this match, they didn’t watch it! Shayna and Kairi both tore the house down and came out looking tougher than ever.

This match is so well done for many reasons, and I can’t help but sit here in awe at the phenomenal work produced by every woman throughout this tournament.

Prior to the match I was fearing that the story would be that Kairi, a weak rookie, would be facing off against a scary and dominant Shayna. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Kairi is an experienced wrestler. She’s been wrestling for a few years with some of the best talent the industry has to offer. So with that in mind, she isn’t going to be easily dominated by anyone.

Saying that, it’s nice that Shayna could still look strong in the contest. Despite being less experienced than Kairi in the world of pro wrestling, she managed to hold her own and look as though she’s been doing this for longer than she has. She looks tough, she acts tough and she wrestles tough. Shayna proved tonight that despite having much less experience than the other tournament members and WWE Superstars, that she is a star.

What I appreciate the most about her work is her intentional lack of selling. It isn’t the kind of selling that looks like she can’t wrestle. It’s the cocky and arrogant kind that forces her opponent to work harder to take her down. We see this exemplified perfectly when Kairi whips her chest again and again. The first few whips show little to no damage, but after a consistent use of the aggressive strikes, Shayna is worn down. The attempts at the Inceptor are also poignant moments for this, and it works wonders for both ladies.

Shayna standing strong at times when Kairi is implanting tough moves on her affectively adds to Baszler’s character and the story. Kairi’s screams and repetition on moves exemplifies this perfectly. It forces the idea that despite Sane’s experience, she needs to push harder to take down the MMA fighter. She needs to use all she has in her to overcome the well known Queen of Spades.

This isn’t the typical story of Rookie vs Veteran. It’s a unique story of Experienced Wrestler vs Cocky and Talented Newcomer. This isn’t Shayna’s world, but her arrogance and strong abilities force it to be. Or at least, are an attempt to be, because after all, Kairi Sane does a phenomenal job.

Sane’s job tonight was a tough one. She was going out to a crowd that came for another show, and she had to get them on her side. Luckily, Shayna has an easy-to-hate persona, but Sane’s work was definitely cut out for her. We saw some stagnant moments with the crowd, but Kairi’s interaction and impressive move-set made sure that those instances were cut short and that the audience paid attention to her work. Sane had the SmackDown Live crowd rooting for her throughout the entire match. And if that isn’t impressive, then I really don’t know what is.

This woman has never performed on American television prior to this tournament. And for her to have an entire crowd on their feet, begging for her victory, is quite the accomplishment. Sane is the true hero of this story. Not only does she manage to overcome the tournament’s biggest threat, but she proved that female wrestlers can keep the crowd invested when given an opportunity.

Both women were put in front of a crowd that paid for another show, yet they stayed and were invested into their match. Baszler and Sane tore the house apart, and I can’t wait to see them do it again.

Despite my prediction that Baszler would be victorious to further the Four Horsewomen vs Four Horsewomen feud, I’m glad that I was wrong. It would’ve made sense for Shayna to go on looking tougher, proving her doubters wrong. It also would’ve made sense for Kairi to look tough whilst having the crowd root for her as the underdog. But at the end of the day, this was Sane’s Swan Song. Kairi aimed to make her best friend proud, and to successfully represent her country as the only Japanese contestant. And this win secured both of those dreams.

The only issue with the match itself is that as the finale it should have been the best of the tournament. And although it came close, Kairi Sane vs Bianca Belair in the second round was by far the best match here.

Regardless, both women did well. And hopefully next time we won’t get commentators that sound bored and react late to things, as these hardworking women deserve passionate responses from those paid to react.

Overall, this match was phenomenal. A 4½ bout with fantastic storytelling, brilliant moves and an incredible atmosphere. Here’s to next time!

What did you think of the match? What was your favorite contest throughout the tournament? Are there any improvements you would make for this show? Which women would you like to see if the Mae Young Classic returns? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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