Good evening, wrestling fans, it’s time for another AiPT! Wrestling Roundtable, focused this time on the inaugural Mae Young Classic, only on the WWE Network (now they’ve got me saying it). This past week the field of 32 was winnowed down to a spectacular sixteen and we, the spoiler-free staff of AiPT! are here to break things down faster than Chris Jericho.
The Round Two Matchups:
Abbey Laith vs. Rachel Evers
Laith made it to round two by squeezing past dominant German Jazzy Gabert, overcoming an onslaught from the fierce competitor. Evers dominated the smaller, less experienced Marti Belle in a showcase for the stronger woman.
Patrick: The former Kimber Lee, Abbey Laith, is one to watch in WWE’s women’s division, but Evers has that second generation pedigree that is so coveted. Still, being a big name from the indies and a recent NXT signee, I’m going to have to go Laith.
Jason: I’m also going with Laith. She had the more impressive moveset and marketable look, so I’ve got assume there’s a better future with her as an NXT superstar. She throws some killer kicks, and I’ll always pull for the strong style competitors.
Brian: Both of these women are solid in the ring, but Laith has the edge in several categories, experience being the key. I expect a good showing from Evers that will make her father proud, but Laith moves on to round three.
Princesa Sugehit vs. Mercedes Martinez
Sugehit came out with a big win over crowd favorite Kay Lee Ray, surprising many. Martinez put on a clinic against first-time competitor Xia Li who, despite some nice moves, never had a chance.
Patrick: A female luchador is incredibly novel to the WWE Universe, and she was firing on all cylinders in the first round. I’m sticking with Sugehit.
Jason: If it weren’t for that Kaire Sane Vs. Tessa Blanchard match, Princessa Sugehit’s win over Kay Lee Ray would have been the best match of round one. I’d be crazy to pick against the masked luchadora in this matchup.
Brian: Sugehit and Kay Lee Ray were an excellent pick to jumpstart the tournament and bookend with the Sane/Blanchard bout. Sugehit can go and I think her lucha bona fides will frustrate Martinez. Sugehit wins.
Nicole Savoy vs. Candice LeRae
Savoy made it past second-generation wrestler Reina Gonzalez in a solid effort. The Full Sail crowd lit up for Mrs. Johnny Wrestling herself, LeRae, who pinned Renee Michelle in round one.
Patrick: Candice LeRae is possibly the best known female wrestler to have never, until recently, stepped foot in a WWE ring. It would surprise me if she won the whole thing, just because it seems almost too obvious, but I expect her to go far. LeRae takes this one.
Jason: I like Candice LeRae plenty, but I’m going to have to give my bid to Savoy. The Cruiserweight classic gave nods to the youngsters, and Savoy came out of her match looking strong. Her ties with Shayna Baszler in SHIMMER also suggest that there’s potential in using her in a new MMA-inspired faction, which only really works if all of those ladies look convincingly badass.
Brian: This is the point in all tournaments where we hold our breath, hoping for that one amazing match-up in the third or fourth round, hoping that Cinderella doesn’t come knocking too early. Round three could be LeRae/Baszler. Oh please, oh please, oh please!
Mia Yim vs. Shayna Baszler
Sarah Logan had a solid showing against Yim, but came up short to some vicious kicks in the end. Baszler, joined at ringside by her MMA sisters, the Four Horsewomen, actually gave up a bit of offense to the game Zeda, but submitted her in the end.
Patrick: Shayna Baszler has that legit MMA gimmick that WWE seems to be head over heels for these days. Thankfully, she proved she’s more than just a look in the first round (you can also see her work in SHIMMER for more proof of that). Mia Yim, fka Jade in TNA, has the credentials to go far in the WWE, though. I predict an upset victory over the physically dominant Baszler here.
Jason: I really enjoyed Mia Yim’s work in the first round, but there is no chance in hell she gets past Shayna in this match. Even before this tournament she’s the one female indie worker (besides maybe Candice LeRae) that WWE has had their sights firmly set on, so I see her going the distance.
Brian: Did you see that Falcon Arrow into a rear naked choke? Baszler is legit and will only get better as she transitions fully into wrestling from MMA. And in round three she goes up against Candice LeRae.
Kairi Sane vs. Bianca Belair
Belair blazed through the much larger Sage Beckett with a few wicked strikes and that braid-whip. Kairi Sane made the most anticipated debut match of round one, winning with her amazing vertical elbow drop onto third-generation grappler, Tessa Blanchard.
Patrick: This is possibly my most anticipated matchup so far. Kairi Sane is obviously amazing, but Bianca Belair really impressed me in the first round. She has the mannerisms, the look, and the swagger to become a very big deal, and her braid-as-a-weapon schtick makes her stand out from the pack. That said, Sane will almost certainly win, and rightfully so.
Jason: I don’t think a squash match should be used in a tournament setting, but looking at the talent differential between these two performers, this is pretty much a lock for Sane. Belair is a bit too green, and Sane is too exciting for this to be much of a contest. Kairi for the win.
Brian: I think Kairi has too much momentum to be stopped at this point. We are headed for Kairi vs Toni Storm in the semis and I can’t wait!
Dakota Kai vs. Rhea Ripley
Kai, the Kiwi dynamo took on a much more powerful opponent in Kavita Devi, coming out on top after a vicious round-the-ring yakuza kick. Ripley took on a game Miranda Salinas, but the young Australian was just too much for her.
Patrick: Dakota Kai is just about the cutest person I’ve ever seen; like a somehow more bubbly Bayley. She’s solid in the ring, too, but it appears WWE brass is high on Rhea Ripley, as a lot of fans are as well. She’s only 20 years old, too, which could mean we’ll be seeing a lot of her for a long time, though remember the last super young female prodigy WWE put a lot of backing into? Didn’t work out so well.
Jason: I share Pat’s affection for Dakota Kai, but I’ll have to give it to Ripley. Kai’s Yakuza kick was phenomenal, but Ripley had probably the most dominant win in the first round, so I’m going with the Aussie over the Kiwi. I still love you, Dakota!
Brian: I was consistently shocked by Ripley’s size in her match against Salinas. She looked like a goddess among mortals. Dakota Kai has a lot going for her, but one mistake and Riley will have her number.
Serena Deeb vs. Piper Niven
Deeb, in her return to WWE after a stint in CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society was derailed due to personal issues, got a feel-good victory over NXT’s Vanessa Borne. Niven took some early offense from opponent Santana Garrett, but ended things emphatically with her powerhouse offense.
Patrick: This is a tough one. Serena is filling the redemption story role Brian Kendrick did in the Cruiserweight Classic, but Piper Niven has a very unique look and style and is coming off of probably the most exciting match of the first round. This is a pick ’em, but I’ll say Serena ekes out a victory.
Jason: I was surprised with Niven’s win over the much-hyped Santana Garrett in the first round, but I expect her to keep rolling. Serena’s day has come and gone, and the fact that her best days are tied to CM Punk may make her something of a persona non grata with certain three-lettered executives. I see more of a future with Niven, but I’d love for Deeb to get a trainer position alongside Sara Del Rey.
Brian: Piper Niven and Sage Beckett are the two women who really stood out as non-WWE women, look-wise. Piper has the personality and the strength to overpower Deeb, but Serena needs the redemption that a deep run in the tournament will give her, even without making the finals. Serena Deeb in a squeaker.
Lacey Evans vs. Toni Storm
NXT’s Evans outmaneuvered her opponent, Brazilian Taynara Conti, frustrating the younger woman. Storm picked apart Britain’s Ayesha Raymond, playing hard to the crowd, who were firmly on her side.
Patrick: I have a feeling WWE has plans for Lacey down the road, but there’s no stopping the Toni Storm train. She’s my pick to win it all, so my prediction is she picks up a hard fought victory against Evans in round 2.
Jason: I’m actually a big fan of Lacey Evans. I like her look, she’s got a great backstory and she’s progressing in the ring. That being said, Storm is going to crush her. Existing NXT talents never make it past the second round in these tournaments, so we’ll have to wait for my girl Lacey to shine on weekly TV.
Brian: For real, out of all the second round matches, this one is the easiest to predict. I like Lacey and she has a big upside…eventually. Right now, though? Toni Storm has got it going on. She, along with Candice LeRae and Kairi Sane are the most complete wrestlers in the entire tournament. Lacey heads back to NXT and Storm gets to hip check her way to round three.
Were there any disappointing results from Round One? Is there anyone from Round One you want to see again in WWE/NXT?
Patrick: Bianca Belair! As I said in my prediction for her match, she just seems to “get it.” She has that proverbial X factor. She’s had a cup of coffee in NXT before the tournament so I’m sure we’ll see more of her, but after getting to know her a bit better in the MYC, I’m that much more excited.
Jason: I was SHOCKED that Jazzy Gabert lost in the first round. So much of the marketing for the event featured her, and her unique look told so much story before she even set foot in the ring. I like Abbey Laith, don’t get me wrong, but I totally had a Gabert Vs. Baszler semi-final lined up in my mind.
Brian: Gabert is the biggest upset loss in the tournament, but several matches were upsetting just because someone had to lose. Kay Lee Ray losing in round one would be a travesty had it not been to Princesa Sugehit. Same for Tessa Blanchard losing to Kairi Sane. I really would love to see all three back in a WWE/NXT ring.
Bonus Question: Will there be a 205 Live-style Women’s show on the Network before the end of 2017?
Patrick: Considering WWE was supposed to start taping the UK show in June and there hasn’t been any word since, and the rumblings of the company tightening up several aspects of their budget, I don’t see a women-focused show coming any time soon. Look for the standouts to be funneled into NXT or, if they are really exceptional, the main roster.
Jason: I’m pretty skeptical of it. I can’t imagine them booking the women on a separate tour from the male talents, I don’t imagine them doing a SHIMMER-style pre-taped show like NXT. I think it’s far more likely that the ladies who earn contracts from this tournament will be incorporated into the NXT Roster to facilitate callups for established superstars like Asuka, the Iconic Duo and Ember Moon over the next few months.
Brian: I really want the answer to be yes. Forget the main roster, give me an NXT-style show, taped a month at a time to showcase these athletes. While WWE/NXT isn’t the only place that showcases women (and often doesn’t do so well in the case of WWE main), it is the furthest reaching platform some of these women may ever have.