The finals of WWE’s inaugural Mae Young Classic will be broadcast live on the WWE Network from Las Vegas on September 12th, and as we head into the finals, it’s worth looking at the tournament in a broader sense. I’ll admit that I came into Mae Young Classic tournament without much knowledge about the participants. I knew some of the wrestlers, largely by reputation, but on the whole, I hadn’t seen almost any of these women wrestle prior to this tournament.
As I watched the tournament, it became more and more clear to me just how much I had been missing by not investing more time into watching women’s independent wrestling. The independent wrestling world can feel pretty daunting for someone who is still learning and unsure of where to start, but this tournament has made it clear that starting somewhere would be well worth the effort.
I’ll start by acknowledging some of the wrestlers that struck me as standouts in the tournament for various reasons:
Jazzy Gabert/Alpha Female
Jazzy Gabert has an undeniable presence. She is murderous rage personified, and just might be able to kill anyone on earth by staring a hole through them. One of the only major criticisms I have of this tournament is her losing so early. She should be presented as an absolute killer, and protected in any promotions booking her as exactly that.
Already signed and in WWE’s developmental program, Bianca Belair made a strong case for being a featured player in the NXT women’s division with her performances in this tournament, in particular against Kairi Sane where she got to showcase her already formidable skills, especially given how little experience she has compared to some of the others in the tournament. She has an intense charisma, remarkable athletic gifts and the added hook of using her braid as a whip, which got the crowd up something fierce in her match with Kairi Sane.
Piper Niven/Miss Viper
An infectious in-ring personality and one of the better overall wrestlers of the whole tournament. While she does a fantastic job of getting over her size and power in her matches, it’s her well-roundedness as a performer and her likeability that make her such a valuable asset. She can hang with everybody, she’s versatile, and she excels at getting crowds behind her.
Abbey Laith/Kimber Lee
Abbey Laith excels in a number of ways, but the thing she may have over everyone else is that babyface fire. Laith and Rachel Evers screaming at each other like fucking kaiju before kicking each other in the head was on of the best moments of the whole tournament, and a brief encapsulation of what makes her so awesome overall.
There’s no good reason Mia Yim should be in the top mix for either women’s title on the main roster right now. She’s an experienced, polished wrestler with all of the tools needed to be a real benefit to any roster she’s on. I didn’t see much of her run in TNA, but you wouldn’t need to to see that she’s basically a perfect fit for the main roster starting immediately.
Having narrowed down this field of 32 down to a handful of my personal overall favorites, it’s worth noting that doing so simply doesn’t do justice to just how good the majority of the wrestlers in the tournament are. There’s something to enjoy from just about everybody. Xia Li showed a ton or promise in her brief first round match, both as a character and as a wrestler. It’s especially impressive in her case since it’s her first professional wrestling match. Sage Beckett’s shaman priestess character shows a lot of potential. Toni Storm was an absolute star, with music straight out of Judas Priest’s Defenders of the Faith and tons of fire and passion to match. If I keep going, I’m just going to end up complimenting the whole damned roster and they all deserve credit.
The finals on 9/12 are Shayna Baszler, a badass with real MMA credentials versus Kairi Sane as the consummate pro with aerial flash and striking prowess to spare. It’s gritty, ruthless brutality against graceful skill and showmanship. In a sense, it’s the two ends of the same spectrum colliding, all while possibly serving as a backdrop for something for a larger mainstream audience. There have been a ton of not-so-subtle teases at a showdown between the two different Four Horsewomen factions, pitting MMA’s Baszler, Ronda Rousey, Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke against the (formerly) NXT version of Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Bayley, and Sasha Banks.
But once all of the smoke clears and the fallout settles from the finals, what I’ll remember most about the Mae Young Classic isn’t what it did for advancing WWE’s women’s division or its storylines. Instead I’ll think of how effective it was as an advertisement for supporting and investing in women’s independent wrestling. Watching this tournament helped me realize just how woefully out of touch I’ve been. I want to learn more about where these women have been, I want to know where they’ve come from.
The Mae Young Classic, at least in my mind, has been an exercise in proving just how crucial it is to put more of our time and money into helping other promotions thrive. I’ve been shamefully under-supportive of a scene that clearly has a ton to offer. WWE, in their own weird way, has done their part to help change that, at least for me.