The first ever Mae Young Classic reaches its conclusion, as Japanese star Kairi Sane faces former UFC fighter Shayna Baszler in the tournament final…
Mae Young Classic – Final
(Winner by pinfall: Kairi Sane)
When it was announced that the Mae Young Classic would conclude with a live final that would be filmed following an episode of Smackdown, it was considered by many to be a mistake. That time slot has often been a difficult one for regular occupant 205 Live, with the fans in attendance often tired after the previous show they’d just sat through, leading to what often feels like disinterest to those watching from home. The worry, in the case of the Mae Young Classic, was that this would result in the so-called “historic” tournament ending with a whimper rather than the grand finale it would likely have received if the final was filmed at Full Sail University (location of the previous episodes). Thankfully, those concerns weren’t necessary, and the Las Vegas crowd were remarkably into the Sane/Baszler final.
Interestingly, given most WWE fans would only know her from this tournament, Kairi Sane was very over with the crowd even before her underdog story had even kicked into gear in the match itself. Baszler, who I felt would come out to a chorus of boos, didn’t quite get the kind of heat that I expected but I’m partly attributing that to her only really selling her villain status in one match of the tournament (versus Candice LeRae). Concerns over Baszler’s suitability for this spot disappeared immediately, and there’s no question that in front of a large Vegas WWE crowd, she looked like she belonged. Kairi Sane too, for that matter, but that was never in doubt.
What was always in doubt, particularly when the two finalists were revealed, was who would win. Recent history tells us that WWE like to give the tournament wins to the babyface (see the Cruiserweight Classic, or the UK Championship Tournament), but with Baszler’s connection to Ronda Rousey and the WWE‘s desire to get the latter into a Wrestlemania match, it was suspected that Baszler would win this tournament simply to build towards that hopeful Rousey match down the line. Thankfully, they went with their heads, and didn’t have another former MMA athlete overcome an experienced and internationally known wrestler. If Vince McMahon had been booking this, we’d likely be talking about a different decision having been made, but Triple H has once again shown us that his booking decisions are currently logical, and best for business.
The match itself was a strong effort, and perhaps the first total wrestling match that Baszler has had in this tournament. This wasn’t just a submission-based contest, this was a 2017 wrestling match that gave us a little bit of everything, and both Sane and Baszler played their parts well. It wasn’t Sane’s greatest match in the tournament, as the bar had been set pretty high by her in that regard, but it was one of my favourites and I see incredible rewatch value in this effort. Only one thing held this match back, and that was it being given only about 10 minutes of in-ring time. Had this gone upwards toward 20 minutes, I think we’d have seen the best match of the tournament by a big stretch.
The future of both women appears to be in WWE, with Sane already tied down to NXT, and Baszler presumably headed in the same direction full-time too. Baszler as a machine in the NXT women’s division is an exciting thought, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a rematch of this final for the NXT Women’s Championship within the next 12-18 months.
The show itself, a 30 minute special, felt a little light. There’s no question that the presentation made this feel like a big deal, but a part of me was hoping for another match featuring Mae Young Classic competitors. Given they were shown to be in attendance, a Toni Storm and Candice LeRae tag team match with Piper Niven and Mercedes Martinez would’ve been nice. On that note, by the way, one assumes that their appearance here suggests that all four may be headed towards shiny WWE contracts soon? Martinez would be a good future trainer for them, and the other three would have nice careers with the company (Storm in particular is a future headliner for them).
This tournament has been a fun ride, and WWE should be commended for how they’ve presented the women during it. I would’ve preferred it to have been live, or not so obviously taped on occasion, but this was an unprecedented milestone for the company and I think we should only applaud it. Could it have been better with a smaller roster? Of course, but some first round exitee’s will undoubtably be regulars on NXT television over the coming months, and their appearances in this tournament will give them credibility.
Throughout this final, Jim Ross regularly mentioned the winner being the first winner of the Classic, and mentioned future winners, implying we would see the return of this tournament in future. I’d like that, and certainly would like to see some main roster women enter it to truly make it a competition featuring the elite female talent in the world, but given there had been no second Cruiserweight Classic at this point (let’s hope they build that into 205 Live soon, and perhaps have a live special event to crown a winner), I won’t hold out too much hope for a second MYC at this point.
Whether it’s an annual tournament, or a new weekly women-only show, WWE will now be forced to ride the momentum of this historic tournemant and build upon it. Sitting back and allowing things to return to how they were won’t be accepted, nor should it be, and WWE now have an opportunity to forever change how women’s wrestling will be seen in the future.