Previously on the Mae Young Classic: Nox’s knee exploded, Satomura beat up a Young Lane, and Yim got an NXT contract immediately after her loss, proving there is some good in the wrestling world.
You can watch the Mae Young Classic on the WWE Network! And you can keep up With Spandex on Twitter and Facebook. Also, we have a podcast! Also, you can follow me on Twitter @emilyofpratt, where I mostly just talk about wrestling some more.
As you probably noticed from the headline and/or my previous MYC reviews, I’m departing from our usual Best/Worst format for this column for something I’m calling a Ranked Review. Each MYC episode consists of four straight-up wrestling matches and almost nothing else for about an hour, and I’m going to talk about each match in worst-to-best order. As always, I welcome your thoughts on the format and rankings, as well as the rest of the review and the episode it talks about, in the comments section.
And now, my review of season 2, episode 8 of the Mae Young Classic, the tournament’s semifinals, from October 24, 2018.
2. Toni Storm def. Meiko Satomura
The episode’s opener is presented by commentary as “the young upstart Toni Storm against the legendary Meiko Satomura,” which is a match dynamic we almost never see in WWE women’s wrestling, which historically has not prioritized female wrestlers enough and/or employed them long enough to create legends. The pre-match video package references that Storm and Satomura’s one previous match (at Stardom’s February 2018 Queen’s Fest, advertised as a “Special Dream Match”) went to a [twenty-minute time limit] draw. (I finally watched this match, which was very good, yesterday before the MYC semifinals because I’m a poser Stardom fan and never manage to watch any of their stuff in a timely manner.) Storm straight-up says, “Meiko Satomura is the best wrestler in the world,” and while both women look focused when they get in the ring, the Aussie also looks a little concerned.
Like their first match, this one is heavy on the grappling. I don’t think this was Satomura’s best match of the tournament, but it showed a big part of what makes her so dang good early on – everything she does feels so intentional and like she’s doing it in order to win. We know a headscissors out of a side headlock two minutes into a pro wrestling match isn’t going to be the finish, but Satomura wrestles like she thinks it could be.
As the match’s pace picks up, Storm holds her own and gets some nearfalls. But she’s facing Satomura at her most Final Boss, and the joshi vet very much dominates with leg submissions, strikes, and kicks. Storm targets one of Satomura’s legs with a submission of her own, but oddly never looks that confident about it. Satomura selling that leg creates an opening for her to score some higher impact offense, including a kind of a bad suicide dive to Meiko onto the steel grate on the entrance ramp, which, after Teagan’s injury, is now acknowledged as a place of DANGER.
Back in the ring, Satomura SCREAMS and FIRES UP and lands the Death Valley Driver… but Storm kicks out! The MYC is pretty short, but the DVD has been effectively hyped enough over this period of time (even shorter for live audience due to how these were taped) that the crowd pops for this. I thought Storm’s German suplex to Storm Zero Tiger Driver would be the kind of lame finish to the match, but just kidding, Satomura kicks out in a moment I found even more exciting. After the Scorpion Kick leads to another nearfall, Satomura FIRES UP EVEN MORE and looks for another DVD, but Storm hits her finisher again for the win and then collapses immediately. I thought this finish was still underwhelming because Satomura’s finishing moves are a lot cooler looking and more unique than Storm’s, but I enjoyed the match overall.
Both women are crying as a big “Thank you, Meiko!” chant goes up, and they bow to each other, hug, and shake hands. This feels like a moment of very real emotion, a glimpse at a real-life personal relationship we don’t really know about. And then as Kairi Sane presents Storm, OF COURSE, Triple H shows up to raise Satomura’s hand. My immediate gut reaction to this and him hugging Storm after her speech was, “GET OUT OF HERE, MAN, THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU.” You know how when you’re watching this legitimately very empowering women’s wrestling tournament with these great moments between women athletes you think, “This is great, but I need it to be officially approved by a very literal patriarchal figure?” But whatever, this dude beat Sting at WrestleMania and claims he ended WCW by driving a jeep into a parking lot, so this type of thing is to be expected from him. Have fun with your upcoming old man circle jerk in Saudi Arabia, King of Kings/NXT Dad!
Anyway, like I said a few paragraphs up, I don’t think it was Satomura’s best match of the tournament, but I do think it was Storm’s. I think it made her look the best as a wrestler, and we got the closest to seeing that part of her, that extra star quality, that I don’t think we’ve seen in her WWE work yet. Basically, I’m not a fan of the crying or near-crying after EVERY match and the “My fans!” and “My dream!” stuff every time she gets on the mic. She was cooler when she was Stone Cold-ing Strong Zeroes in Japan! But whatever, she’s 22 and just signed with this company for real and will probably reach her ideal WWE form pretty soon.
1. Io Shirai def. Rhea Ripley
The episode’s main event sees Io Shirai, a wrestler with a lot of potential/ability we haven’t seen yet in WWE, defeat Rhea Ripley, who’s still pretty green, but has killer character work and is visibly improving all the time. I think we could see these two have an NXT vs. NXT UK Women’s Champion vs. Women’s Champion match that bangs even harder than this in like a year.
Ripley completely dominates the beginning of this match, effectively utilizing her height and “near 50-pound weight advantage.” She focuses on her opponent’s midsection with an abdominal stretch aided by strikes, then a body scissors. We see Shirai struggle to escape and manage it for brief moments only for the relative giant to get back in control. Shirai shows skill as well as spirit when she twice manages to transition the body scissors backwards into pins for nearfalls.
There’s a risk of a countout finish after a very nice suicide dive, and though Ripley gets right on Shirai when she rolls back into the ring, the ex-ace can’t be kept down anymore. She dodges a suplex, stuns Rhea with a bunch of strikes, and hits a very exciting 619. Ripley counters her first moonsault attempt into a superplex and looks emotional and at a loss as to how to put Shirai away after she kicks out of the subsequent pin. After a double knees, Shirai sets up for the moonsault again. Ripley moves a little closer to the post while Shirai is facing away from her and Shirai ends up overshooting a little, so the finish to this match feels a little off too. But this match was good as well, and the ending worked better for me than that of the opener.
Shirai is super happy to see her shoot friend Kairi Sane after her win, and they hug for a while and exchange words in Japanese. Her post-match speech is GREAT because she just yells, “THANK YOU SO MUCH, EVERYTHING! I will win! I will number one! THANK YOU SO MUCH.” And then the interviewer/ring announcer calls her “Ero Shirai,” which is super lame. Could she not hear the audience chanting “Io” for most of the match?
The dynamic could change in the ring, but right now we have two babyfaces heading into the Mae Young Classic final at Evolution. This is the only match on the card with this dynamic, which should add some variety of match tone as well as style to the show.
Closing Thoughts On The Second Mae Young Classic
If the current trajectory of women’s wrestling in WWE continues, the company will run out of Historic Firsts in the next few years. After that, progress will have to be made in the form of building a stronger heritage of women’s wrestling in North America, which has to include a culture of consistent quality on par with men’s wrestling, not just gimmicky historic moments, in order to be sustainable. I think the shift from using the term Women’s Revolution to Women’s Evolution shows that WWE is aware of this.
The Mae Young Classic has so far been tied to Firsts, initially because it was the inaugural tournament and this year because of the connection to the first Evolution PPV. However, its format is such that WWE can do a Mae Young Classic every year forever, and if they keep elevating the tournament like they did from the first to the second year, it will continue to feel important.
I don’t know how many powerful people at WWE care about women or who at WWE cares about women. In my opinion, that doesn’t really matter. Unfortunately, many people, including me, can’t just live their lives only engaging with companies and powerful people who they’re certain value them as human beings on the same level as every other category of human being on this planet. It sucks. But we know what WWE values above all else is money.
Crossover stars like the Bella Twins and the rest of the Total Divas cast and Ronda Rousey and soon the Four Horsewomen and probably Kacey Catanzaro bring awareness of women’s wrestling in WWE to a wider audience, which makes the company more money and improves their reputation. WWE knows that Rousey vs. Bella is the biggest money match they could do outside of maybe something involving the Rock, John Cena, and/or Batista. This is why Evolution is happening. It’s not to make up for the many, many PPVs over the years with no women. It’s because people like my friends and family members who enjoy UFC and/or E! reality shows and/or Dancing With The Stars are going to do a Network free trial. More than any pseudo-feminist statements by WWE officials, this is what makes me confident that the evolution of women’s wrestling in this promotion will continue. I really enjoyed the 2018 Mae Young Classic, so I hope this tournament continues to be a part of that.
Of course, the evolution of North American’s women’s wrestling isn’t only happening in WWE. But although Impact has a strong women’s division, which Elle Collins covers in-depth in her Knockout Report column, and AAA and CMLL also feature women’s matches on majority male cards, WWE undisputedly still offers the best opportunities for female wrestlers in terms of money and exposure. I don’t begrudge any female wrestler going to work for this company, but also don’t begrudge wrestling fans for not wanting to watch WWE, especially if they’re uncomfortable with other things the company has been up to recently. If you’re one of those people canceling your Network subscription but still want to see women’s wrestling besides Impact (and the mostly intergender stuff on Lucha Underground, a show which may not be long for this world) (and the one women’s match every blue moon in ROH and the usual maximum of one lady math per card for most indie promotions), I recently compiled a list of streaming services for the bigger all-women promotions in the US, UK, and Japan.