The first four episodes of the Mae Young Classic have dropped on the WWE Network, featuring all 16 matches of the first round. Wrestlezone’s Mike Killam will be dropping a full recap and review of each episode every day this week Monday through Thursday.
MERCEDES MARTINEZ vs. XIA LI
Jim Ross informed us that this will be Xia Li’s first professional wrestling match ever. Martinez is described as a no-nonsense brawler who does whatever she has to to get the job done, and her experience in the business is highlighted as a 16-year veteran.
Mercedes takes her opponent down to the mat as soon as the bell rings, working holds and wrestling literal circles around the rookie. She slapped the back of her head several times in a show of blatant disrespect, but Li came back with strikes and a look of fire, showing she wasn’t intimidated. Li tried for a series of pinning combinations but couldn’t get it done, so went back to the basic strikes and kicks. Mercedes caught her with a big spinebuster to shift the momentum back, then transitioned into a dragon sleeper to get an easy victory.
Mercedes Martinez def. Xia Li via submission at 3:06.
KILLAM: Not much to say here after a pretty basic opener. Li is obviously very limited being in her first match, sticking to kicks and letting Mercedes control everything else. She’s athletic and didn’t mess any of the early sequences up, which is a good sign. I guess we’ll see how she progresses in developmental. All that aside, this was really just a showcase to let Mercedes get her character and style out there, and that much was accomplished. I would love to see her mix it up with Shayna at some point.
MARTI BELLE vs. RACHEL EVERS
A video package filled us in on Rachel’s backstory, as the daughter of WWE Hall of Famer Paul Ellering. Marti Belle talked a lot about her Dominican heritage and learning how to fight in New York at a young age.
A big “Rachel” crowd kicked off the match as the referee had to separate the two in the corner. Marti begged off into the ropes several times playing some mind games and drawing a little heat. She took control with a side headlock and a rough looking arm drag, but only got a count of one. Evers placed a stiff kick right in her chest to send Belle flying and followed up with an STO, coming off the second rope with a twisting senton, but Marti once again rolled into the ropes to take a breather. With the ref backing off Evers she took a cheap shot dropping her over the top rope, and from there slowed things down with a series of corner slams. Evers fired up and this time didn’t let her opponent take a break, connecting with elbows, another chest kick and a running senton to pump up the crowd. She hit a pop-up spinebuster but barely got Marti up for another rough looking sequence. There was a bit of a back and forth and Evers mercifully put this one away with a small package out of nowhere.
Rachel Evers def. Marti Belle via pinfall in 6:12.
KILLAM: I’m not sure I understand changing Ellering’s name if they’re going to promote her lineage over and over again. This was the first match of the six we’ve seen so far that I would describe as bad. Marti went for the classic heel approach using the ropes multiple times and that worked fine, but the actual technique was off from both ladies throughout the entire match. I’ve seen much better work from both.
RHEA RIPLEY vs. MIRANDA SALINAS
Salinas was put over as a graduate of Booker T’s wrestling school, and noted that her small size won’t matter in the ring. She has really cool red highlights running through her hair. Rhea is from Australia and is only 20-years-old, and described herself as a “mosh kid” that goes to heavy metal shows. She’s also a 9-year soccer player.
Salinas went for a side headlock right off the bat but Ripley threw her off with ease, using that big height advantage. She snapped with a beautiful dropkick that rocketed her opponent from the ring, and Salinas reassessed her situation on the outside. Rhea continued her assault with chops in the corner, but Salinas fired back with some of her own and hit a nice running knee. The Aussie shook off more strikes and hit another standing dropkick, following up with a Broski Boot in the corner and a great hesitation dropkick. Salinas tried for a small package out of nowhere but Rhea kicked out, leveled her with a kick and hit a Full Nelson slam for the win.
Rhea Ripley def. Miranda Salinas via pinfall.
KILLAM: This was the best match of the show so far. Not great, but good. Both of these ladies have a ton of potential just based on look and personality alone, but Rhea really kicked the door down with an excellent showing of athleticism and a firm grasp of the basics. Her dropkicks are legit impressive. I wanted more from Salinas who didn’t get much offense in, but what we got to see looked promising.
MIA YIM vs. SARAH LOGAN
A video package put Yim over as a world-traveling second degree blackbelt, and they pushed her campaign against domestic violence. She’s also the only South Korean star in this tournament, so shout-out to my own heritage. Logan is a “backwoods girl from Kentucky” that hunts her own food and toured Japan to train strong-style.
Beth Phoenix and Natalya were shown at ringside for this one. Lita revealed that one of Logan’s first matches in Japan was actually against Mia Yim, so we got a clean handshake before the bell between these two familiar opponents. It was an even trade back and forth to start things off, with both looking for submissions to take control. Logan did just that with a shoulder tackle, but Yim fought back with a nice armdrag and a quick dropkick for two. She laid in with a series of stiff kicks but Logan threw a headbutt and rained down rights and lefts on the mat. A dueling “Let’s go Sarah, Mia Yim” chant broke out as the brawl continued. Logan looked for an armbar variation but got rolled into a pin attempt, and had to settle for a dropkick instead. The South Korean would not go down and came back with more stiff kicks, but Logan screamed back at her for more, which she happily delivered. Yim caught her in the Turantula over the ropes which the ref quickly broke up, shades of the great Tajiri. She flew across the ring into a mounted front sleeper, rolling through on the mat and hanging on to the submission. They teased a tapout but Logan fought back with hard elbows, and the two exchanged strong-style shots back and forth refusing to give an inch. It was move for move with Logan hitting a Nakamura-like running knee strike, but Yim firing right back with a series of bridging German suplexes. More knees. More kicks. Logan finally broke away from the exchange with an awesome flurry of moves culminating in a Fisherman’s buster from the second rope, but she got caught with Eat Defeat and Mia picked up the fall.
Mia Yim def. Sarah Logan via pinfall in 7:38.
KILLAM: Awesome, awesome match. They put over both women’s background in strong-style, and they absolutely delivered on that promise. This was booked more like a back and forth New Japan match than your average WWE match, with tons of strikes and stiff kicks, building to the big moves and a few close nearfalls at the end. Both looked excellent and worked the crowd into a frenzy in easily the best match of the opening eight so far. It’s a damn shame one of these ladies had to go home.
While overall the Mae Young Classic’s second effort wasn’t as strong as its pilot, the main event more than made up for a lackluster first half. Mia Yim is a future legend in women’s wrestling and one of my current favorite performers, and will advance to the second round to face Shayna Baszler in a bout I’m very much looking forward to watching. Logan may have gone home early, but she has a bright future in WWE ahead of her. At 23 she’s already one of the most well-rounded performers in the women’s division.
I’m not looking to come down too hard on Evers and Belle, both of whom are capable wrestlers, but I expected a lot more out of them. I’ve seen them both work in person and I know the skill is there. Sometimes you just have a bad night, or the chemistry doesn’t click, or you don’t get time to put things together; sometimes you just have a bad match. It happens.
Despite a few hiccups and bumps in the road, the pre-match video packages continue to add a layer of depth to this tournament and helping along the unheard of talents that may otherwise be a footnote in the record books. The significant amount of research done by JR and Lita peppers in tiny character details that may not be a big factor in the grand scheme, but every little nuance helps to make these women come together as complete packages.
We’re halfway through the opening round and I’m still interested in seeing more work from all 16 competitors so far, so that’s a good sign. As I said I wanted more from Miranda Salinas who looked promising but didn’t get a lot in, and Xia Li was obviously limited having never wrestled a legitimate match before, but those are small details in an otherwise solid start to the Mae Young Classic. If the main event hadn’t been as good as it was this might have been a very poor episode, but altogether it’s still worth a watch and I expect that things will only continue to get better as we progress.
KILLAM’S GRADE: C