Just a little over three months ago, Kairi Sane packed her bags and left her home country of Japan to move to Orlando, the site of WWE’s state-of-the-art Performance Center. A former Olympic yachting hopeful, Sane became a renowned competitor in Japan’s “Stardom” promotion, garnering a reputation as one of the best wrestlers in the world long before she ever set foot on American soil. Despite her accomplishments, leaving behind home comforts and a guaranteed top billing for a shot at making it in the topsy-turvy world of WWE was a huge risk. Not everyone succeeds in Vince McMahon’s sports-entertainment conglomerate; even some of the most talented performers have failed to make it in the big leagues for one reason or another. Sane’s decision to set sail for America is an example of the risk these athletes take for a chance at living their dream.
Three months later, Sane stands tall as the winner of the inaugural Mae Young Classic, and at this moment there is no doubt that her gamble paid off. For Sane to come out on top of this groundbreaking women’s wrestling tournament not only is a celebration of her incredible talent but also shows the faith that Triple H and the higher-ups have in the Pirate Princess as the future of WWE’s women’s division. Shortly after her victory, it was announced that Sane would compete for the vacant NXT Women’s Championship at the “NXT TakeOver: Houston” event in November, positioning her immediately at the top of the card. And is it any wonder that WWE is so high on the Japanese superstar? Sane put on fantastic performance after fantastic performance throughout the tournament, and her final encounter with Shayna Baszler was no exception.
I was a little worried when they announced that the final would be taking place in Las Vegas following SmackDown Live. Even though the Mae Young Classic has been a WWE Network success, Sane and Baszler are still unfamiliar to a large portion of the casual fanbase, and throwing them out there in front of a burned-out post-SmackDown crowd could have been a disaster. You only have to look at 205 Live to witness the sad reality of world-class cruiserweights wrestling to the sound of crickets. It’s a testament to Sane’s and Baszler’s talent that they turned the Vegas audience from lukewarm to red-hot. As the match rolled on, becoming more brutal and intense with every strike, the crowd rumbled with dueling chants of “Shayna Baszler” and “Kairi Sane.” When Sane valiantly fought out of Baszler’s lethal rear naked choke — a move that had put away each of her previous opponents — the crowd had no choice but to jump to their feet and roar, “This is awesome!”
The fans were right; the match was awesome! Sane once again played the determined underdog battling against Baszler’s size and strength advantage. The match told a great story as Baszler worked on Sane’s elbow, twisting and mangling her arm to remove the threat of the “insane elbow” (which seems to be its new name). Sane focused on Baszler’s ribs, which allowed her to escape the ex-MMA fighter’s submission holds with some well-placed shots to the midsection. I questioned Baszler’s ability to sell last week, but she more than proved me wrong here with the way she sold her injury. The two women exchanged vicious shots while perched on the top rope before Sane gained the advantage and delivered a killer double foot stomp to Baszler’s damaged ribs. For one last time, Sane ascended the top turnbuckle and came flying through the air, nailing the insane elbow for the victory.
After the match, Baszler, who has played the cocky heel for the majority of the tournament, showed her respect by hugging the woman who finally beat her. An emotional Sane stood in the middle of the ring next to her gigantic glass sculpted trophy while Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and head coach Sara Amato raised her hand and the fans and celebrity onlookers seated at ringside cheered her on. Sane was the right person to win this tournament; she has an unbelievable babyface appeal and years of experience in the ring. The win here will hopefully be a launching pad to even bigger and better things. As for Baszler, she impressed me, and she still has time to grow as a performer, but I was happy that this didn’t turn out to be an elaborate angle for a future WWE Four Horsewomen versus MMA Four Horsewomen feud. The focus remained on the 32 badass women who throughout this tournament proved that women’s wrestling is changing the game.
Now the question becomes, what next?
“Women’s wrestling in WWE has never been better, and it’s only going to get stronger,” J.R. said at the end of the night. Stephanie McMahon herself later tweeted that the Mae Young Classic would create “opportunities for generations to come.” One would hope WWE will use the momentum from the tournament to bring about positive changes in their women’s division across all three brands, but of course, that is easier said than done. When you see the problems on the main roster, like the decimation of Bayley’s character or the inability to write multiple women’s feuds simultaneously, it does make you worry about all the talented women whom WWE signed off the back of this tournament. Due to those concerns, I wanted to detail a few things I think could be implemented or changed to help women’s wrestling grow within WWE.
New era of NXT
With the undefeated Asuka relinquishing her NXT Women’s Championship and moving to the main roster (may Vince have mercy on her soul), it leaves a gap open in NXT for a new era of women to step up. There is so much talent already on the NXT roster between Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, Ruby Riot, and the Iconic Duo, and with the influx of MYC competitors, the division is only going to get stronger. Triple H and those who book NXT have an excellent track record of creating compelling women’s feuds and characters, so I’m not too worried about the future of the NXT women’s division. But there are a couple of things I would like to see in the coming weeks…
Kairi already has her spot in the next title match, but with “NXT TakeOver: Houston” still months away, there is plenty of time to build and integrate the MYC women into NXT. What better way than another mini-tournament pitting the MYC competitors against the current NXT stars? It could be a great chance to develop new storylines between the women within the tournament while also setting up the next title match. Personally, I would go with Ember Moon for the win and have her once again come up short at “TakeOver,” leading to a full-blown heel turn. Kairi as top babyface and Ember as top heel, while the likes of Cross, Riot, Iconic Duo, Dakota Kai, Sarah Logan, Abbey Laith, Rhea Ripley, and Bianca Belair fill out the undercard? That could and should be the best NXT women’s division ever.
Multiple women’s feuds
Even though women’s wrestling in WWE is much better positioned than it ever was previously — including frequent main events on weekly TV — there is still a massive problem when it comes to creating multiple women’s storylines on the main roster. To use NXT as a counterpoint, recently Ruby Riot has been feuding with the Iconic Duo while Asuka and Ember fight for the women’s title. When a one-hour developmental show can present two women’s feuds simultaneously, it shouldn’t be a problem on Raw and SmackDown, where there are five hours of airtime to fill each week.
SmackDown isn’t quite so bad; at least their women’s division is somewhat fleshed out, although that didn’t stop their entire roster from being shoved into a multiwoman match at “WrestleMania” this year. Raw, on the other hand, is depressing. The entire division revolves around just four women — Alexa Bliss, Sasha Banks, Nia Jax, and, until her recent injury, Bayley. All of these women are smushed together in the same repetitive matches, and it does nothing for their character development. During a three-hour show, there is, what, 15-20 minutes total for the women, including a match and promo segments? The other 160 minutes are for multiple men’s feuds/matches and obnoxious KFC commercials.
So how can they start using more women?
One easy way to utilize more of the women’s roster is to create a women’s faction. First of all, wrestling factions are cool, at least most of the time — let’s just forget about the League of Nations. Second, putting three or four women together in a group automatically guarantees TV time for more women. On top of that, women’s factions are extremely rare, and so it could add a unique flavor to the current product. NXT is becoming a hotbed of feuding factions with the recent Adam Cole alliance taking on Eric Young’s SAnitY stable, and so maybe that would be the perfect place to test it out. And I’m not talking about a “BFFs”-style bitchy clique — as fun as that group was — I mean a take-no-prisoners, ass-kicking kind of faction. Having a dominant heel group running roughshod over the division would also create an antagonist for the babyface women to battle.
Women’s tag team titles
Sasha Banks was a recent guest on the Sam Roberts podcast and brought up the idea of women’s tag team championships. While WWE does have a lot of titles floating around at the moment, introducing women’s tag straps could provide a simple fix when it comes to utilizing more of the women’s roster. The reason it’s easier to create men’s storylines is that they have more titles to fight over. At the top of the card, you have the WWE and Universal Championships, the mid-card is covered with the Intercontinental and U.S. Championships, and then both Raw and SmackDown have their own set of Tag Team Championships. That’s six titles, three on each brand. There is one women’s title apiece for Raw and SmackDown, and if you’re not booked in the title picture, then good luck hoping for creative to come up with anything for you.
If you introduce women’s tag titles, even if it’s just one set defended on both shows, that automatically gives four different women airtime and a reason to fight. There are currently 28 women on the active WWE roster between Raw, SmackDown, and NXT — active in the sense that they are available to use. There are at least 10 more under contract, many whom appeared in the Mae Young Classic and will soon be wrestling full-time in NXT. That’s not to mention those currently out injured like Bayley, Paige, and Summer Rae. Pairing some of these women up and building a competitive tag team division just seems like a logical move and the next step in the “women’s evolution.”
Let us know your thoughts on the Mae Young Classic and how WWE should improve the women’s division going forward.
The entire Mae Young Classic tournament is now available on the WWE Network.
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