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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: The Necessity of Wariness ~ (Thoughts on The Mae Young Classic, Episode 1)
By Samuel 'Plan
Aug 28, 2017 - 1:34:27 PM

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Just Business: The Necessity of Wariness ~ (Thoughts on The Mae Young Classic, Episode 1)

From the beginning, I have been far more impressed with the production design surrounding the Mae Young Classic (MYC) than I was with the design of the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC) last year. With the two tournaments following the same basic format, happening at roughly the same time of year and, conceptually, aiming to accomplish very similar things, the comparison is a valid one, and one that plays in favour of the women.

The CWC always felt a little bit too close to the side of cartoon for my liking. I have cared little for the Silver and Purple strap from the moment they revealed it, and even the trophy looked a little tacky. The quality on the canvas was, generally, very high and that mattered far more, of course, but ultimately the CWC always felt very much like what it was: a concept in its infancy with plenty of room for improvement. The MYC has already started to live up to that responsibility of improvement.

The trophy is slick, designed with the feel of the very era the tournament’s titular superstar began wrestling in; it’s equal parts classy and classic. In fact, those two words largely apply to the entire set up. Every small detail, from the colour scheme to the logo design right through to the use of lighting – blacking out the crowd like they did in the “good ol’ days” – felt like a call back to a time we only really see in dated tapes of the past. I like it a lot. It oozes style, and the entire concept is being presented with the typically high values we are used to from the world’s foremost pro wrestling promotion.

Alas, the production isn’t without its negatives. The commentary would have benefitted from something of a lift, lacking the impassioned zeal (that, admittedly, did devolve into fan-boyish screaming a little too often) provided by Mauro Ranallo and Daniel Bryan in the CWC. I still really don’t understand why the perfunctory bracketology segments between matches are needed either; or why it’s referred to as a “control centre.” Sometimes WWE has a propensity to try too hard.

That was really the lesson learned from episode one, as a viewer: sometimes WWE tries too hard. I arrived at this conclusion after watching four very different matches unfold, none of which really impressed to any great degree and, instead, filled me with a sense of impending dread as to what might happen if it turns out that WWE, in their attempts to continue building upon the successes of the Revolution of 2014 – 2016, have really only created a noose for their own neck. I didn’t expect to feel this way heading in, but I was undoubtedly left with a stark realisation as to the responsibility piled on top of the opportunity these 32 women have been provided. There is a real danger that disappointment could actively regress the state of affairs for women in WWE, rather than progress it.

This feels unnecessarily cynical, I know. After all, it should go without saying that, for me having watched only the inaugural episode, it’s early days to be casting judgement on the library of ring action being created by the 32 competitors involved. Stories take time to evolve, and while there are those that maintain story was distinctly lacking throughout the CWC, I maintain it provided plenty. Hopefully, the MYC can follow suit, but in an original manner. Another element for us to remain wary of here is that, WWE being a creature with a bad habit of attempting to forcefully reprise natural success stories of their past, we might see diluted retreads of the more successful elements of the CWC.

Thankfully, early events indicate this to be far from the case, with the MYC utilising its tributary status to the legendary female performer as a jumping off point to tell genuinely unique stories. The presentation of Abbey Laith stood out in particular. Her pre-match hype package presented her as the spiritual avatar of Mae Young’s personal legacy, and her upset win over the imperious Jazzy Gabert was achieved via use of a move presented in that same hype package as a handed down trope of Young herself. Even the commentary was sure to play up the angle. Have we seen the beginnings of the MYC’s first underdog story? I hope so; a strong narrative underpinning her might enable me to get over the beige impression Laith left on me.

Coming into the MYC as a WWE fan inexperienced with the world of independent women’s wrestling, Jazzy Gabert stood out as the stronger WWE prospect of the two instead. I was disappointed, therefore, to see the brutish mohawked mauler get sent packing so early on in the tournament – a potential confrontation with Shayna Baszler was an enticing prospect simply going on what little of both I witnessed in this first episode – but, with Gabert possessing the size factor that so often plays in a performer’s favour with WWE, and possessing an MMA background that continues to become increasingly fashionable in the world of pro wrestling, I would be surprised if this was the last we ever saw of the German.

Serena Deeb is the one currently closest to a direct reprisal of a CWC tale, with her redemption story already threatening to retread territory so beautifully walked by Brian Kendrick last year. Deeb was presented as a woman on a mission to redeem her tainted past in WWE, with her victory over the rookie star Vanessa Borne feeling like stage one of a longer journey. Even in such a familiar sphere, though, the MYC was sure to put its own spin on affairs. Not entirely unlike the differences in the general production of both tournaments, Deeb’s story was a breezier, more exciting alternative to that of Kendrick’s dark mirror. There was less cynicism and more optimism; a positive sense of feminine compassion that played well in Deeb’s favour as a character. While the match itself was kept basic, and is unlikely to be too well remembered as soon as one has sat through the first four episodes, it did well to avoid the trap of trying to desperately over-achieve, and should be admired for that. After all, many of the main roster’s stars fail to avoid doing so. The humility was welcome.

In all honesty, much of the ring product in episode one was kept basic. The opener between Princess Sugehit and Kay Lee Ray was arguably the most creative in the ring, but seemed to demonstrate the worst trait of any kind of modern pro wrestling, that being a distinct lack of synergy between exchanges and the threat of devolving into moves, moves, moves. The commentary betrayed an absence of character on Ray’s part, and while Sugehit failed to compel in her own right the experience she possesses at least gives her a narrative hook; one JR and Lita rightfully played up to. So too did the combatants do a good job of keeping the eventual victor obscured until the winning moment – often times these tournament matches, especially to those better versed in the merits and star power of those involved than I am, can possess what feel like inevitable results.

Here’s a spoiler alert for the following paragraph.

But Shayna Baszler vs. Zeda was the one instance where even a generally uninitiated fan like me could have called the result early on. MMA crossovers into pro wrestling are all the rage these days, thanks in no small part to the hybrid successes enjoyed by Brock Lesnar these last few years and the even increasing popularity of UFC as a product. With Ronda Rousey already possessing a history in a WWE ring, it would have been a stupid move for any individual partial to a bet to put money on Zeda progressing. There is little doubt, because of this mixture of factors, alongside a sense of legitimate athletic threat, mainstream star appeal and a fantastic look, that Baszler is going to go very far in the tournament; if not straight to the final, and the trophy thereafter. This could prove to be a double-edged sword.

Already it is easy to fantasy book exciting matches between any MMA-versed competitors like Baszler and Zeda and the established women of WWE’s core product; Asuka, Charlotte and Nia Jax all spring to my mind as immediately worthy rivals. It is also easy for us to get ahead of ourselves. The Baszler / Zeda affair walked the line of realistic minimalism, at times watching more like an actual UFC fight than a pro wrestling match. If there was an underwhelming synergy in the Sugehit / Ray opener, there was complete absence of it in the rough-around-the-edges MMA tribute compiled by Baszler and Zeda. While these crossovers and hybrid styles might be all the rage right now, they aren’t for me; pro wrestling, after all, is very different to MMA, and I have long held the viewpoint that it takes more to be great in the pro wrestling industry than being a phenomenal athlete. Baszler vs. Zeda proved that, and WWE should remain wary of yet again indulging this ever more popular trend.

It is that sense of necessary wariness to inherent danger that struck me most coming out of the first episode. There was a clear gulf between these early achievements of the first batch of MYC competitors and WWE’s women’s rosters, on Monday Night Raw, Smackdown Live or NXT. Maybe that’s to be expected, though. Women’s wrestling in WWE has been an embarrassment of riches, generally speaking, these last two and a half years, and with the Revolution having been such a paradigm-shifting success we now await a second wave of female talent to build a new world in the flats left by the last generation’s razing. The likes of Asuka and Nikki Cross have already started that process and, while none of the first four matches in the MYC are going to blow you away, a number of the characters featured have already demonstrated more than enough potential to one day be positive contributors themselves.

Let us keep our eyes fixed on the present, though. The CWC got increasingly better with every round that passed. Hopefully the MYC will too. While I have yet to see anything to get me all that excited or invested, I have had my attention grabbed enough to see me committed.

So let’s see what episode 2 has to offer…

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store today! Simply click here to find a mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP’s own!

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