The final block of first round matches sees the much-anticipated WWE debut of Kairi Sane!
Mae Young Classic – First Round: Candice LeRae vs. Renee Michelle
Having been wrestling since 2002, it’s no surprise that LeRae got a lot of cheers here. Candice starts out fairly evenly, tripping Michelle into some near-falls before scoring with a lucha springboard armdrag.
A missile dropkick takes Renee down for a two-count, but Michelle replies with a facebuster for a near-fall, before a neckbreaker gets another two. Some kicks are eventually ducked as Candice hits a lungblower before leaping into another neckbreaker as “Candice Wrestling” almost wrapped this up early.
Candice hits a Violence Party of chops and forearms in the corner, but Renee hits back with a high kick for a near-fall… only to miss a springboard moonsault out of the corner. That gets Candice back in it, lifting Michelle up top for a swinging neckbreaker… and that’s the win! Pretty basic, but one of those matches which the “right one” won. Michelle looked decent, but clearly needs more experience and polish. **¼
Candice’ll take on either Nicole Savoy or Reina Gonzalez in the next round.
Mae Young Classic – First Round: Taynara Conti vs. Lacey Evans
Evans has a legit US Army background and has done some NXT appearances here and there, with what I can best describe as an almost-burlesque patriot act. This is the televised debut for Conti – the former judoka Taynara Melo – and according to Cagematch, these two aren’t close to having 100 matches combined so I’m not expecting much here.
Conti bows rather than shake hands, and she starts by using a Judo throw for a one-count in the opening stages. Evans slingshots into a kick for a near-fall over Taynara, before kicking her in the gut as the Brazilian went to run the ropes.
Those throws come back from Conti, who hits an overhead belly-to-belly for a near-fall as those Judo takedowns became a big part of her game. Evans moves away from a choke in the ropes, then takes down Conti for a hard punch to the gut. A judo throw’s turned into a swinging side slam for another near-fall, but Evans makes a clothesline-infested comeback, before hitting a neckbreaker.
A handstand into a Bronco buster in the corner follows, as Evans gets the win with a belly-to-back piledriver. A good win for Evans, but Conti showed a lot for someone with as little experience as her… keep an eye out for Taynara, as she’s going to be one to watch in the very near future! **¼
Evans’ll face Toni Storm in the second round.
Charly Caruso’s back in the 3D studio to run up to the next match…
Mae Young Classic – First Round: Nicole Savoy vs. Reina Gonzalez
Gonzalez is a second-generator wrestler, but her father mostly worked on the Texas indies, whilst Savoy was the first ever Heart of SHIMMER champion, and is coming back after a lengthy injury. They billed Savoy as the “Queen of Suplexes” here, and her offer of a handshake’s rejected. Probably because of Gonzalez’s eye patch…
Reina works over a hammerlock early, sending Savoy into the ropes as she tried to force a break, but after a weird pause they resume with Savoy getting shoved into the ropes… but her shoulder tackles barely budge Gonzalez. Finally Savoy gets off a ‘rana, but Gonzalez pulls the hair to keep herself in the match, with a lariat again sending Savoy crashing to the mat.
Savoy remains on the defensive, with a sidewalk slam nearly resulting in her exit from the tournament as Gonzalez rolls her into an inverted Boston crab. An attempted reversal into an ankle lock is instantly broken, but Savoy’s pulled into a Fireman’s carry which she tries to escape using a wristlock. Eventually, Gonzalez falls to the mat into a cross armbreaker, and that eventually forces the submission. Not sure why you’d bill someone as a suplex master, but never even come close to trying for one… but this was a decent match. Gonzalez needs more polish, but she’s under a developmental deal so her time should come. **
Savoy will face Candice LeRae in the second round.
There’s just one match left – and one eagerly-awaited debut!
Mae Young Classic – First Round: Kairi Sane vs. Tessa Blanchard
Perhaps the ultimate of “this could have been later in the tournament” matches, with Tessa Blanchard renewing rivalries with Kairi Sane. Blanchard’s a third-generation wrestler, but for whatever reason that WWE deal doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. Sane, the former Kairi Hojo, is making her debut here with a tonne of buzz following her time in Stardom.
Blanchard takes Sane to the ropes early, before overpowering Sane in a test of strength as a headlock grounds Kairi. Sane snaps in with a roll-up for a near-fall, then a running Blockbuster… but Blanchard gets a neckbreaker of her own for a near-fall, before catching Sane out of the corner with a lungblower!
An abdominal stretch follows as Blanchard wore down Sane some more, but a hiptoss gets her free… and right into the path of some stiff forearms. Sane rushes in with a spear to cut-off Blanchard… and some chops leave Tessa in the corner for a sliding lariat!
That seems to be the cue for Sane’s elbow, but instead she gets a flying forearm for another two-count on Tessa, before an Octopus stretch strands Blancha in the middle of the ring… at least until she found the strength to stride into the ropes for a break. Sane ends up in the ropes, smashed against them as Blanchard tried to drive all the wind out of her sails ahead of a back suplex, earning herself a two-count.
Sane recovers to catch Blanchard up top, but she’s headbutted down as Tessa gets squashed with a big back senton… but somehow Kairi kicks out! A hammerlock DDT’s blocked by Sane, which leads to some indy’riffic pins, before Tessa’s kick is blocked.
Some more kicks from Kairi lead to an Alabama Slam out of the corner… and my word, the crowd roars just for the sight of Sane pointing to her elbow! She goes up top… and a crushing elbow drop connects with Blanchard for the win! A fitting way to end the first round – with a debut everyone wanted to see delivering! ***½
Sane’ll face Biance Belair in the second round… and as for the rest of the second round, these are the matches (in bracket order)
Abbey Laith vs. Rachel Evers
Princesa Sugehit vs. Mercedes Martinez
Nicole Savoy vs. Candice LeRae
Mia Yim vs. Shayna Baszler
Kairi Sane vs. Bianca Belair
Dakota Kai vs. Rhea Ripley
Serena Deeb vs. Piper Niven
Lacey Evans vs. Toni Storm
Some mouth-watering matches there, with some even bigger matches in the pipeline further down the tournament. That’s it for the first round! Four episodes, sixteen matches – and much like last year’s Cruiserweight Classic… a lot of short matches, with only the one abject failure. I’d have prefered some of these matches been a little longer, as a series of sub-10 minute matches could have been more harmful than anything else… but now we’re into the meat of the tournament, we’ve hopefully got more time for some memorable action.
Plenty’s been said about the commentary – but after going in fearing the worst, I was about fine with JR and Lita. Sure, there were some moments that were awkward, but whatever re-records they did cleaned up most of it, to the point where the oft ridiculed “JR Soundboard” didn’t feel as obvious as it has done before.
The next four episodes drop on the WWE Network next Monday, featuring the quarter-finals and semi-finals, ahead of next month’s live final.