Last year, the WWE managed to create lightning in a bottle when it produced the Cruiserweight Classic: a 32 Man tournament of the ‘world’s best’ performers under 205lbs, and Hoho Lun. It received great responses online and from the often abhorrent Full Sail crowd as they watched handshakes, headlocks and yes… dives from the smaller lads. Just this April, it was confirmed that there would be another Classic, this time though, it’s not a 32 man tournament. By this time last year, we had seen qualifiers happen at PROGRESS, Rev Pro & Evolve, whereas even the July 13th & 14th filming dates of the Mae Young Classic were only just confirmed. So with the lack of basically any information available, I thought, “What better time to do a preview of what you can expect from the MYC“. Probably.
So what do we know that is definite? We know that 32 women from 17 countries will compete in a single-elimination tournament that, much like the CWC, will be filmed in advance and aired on Tape Delay from Winter Gardens, Full Sail University, FL. July 13th & 14th will be the first filming dates, with a prospective airing date of ‘the Summer’. We know that it will be part of WWE’s sponsorship deal with Psyonix & Rocket League. We can be pretty certain that there will be a lot of reverence for Lita & Trish Stratus. From there on, it’s speculation. There are suggestions that they may be experimenting with unique distribution models, dropping a block of episodes every few weeks instead of one a week. But at this time, nothing is certain. It may be that this is a grand plan to build anticipation by giving us nothing so we want everything, which may be working to an extent. However, the lack of clarity is getting frustrating.
Most of the questions about it surround who will be involved. The two names that are all-but confirmed seem to be Wales’ Nixon Newell and New Zealand’s Evie. Evie, who has been under contract since December, has held the Artist of Stardom Trios Title and the SHIMMER Tag Team Titles along with Heidi Lovelace who you may know as NXT’s Ruby Riot. Newell, at only 22 years old, has considerable experience, having held titles in Attack! Pro, Southside. She was the first WCPW Women’s Champion, holding that belt for nearly 200 days and producing some quality performances, even within the limited position of their Women’s division. Of course, we can assume that much like Gargano, Ciampa & Swann last year, this would be a perfect opportunity to showcase some of the less-used NXT talent. Two performers that would be perfect for this position would be Kimberly Frankele & Sarah Bridges (formerly known as Kimber Lee & Crazy Mary Dobson respectively) two of the Indie-est darlings and darling-est Indies you’ll find. While they’re yet to be given more than the losing end of squash matches and spots in Battle Royals, let’s not forget that Swann went into the CWC with two televised NXT matches – both were quick, unsanctimonious losses.
The next group of competitors that will be included are the Indie workhorses who can be used to put high seeds over (See: Jobber). Your Jason Lee, Da Mack, Sean Maluta types. It’s possible that they’ll throw in a Tyson Dux or a Danny Burch, a WWE nearly-was who many are upset that they’re not used beyond round one. There is the potential here for finding some useful talent to bolster the NXT ranks. But do bear in mind that of the round 1 losers, the only ones still featured on WWE TV are Mustafa Ali, The Singh Brothers & Lun.
The third and probably the most important group in terms of predicting a winner is the Indie stalwarts. In this Classic’s context, here you can reference anyone who’s ever worked SHIMMER and STARDOM. Some of the potential names include Io Shirai, Kairi Hojo, Shayner Baszler (a strong contender considering her status among the Four Horsewomen of UFC), Toni Storm, Mia Yim, Kris Wolf, Candace LeRae (who debuted on NXT a few weeks back), Solo Darling and LuFisto. One talent I will be surprised if they don’t utilise is Leva ‘Blue Pants’ Bates considering her popularity during her brief NXT run. While some have criticised her for her cosplay shtick overwhelming her in-ring work, it stands to reason that if she were to join the contest, she already has a name and a reputation (even if reports are to be believed, that may not be positive) which will get her over quicker. It should really go without saying that Io Shirai is a hot pick. If you’ve never seen any of her work, go to YouTube, now. I have no doubt that she could be this year’s Kota Ibushi and if the rumours that she’s already signed with WWE, possibly go even further.
The final group to consider are the veterans. Your equivalents to The Brian Kendrick & Taijiri. WWE love a comeback story and having a more seasoned veteran around to school the youngsters and show they haven’t missed a step since they were last in a WWE ring, bonus points if they trained some of the younger competitors. Now, no-one, apart from Daniel Bryan with Kendrick, actually expects one of these legacy players to win the tournament, but they at least bring more name recognition and understanding of the WWE style to appeal to the casuals or lapsed fans. For this position, expect names like Molly Holly, Sara Del Ray, Jazz & maybe even Kharma/Awesome Kong to be included. Gail Kim would be an easy buy, but her loyalty to Impact suggests she may not be interested in jumping ship back to the ‘E.
Now, it’s here where this article possibly gets a little personal, as we come to the most exciting thing to me about this Classic. A rule that was unexploited in the CWC and the UKCT, I, of course, refer to the Time Limit Draw. It was established that each round (beyond the Final) had a Time Limit, be it 20 minutes, 30 minutes, etc. Should any match reach a draw, both competitors are eliminated, meaning that whomever the other competitor in their block had defeated would get a second chance in the next round. They kept playing up this rule, yet not once out of the 31 matches did they decide to deploy it, which is ridiculous. It would be like if every five minutes Chekhov reminded the audience about that gun only for no one to fire it. There were so many matches that they could have used it in last year: Johnny Gargano v Tommaso Ciampa in the first round, allowing them to play up the inability of the two tag partners to display dominance over each other, or the near-classic Kota Ibushi vs Cedric Alexander with its ‘Fight Forever’ vibe could have used it to throw people off the scent by eliminating the two competitors in round two. Let’s not forget there are multiple classics that have used draws to superb effect: The first ending of Michaels-Hart Iron Man, Punk V Joe I & II, Black v Aries… I’m not suggesting that they use it for every match, I’m not suggesting that, but the thing is it allows for a lot of interesting character beats.
With a big tournament, WWE likes to build up a likeable underdog to win, notice the focus on Tyler Bate’s age or TJ Perkins’ emotional backstory. So take someone like, say, Candace LeRae. She goes up against Awesome Kong in the first round but comes up short. Alongside that match you have Rachel Ellering (sorry, NXT Evers) go up against Tessa Blanchard and in a twist, wrestle to a 20 minute draw. Now you’ve set up a second round rematch between Kong and LeRae where this time, LeRae manages to defy the odds and do the David vs Goliath thing they so love to do. Not only can you use the draw to build up two people, as there will be characters like Blanchard and Evers with their nepotistic credentials and ‘Indie Darling’ status who don’t need to win the Classic to succeed, but it also makes the storytelling options more diverse and unpredictable. Now, I’m not trying to advocate pulling swerves for swerves’ sake. We all lived through WrestleMania 32. But I just think that if you have a quiver of trick arrows at your disposal, why not try and use them all?
Really though, whatever does happen in this tournament, there’s one thing you can be sure of. We’ve got a summer of great wrestling ahead of us. Especially if the rumours of Jim Ross being lead commentator are to be believed. If I were to suggest names for the booth alongside him, I would say that Daniel Bryan was excellent during the CWC last year, but also that Renee Young back on commentary would be a nice touch. Still, while we wait to find out what does happen, I would invite you all to join me in one of the finest traditions of wrestling fans, especially in the age of the internet: taking a complete lack of information and using it to spread baseless speculation about what might happen and then suggesting how I could book it better. That said, if it were left to the fans to book it, we’d probably end up doing something like pushing Santina Marella to win the trophy, and just imagine how ridiculous that would be…