If there’s a future we want it now.”
– Paramore, “Now”
Let’s talk about the Mae Young Classic.
Given an incredible field of 32 women, from rookies to indie legends, putting on competitive matches including some of the best we’ve seen this year, the actual product was just about everything fans could have asked for. Outside of a few minor critiques I really don’t have much bad to say about the actual tournament. Yeah, I could have done with something better from the Candice LeRae versus Shayna Baszler match in the semi-finals. The first round absolutely contained a number of talents who are still extremely green and awkward in the ring. But none of this was any more glaring than similar issues with last year’s Cruiserweight Classic.
What fans asked for from the Mae Young Classic was a tournament that proved women can and regularly do perform on the same level as the top men in professional wrestling, including and especially the WWE. What we got was that and more, including a match of the year candidate in the very first round when Abbey Laith (formerly Princess Kimber Lee) faced Jazzy Galbert. In a brutal and enthralling seven minutes, they told an incredibly powerful story. We saw the breakout of Bianca Belair, heel gold with a weaponized ponytail, who more than held her own against Japanese superstar Kairi Sane. Serena Deeb, previously released from the WWE before her first match even aired on TV, returned to get the respect and platform she was denied the first time around. Toni Storm’s attitude and swagger along with her ring prowess earned her more than a few new fans.
I feel like I could just continue naming names and heaping praise, but the gist of my point is that we got the wrestling we wanted. Looking just at the tournament itself I feel so hopeful for the future.
The Mae Young Classic basically wrote the WWE a blank check.
And WWE’s response was to essentially tear it up and burn the pieces one by one.
The tournament, other than the finals, was filmed July 13th and 14th, but for some reason it was not available to watch until August 28th. The amount of waiting time between the tapings and the release date felt strange and anti-climactic: it was announced, built up, and then we had to sit on our hands for a month before we saw the actual event. I will concede that if the original plan was to air an episode a week, a la the CWC, then that schedule would have made sense, but once the plan was changed to make the episodes on-demand streaming only they already had the tournament and the finals scheduled. With the number of talents who had outside schedules, the logic of rescheduling everything would have been hell.
So you suddenly have a month and a half of essentially dead space. The most logical thing would seem to be using that time to hype the event as much as possible. You have five hours of show on cable each week, find a way to fit in five minutes or so a week for a video package on the competitors, get the audience who may not watch things on the Network invested and willing to subscribe for the show. Instead, the advertising was limited to a single commercial. Now, to their credit, the commercial was aired regularly during Raw and Smackdown, at least often enough that I am not sure if I am sick of the “This War Is Mine” song or if I can’t live without it on future playlists. And hey, anything is better than when WWE used the Total Divas theme song for every single women’s segment. Or that awful Madonna song for a throwaway tag match at WrestleMania.
The decision to release the show in two on-demand only drops was a divisive one, with many arguing it felt like WWE was trying to essentially “hide” the show from viewers. I felt the same way until seeing the statement from Triple H about how viewership of the CWC during its scheduled time slowed down in later weeks of the tournament and cited how even with NXT most people watch it on demand when they have time. During the same conference call he said “My kids are eleven, nine, and seven and the concept to them that something airs at a particular time unless it’s live, like they don’t get it. They’re just like, ‘Why can’t I just watch it when I want to watch it?’ It’s a different world. With the Network you have the ability to do that.”
This has been Triple H’s pet project from day one and I’m willing to trust him on this call. Especially since he is implying they are making this as accessible as possible for girls the same ages as his daughters, he recognizes the importance of young girls getting to see women’s wrestling in action. In footage shown from backstage prior to the tournament, he was shown telling the competitors that he hoped little girls would see them in that ring and fall in love and realize they’d found their calling.
Beyond that, a streaming format made sense if they were trying to appeal to viewers who had just been introduced to women’s wrestling via the hit Netflix series GLOW, even though they did nothing else to make the connection between the two shows until the finals in Las Vegas (and even then they glossed over the fact that Kia Stevens, one of the stars of GLOW, was employed by the WWE and then very suddenly released). As a business move, I was willing to wait it out.
However, in that conference call, Triple H also said “Get people excited about it, put out the bracketology show, get people really excited about it, put it out there.” And that is not what happened.
The bracketology special did air after SummerSlam, but was essentially a footnote. And after the seven hour event (including the preshow), they were asking people to tune in to the special for a tournament that had barely been mentioned on air already. People already inclined towards watching the tournament were going to tune in, obviously, but it’s hard to imagine the casual viewer taking the time if they weren’t already hooked.
When the episodes did go live, it seemed to happen with no fanfare. The week before there was no announcement on Raw or SmackDown about “get ready, because the first four episodes of the Mae Young Classic go live next week!” At least, not one that I can remember and certainly not one from any of the existing WWE women who are portrayed as supporting each other. You know, that’s something you could have totally used Bayley for while keeping her on WWE television during her injury.
This was so bad that the date of the finals actually snuck up on me, and left me blinking because I hadn’t realized they were just holding them after SmackDown. I had imagined the kind of show that the finals of the CWC got or even the UK tournament, featuring at least one exhibition match (hey, might have been a great way to bring Charlotte back into the ring and reintroduce Summer Rae?). The final match, by the way, was better than I had expected, with both Shayna Baszler and Kairi Sane having A Very Good Wrestling Match: psychology and storytelling and the payoff from Shayna winning all of her previous matches with her choke hold, as Kairi was the first and only person in the tournament to fight her way out of it. Kairi bumped and sold as hard as she could to sell the much less experienced Baszler as the rough powerhouse she’s portrayed to be.
And in the end, after Kairi won with her picture-perfect elbow drop, they hugged. No snark, no “all women hate each other,” just genuine respect for each other and the sport.
In some ways, it feels hard to believe the apathetic approach to the Mae Young Classic from the “parent” company was accidental. If they want something on the Network to succeed, they’ll do everything they can to grab viewership. In this case, it feels almost as if they didn’t even try. I have to question why that was: you’d spent that kind of money on the Classic, why weren’t you trying to make it back? The answers I can come up with are both depressing: either they just didn’t care about the MYC or they were actively trying to sabotage it.
I’ll try to contain my Bo Dallas-esque conspiracy theories here, but it’s no secret that there is a contingent in WWE who clearly doesn’t see the point or the profits in the Women’s Revolution. Every few weeks we get a volley of “Hey, look, we care,” and then suddenly it’s back to “here’s five minutes, people need to use the bathroom before the main event.” It can feel like an internal struggle, “we want the profit this will bring in, but at the same time we’re really, really sexist.” Top that off with rumors that there were “several people backstage” upset at the selection of talent for the Mae Young Classic, reportedly saying that look-wise “they weren’t up to WWE’s standards.”
Now, maybe that’s not ALL sexism, after all, WWE has weird standards for their men as well, seeming to insist nobody really wants to see a WWE champion who’s not at least 6′ 8″ and looks like Xzibit heard they liked muscles, so they put some muscles on their muscles, dog. But like with any comparison of this sort, especially argued in comics, the fact is the men’s standards are about looking powerful, the women’s appearances are about being desirable. And before you point out women checking out WWE superstars let me tell you: if the men’s booking were based on who we find most attractive, Brock Lesnar would be working Main Event while Cedric Alexander headlined WrestleMania.
The worst possible call, however, was one that I know was made with the best of intentions. The choice to have Jim Ross as one half of the announce team for the Mae Young Classic was meant well enough, but was the wrong call. I have always felt like that decision was made in order to “legitimize” the tournament. After all, this is Jim Ross, a celebrated longtime sports commentator with a long history of calling some of the biggest matches in WWE. And he’s a beloved figure to many. So I see how this was meant to be a compliment and a plus to the tournament.
But the sad fact is that Jim Ross doesn’t have it like he used to. It’s understandable, he’s gotten older, it happens to a lot of people. And with him struggling, it was difficult for his co-commentator, Lita, to fill the awkward silences. When Ross was calling the finals on Tuesday night, he couldn’t seem to come up with the names of the four MYC competitors at ringside who had returned to watch the final match, which felt actually embarrassing. The better option would have been Corey Graves, who Lita has a genuine rapport with, or Mauro Ranallo who could make opening a can of soup sound exciting.
Of course, at least it wasn’t Jerry Lawler. Small miracles.
But I don’t want to end this on a bad note. I really don’t. Because despite what I’ve just gone on about for paragraphs, I loved the Mae Young classic and I believe it has opened the door for things to change.
The general speculation is that the Mae Young Classic and the Cruiserweight Classic are “test runs” for Triple H’s plans for the future of the WWE. And if so, then I believe in this future. Because the first two groups he chose to highlight are Cruiserweights and Women, two divisions the WWE has demeaned or ignored. He sees the genuine need for women to be put on the same level as men in wrestling, and whether that is genuinely because of his daughters or because he sees the profit in it I don’t care. He made the call to have women main event NXT house shows and televised events, he had Sasha and Bayley make history by main eventing a TakeOver special. Footage from the actual Mae Young tournament shows him telling the crowd about why the whole show is important and telling them “you made this happen.” He gets that wrestling audiences are more diverse and that you have to listen to the entire audience, not just the good old boys who current WWE seems terrified to scare away with newfangled ideas about women wrestlers being talented and foreigners not being evil. He sees a need for the product to evolve and he’s willing to do the work to get it there.
But while Hunter arranged the event, this wasn’t about him. He deserves a thumbs up, but the credit for the success goes entirely to all 32 women who went into that ring and put on a fucking show. I try my best not to use the f-word in this column but I can’t avoid it here, there’s no other word to use. I want the best things for every single woman I watched over the past few weeks, I want success from Xia Li and Kavita Devi and plenty of the new recruits with plenty of room to grow. I want Jazzy Galbert to have a program with Nia Jax, I want Toni Storm and Becky Lynch as a tag team. I want Kairi Sane to make Bayley an honorary pirate. I want Rhea Ripley to kick everyone in the face.
I want this future, and I want it NOW.
If you enjoy Where’s My Freaking Revolution and/or my other work for Deadshirt.net, please consider donating to my Patreon. No matter what, you can follow me on Twitter @newageamazon for more insights, live tweeting shows and constant demands for more Fashion Files.