By John Moore, Prowrestling.net Staffer (@liljohnm)
Editor’s Note: This blog originally ran on August 16, 2018. It is being run again today due to the Mae Young Classic season two premiering on WWE Network tonight at 8CT/9ET.
This is my second year doing a scouting report on the competitors in the Mae Young Classic. In this case, f I didn’t include a scouting report for some wrestlers, it means that I don’t have enough personal experience with viewing the talent so note that there will be some omissions. This year’s MYC seems really stacked with talent from all over the world and I’m a huge fan of the “World Cup” type of feel that Paul Levesque and crew do for their big tournaments. Part of the intrigue is the potential talents WWE might sign, but another draw I see in this tournament is seeing some of the progress a lot of the talents have made since last year. Most notably, the progress of the WWE Performance Center projects. The scouting report will be written in order of their Parade of Champions entrances so you can use it as a reading guide (though I did purposely mix up Io Shirai and Toni Storm for reasons). Also note that I have completely avoided match spoilers (I’ll include a health update that I couldn’t avoid in the scouting report below, but I’ve stayed away from seeing any match results). Please do not post spoilers in the comments section or they will be deleted.
John Moore’s Mae Young Classic Scouting Report
Deonna Purrazzo: Purrazzo and Santana Garrett (who’s not in this year’s tournament) are like the universal enhancement wrestlers for every wrestling company. That’s not a knock against them, it’s a compliment because they both make everyone look good and are oddly never signed to any wrestling company despite them being so talented. Thank goodness Deonna has finally signed a WWE contract. WWE viewers may remember her from the various times they had her in for enhancement matches but her highest profile program in WWE was actually on Smackdown where she terrorized Becky Lynch as the La Luchadora character (before they put Mickie James in the role). Deonna’s talent is making people look good while having believable offense. I expect her to be eliminated around the quarterfinals or second round against possibly Io Shirai because she would do a great job showcasing the high workrate of Shirai while also acclimating Shirai to the softer WWE style.
Ariel Monroe: WWE has billed her as “Trained by…” Cedric Alexander, but in addition to that, she’s also Cedric’s wife. The commentators also noted that she’s an Air Force veteran, so she has brains and brawn. I’ve had limited exposure to her work, but I’ve seen a match of two of hers and she’s still a work in progress in the ring. Having a military background does help because people with a martial arts background know how it really is to be in a fight.
Jinny: Jinny is one of the most intriguing prospects in this tournament for me because I do know a lot of her work. I was introduced to her from PROGRESS Wrestling and she was trained in the Progress dojo as one of their original star projects. Sadly, I was introduced to her at the wrong time. She’s adequate in the ring and can do the moves fine. I like her aggression at points. The problem I always saw with her is her emoting in and outside of the ring. She’s very stone-faced and it takes away from her matches, think Bobby Lashley prior to 2015 (before Lashley learned how to smile and scowl). It also hurts that I was introduced to her against her protege, Laura Di Mateo, who was really bad in the ring so that equaled awkward matches. I also was first exposed to Jinny’s work in 2016 and she was using the exact same gimmick that Maria Kanellis was using in Impact Wrestling the same year. She essentially plays the entitled “Queen” of the women’s division, and Laura was essentially Jinny’s version of Allie in Impact Wrestling. Because Maria is so talented in this role (the best in pro wrestling), Jinny comes off as a cheaper knockoff version. I am a bit behind in Progress due to the many shows I cover for Dot Net, but I hear she’s improved immensely, which I why I’m really looking forward to seeing the progress (no pun intended) that she’s made.
Rachel Evers: Another returning Mae Young Classic wrestler and most people know her by her real name of Rachel Ellering. She is the daughter of Paul Ellering. Rachel is still trying to find a niche for herself in the wrestling world, but it helps that she’s not a bad in-ring competitor. She’s a former power lifter (just like her father) and she tries to integrate that into the ring. There is still room for improvement for her because she does come off as the over-eager local talent at times. Don’t expect her to win this tournament, but I totally expect her to get out of the first round at least. Also, expect her to look good during her run.
Reina Gonzalez: A WWE Performance Center prospect. She was in last year’s Mae Young Classic when she lost to Nicole Savoy. Her inexperience showed because she was still picking up the motions as to how to put together a story in the match. I was more impressed by Savoy who I gotten to see more of after last year’s Mae Young. Reina is one of those “work in progress” types. To give her credit, she didn’t really mess up any offense from what I remember, but that was a long time ago. Looking forward to seeing what a year of improvement does for her, but I don’t expect her to get out of the first round.
Xia Brookside: Xia is a multi-generational wrestler, the daughter of WWE Performance Center coach Robbie Brookside. The family connection made me intrigued so I looked up some of her work. She’s not bad. She spends most of her matches fighting from behind until she makes the huge comeback. Her weakness initially was her offense wasn’t the most brutal looking, but she did put in some work in Japan to mitigate that when going against the tough girls of the Stardom promotion.
Kaitlyn: The Great Kaitlyn! It’s great to see Kaitlyn back on WWE television. I’ll be interesting to see the way they use her. She is a former WWE Divas Champion, but she was really green when she initially showed up to the scene and they rushed her to television when she had to replace that lady was nearly 7 feet tall (who had gotten into PR problems with the company). Kaitlyn was quick to adapt and formed a strong friendship with AJ Lee and Big E Langston. Kaitlyn’s strength is her personality. To break things down, she’s a tomboy and speaking of Big E, she’s like a female Big E in a good way due to their quirky sense of humor. Later in her WWE run, she really started pulling it together in the ring and she really found a way to become a powerhouse of the division. In fact, it felt like we barely got to see her reach her true potential because he retired from pro wrestling earlier than anyone could have anticipated. Because she’s the “big name” in the tournament for casual viewers, I would expect her to probably get to the quarterfinals or maybe even the semifinals as a hook. Ultimately, I wouldn’t mind seeing her return to Smackdown and I wouldn’t mind her being the fourth New Day member to reunite with her quirky BFF Big E.
Mercedes Martinez: “Extremely reliable with a high pro wrestling IQ” is a label I would put with Mercedes. She is the tightest thread connected to last year’s Mae Young where she is presented as one of the older veterans of women’s pro wrestling. She never had a run in WWE before last year, but she plays the veteran war and really connected with the audience since then. Last year’s story was Mercedes being the Senpai to Shayna Baszler, which was a great hook for the latter stages of the tournament. I’m not sure if she has a kohai (student) in this year’s tournament, but I wouldn’t be surprised given her veteran status. Will they try to replicate that student/teacher story this year? They have been presenting her as a “late to the dance” veteran babyface in the PR that I’ve seen connected to her in this year’s tournament and that’s a heartwarming story I wouldn’t mind see be told. Either she goes deep to the quarters or is there to put over the heel that they want to establish in this tournament (if they are even going to have a heel). Jinny’s a heel so that’s one heel I can think of off the bat.
Zatara: I am not too familiar with her work but I do like the mask and look. Similar to Princessa Sugehit last year, I’m guessing she’s the obligatory luchador of the tournament (though I hear there’s another one coming up later).
Karen Q: I would argue that Karen is the heart and soul of Ring of Honor’s Women of Honor division, because if you were watching Ring of Honor’s program on Wednesdays you would be very familiar with her work there. Similar to Mercedes, she has a lot of years in the wrestling industry and even has a similar style in the ring where she isn’t spending the match selling and making people look good, but rather dominating and making people look sympathetic. She can sell too, so there’s that. From what I remember, she’s not a bad talker as well, but I don’t think we will see a lot of talking in this tournament. I don’t expect her to get past the second-round if even the first since I would assume she’s here to have a great early round war with someone and we’ll see her back in ROH in no time.
Isla Dawn: Off of my radar personally, but we did get to see her in the WWE UK Special earlier this year. I’m assuming we should expect her to be featured on the WWE UK brand. I did like Beth Phoenix mentioning her credo is “feminism and witchcraft”. I’m very intrigued at seeing how witchcraft works in the ring.
Lacey Lane: Michael Cole’s wild card according to his commentary during the march of champions. I’m hearing a lot of good things from her tryouts and looking forward to seeing her on NXT TV eventually. They bill her as athletic and she has a good look. I don’t expect her to get out of the first round, but this will be a good showcase as to her skill level and even what we can expect from her on NXT TV.
Jessie Elaban: Jessie has been one of the Performance Center prospects that I’ve been eagerly awaiting to see on NXT television for a long time. She’s been in the PC for several years now and is a part of their Florida house show circuit. I’m very familiar with her social media work where she’s really embraced the role of the glasses-wearing nerd girl next door. What stands out is her infectious personality. I’m not sure how good she is in the ring because she hasn’t made it out to their touring brand to my recollection (it would help if they would come to NorCal more often…cough…cough…). I expect her to be eliminated in the first round, but this would be a great litmus test to see if she’s ready for NXT TV. If Vanessa Borne was allowed to show up green (but Bourne has improved immensely) why haven’t we gotten to see Jessie?
Io Shirai: Finally, WWE has brought in arguably the best female wrestler in the world. To compare to other Japanese females on the roster, Asuka would be considered a powerhouse brawler while Kairi Sane is the perpetual underdog. The reason people have been so high on Shirai is that she’s a workrate workhouse who is able to have a good match against anyone. She can hit you with flying kicks, crossbodies, and Canadian Destroyers. I would definitely recommend checking out any of Shirai’s work in the Stardom Promotion for some really brutal and compelling matches. If Japanese wrestling is not your thing, U.S. viewers might remember Shirai from the match she had against Pentagon Jr. last season on Lucha Underground where she destroyed and defeated Pentagon in a brutal match. Shirai is my hands-on favorite to make the finals of this tournament, not to win. We’re not going to have a Kota Ibushi situation where they have to get her out of the semis since they do have her under contract. What has me a bit hesitant as to them putting the title on her is part in due to Kairi Sane winning the Mae Young last year. I don’t think they would give the win to a Japanese star two years in a row given how they do brand this as an international event. They also said this was for a title shot right? I wouldn’t want to see them rush Shirai to the title picture so soon which adds to me not wanting nor thinking they would give her the win.
Toni Storm: Toni Storm, on the other hand, is my favorite to win the whole thing. With NXT UK being a thing, I would think that putting the Mae Young Classic accolade on Storm would be a good PR move and it would set her up as one of the top females in WWE without the majority of viewers knowing about her work. If you haven’t seen Storm work then go out of your way to watch some of her past matches. I was introduced to her via PROGRESS Wrestling when she was in a tournament to become the inaugural PROGRESS Women’s Champion. If you’re watching the Mae Young Classic 2, then you’ve probably seen the Mae Young Classic 1 where she was a fun standout. There’s a reason so many of the Dot Net Staff are so high on her and I even billed her as my top female wrestler on 2017 in my Dot Net Awards. She oozes energy and charisma. On top of that she’s crisp in the ring. On top of that she’s only 22. A lot of things going in her favor. For more fun stuff from her you can even look up the work she’s done in Stardom. Right now, I’m predicting a Shirai vs. Storm final due to star power and familiarity between the two wrestlers. This match has happened already in Stardom, so you can also assume that WWE will want to put their stamp on the Shirai vs. Storm headline as well. If they don’t go with Shirai vs. Storm in the finals, then expect it in the semis because I feel they are going to go to this match sometime during the tournament. Another reason they might not go with the Storm vs. Shirai finals is because if they are on opposite brackets, it might be too predictable.
Taynara Conti: One of the WWE Brazilian PC prospects and she’s gotten a lot of television time on WWE television. Not only has she been in last year’s Mae, but she was also featured sporadically on NXT TV and even at the WrestleMania Women’s battle royal. On NXT, they teased her joining Undisputed Era before Adam Cole told her that he was just using her to get Sanity. She won her spot this year in a qualifying match against Vanessa Bourne (not sure why they were the two that got the TV qualifier). She’s still a little rough around the edges in the ring. I did think she looked adorable when wearing her Judo Gi and wouldn’t mind seeing her present herself as the Judoka again. She’s probably more first round fodder, but there’s a very slim chance they eliminate her in the second round.
Allysin Kay: Allysin got a ton of TV exposure due to her being the center of the Impact/TNA Knockouts division as their most featured Knockouts Champion Sienna (though I did feel bad that on her way out of Impact had her get unceremoniously squashed by underdog Allie). Allysin has been a very intriguing person to cover the past few years because while she was featured prominently, she never really lived up to the huge push because of her character not really clicking. She’s solid in the ring, but nothing that really would be eye catching. I thought she did her best work when she was presented as a hitwoman and muscle for Maria Kanellis. When Maria left Impact, they tried to have Kay fill in the Void that Maria left as the entitled queen character, but the role never really fit her. She even got outshone by her storyline cousin KM. I’m really pulling for her and hoping she gets a chance to put it all together because there is something there, we just haven’t seen it yet. I’m not sure how far she goes here because Kay has had a lot of time off due to medical issues.
Mia Yim: Hell Yeah! I really liked what Beth Phoenix said about Yim calling herself “The Blasian Baddie” (as a lot of Dot Net readers know, I am really proud of my “Blasian” Black and Asian heritage). I’m surprised WWE hasn’t done more with her because I feel she is completely ready to be featured prominently on TV. Speaking of Blasian, that was always the problem with her early in her Impact run. They forcefully tried to present her as the next Gail Kim and also tried to present her as white meat and Oriental. In early 2017 when Matt Conway was put in charge of Impact’s creative, the Yim character really embraced the more American and Black aspects of her background which seemed more natural to her. I can really relate to this and I’m sure a lot of people out there can relate to this as well. Yim and Rosemary in Impact had a really fun series of hardcore brawls at the end of her Impact run and that left me waiting for more since then. She showed up in the MYC, but nothing much more since. I see her making it to the 2nd round or quarters here just because it would be tough to go further due to all the star power. Ultimately, I want to see WWE sign her because she is good in the ring, has finally found her personality, and is extremely marketable.
MJ Jenkins: Three former Impact Knockouts in a row, weird. Jenkins was only a Knockout for about two months though and never got an on-air singles match. Impact did present her as one of the future featured stars of the Knockouts Division against Sienna (Allysin Kay) when Jeff Jarrett took control of creative. She was introduced at the same time that they introduced Diamante into the Knockouts division (Diamante also hasn’t had a singles match on Impact still to this day). When Jarrett left, so did most of Impact’s Tag and Knockouts divisions at the time and Jenkins was a causality. Because she never got much in-ring time, my exposure to her is limited. I hear good things. I do have the suspicion that she’s first round fodder for someone with more name value. Thing is, we will get to see a preview of what she has to bring since she is signed to NXT.
Kacy Catanzaro: Kacy comes into WWE with the most mainstream name value due to her run on American Ninja Warrior. I see her as a wild card to go deep in the tournament. Personally, Kacy is the person I am most looking forward to seeing because we don’t know what she can bring as far as in-ring psychology, but I feel she has the upside to become one of the biggest stars of the WWE main roster women’s division if done right. If you look up the work she’s done on American Ninja Warrior, you would see that she is an undersized traceur, but she’s an utter machine doing things like a freakin’ superhero. She can climb walls like a spider. jump across long ledges, run on walls, and other cool ninja things. She’s a machine. She’s also a WWE fan who comes off as a person with good work ethic. She presents herself as the first to arrive and last to leave. Her personality also stands out as a positive. We don’t know what she brings as far as promos is concerned, but the Mae Young doesn’t focus on promos, only vignettes which Jeremy Borash and the NXT crew can take care of. There’s a monster feud waiting in the future if everything pans out well between Kacy Catanzaro and Bianca Belair, mark my words (of course this may never happen if she doesn’t make it to TV). Her natural talent reminds me of Belair, but Kacy comes off as more babyface while Bianca comes off as more entitled. We won’t see them try this out here since Bianca isn’t in this year’s Mae Young. Because of her traceur (free running) ability, I can see her becoming the female version of former WWE Tough Enough winner John Hennigan (a.k.a. John Morrison, Nitro, Impact, Mundo, etc).
Tegan Nox: Dot Net Staffer Haydn Gleed probably just did a yell for joy over seeing her in this Parade of Champions because she came out carrying a Welsh flag. Tegan is possibly Haydn’s favorite wrestler ever due to her nationality (he might even like her more than Welsh “legends” Rob Terry and Mason Ryan). Michael Cole seems to have popped too because he just called her his favorite and “one of the best wrestlers in the entire world”. Did Haydn Gleed bribe Michael Cole somehow to put her over that hard? Wow! Cole is going all in on her, but the last person he went all in on was Joseph Connors. Unlike Connors, I feel Cole’s adulation is more warranted here because Tegan does have all-around star upside in her. She connected with me due simply with her indie theme music, C’est la vie by B*Witched. She’s really good and has been working a tag team with Dakota Kai and the two have great chemistry with each other. They are like the new AJ Lee and Kaitlyn. I have avoided match spoilers, but I will come up with a semi-spoiler injury update which I couldn’t avoid due to it being reported separately from the results. Tegan isn’t going to be winning this tournament because she has was injured again during one of the matches. I’m not sure where this happens, but this is a really tough break for her. As Cole mentioned, she had to miss last year’s Mae due to a torn ACL and every time she made a return, she has received a minor to serious knee injury. This is really heartbreaking, and it reminds me of the career of Tough Enough alum Ivelisse Velez, who suffers very similar chronic injuries yet has all the talent in the world to be a top WWE star. Best wishes for Tegan and I hope this isn’t the end of her in-ring career because there is a lot of upside that a lot of people haven’t seen yet.
Xia Li: A personal pick for me due to her representing my motherland of China. She is one of the many signings from WWE’s venture into China, but she has stuck around for a long time. I’m assuming she’s improving a lot. The wrestlers at the Performance Center seem to really like her. I like that she’s really embracing her Chinese culture with the fan dance thing and the traditional Chinese formal dress she wears when she fights. I totally expect her to be first round fodder, but it will be great getting another look at her with a year of Performance Center training under her belt.
Ashley Rayne: She is the former Impact Knockouts Champion Madison Rayne and wife of former WWE (and current Impact Wrestling) play-by-play announcer Josh Mathews. Rayne is someone who’s always impressed me with her growth in the ring. She is surprisingly good ever since starting off as timid third member of TNA’s Beautiful People. She has been featured prominently in Impact and Ring of Honor recently as anchors to both women’s divisions. Rayne was given a huge babyface push just a month ago where she ran through all the big heels of the current Impact Knockouts roster (which wasn’t a great thing for Impact). While I thought her big push was two years too late there, I’ve always been rooting for her to get a huge opportunity somewhere else to show her improvement. She’s done her best work as a heel, but she can also carry people in the ring well as a babyface. While I didn’t like Impact feeding all of their young heels to her, she did play the dominant babyface role well. She has second round or quarterfinal potential here, but I don’t see her sticking around in WWE. Call it a hunch.
Rhea Ripley: A raw WWE prospect last year, but she does have a great look. She surprised a lot of people last year with her presence in the ring. Of all of the returning wrestlers that are also raw prospects, I expect her to not be first round cannon fodder this year. Maybe second round and possibly quarters, but she does have a good look and is decent enough in the ring to put on solid matchups. It’s only a matter of time before we see Rhea on NXT television.
Kavita Devi: Devi broke the internet somehow in last year’s Mae Young Classic. If you go to Dakota Kai vs. Kavita Devi on YouTube right now and you find out that that match has 31 Freakin’ Million views. I’m guessing she got a lot of pub through India’s news outlets. You go to the YouTube comment section and you see nothing but India Nationalism comments (unconditionally without pro wrestling knowledge). That’s not a bad thing because it’s great to be proud of your culture (see me and my added hype for Xia Lee and Mia Yim, but I do take an objective approach to them as well so know that I won’t just say a Blasian that sucks is the greatest thing ever). I’m assuming it’s mainstream press coverage that jacked up the view count since WWE featured her huge at WrestleMania yet only got a small fraction of the views. She was trained by Great Kahli. To her credit, I do like her power wrestling and she can do one hell of a Gorilla Press Slam. Like Xia Li, I’m really intrigued to see how she does with a year of improvement in her belt. Like Li, I don’t expect her to get out of the first round due to workrate. I also wonder if she’ll break the internet again. A reason I’m intrigued is because Jinny is Indian and in the Tournament. Jinny might get some unconditional backlash due to her being from England though and there is a cultural animosity there from a portion of the Indian population if my memory serves me correctly.
Priscilla Kelly: While I do have limited exposure to her, she has popped up in a few of the matches I watch. She has a really cool alternative look. I don’t have a prediction for her, but I expect her to be at a wild card level due to there being personality there. She’s also solid in the ring from what I remember. For some reason she reminds me of Sheila “the She Wolf” from the Netflix GLOW series.
Meiko Satomura: If you’ve been even taking a glimpse of Joshi Puroresu in the last decade, then you’ve probably been exposed to a Meiko Satomura match at some time. Meiko can be considered a pioneer of Japanese Women’s wrestling and is one of those reliable workhorse talents you can rely on for a good match. If I remember correctly, I think I’ve seen some of her work in the Chikara promotion. I see her in a similar role as Mercedes Martinez here in that she will take a person to the limit and is possibly here to put over someone who’s going to go to the finals. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Mercedes and Meiko on opposite sides of the bracket so that WWE can present two “passing of the torch” storylines in their Mae Young 2018.