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    Saturday, August 26, 2017

    The Smark Henry Mae Young Classic Preview: Part 1

    By Ardelle Costuna, Miyann Bruan, and KP

    Less than a week from now, the WWE will premiere the first day of the Mae Young Classic (MYC), a 32-woman elimination-style tournament and spiritual successor to the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC) in 2016.

    Rumors of an all-women tournament emerged as early as May 2016, followed by sightings of WWE talent scouts everywhere (including PWR), but official confirmation only came a day before WrestleMania 33. Its name was announced a month later with its first batch of competitors.

    The MYC pulled deep from well-known joshi promotions in Japan such as World Wonder Ring Stardom (Stardom), developing companies such as Melbourne City Wrestling (MCW), and NXT’s own talent pool to produce a number of crowd favorites early on including Toni Storm, Tessa Blanchard, and Jazzy Gabert, while saving surprises such as the long-rumored Kairi Hojo for later.

    Triple H, WWE's Executive Vice President, Talent, Live Events and Creative and the brain behind the CWC and the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, said the MYC “will mark a significant moment in the evolution of WWE.”

    “We are proud to provide this unique opportunity for the best female talent from around the world,” he said, later adding on CBS Sports’ In This Corner podcast that the MYC “is all about—creating opportunities for these women that they never had before.”
    Lying between the CWC and UK Tournament in terms of length, the MYC filmed the first round (32 participants) on July 13 and the second round (16 participants), quarterfinals, and semifinals on July 14, to be aired on August 28 and September 4.

    Before any of the episodes air, we take a look at the women competing in this tournament—where they've been, what they've done, and how likely we see them winning the whole thing. Here's the first part of our MYC preview below.

    Abbey Laith

    An MYC favorite, Abbey Laith claimed a few firsts for women as Kimber Lee prior to her signing with WWE late December last year.
    Laith debuted in Combat Zone Wrestling, former home of WWE mainstay Dean Ambrose, in 2011 as the first female graduate of its wrestling academy. While there, she wrestled both women and men until 2014 and carried her partnership with trainer and current 205 Live superstar Drew Gulak to Women Superstars Uncensored.

    Her time in Shine Wrestling and Shimmer Women Athletes produced top tag matches against fellow MYC competitors Mia Yim and Dakota Kai, among others, during her time with the company formerly known as TNA with Knockout Cherry Bomb as The Kimber Bombs.

    Beyond Wrestling and various promotions embraced Laith as a singles competitor but her time as Princess Kimber Lee in Chikara is what cemented her place in the indies.

    Photo taken from WWE.com

    With a love of Disney and dance, Laith showed little girls that they can be girly "butt-kicker" and a "princess that saves herself" with powerbombs and ranas that even rattled five-time WWE Women’s Champion Mickie James.

    A year-long campaign in 2015 eventually lead Laith to become the first woman to win Chikara's Grand Championship and, as Rolling Stone noted, the first woman to hold the top prize in any major non-female wrestling promotion.

    Chances of Winning: 7/10

    Ayesha Raymond

    Initially trained by Ricky and Saraya Knight, parents of two-time Divas Champion Paige, Ayesha Raymond has since carved a path for her “Amazon” philosophy inside the ring, in gyms, and on bodybuilding stages worldwide.

    Photo taken from WWE.com

    Raymond debuted in 2009 as Ayesha Ray in the Knights’ World Association of Wrestling (WAW), her home promotion as she worked in Bellatrix Female Warriors, Pro Wrestling Eve, and others until 2012.

    She continued to work with Eve and Premiere Wrestling Federation, and branched out to International Pro Wrestling: United Kingdom, as well as WrestleForce before touring in Japan in 2013 for Stardom and WRESTLE-1.

    As The Female Predator Amazon, Raymond won the Artist of Stardom six-person tag team title as part of Kimura Monster-gun with Kyoko Kimura and MYC competitor “The Alpha Female” Jazzy Gabert, with whom she made it to the finals of the 2013 Goddesses Of Stardom tag tournament.

    The powerhouse is praised for her unexpected speed and with her technical and submission skills—gained through training with Justin Richards, WWE Performance Center trainer Robbie Brookside, and joshi veteran Nanae Takahashi—she may be able to grind a few predictions to the ground..

    Chances of Winning: 3/10

    Bianca Belair

    One of NXT’s homegrown talents, Bianca Belair may only be a year into wrestling but the “genetic beast” is already determined to make her mark.
    Signed at the same time as Lacey Evans and Vanessa Borne, Belair made her in-ring debut at a live event against fellow rookie Aliyah on September 29, 2016 and TV debut at the NXT Women’s Championship No. 1 Contender’s Battle Royal on May 3.

    Photo taken from WWE.com

    Belair made a bigger blip on the radar days later at a house show by using her signature braid to whip Ruby Riot FKA Heidi Lovelace.

    Her hair whip emerged on TV a month afterwards when she earned her spot on the MYC by beating Aliyah, who fell to Belair’s brutal reverse neckbreaker and thunderous spear.

    Prior to signing with the WWE, Belair was a regional CrossFit competitor and competed in track and field at Texas A&M, University of South Carolina, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

    Chances of Winning: 2/10

    Candice LeRae

    Don’t let her Disney princess charms fool you: Candice LeRae is tough as nails and can take on anyone, including Kevin Owens and Cesaro.

    Before battling her husband Johnny Gargano and many other male veterans, LeRae made her debut in 2002 with Empire Wrestling Federation in California. In 2004, she appeared as substitute for a round one match of the ChickFight Tournament, where she lost to fellow MYC competitor Princesa Sugehit.

    Photo taken from Zalaphoto.

    She made her Pro Wrestling Guerilla debut in 2006, where she mostly wrestled and teamed up with men. In 2011, she won the Joey Ryan invitational gauntlet match to become the number one contender for the PWG title, but was unsuccessful on her attempt.

    LeRae and Ryan went on to form the World’s Cutest Tag Team in 2013 and a year later, win their first, and so far only, PWG tag team titles from the Young Bucks in a Guerilla Warfare match. LeRae also competed in PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles tournament on the same year, where she won her first round match against 205 Live Superstar Rich Swann, but lost her quarterfinal match against Johnny Gargano.

    Her time in Shimmer in 2014 saw her battling with Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, and Kay Lee Ray. As the World’s Cutest Tag Team, she and Ryan toured with Japanese promotion Dramatic Dream Team (DDT) in 2016 and 2017.

    She also made appearances by her herself in DDT sister promotion, Tokyo Joshi Pro (TJP). Earlier this year, LeRae appeared in NXT as part of the battle royal that determined the number one contender for Asuka’s NXT Women’s Championship.

    Chances of winning: 8/10

    Dakota Kai

    “The Big Dawg” Dakota Kai is ready to make the Mae Young Classic her yard.
    Formerly known as Evie, Kai made her in-ring debut at the Auckland-based IMPACT Pro Wrestling in 2007, where she held the IPW Women’s Championship title three times. She made her Pro Wrestling Alliance Australia debut in 2012 and won the Interim PWWA Championship by defeating NXT Superstar Billie Kay just a week after that.

    She made her U.S. wrestling scene debut in 2013 with Shimmer, where she had matches against fellow MYC contenders Abbey Laith, and Mia Yim. She also teamed up with Ruby Riot during her time there, winning the Shimmer tag team titles once as Team Slap Happy.

    Photo taken from Squared Circle Sirens.

    Kai made her debut in Stardom in 2015, winning the vacant Artist of Stardom championship with Hiroyo Matsumoto and Kellie Skater. They lost the title to the team of Io Shirai, Mayu Iwatani, and Kairi Sane on their third title defense.

    She made her first NXT appearance in October 2015 as Evie against a debuting Nia Jax. A year after, she signed a WWE contract, and was announced as one of the competitors for the Mae Young Classic this year.

    Chances of winning: 6/10

    Jazzy Gabert

    Germany’s Jazzy Gabert, with her 6'1" muscular frame, is an imposing figure inside the squared circle.

    Making her debut in 2001, Gabert had her first match at the German Wrestling Federation. While in her home country, she wrestled in other promotions, such as Professional Wrestling Alliance and the European Wrestling Association.

    She expanded her territory to France, Ireland, and England, where she made her first appearance in 2010 as Alpha Female with Eve. Gabert lived up to her name by breezing through the tournament to crown the promotion’s first champion until she fell to NXT star Nikki Cross in the semi-finals.

    Photo taken from Stardom.

    Gabert made her Stardom debut in 2012 and won the World of Stardom title off Nanae Takahashi a year later, though she would lose the belt to Io Shirai within the same year.

    The Alpha also participated in Stardom’s 5STAR Grand Prix tournament in 2013, defeating Kairi Sane, Io Shirai, and Dark Angel—NXT trainer Sarah Stock—to advance to the finals. Gabert made several appearances on IMPACT in 2014 after receiving a tryout before parting ways with the company.

    She made her MMA debut in 2016, defeating Manuela Kuhse via technical knockout.

    Chances of winning: 6/10

    Kairi Sane

    Formerly known as Kairi Hojo, Kairi Sane is considered as one of the best wrestlers in the world today regardless of gender and a considerable favorite to sweep the MYC.
    While she eventually became known as one of Stardom’s top three wrestlers, Sane never aspired to become a wrestler. She dreamed of making it to the Olympics in yachting throughout university while performing in theater as a hobby.

    It was during one of her theater performances—as a villainous pro wrestler, no less—that she was discovered by Stardom GM Fuka Kakimoto.

    Sane began training with Kakimoto in 2011 and debuted as the Pirate Princess Kairi Hojo on January 7th, 2012. Since then, she became a one-time World of Stardom Champion, three-time Goddess of Stardom Champion, and a four-time Artist of Stardom Champion and helped elevate the then-fledgling promotion.

    Photo taken from Cageside Seats.

    Her in-ring style, cheery disposition, and one of the best elbow drops in the business helped her gain popularity worldwide.

    While her first appearance in a US-based promotion was in Lucha Underground last year, Hojo made a decision to appear a little more permanently in the mainstream when she signed with the WWE and announced her participation in this tournament last June 30 during a live event in Tokyo.

    Before starting her new voyage in the US, Kairi had her last matches with Stardom last June 4. She, together with Mimura and Konami, lost the Artist of Stardom Championship back to AZM, HZK and Shirai.

    Later that event, an unadvertised ten-match one-minute time limit series was announced where Sane had to face ten members of the roster. After each match, her opponents gave her their farewell messages. She had three wins, six draws and one loss.

    Chance of winning: 9/10

    Kavita Devi

    Kavita Devi’s mere existence in the MYC is historical as her participation marks the first time an Indian woman has wrestled in the WWE.

    Photo taken from Times of India.

    A former competitive powerlifter and South Asian Games gold medallist, Devi trained under former WWE champion The Great Khali at his Punjab-based wrestling promotion and training academy Continental Wrestling Entertainment (CWE).
    Devi first gained notoriety for beating BB Bull Bull, India’s first female pro wrestler, after the latter plucked her out of the audience for an open challenge.

    While BB’s revenge was ruthless enough to go viral in India, the ordeal lead to Devi’s eventual renaming to Hard KD and other matches including an intergender bout with fellow CWE member Neeraj.

    The power and performance of Devi, a former member of the tough-as-nails Armed Border Forces, impressed the Vice President of WWE Talent Development Canyon Ceman during a WWE tryout in Dubai and earned her an invite to the MYC.

    Chances of winning: 3/10

    Kay Lee Ray

    If Ireland has the Straight Fire of Becky Lynch, Scotland boasts the Scarlet Spitfire Kay Lee Ray.

    Ray began her now-eight year journey in wrestling in 2009 with a 30-man rumble for the NWA Scottish Heavyweight Title #1 Contendership spot against UK fixtures Johnny Moss, Killian Dain, Joe Coffey, Jack Jester, and MYC opponent Viper.

    Photo taken from WWE.com

    Her career ran parallel with Viper for a long time as she crossed paths with her fellow Scot while hooking titles in Southside Wrestling, Insane Championship Wrestling, and years down the line, WhatCulture Pro Wrestling.

    Another rival of Ray’s who made an impact on the career of ICW’s “Queen of Hardcore” is Carmel, a 10-year vet who retired after losing the promotion’s Women’s Title to Ray in a three-way match with Viper at Fear & Loathing IX in 2016.

    While her lithe frame may turn away some fans, Ray’s superior agility and pure knowledge of how to structure her offense makes up for any perceived lack in her body and definitely hasn’t stopped top indies such as Progress, Shimmer, Eve, and Stardom from inviting her again and again.

    Chances of Winning: 6/10


    Be sure to check out parts two and three of our preview of the remaining competitors in the Mae Young Classic, coming over the next couple of days.

    In the meantime, let us know your thoughts on these competitors. Do you see any of these women making it all the way and taking home the first-ever Mae Young Classic? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!
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    Item Reviewed: The Smark Henry Mae Young Classic Preview: Part 1 Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Romeo Moran
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