Given that it's a tournament yet again, I figure it's best to go through the matches in order in this competition to crown the inaugural Heart of Shimmer Champion.
Cheerleader Melissa v. Leva Bates:
We start things off with one of the biggest pillars of SHIMMER in Cheerleader Melissa taking on Leva Bates, who went with Sora from Kingdom Hearts for the cosplay of the evening, because, ya know, Heart of Shimmer title and all. This one went by quick so was pretty decent. Melissa is kind of a good opponent for Leva, because she's a grumpy bully veteran, so Leva's incredibly light offense kind of works, as Melissa was basically able to shrug it all off and show no respect for this dork. Leva to her credit knew her strikes weren't gonna work, so took a couple big risks. The first paid off, and the second did not after Leva went to the top one too many times and ended up caught with the Kudo Driver for the pin.
Candice LeRae v. Cherry Bomb:
Like a proper indy wrestler, or Stephanie McMahon, Cherry Bomb comes to the ring singing along to her theme which always gets a pop from me. Really liked this match. Normally Candice is best suited against bigger opponents that can base for her momentum based flippy offense, but in the last year or so, she's shown an ability to perform well against any type of opponent. This was a really fun match because both brought some fire here. Candice is always a great fiery underdog babyface and Cherry was mad because Candice was the one that broke her collarbone in WSU last year (which Bomb admonished Candice for loudly during the match) so both were aggressive. Cherry Bomb hits her finish, the Death Valley Driver but makes a sloppy cover. The sloppy cover allowed Candice to kick out at two, reverse the pressure, and sneak a crucifix.
Nicole Savoy v. LuFisto:
This one was an absolute barnburner and the first really good match of the evening. Basically, they were told they had about 8-10 minutes to murder each other, and that is what they did. Probably the best short match of the year thus far. LuFisto is always great and Savoy has been one of the biggest breakouts in women's independent wrestling over the past 18 months. These two just absolutely killed each other with hard strikes, nasty suplexes, and a couple painful submissions for good measure from the MMA influenced Savoy. Savoy really attacked LuFi's arm hard throughout and it came into play in a key moment when she was going for her finish, the Burning Hammer and wasn't able to get the grip. This is the type of limb selling I really like in a short match. Not immobilized, but the damage matters. This opportunity allowed Savoy to slip out and shortly after locked on a brutal looking Chickenwing Half-Lotus Lock that commentary calls the Savo Lock.
Kimber Lee v. Jessicka Havok:
This was a quick match and the only 'booked' match of the evening. Everything else had a clean finish of some kind. The story here was Havok was the dominating monster against the smaller Kimber Lee who was trying to avoid Havok's offense. Kimber's selling and bumping for Havok was strong when Havok managed to get offense in. Kimber got the win after her tag partner Cherry Bomb distracted Havok to get the rollup. Looks like Distraction Rollups can fell women in any promotion!
Heidi Lovelace v. Veda Scott:
Big ups to Veda Scott here. She's someone who I absolutely adore as a character and as a promo (and she massively improved commentary when replacing Amber Gertner after this match making her a huge boon if Portia Perez is no longer going to be in the booth with Dave after her retirement from active competition), but she's never been the strongest in-ring wrestler. That was not the case tonight she was actually really good here. It helped to be opposite Heidi Lovelace, who's one of the absolute best indy wrestlers right now, but she absolutely held her own in this one. It was also the rare match that saw Heidi actually work in control, and she did great with it hitting some really nice looking offense, some very pretty looking strikes and great timing cutting Veda off when she tried to pick up momentum. She won the match with a big senton off the top rope.
Nicole Matthews v. Mary Dobson:
Nicole Matthews was a big player in this tournament as she is the only former SHIMMER champion and SHIMMER tag team champion in the field and thus her story was that she was fighting to be the first ever SHIMMER triple crown champion (and cement herself as the Diesel of SHIMMER, her words). This was a pretty quick match that saw Matthews toy with the young upstart and antagonize the crowd. She got the win with the Vancouver Maneuver and was the final person to advance to the second round.
Cheerleader Melissa v. Candice LeRae:
After a really rough performance last Wrestlemania weekend, Melissa looked better than she had in a long time here. It really helped that she had opponents that played to her strengths as a bully heel, and there's few people in women's wrestling better to bully than Candice LeRae who is great working underneath and beloved by pretty much any crowd she's in front of.
Candice did one of my favorite things in wrestling at the outset, so I was in at the start: a diving tope to the floor before the bell even rang. I absolutely love when people go against the grain at the start of a match. Not every match needs to start with a lock-up. Change the formula sometimes. Candice knows she's overmatched against Melissa, so she needed to take the initiative in a big way if she wanted to have a chance. Unfortunately Candice's flurry was short lived as Melissa took control and went immediately in hard on the bullying by grabbing Candice in a wheelbarrow hold and swung her into the barricade what felt like 15 times.
After this, the story was Melissa working Candice over and trying hard to survive her onslaught. One of the key night-long stories (and I LOVE night-long stories in single night tournaments) was Melissa working Candice's leg which was relevant later. The big moment of the match saw Melissa hit FOUR curb stomps on Candice (it's basically her AA/Boma Ye/High Fly Flow where it's a volume business) but she managed to kick out! Candice finally manages to come back and hit rolling... ummm... let's go with Plexes. After a third Plex, she bridged into the pin and defeated the SHIMMER icon clean. Was really blown away by that decision in a good way. Melissa is at the stage of her career where she should be putting over someone worthy like Candice, and she did so here decisively.
Kimber Lee v. Nicole Savoy:
Kimber Lee and the Kimber Bombs as a duo are well known for their "plans" which never work out particularly well. Very much the Wile E. Coyote's of SHIMMER. Well, Kimber's bright idea this time around was to try to work a more shoot-style match with Nicole Savoy. Bold strategy, Cotton, let's see how it works out for her. Needless to say, it did not work out particularly well. Trying to wrestle Savoy's match was a big mistake and it cost her as Savoy's counters to her were so much more devastating than the inverse. This time, Savoy won with a Cross Armbar, the most popular finish in wrestling these days!
Nicole Matthews v. Heidi Lovelace:
This match up seemed just great on paper, and absolutely delivered on that promise. I think this might have been my favorite of the night, but it's very close between this, LuFisto/Savoy, and the tournament final. Nicole Matthews is one of the best dickhead heels in professional wrestling, and Heidi Lovelace is one of the best underdog babyfaces. It was a recipe for success.
Nicole really carries herself like a total star in a way a lot of people on the indies don't. She has great presence and really knows how to control a crowd to keep people engaged with the action. On the other hand, Heidi is just great at bumping to make her opponents look vicious and she did that here. Matthews did great to build heat with the crowd with her nasty offense and Lovelace did great to build sympathy so they were very hot for Lovelace finally getting the upper hand after kicking out of Matthews' brainbuster and reversed the Vancouver Maneuver into an inverted implant DDT. Yet again, her top rope senton does the job and Lovelace upsets the former SHIMMER champion. We go to the finals with the two former SHIMMER champions both eliminated.
We take a brief pause from the tournament to prepare for the final by having Lenny Leonard introduce Shayna Baszler who gives an interview discussing her debut with SHIMMER on June 24th.
Tournament final: Heidi Lovelace v. Candice LeRae v. Nicole Savoy:
This was just great. This also might have been MOTN. This was a really good sprint style match with all three competitors keeping the pace up and trying to take the initiative, because they knew they didn't have a ton left in the tank and wanted to get out of there with the title as soon as possible. Lovelace gets knocked out of the ring, allowing her to get a bit of a breather as her match was most recent.
Candice and Savoy have a fun exchange but then Savoy topes to the floor nailing Lovelace who has an impressive catch for someone her size against a larger opponent. Then Candice comes flying out of the ring with one of her own. The action comes back into the ring and the story of Candice's leg plays out beautifully as Savoy catches her with a Texas Cloverleaf forcing Candice to quickly tap out due to her already injured extremity from the prior match.
This leaves Savoy v. Lovelace, as it absolutely should have been given that these two were the best performers on the show. This was really strong as well with both using their biggest moves to try and defeat the other but both showing the heart of a champion and refusing to succumb. Lovelace hits the top rope senton, which won her the two prior matches, but this time, Savoy manages to kick out. Savoy manages to get control and lock on the Savo Lock, which defeated LuFisto, but Lovelace manages to just get a toe on the rope to break the hold. But unfortunately for Lovelace, Savoy had a second move in her arsenal that finished a match this evening: her Cross Armbar. She caught Lovelace with it, and Lovelace had to tap to avoid Savoy taking her arm.
Awesome stuff. Exciting pace, great work by all 3, and consistently played on the external story of the tournament that had preceded the match.
Your first Heart of SHIMMER Champion, Nicole Savoy! @NikiMSavo #shimmer80 #wwnlive pic.twitter.com/vpQmZizuPI— SHIMMER Wrestling (@SHIMMERwomen) April 3, 2016
Talk about putting your best foot forward.
If this was your first exposure to SHIMMER, I can't possibly imagine how you wouldn't want to see more. In addition to the women who delivered big, especially Nicole Savoy who might be the performer of the weekend thus far, lots of credit has to go to the fine booker of SHIMMER, Dave Prazak.
One of the keys that made this show great is that the right person advanced in basically every match, so we got to see skilled wrestlers like Savoy and Heidi three separate times, and they delivered three separate times. He also made bold choices like having Candice beat Melissa clean as a sheet and definitively and to have Savoy actually win the thing after her bravura performance, only a year or so into her Shimmer career. And Heidi will have a shot at gold of her own come Shimmer weekend when Team Slap Happy (Lovelace and New Zealand standout and unbelievably not yet in WWE Evie) take on the champion Kimber Bombs. Yet again on Wrestlemania weekend, the focus was on younger talent, after Savoy, Evie, and KLR were the standouts last year, and Savoy and Lovelace were the standouts this year, and the final two in the tournament.
While I had confidence they would pull out something good, the North American wing of SHIMMER overdelivered here. The biggest strength of SHIMMER normally is its depth of international talent from all over the world, but for this event, they only had access to their North American women, and they worked extremely hard tonight to put on a hell of a show. Strongly recommended.