It’s finally here. The first batch of shows from WWE Network’s Mae Young Classic (MYC), a single elimination tournament featuring 32 women wrestlers from around the globe. And with these four episodes come a whole lot for fans to discuss and debate.
We’re not even talking about the wrestling - although I’ll touch on that a bit without giving anything away while discussing other elements. If you’re interested in a full set of results from these episodes, head here. For recommendations about the 16 matches which take up the bulk of the roughly four hours of programming released on Aug. 28, our man Rev has you covered here.
This is the big one which seems to be driving a lot of the conversation online among folks who were able to consume these shows as soon as they were available, and it’s easy to understand why.
It’s not good.
While Jim Ross and Lita never took me out of a match, I can’t think of a time where they added much to my experience. By episode two I’d tuned them out for the most part, and that’s a bummer. While comparisons are inevitable, I tried to avoid constantly asking myself if 2016’s Cruiserweight Classic (CWC) did it better. I mostly failed, but the answers were usually “this is as good” or “this is better” - except when it came to the duo at the announce desk.
Too often, JR feels like he’s reading a script he’s been handed. Lita is a bit more confident in her delivery than she’s been on most of her pre-show assignments, but she’s still very slow to react to what’s occurring in the ring. Reports are some of their work was re-recorded, which (1) I’d hate to hear the first take and (2) results in this sounding at times like a video game where certain sound bites are played when a corresponding action takes place.
There’s not much emotion and when one of the pair does get animated, it feels forced because what came before was so inorganic. The less said about their awkward attempts at camaraderie and/or humor the better. Especially for people who’ve known each other and are friendly in real life, there’s little on-air chemistry.
On the plus side, just the sound of Ross’ voice conveys a sense of importance to the proceedings, and he is able to seamlessly integrate historical references (which also plug the Network!) into his call. And, working in the role Corey Graves had for the CWC, Charly Caruso is a likeable and professional presence during the studio bracket updates.
Hopefully, with a bit more time working together and watching these performers - and more reasons to be inspired to passion by the stakes - later rounds will improve.
Starting with a Stephanie McMahon-narrated cold open seems like intentionally poking critics and wannabe comedians (like yours truly) who say she’s the woman WWE will always promote the most, but it was the usual well-produced video package. Those pepper the whole enterprise, as the MYC follows the CWC formula (which itself is modeled after reality competitions and the Olympics) of introducing us to the performers via an interview/highlight package before their bouts.
One of my favorite things about the show is the opening. Dorothy’s “Missle” is a fantastic song choice, and I love how the colorful sets the wrestlers are shown against is reminiscent of GLOW without beating us over the head with “these are lady wrestlers like that Netflix show!” It’s a big step over the video game-inspired look which still follows the cruiserweights even now that their tournament’s wrapped.
Inside Full Sail Live, I was torn on the decision to dim the audience lights during the action. On the one hand, it gives it an old school, Saturday morning wrestling feel, which I dug. On the other, and this seems like a strange criticism to make just a week removed from beachball-gate, I’m accustoming to seeing the fans as part of the show. At times during matches featuring less experienced wrestlers, the crowd might have been a pleasant distraction. During ones which clicked and that folks were responding well to, getting to see their faces would have amplified our excitement as home viewers.
Overall, as with most WWE efforts, this was a plus. The MYC looked distinct while also feeling familiar, with production values well above any other women-centric promotion we’ve ever seen before.
Distribution and promotion
We won’t know how these worked until later, and then only based on whatever internal metrics WWE chooses to share (or that Dave Meltzer or someone similar gets their hands on). Triple H himself has said the release schedule is an experiment to see how an in-ring series fares when it’s put out in this manner. Given the trend toward people expecting to be able to watch whatever and however much of something whenever they want to, this seems a smart approach.
Monday morning on a work day is an odd choice for when to release, however. Adding to that is that even people like me who were looking for it immediately had to navigate to the proper section, as it wasn’t listed as the “Featured” program of the day, either.
The series didn’t air on the live feed when it dropped, but that makes sense as the first episode is set to run in the post-Raw spot this evening, so they can promote it throughout the broadcast. And I can’t fault their online team, who’s provided a steady stream of material to get and keep fans excited for a month now.
Otherwise, I don’t have a problem with the model, especially for these first round matches. Next week, as better matches take place between bigger names, and angles start to develop, I expect it will be a bit of a disappointment we didn’t all watch together. There will likely be more sniping online about what constitutes a spoiler. But the final is live, and that’s 100% the right call, so...
We’ll wait and see if WWE thinks as many people watched this way as they would with a weekly episode.
Props here mostly for making sure that each of the four shows ended with a strong match. The range of quality (depending mostly on the experience level of the workers) is vast, so it was essential to ensure one must see contest appeared on every show, and they did just that.
Otherwise, seeing the women of different experience levels and backgrounds bring their all to the proceedings is part of the appeal. Sometimes they exceed expectations. On at least one occassion, they fell short. That also adds an element of real competition for the brass’ attention to something we otherwise know is scripted, and is part of why these Network tournaments are as much of a true sport as pro wrestling can probably hope to be.
If I have a complaint here, it’s that they could have done a better job of spacing the type of match out. Episode three in particular feels like a marathon of “big, strong person vs. smaller athletic person” bouts. Luckily, they’re all good, but they could have been spaced out and used to break up similar runs of “experienced person vs. new person” contests on other shows.
Despite some issues, I enjoyed the first serving of the Mae Young Classic, and I’m very much looking forward to another batch next week and the final on Sept. 12.
In closing, I don’t want to get all “HISTORY” on you like Michael Cole before a Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair title fight, but as the second episode played, my wife - who is not a wrestling fan - called down to ask me what I was watching. She overheard the intro packages on Mia Yim and Sarah Logan and didn’t realize I was watching the graps. For the first time in a long time, she joined me for their match, and wandered back in and sat for a while to see parts of later shows, too.
It’s a small piece of anecdotal evidence, and I doubt she’s gonna turn into a weekly viewer, but... if other people who normally wouldn’t watch have the same reaction, this effort from WWE will be a success, regardless of what quibbles you or I have as established fans.