Once the Cruiserweight Classic and the WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament were considered successes, it was only inevitable before a women's tourney was announced. Sure enough, it was made official over WrestleMania 33 weekend back in April, with it later being named the Mae Young Classic. Additionally, it was revealed that the first three rounds would be available as on-demand content on the WWE Network starting in late August, so it will not be following the same format as the Cruiserweight Classic. Nevertheless, the crop of women that will be participating looks very promising with a number of names I recognize from other promotions and even WWE's past.
I wrote something similar to this piece last year for the Cruiserweight Classic (which you can read here) and everyone I picked fared pretty well in the tournament, so here's hoping the following eight women also advance at least past the first round if not ultimately win it all.
Remember Serena? Yes, she looks a lot different now with hair, but Serena Deeb is indeed the same woman who mindlessly followed CM Punk back in the day as part of the Straight Edge Society. What fans may not know, however, is that she was actually an extremely experienced independent star long before coming to WWE. There was a hope among fans that she would revitalize WWE's Divas division when she eventually wrestled, but shortly after wrestling her first televised match for the company, she was released after appearing intoxicated in public (which kind of went against the whole "no drinking" gimmick).
I'm almost positive she retired from the ring a few years later, but she obviously accepted the invite to come back and take part in the tournament. I doubt she'll win the entire thing, but I'm excited to see her on WWE TV again, playing the same role The Brian Kendrick did last year in wanting to earn another run with WWE. Hell, win or lose, I'd totally be open to her being brought back to the main roster, assuming she doesn't fall to the wayside like Mickie James has lately.
Unlike like most of the other women competing in the Mae Young Classic, Sarah Logan is already under contract to WWE, specifically a developmental deal with NXT. However, that virtually means nothing, because Rich Swann was with WWE when he took part in the Cruiserweight Classic and although he made it pretty far, he didn't emerge victorious. Much like Swann, Logan is much better known for her work outside of WWE as Crazy Mary Dobson, donning a mask.
Logan wrestled as an enhancement talent on NXT TV several times throughout 2016 before being officially signed at the end of the year. While she has yet to become a regular in NXT's women's division, she has shown signs of potential in the few matches she's had, including against Peyton Royce on the June 7 episode. She's a gorgeous girl and a strong showing in the tourney will bode well for her future in NXT.
Johnny Gargano was a standout in last year's Cruiserweight Classic (his match against tag team partner Tomasso Ciampa was a classic), and his wife Candice LaRae should be no different in the Mae Young Classic. Given her ties to Johnny Wrestling, I was surprised WWE never brought her in prior to this point, though she did work a Battle Royal on NXT TV a few months back. Despite that, she hasn't been offered a developmental deal yet, which is crazy considering how big of a name she is on the independent scene.
That should change in the Mae Young Classic. Truth be told, I haven't seen too much of her work, but from what I've heard, she can hold her own in the ring quite well. She's also adorable and very likable, so similar to her husband, she should be an underdog in this upcoming tournament. Her winding up in NXT eventually would be quite fitting given Gargano is still there, and I would love to see them interact on NXT TV. They'd remind me of what Daniel Bryan and AJ Lee were early on in 2011, except in this case, they are together in real life.
In all honesty, I wouldn't know too much about Dakota Kai had she not wrestled that one-off match on NXT in October 2015. At that point in time, she went by the name Evie, and she faced Nia Jax in a losing effort in her debut match for the brand. Kai was never seen again on NXT, which was mind-boggling to me because she had a good look and had an impressive outing that night. Next month, she'll be back as part of the Mae Young Classic.
She isn't like most of the other girls in this tournament, especially judging by her appearance, but that's exactly why she'd be a perfect fit in NXT's women's division. Sasha Banks wasn't your typical "Diva," either, yet look how she turned out. I'm not saying Kai will be the next "Boss," but her diverse cultural background helps her stand out and she has been building a nice resume for herself on the indies. She could leave a lasting impression in the Mae Young Classic that sees her return to NXT two years after she initially appeared on the black-and-yellow brand.
The only exposure I've had to Kairi Sane was when she had a one-off match in Lucha Underground against Pentagon Dark. However, I've heard the buzz surrounding her work in Japan and how good she is. And yes, I have seen the footage of her finisher and how she can drop a mean flying elbow off the top rope. It was reported months ago she might not be able to use it in WWE, but from what I've seen online, that won't be an issue, at least not in the Mae Young Classic.
Essentially, Sane is this year's Kota Ibushi. Both are big stars from Japan that I'm not incredibly familiar with yet I've heard nothing but great things about. The biggest difference between Sane and Ibushi is that Sane signed with WWE a few months back; WWE kept pushing to sign Ibushi but he constantly refused (and rightfully so). Ibushi probably would have won the Cruiserweight Classic had he been under contract to WWE, and considering Sane is, she's the early favorite to win the tourney.
Man, Ricochet is one lucky dude. Tessa Blanchard is every bit as gorgeous as she lethal in the ring, which should surprise no one given her family lineage. Her father is Tully Blanchard after all, and she looks to carry on the legacy by winning the Mae Young Classic. How can she not be considered a heavy candidate to come out on top in the tournament? WWE fans are familiar with her work seeing as how she has made a handful of appearances on NXT TV over the years, yet for some strange reason, she hasn't been signed to a developmental deal.
I would be shocked if she didn't walk away from the Mae Young Classic with a contract in hand. She is exactly the type of athlete WWE is always on the lookout for, and she could be a real asset to NXT's women's division, which could use all the help it can get (especially once Asuka is inevitably called up to the main roster). She's accomplished quite a bit on the independent scene in recent years and could follow in the footsteps of Charlotte Flair if she was to be signed, except she would actually have experience upon arriving in NXT.
Santana Garrett is another one who has been wrestling on the independent scene for years, yet she hasn't officially signed with WWE. That said, competing in the Mae Young Classic is a step in the right direction, in addition to all of the appearances she has made on NXT TV since 2013. She actually had a one year run in TNA from 2014 to 2015 as Brittany, and although she could have been something special, she was never utilized correctly and later left. And thus, my hopes of seeing her in WWE were revitalized.
In early 2016, she had an awesome outing against Asuka on NXT and I thought she should have been offered a contract right then and there. Obviously, nothing came of it, and Garrett continued to hone her skills on the indie scene. She's definitely one of the most recognizable names in the tournament, so she should make it far enough to where WWE will have no chance but to bring her into NXT. Could we see a rematch between Garrett and Asuka down the road, this time with the NXT Women's Championship on the line?
There isn't anyone in the Mae Young Classic I want to win more than Mia Yim, as I have loosely been following her career since October 2010. It was then that I met her for the first time at a Northeast Wrestling show and she couldn't have been nicer. She also impressed me in her match that night against Mickie James, though I don't believe I saw her again until she took part in TNA's Knockout Knockdown pay-per-views in 2013 and 2014.
She also had a one-off match versus Charlotte on NXT in late 2014, but before she could be signed by the promotion, she went to TNA in 2015 and debuted as one-half of The Dollhouse alongside Marti Belle (who interestingly enough will also be a part of the Mae Young Classic). The duo immediately wrecked havoc in the Knockouts division, but it was evident early on that she was the real breakout star of the group. Once the stable dissolved at the onset of 2016, she broke off on her own and captured the Knockouts Championship.
Her reign might have been short-lived, but she was the real MVP of the division that year, contesting a strong series of gimmick matches with Rosemary before departing the company back in March. Once she was declared a free agent, I knew it was merely a matter of time before she wound up in WWE, and regardless of how she fares in the Mae Young Classic, seeing her join the ranks of NXT women's division after the tourney concludes would be nothing short of sensational.