Having moved in videogames culture for many years, I’m no stranger to the idea of cautious optimism.
In an industry where a return on investment is sought before a game is even released, it’s sensible to be sceptical no matter how spectacular the trailers and demo gameplay for an upcoming release looks. Is it wise to judge a book by its cover? No, just as it’s not wise to judge Lethal Weapon by Danny Glover.
I found myself musing on all this as WWE’s Mae Young Classic tournament got underway this past week. 32 of the best female wrestlers in the world were unveiled on Thursday evening before two intensive days of filming, and the excitement is high to see women’s wrestling given such a spectacular platform in ‘the Fed’.
However, there are some red flags already fluttering on the breeze; and I don’t think it does anyone any harm to acknowledge them and look at reasons why some might be less gushing with hype for the tournament than others.
Let’s look at the good first. Undoubtedly, the roster is about as strong a female wrestling roster as WWE could’ve possibly brought together. There’s champions aplenty; PROGRESS’ Toni Storm, ICW’s Kay Lee Ray, Shimmer’s Mercedes Martinez to name but three. There’s hugely popular veterans of the scene like Mia Yim and Candice LeRae, and international superstars like Kairi Hojo (Sane). There’s white-hot rising stars like Tessa Blanchard, Rachel Ellering and Viper (Piper Niven), as well as all the Performance Centre graduates in the field.
If you were putting together a fantasy tournament on Fire Pro Wrestling World or WWE 2K17, your brackets would look remarkably similar to what we’re getting here. It’s THAT good.
With this level of talent, the match quality should take care of itself. If you’re one of those prehistoric types who thought women’s wrestling hit an apex with Bras & Panties matches and can’t believe women can actually wrestle high-quality matches, this tournament should be what convinces you otherwise. For the rest of us, the idea of these fantasy matchups not just happening but being better than anything we could’ve dreamed of is a delicious prospect.
This tournament also has added momentum given WWE’s recent pedigree with the Cruiserweight Classic,an absolute barnstormer with a fresh and vibrant energy lacking from a lot of WWE’s on-screen product, and the UK Championship Special.
With all this behind it, the Mae Young Classic giving a similar high-quality platform to women’s wrestling can only be a great thing, right?
The major red flag for me is the format. The CWC was taped one round at a time on separate days spread out about 3-6 weeks apart, and broadcast as-live on the WWE Network on a weekly one-hour show. The semi-finals and finals themselves then had their own live network special on September 14th. Contrast this to the MYC, where everything up to and including the semi-finals were taped over two days last week – that’s 30 bouts in the under 24 hours, for those keeping score – and won’t be released to the public until August 26th, when the first rounds will all be dumped on the Network in one go, Netflix-style. But as much as I don’t understand the logic behind it, at least there’s a compelling argument to be made in favour of broadcasting the tournament in this way.
What’s less defensible is the idea of squashing almost the entire tournament into two days of filming, then sitting on the results for six weeks whilst fans attempt to avoid tripping over spoilers.
Now, spoilers are hard enough to avoid – and some fans taking a laissez-fare approach isn’t helping. But at least if a show has been broadcast, the onus is on individuals to stay off social media until they’ve caught up. As it stands, most of the results are readily available on Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter with six weeks still to go before broadcast. That’s a heck of a long time to keep fans waiting. Yes, the CWC wasn’t immune to spoilers either, but at least with tapings for each round spaced out, and broadcasts going out a lot quicker after tapings were wrapped, the impact of spoilers was minimised.
Disregarding the spoilers issue, what’s the point of parading the entire roster to the world on a live stream only to completely forget about them again for another month and a half, then dump four rounds worth of matches onto the Network across a two-week span? Helluva way to introduce 32 competitors to an audience which is unlikely to know everything about all of them, especially given the CWC ran across a total of 10 weeks.
Still, at least the final itself will be live. It’s about all we’re certain of at this stage, though. What little we DO know about the final seems to imply it will be done right after Smackdown Live, in perhaps the same building – i.e. the same formula 205 Live currently uses to great success.
And by great I mean, often failing to beat old network documentary re-runs about the Monday Night Wars in the ratings.
All of the above red flags seem to point towards one trend; that unlike previous tournaments, the Mae Young Classic feels like an afterthought. That women’s wrestling is somehow less worthy of priority or attention than cruiserweight or British wrestling. And given how hard WWE have pushed their ‘women’s revolution’, that’s very frustrating.
Whilst a lot of great work has been done, there’s still been some glaring missteps – most notably the Women’s Money In The Bank debacle – and times where WWE just haven’t backed up their grand statements of intent with actions. A look through Kate Foray’s extensive RAW Breakdown Project paints the picture for you; just this past week on the July 10th episode of RAW, women occupied just 5% of the three-hour show. If anything, WWE needs to work hard to win trust in fans that their commitment to women’s wrestling goes beyond nice press releases – and treating the Mae Young Classic as ‘CWC Lite’ isn’t the way to do it.
And thus we return to cautious optimism. Because here’s the entire point of this article – I really, REALLY want the Mae Young Classic to be a roaring success. Inspite of my current apathy around WWE as a whole, I’ll still likely watch the tournament. I would say no-one wants it to succeed more than me, but I know that’s a lie – there are so many fans who are desperate for this one to go stratospheric. And a lot of folks I’ve spoken to share this enthusiasm – but also share similar concerns to me.
It’s because of this desire for success that we hold the Mae Young Classic to high standards.
Standards that WWE have set for themselves.
Standards that I don’t think are unfair to hold them to.
Standards that we hold them to because we care.
And if anyone ever tells you that cautious optimism is a sign you aren’t a true fan, answer right back that such due diligence is exactly what makes you such a good fan.