Friday, September 8, 2017
The quarterfinals are upon us. This episode has all four matches involving the remaining eight women, as we narrow it down to four heading into the Semi-Finals. Abbey Laith, Candice LeRae, Dakota Kai, Kairi Sane, Mercedes Martinez, Piper Niven, Shayna Baszler and Toni Storm are all that remain.
Laith has gone past Jazzy Gabert (***½) and Rachel Evers (***), while Martinez beat Xia Li (**½) and Princesa Sugehit (**¼). Lots of work on the mat to start, with Martinez peppering in some slaps. Martinez continued to play the aggressor, lighting up Laith with chops. Martinez seemed to be favoring her shoulder from previous matches, which I always appreciate. Whenever Laith fired up and got something going, Martinez found a way to cut her off. Laith got her biggest opening and hit a cross body to the outside, where her knees landed on the ramp, which had to suck. Laith had the alligator clutch countered, but still got two on a German. She went for the clutch again and it was countered once more. Martinez then used the fisherman’s buster to advance in 8:58. I thought this was good. Martinez was aggressive, but her shoulder injury opened the door for some Laith rallies. Laith has potential as a fiery babyface down the line. The trend of one woman making a crucial mistake and it costing them continues, as Laith went for the clutch too often.
LeRae beat Renee Michelle (**½) and Nicole Savoy (**¾), while Baszler got past Zeda (**¼) and Mia Yim (***¼). Johnny Gargano and Baszler’s fellow MMA Horsewomen were in the crowd. No Shayna handshake again. Shayna attacked quickly, but LeRae avoided a strike and her momentum took her outside. Candice followed with a suicide dive DDT that got the crowd going. Candice applied the octopus and transitioned to the Gargano Escape, with the crowd losing their minds. Shayna countered with a side slam and sold the arm. Up top, Candice went for the Wild Ride, but Shayna countered in midair to a rear naked choke for the win in 3:11. About as good as you’re going to get in three minutes. Candice was the perfect underdog, with the fans buying into her hope spots. She’s sympathetic, which works perfectly with Shayna’s badass style. She looked legit in catching Candice with the finish. Baszler meets Martinez in the Semi-Finals.
Post-match, Baszler refused to break the submission. Tons of heat for that. Candice got choked out cold, which was when Shayna finally released it, to a chorus of boos. Johnny Gargano hopped in the ring to check on his wife. Shayna kicked the fallen Candice right in front of him. Expertly done segment, cementing Shayna in her role.
To get here, Niven beat Santana Garrett (***½) and Serena Deeb (***¼), while Storm beat Ayesha Raymond (**½) and Lacey Evans (**¾). They were friendly from the start and their exchanges ruled. Storm bridged up from a test of strength, even with Niven on top of her. They did a double bridge spot and shook hands to a pop. Storm got too playful and Piper splashed her, taking control. Toni finally bought time after hitting a backstabber. Piper survived a hip attack and hit the Michinoku Driver for a good near fall. Niven looked for a Vader Bomb, but Storm got up and took her off the second rope with a huge German suplex. She followed with a diving leg drop for the win in 7:36. The best tournament matches so far. I loved the opening exchanges, as it was refreshing and never got too past playful that it felt out of place in a tournament like this. Great back and forth and I’m glad they didn’t overdo some of the same tropes from previous tourney matches. The German spot was one of the coolest so far. I may be the high man on this, but it was right up my alley.
Backstage, cameras caught up with Ronda Rousey, Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke, who all put over Baszler. Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Bayley came up to them and Ronda told them to name a time and place. The WWE Horsewomen left, but seemed intrigued.
Kai is my favorite person in the tournament. She beat Kavita Devi (**) and Rhea Ripley (***½), while Sane beat Tessa Blanchard and Bianca Belair (both ***½). After some even opening exchanges, Sane delivered a huge chop and running blockbuster that quickened the pace. Kai used kicks to turn the tide, but then ate a spear. Kai still got her in place for the tree of Joey Lawrence double stomp that she won with in the last match. However, Sane avoided it and Kai landed awkwardly on her knee. Sane brought out forearm strikes and Kai retaliated with kicks. She missed the big Yakuza Kick and Sane delivered an Alabama Slam. Kairi called for the elbow and connected, advancing in 7:41. Sane’s streak of very good matches continued. They worked a strong face/face match and got the crowd invested. Kai looked like Sane’s equal, which was great for her, until she missed the double stomp. With the leg damaged and the missed Yakuza, she was toast. Sane faces Storm in the semis.
Overall: The best episode so far. Sure, none of the matches were MOTY contenders, but everything worked and the show flowed nicely. Martinez/Laith was good and then Baszler/Candice was exactly what it needed to be. The post-match angle was tremendous as well. I thought Kai/Sane delivered the way I wanted it to and Storm/Niven was my favorite tournament match thus far.