As the curtain about to lift on the inaugural Mae Young Classic, it’s important to realize how important this event truly is. And not for reasons you might think.
This isn’t about participant list. The WWE assembled a virtual ‘who’s who’ in the indy wrestling women’s circuit (sans those with firm commitments to other promotions). When there’s Santana Garrett, Mia Yim, Marti Belle and Candice LeRae on your roster, it’s proof someone in booking is doing their job quite well.
More importantly, it is imperative the Mae Young Classic – and indy wrestling at large – learn from the mistakes of last year’s Cruiserweight Classic.
Those mistakes have nothing to do with who won. TJ Perkins is a terrific talent, wonderful to watch, and outstanding with his fans. His character is engaging, wrestling style exciting, and he’s one of the few athletes with a brand alluring to both kids and adults.
What went wrong, however, was how it unfolded.
In the desperate attempt for the seeming big time, athletes and promotions went all in – too all in – for a seat at the table. Smaller promotions offered themselves up as trying grounds for participants, and agreed to talent ‘sharing’ with WWE that rarely benefited the athlete financially. Yes, smaller promotions increased ticket sales with Cruiserweight Classic participants on their cards. But that is where the gains ended.
More importantly, it tore apart the indy wrestling community. In exception to Gran Metalik, Rich Swann and Tony Nese, this tournament near-exclusively pushed already marquee names in hopes of them signing non-guaranteed WWE contracts. This philosophy extended to NXT, with its roster bursting with those suited for headlining versus developmental placeholders. Austin Aries’ decision was not surprising. Neither CJ Parker’s before him (to a lesser extent).
Culturally, this destroyed the momentum a slew of up and coming indy talent worked years to nurture. Those who didn’t make the Cruiserweight Classic cut were left bitter, seemingly forgotten, and on the outside looking in at promotions now wedded to a partnership with WWE/NXT.
Fast forward 1.5 years later, and the purgatory of mid-career professionals stuck in Cruiserweight/NXT purgatory is self-evident. Simultaneously, more aggressive promotions such as Tier 1 and Beyond Wrestling scoop up ignored stars toward unbelievable shows and rosters. Over the next six months, it will be interesting to see how WWE addresses this nuance, likewise the athletes/talent vying for opportunities within.
Why this retrospection? The Mae Young Classic is the chance to do this the right way. While seeing Santana Garrett add to her famously growing belt collection would be terrific, most important is what happens before and after the tournament. Even more so as female friendly promotions – specifically, ones fans will be loyal to – are not in excess.
If the Mae Young Classic engenders a glutted NXT women’s roster plus in-fighting among indy promotions and its competitors, this would be a tragedy. I attended formerly packed promotions after the Cruiserweight Classic carnage concluded; audiences were small, locker room morale even smaller. While there’s no way to fully prevent this from re-occurring following the Mae Young Classic, the indy wrestling community must proactively protect what it’s worked so hard to create.