WWE Women's Tournament: Meet the 32 women about to change pro wrestling

Photo: WWE

Flash back four or five years ago and the idea of a WWE women’s tournament seemed about as likely as a WWE Film earning an Oscar nomination. After all, this is the company that once held a segment called “Hot Lesbian Action” and gave one of their best women’s wrestlers a flatulence gimmick. But starting next week, 32 women from around the world will compete in the WWE Network’s Mae Young Classic, named after one of the true pioneers of women’s wrestling. A mixture of seasoned veterans, indie favorites, international sensations and up-and-coming talent will clash in a series of matches to determine the winner of WWE’s inaugural all-women wrestling tournament, the Mae Young Classic.

It’s the latest step in the reinvention of WWE’s women’s division, which has gone from fighting over Playboy cover photos to main eventing Hell In A Cell pay-per-views, stealing the show at Wrestlemania and boasting the longest-reigning champion of the modern era. It was a long, tiresome, bra-and-panties strewn road to get here, so the magnitude of this occasion shouldn’t be understated. In 2015, the women on Monday Night Raw were struggling to get more than a minute’s worth of ring time, and now some of the best signed and unsigned women from the world of pro-wrestling will be showcasing their abilities on the biggest platform possible.

Before things kicks-off on August 28, get to know the 32 women who are about to take women’s wrestling to the next level, and stick with Yahoo TV over the coming weeks as we will be recapping the entire tournament.

Photo: WWE

ABBEY LAITH
Formerly Known As: Kimber Lee
Age: 27
From: Seattle, WA
Finisher: Alligator Clutch

Abbey Laith is the human embodiment of the phrase “wrestling is like ballet with violence.” While she trained in dance from an early age, Laith’s discovery of wrestling in her teens would turn her aspirations away from Swan Lake and The Nutcracker and towards the world of Swanton Bombs and the Backcracker. After moving to Philadelphia to attend college, the 5’4” grappler enrolled in the Combat Zone Wrestling Academy and began training under current WWE cruiserweight superstar Drew Gulak.

Laith’s performances for promotions such as Shine and Shimmer — where she won Tag Team Championships with her partner Cherry Bomb — earned her the nickname “Princess Palmstrike” for her hard-hitting, smash-mouth style. Putting opponents away with the Alligator Clutch, a pinning combination once used by Mae Young herself, Laith became the first (and only) woman to hold the Chikara Grand Championship. Laith signed with the WWE earlier this year, and with over five years of in-ring experience is one of the favorites heading into the Mae Young Classic.

Photo: WWE

AYESHA RAYMOND
Formerly Known As: The Amazon Ayesha Ray
Age: 27
From: London, England
Finisher: Tree Slam

Standing at 6’0” tall, Ayesha Raymond looms large over the majority of her 31 opponents. An East End London girl, Raymond has been wrestling since the age of 15, trained by British legends like Johnny Saint, Tony Scarlo and WWE Performance Center coach Robbie Brookside. A Bodybuilding Figure competitor and former Miss Essex 2016 Finalist, it’s easy to picture this powerhouse ripping out spines and having her opponents fleeing to get to the chopper. Once nicknamed the “Female Predator,” Raymond has claimed championship gold in several promotions, including Stardom, IPW and World War Wrestling, and looks to continue her success in the Mae Young Classic.

Photo: WWE

BIANCA BELAIR
Formerly Known As: Bianca Blair
Age: 27
From: Knoxville, TN
Finisher: Spear

Bianca Belair may be a relative newcomer to pro-wrestling, but her athletic ability is astounding. Before signing with WWE in 2016, she was an All-American track-and-field competitor in hurdles at the University of Tennessee and was named to the SEC’s academic honor roll in 2011 and 2012. A CrossFit competitor and powerlifter who has appeared in RX magazine, Belair blew everyone away at the inaugural WWE Performance Center Combine last year when she deadlifted a 400-pound trap-bar and completed a 10-yard sprint in 2.07 seconds. Having only wrestled a few matches so far in her career, the Mae Young Classic offers Belair the chance to learn from some of the world’s best performers.

Photo: WWE

CANDICE LERAE
Age: 31
From: Riverside, CA
Finisher: Miss LeRae’s Wild Ride

Candice LeRae is a 15-year ring veteran and one of the early fan favorites entering the tournament. Known for wrestling men more often than women, this fiery brawler can endure punishment like no other and dish it out in equal measure. LeRae is one of the most popular performers on the independent wrestling scene, having worked for promotions such as Chikara, Combat Zone Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, Ring of Honor, and many more. Her high-risk aerial offense has earned her fans and championships all around the globe, including the PWG Tag Team Championships with her World’s Cutest Tag Team partner Joey Ryan. LeRae, who is married to NXT star Johnny Gargano, could steal the show at the Mae Young Classic.

Photo: WWE

DAKOTA KAI
Formerly Known As: Evie
Age: 29
From: Auckland, New Zealand
Finisher: Diving Double Foot Stomp

Before Roman Reigns became the Clifford of WWE, there was only one true “Big Dog” of professional wrestling, and her name is Dakota Kai. Another recognizable face to fans of independent wrestling, this Kiwi kick dispenser has been putting boots to asses from Australia to Japan to the United States since 2007. The New Zealand-native, previously known as Evie, has a reputation for her lethal arsenal of kicks, including a devastating Yakuza Kick that can turn an opponent’s teeth to rubble. A former three-time Impact Pro Wrestling Women’s Champion in her home country, “the Captain of Team Kick” made her mark in the U.S. in promotions such as Shine and Shimmer, where she held Tag Team Championship gold with current NXT superstar Ruby Riot.

In 2016, Pro Wrestling Illustrated ranked Kai No. 21 of the top 50 female wrestlers in North America. She made a one-off appearance in NXT back in 2015, in a losing effort against current Monday Night Raw superstar Nia Jax, before officially signing with WWE in late 2016. Her entry into the Mae Young Classic comes with high expectations, and her combination of in-ring talent, indie popularity, and the fact she is under contract should make her one of the favorites to take home the trophy.

Photo: WWE

JAZZY GABERT
Formerly Known As: Alpha Female
Age: 35
From: Berlin, Germany
Finisher: Alpha Plex

With 16-years of in-ring experience, Jazzy Gabert enters the Mae Young Classic as one of the most seasoned competitors. The Berlin bruiser — step-daughter of New Japan Pro Wrestling legend Masahiro Chono — got her start in her home country of Germany, training under Joe E. Legend and Murat Bosporus for the German Wrestling Federation. At 6’1”, Gabert is an intimidating presence who strikes fear in her opponents long before she gets her hands on them. The second ever World of Stardom Champion, Gabert has slammed and suplexed her way across Europe and Japan, and has also competed in MMA matches and strongwoman competitions. She may not have the American indie fanbase of a Laith, LeRae or Kai, but something tells me Gabert is not here to win a popularity contest.

Photo: WWE

KAIRI SANE
Formerly Known As: Kairi Hojo
Age: 28
From: Yamaguchi, Japan
Finisher: Diving Elbow Drop

Ahoy, Mateys! The “Pirate Princess” is finally coming to WWE. Kairi Sane, a former Olympic hopeful in yachting, is sailing into the Mae Young Classic with more hype behind her than any other competitor. A stand-out of Japanese promotion Stardom — where she was a one-time World of Stardom Champion, three-time Goddess of Stardom Champion and a four-time Artist of Stardom Champion — Sane is considered one of the best wrestlers in the world. She originally pursued a career in acting, but it was her on-stage performance as a pro-wrestling villain which caught the eye of World Wonder Ring Stardom general manager Fuka, who invited Sane to one of their shows. Sane was soon drawn to wrestling’s unique combination of acting and athletics and began her voyage into the land of spandex and suplexes.

During her five year stint for Stardom, Sane became one of the company’s most popular wrestlers, putting on consistently excellent matches, finishing opponents with an incredible top rope elbow drop. In 2016, Sane traveled to the U.S., along with fellow Stardom performers Io Shirai and Mayu Iwatani, where she appeared on the El Rey Network’s Lucha Underground as part of the Black Lotus faction, competing in a brutal match against Pentagon Dark. She signed a three-year contract with WWE in March 2017 and is sure to turn the Mae Young Classic into an unforgettable swashbuckling adventure.

Photo: WWE

KAVITA DEVI
Formerly Known As: Hard KD
Age: 34
From: Haryana, India
Finisher: Roundhouse Kick

Kavita Devi is the first female Indian wrestler to step foot in a WWE ring, which begs the question, how long can Vince McMahon resist before announcing the first ever women’s Punjabi Prison match? Like Belair, Devi is one of the least experienced women in the tournament as far as wrestling ability, but her background in weightlifting is sure to make her a force to be reckoned with. Devi represented India at the 2016 South Asian Games where she won the Gold Medal in the 75 KG category. She made her in-ring debut in June 2016 for Continental Wrestling Entertainment, the Indian based promotion owned by former WWE superstar and human tree trunk, The Great Khali. An ex-Armed Border Forces Sub Inspector, Devi impressed WWE officials during the company’s Dubai tryout in April and was soon entered into the Mae Young Classic.

Photo: WWE

KAY LEE RAY
Age: 24
From: Glasgow, Scotland
Finisher: Gory Bomb

Kay Lee Ray may be only 24 years old, but she’s already an eight-year veteran of the squared circle, making her debut in May 2009. The scarlet-haired Scottish firecracker is best known across the UK and Europe for her high-energy, death-defying offense. With her springboard dropkicks and suicide dives, Ray demonstrates a lack of fear in the ring which has helped her capture titles throughout the UK — including the Women’s Championship for both Insane Championship Wrestling and What Culture Pro Wrestling.

In 2014, Ray appeared on TNA British Boot Camp, a program about recruiting local UK talent for American promotion Total Non-Stop Action (aka Impact Wrestling aka Global Force Wrestling aka Jeff Jarrett’s Ever-Changing Wrestling Circus). As part of the show, Ray got to lock-up with Gail Kim, one of the most highly-regarded women’s wrestlers in the world. As well as performances on TNA Explosion in 2015, Ray also wrestled for Shimmer and Shine while in the U.S., and like Kai, appeared in a one-off NXT match, losing against Nia Jax.

Photo: WWE

LACEY EVANS
Age: 27
From: Parris Island, SC
Finisher: Fujiwara Armbar

Lacey Evans is essentially the 2017 version of Betty Gilpin’s character in the Netflix series GLOW, without the marital problems and excessive drinking. She’s the blonde-haired, All-American woman who bleeds red, white and blue. The major difference is, Evans is a former U.S. Marine Sergeant and member of the Marine Corps SWAT team. The self-declared “Lady of NXT,” Evans is one of the less experienced competitors in the tournament, but given her signing with WWE in April 2016 and a number of appearances on NXT television, it’s clear the top brass see big potential in her future. Evans, who often brings her four-year-old daughter to watch her matches, could be a surprise hit in the Mae Young Classic.

Photo: WWE

MARTI BELLE
Age: 29
From: New York, NY (Representing the Dominican Republic)
Finisher: Marti Makeover

Marti Belle is one of the most recognizable participants in the tournament due to her stint in TNA as part of the Dollhouse, where she partnered with fellow Mae Young Classic competitor Mia Yim. The Dollhouse, who entered the ring to Hole’s “Doll Parts,” was a strange faction of lollipops and fetishized sex appeal probably dreamed up by someone with a creepy obsession with anime girls. The gimmick worked in spite of the weirdness, due in part to Belle’s talent, a ring veteran of nearly eight years, who has won championships in Shine, Women Superstars Uncensored, and American Pro Wrestling Alliance.

Trained by WWE Hall of Famer Johnny Rodz, Belle was ranked No. 32 on PWI’s top 50 female wrestlers in North America in 2016. After a singles run in TNA in 2016, Belle eventually parted ways with the company in January 2017, returning to the independent circuit and ultimately ending up in the Mae Young Classic.

Photo: WWE

MERCEDES MARTINEZ
Age: 36
From: Waterbury, CN
Finisher: Bull Run (Fisherman Buster)

When you look at Mercedes Martinez’s long list of accomplishments, it’s shocking that it has taken almost 17 years for the WWE to come calling (other than a one-off match on Heat back in 2006). Martinez made her in-ring debut in November 2000 and has been putting on classic matches throughout the U.S. independent scene ever since, including a 20-minute time limit draw against current WWE Performance Center trainer Sara Amato. While WWE has only recently started letting their women compete in high-stakes stipulation matches, Martinez was breaking ground back in 2009 for Women Superstars Uncensored, competing against Angel Orsini in a number of grueling encounters including a Steel Cage, Bullrope match, and a 60-minute Iron Woman show down.

After almost quitting wrestling in 2007 when her father unexpectedly passed away, Martinez was taken under the wing of Afa Anoaʻi of the Wild Samoans and found a rejuvenated love for the sport. As a battle-tested veteran and decorated champion, “The Latina Sensation” will not be fazed by the high-pressure and global spotlight of the Mae Young Classic.

Photo: WWE

MIA YIM
Formerly Known As: Jade
Age: 28
From: Fontana, CA (Representing South Korea)
Finisher: Eat Defeat

Mia Yim compares herself to the legendary Street Fighter character Chun Li, and with her bone-breaking kicks, it’s easy to see the similarities. Better known as Jade for her time in TNA as part of the aforementioned Dollhouse faction, Yim is a former Knockouts Champion, Shine Champion, and Shine Tag Team Champion. She is a lifelong wrestling fan who began training at 18 while attending Marymount University on a volleyball scholarship and made her in-ring debut in August 2009.

Yim, who is a second-degree black belt in taekwondo, boasts an impressive blend of styles, having trained and wrestled in the U.S. and Japan, and is also well-versed in Mexican lucha libre, evidenced in her breathtaking corkscrew moonsault and 450° splash. After leaving TNA in early 2017, Yim is a free agent who will be hoping to capture the attention of WWE higher-ups in the Mae Young Classic.

Photo: WWE

MIRANDA SALINAS
Age: 23
From: Houston, TX
Finisher: Senton Bomb

Miranda Salinas may be small in stature, but what she lacks in size she makes up for in explosiveness. While still relatively new to the industry, having debuted in July 2014, Salinas has a clear passion for wrestling, having grown up idolizing former WWE Women’s Champion Trish Stratus. She currently wrestles for Booker T’s Reality of Wrestling promotion in her hometown of Houston, Texas where she is carving out a niche as a fast and frenzied competitor. Salinas may not be in the top half of winner picks for the Mae Young Classic, but the opportunity should provide invaluable experience.

Photo: WWE

NICOLE SAVOY
Age: 31
From: Sacremento, CA
Finisher: Diva Driver

Nicole Savoy will be hoping to turn the Mae Young Classic into Suplex City come August 28. After tearing her ACL during a WWE tryout last October, “The Queen of Suplexes” has been on the road to recovery and now has a second chance to make her mark in the company. For whatever reason, Savoy lacks the fanfare of some of her contemporaries in the tournament, but this former Heart of Shimmer champion is without question one of the most exciting performers on the independent circuit. Ranked No. 13 in the 2016 PWI Top 50 Females, Savoy has more suplexes than John Cena has bright colored t-shirts, and will not be afraid to unleash them on her opponents.

Photo: WWE

PIPER NIVEN
Formerly Known As: Viper
Age: 26
From: Ayrshire, Scotland
Finisher: Michinoku Driver II

The second Scot in the tournament, Piper Niven made a name for herself in Scotland’s popular Insane Championship Wrestling. Niven has been crushing opponents for the past eight years, not just in the UK, but across the U.S. in promotions such as Shine and Shimmer, and more recently in Japan’s World of Stardom. She is no stranger to the bright lights, having appeared on UK television as part of TNA British Boot Camp and ITV’s World Of Sport revival, but the Mae Young Classic is her biggest platform yet. While there is no news on whether WWE have officially signed Niven, the fact they’ve changed her name for the tournament is a positive sign.

Photo: WWE

PRINCESA SUGEHIT
Age: 37
From: Monterrey, Mexico
Finisher: Frankensteiner

Princesa Sugehit is by far the most seasoned wrestler in the tournament with over two decades of in-ring experience. Beginning her training at a young age, Sugehit was the only female in her wrestling school so learned the ropes by fighting men much bigger than herself. She debuted in 1996 and has spent the majority of her career working for Mexico’s two biggest promotions, AAA and CMLL, where she is the reigning Mexican National Women’s Champion. Despite her butterfly mask bringing back terrible memories of the WWE Divas Championship, the design is said to represent her ability to fly through the sky like a monarch butterfly. As the only luchadora in the tournament, Sugehit is sure to bring a different flavor to the Mae Young Classic.

Photo: WWE

RACHEL EVERS
Formerly Known As: Rachael Ellering
Age: 24
From: St. Paul, MN
Finisher: TKO

Rachel Evers may only have a year-and-a-half of wrestling experience, but she comes loaded with potential. A graduate of Lance Storm’s wrestling academy, Evers quickly established herself as one to watch, competing in WWE (on the NXT brand), TNA, and ROH in just over one year. She remains unsigned which has allowed her to make a name for herself on the indie circuit, picking up championships at Pro Wrestling Magic, Resistance Pro Wrestling, and WrestleCircus. With the smarts of her WWE Hall of Fame father Paul Ellering and the deceptive strength that comes from years of powerlifting, where she won a bronze medal with the World Powerlifting Federation, Evers is set to write the next chapter of her story in the Mae Young Classic.

Photo: WWE

REINA GONZALEZ
Age: Unknown
From: Rio Grande Valley, TX
Finisher: Tequila Shot (Fireman’s Carry Cutter)

Reina Gonzalez is a second generation wrestler looking to follow in the footsteps of her father, Texan indie wrestler, Ricky “Desperado” Gonzalez. A 6’0” tall former college basketball player, Gonzalez graduated with a degree in Mass Communication Broadcast Journalism before deciding to pursue a career in pro-wrestling. She auditioned for the 2015 season of WWE Tough Enough, and although not selected, she received a tryout from WWE in 2016 and was officially signed later that same year. Gonzalez has wrestled on two televised editions of NXT, but there’s no doubt the Mae Young Classic is her first time truly in the spotlight.

Photo: WWE

RENEE MICHELLE
Age: Unknown
From: Washington, DC
Finisher: Bonita Bomb (Second Rope Moonsault)

Renee Michelle had almost zero knowledge of pro-wrestling before she was convinced to step into the ring by none other than former WWE wrestler Gillberg, who saw her in attendance at a TNA event. Despite her doubters, who saw her as just another pretty face, Michelle showed a fierce drive and willingness to learn. Although not as familiar as some of the other women in the tournament, in the four years since her in-ring debut, Michelle has become a mainstay on the East Coast’s independent scene, winning titles in Maryland Championship Wrestling and East Coast Wrestling Association. She’s also traveled as far as India and Japan, training under Japanese wrestling legend Chigusa Nagayo. Influenced by the likes of Lita and Jeff Hardy, Michelle is bringing her acrobatic style to the Mae Young Classic.

Photo: WWE

RHEA RIPLEY
Formerly Known As: Demi Bennett
Age: 20
From: Adelaide, Australia
Finisher: Solefood (Inverted Stomp Facebreaker)

Rhea Ripley is the youngest woman in the Mae Young Classic, but she is certainly no novice when it comes to competing in the squared-circle. She started training at 15-years-old for Australian promotion Riot City Wrestling, where she went on to become a two-time RCW Women’s Champion. When she was told she was too young to work in the U.S., Ripley instead traveled to Japan to further hone her skills. A former high school soccer player, her kicking game is sure to give her Antipodean neighbor Dakota Kai a run for her money.

After attending a WWE tryout in Melbourne last December, Ripley was eventually signed to a developmental contract earlier this year, becoming the latest Aussie star to join the company. An Aussie women’s faction made up of a disgruntled Emma, Billie Kay, Peyton Royce and a debuting Rhea Ripley needs to happen (as long as WWE creative don’t call them The Shielas). Ripley will make her WWE TV debut in the Mae Young Classic.

Photo: WWE

SAGE BECKETT
Formerly Known As: Rosie Lottalove/Andrea
Age: 32
From: Tampa, FL
Finisher: Two-handed Chokeslam

Sage Beckett, a ruthless ten-year veteran of the ring wars, almost never made it to WWE. Similar to Renee Michelle, Beckett’s in-ring career started after attending a TNA show while she was working at Universal Studios in Florida. From there she began training with decorated tag team The Dudley Boys at their Team 3D Academy and made her in-ring debut in 2007. Beckett quickly proved to be a mighty force on the independent circuit, and even had a short stint in TNA in 2010, going by the name Rosie Lottalove, which yes, sounds like the name of a softcore porn star (that’s wrestling for you).

However, in 2012, coming off a year spent in Japan, Beckett announced her retirement from the sport due to injuries. She found out she has a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome and spent her time away from the ring researching ways to transform her body. Two years later, she came back, now 130 pounds lighter and more focused than ever before. Beckett’s decision to return paid off big time when she officially signed with WWE in January 2017.

Photo: WWE

SANTANA GARRETT
Formerly Known As: Brittany
Age: 29
From: Ocala, FL
Finisher: Shining Star Press

What do Santana Garrett and WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle have in common? No, they’re not both related to Jason Jordan, but they are both recipients of the Cauliflower Alley Club’s Future Legend Award. It’s easy to see why there is so much hype behind Garrett, who adapted her gymnastics and cheerleading background into a formidable in-ring skillset. Trained by the likes of Scott Hall and Larry Zybsko, Garrett’s Wonder Woman looks and tenacity made her a huge fan favorite on the independent scene, where she has won multiple championships. She’s had three televised matches on NXT despite not being signed to WWE, and here’s hoping her performance in the Mae Young Classic will make her a permanent fixture in the company.

Photo: WWE

SARAH LOGAN
Formerly Known As: Crazy Mary Dobson
Age: 23
From: Louisville, KY
Finisher: Split-legged Moonsault

Sarah Logan signed with WWE in October 2016 and has appeared sporadically on NXT in various guises, but you can’t help feeling she is being underutilized. Logan has been wrestling for six years, battling across the U.S., Europe and Japan, where she trained with former WWE Light Heavyweight Champion Taka Michinoku at the Kaientai Dojo. Competing under the name Crazy Mary Dobson, she grabbed attention due to her unhinged and barbaric matches. But with Nikki Cross playing a similar manic character on NXT, Logan’s been left in a storyline limbo. Hopefully the Mae Young Classic will allow this former Olympic weightlifter to remind people what they’re missing.

Photo: WWE

SERENA DEEB
Age: 31
From: Fairfax, VA
Finisher: Spear

Serena Deeb is the only woman in the tournament who knows what it’s like to compete under the bright lights of WWE (even if it was only one televised match). Deeb was a member of the Smackdown roster in 2010, where she shaved her head and joined CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society faction. The SES was one of WWE’s biggest missed opportunities; misguided booking effectively killed the angle before it truly reached its potential. The group quickly disbanded, and by the end of August 2010, Deeb had been released from her contract.

However, the former six-time Ohio Valley Wrestling Women’s Champion never lost her passion for wrestling; she continued honing her craft around the world for promotions such as Ring of Honor, TNA, Shimmer, and Shine. Her inclusion in the Mae Young Classic should be a similar role to the one Brian Kendrick played in last year’s Cruiserweight Classic, the wily veteran returning for one last chance at glory.

Photo: WWE

SHAYNA BASZLER
Age: 37
From: Sioux Falls, SD
Finisher: Kirifuda Driver

Shayna Baszler might be relatively new to pro-wrestling, but she is a familiar face to MMA fans, as one of the sport’s Four Horsewomen alongside Ronda Rousey, Marina Shafir, and Jessamyn Duke. With a record of 15 wins and 10 losses, with 14 wins by submission, Baszler is considered one of the pioneers of women’s MMA. Transitioning from the octagon to the squared-circle, “The Queen of Spades” has been perfecting her craft in the U.S. and Japan, facing off against fellow tournament competitors such as Kairi Sane, Mia Yim, and Kay Lee Ray. Trained by former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett, Baszler is set to bring her catch wrestling style to the Mae Young Classic.

Photo: WWE

TAYNARA CONTI
Age: 22
From: Rio de Janiero, Brazil
Finisher: Unknown

Taynara Conti is another new face who joined WWE last October with zero pro-wrestling experience. But her lack of in-ring work doesn’t mean we should sleep on Conti’s potential. At just 22 years old and a skilled martial artist, holding a Black Belt in Judo and a Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Conti is the kind of performer who will benefit massively from this tournament. She’s been wrestling on NXT live events since April of this year and appeared on NXT TV in a No. 1 Contenders Battle Royal back in May. The Mae Young Classic will provide a glimpse of what Conti has picked up in that short time.

Photo: WWE

TESSA BLANCHARD
Age: 22
From: Charlotte, NC
Finisher: Slingshot Belly-to-Back Suplex

Tessa Blanchard comes from wrestling royalty, the daughter of Four Horseman legend Tully Blanchard, the granddaughter of the late Joe Blanchard, and also the stepdaughter of Magnum TA. With that kind of lineage, Tessa was destined to end up in the squared-circle, but she hasn’t relied on her family’s history to gain success. After watching her father’s 2012 WWE Hall of Fame induction speech, Tessa decided to pursue a career in wrestling and quickly established her identity in promotions such as Shimmer, Stardom, and Shine, where she is a former Tag Team Champion. While not officially under contract with WWE, Tessa has frequently appeared on NXT TV and will be looking to cement her legacy in the Mae Young Classic.

Photo: WWE

TONI STORM
Age: 21
From: Gold Coast, Australia
Finisher: Strong Zero

It’s time to tip your tiny top hat to Toni Storm, one of the brightest prospects in all of pro-wrestling. At 21-years-old, Storm is already a near eight-year veteran, having started grappling at just 14 when she moved to Liverpool, England to live with her grandmother. Born in Auckland, New Zealand, she spent extensive time in Australia and the UK plying her craft and winning multiple championships in promotions such as All Action Wrestling, Impact Pro Wrestling Australia, and Pro Wrestling Alliance Queensland. She recently became PROGRESS Wrestling’s first-ever Women’s Champion.

With the style of an 80s glam-metal superstar and the striking ability of a Japanese dojo master, Storm has become one of the most popular performers in the wrestling world. In 2016 she started working in Japan, signing with World Wonder Ring Stardom where she is the current SWA World Champion. Storm is now set to light up the Mae Young Classic with her captivating combination of British technical grappling, Japanese strong style, and surprise high-flying offense.

Photo: WWE

VANESSA BORNE
Formerly Known As: Danielle
Age: 24
From: Scottsdale, AZ
Finisher: Spinning Leg Hook Belly-to-Back Suplex

Vanessa Borne is another pro-wrestling newcomer, but this former NFL cheerleader is no stranger to the spotlight, having performed at the Super Bowl during her tenure with the Arizona Cardinals. Before embarking on a wrestling career, Borne worked as a dancer for the Phoenix Suns and a presenter for Fox Sports Arizona. In 2015 she started training under the somewhat unusual pairing of former WWE superstars Gangrel and Rikishi at Knokx Pro Entertainment. It wasn’t long after her in-ring debut that she signed a developmental contract with WWE, where she wrestles for the NXT brand and defeated Jayme Hachey in a televised Mae Young Classic qualifier match.

Photo: WWE

XIA LI
Age: Unknown
From: Chong Qing, China
Finisher: Unknown

In September 2016, WWE signed their first batch of Chinese athletes to train at the WWE Performance Center, among them was Xia Li, a decorated martial artist. While the Mae Young Classic will be Li’s official in-ring debut, she is not a newcomer to combat sports. She’s achieved first-place finishes in various sporting events, including the Second World Traditional Chinese Wushu Championship, Nike Challenge Competition, and First China Throw Down: Battle on the Bund (which sounds like the best Jackie Chan movie never made). The upcoming tournament will give us our first look at this unknown quantity.

Photo: WWE

ZEDA
Age: Unknown
From: Richmond, VA (Representing China)
Finisher: Unknown

The final participant in the tournament, Zeda, is also representing China, although she’s originally from Richmond, Virginia. Like many of her fellow competitors, Zeda comes with a varied set of skills, including a background in acting, modeling, singing, and MMA. After learning to fight at Black House MMA, the same facility where UFC legend Anderson Silva spars, and training under current WWE cruiserweight superstar Brian Kendrick, Zeda signed with WWE in January 2017. She debuted for the NXT brand on June 30 and is another new face who will be hoping to be remembered when the Mae Young Classic is all said and done.

Head over to WWE.com to check out the official bracket for the Mae Young Classic which was first unveiled on the Bracketology special that streamed exclusively on the WWE Network.

The first four episodes of the single-elimination tournament will be available on the WWE Network starting Monday, Aug. 28. Episodes 5-8 will be available on demand on Monday, Sept. 4. The final match will stream live from Las Vegas on Tuesday, Sept. 12, at 10 p.m. ET.

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