NXT UK superstar Toni Storm faced Io Shirai in a barnstorming match in the final of the 2018 Mae Young Classic at WWE Evolution last night.
After eight weeks of action-packed episodes, the 32 competitors in WWE’s annual women’s tournament were reduced to just two contenders.
These finalists went head-to-head at WWE’s first all-women’s pay-per-view, held at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in New York City.
At only 23-years-old, Australia’s Storm has spent the last nine years winning championships all around the UK and Japan and exclusively revealed to Mirror Sport that she would be part of this year’s competition.
British wrestling fans have long been watching her style evolve into the fantastic athlete we see before us today, after she moved to Liverpool as a teen to pursue her grappling dreams.
The adopted Brit had an incredibly tough journey through to final. In what was her second appearance in the Mae Young Classic tournament, she faced a viable tournament winner in each round.
Her long term PROGRESS rival Jinny, the monstrous Hiroyo Matsumoto, IMPACT Wrestling mainstay Mia Yim and finally the ultimate veteran Meiko Satomura, all fell to the Storm Zero.
In her native Japan, no female wrestler is more well known or respected than 28-year-old Io Shirai. After accomplishing everything possible in her home country (and after injury prevented her inclusion in last year’s tournament) it was time for Io to show the world what she was made of.
Unlike her final opponent, Shirai found her way to Evolution rather easily. She ploughed through Xia Brookside, Zeuxis and Deonna Purrazzo, looking dominant throughout.
The only woman who was able to show any weaknesses of Io was (this writer’s favourite competitor) another NXT UK talent Rhea Ripley, but even she eventually fell to the Asai Moonsault.
Both finalists has been very respectful of each other in the run up to the match, and we had a pure battle of skill and heart ahead of us. Placed in the middle of the Evolution card, the pair were ready to steal the show.
The match began at a fast speed, with Io attempting to outpace her opponent. The momentum regularly shifted between the two finalists, with devastating manoeuvres being traded back and forth.
Springboarding off the ropes multiple times and hitting moonsaults in and out of the ring, Shirai showed why she is one of the greatest high flyers in the world today.
Toni was able to survive the aerial assault of her opponent, and hit multiple snap German suplexes – including one on the ring apron – and the Storm Zero, which Shirai just managed to kick out of.
After pulling her knees up to prevent an Asai Moonsault, and delivering a second Storm Zero – Toni became the 2018 Mae Young Classic winner.
Post-match she celebrated with Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and WWE Performance Center trainer Sara Amato.
As the dust settles on one of the greatest wrestling tournaments this writer has ever seen, one thing is clear – both Storm and Shirai should have huge roles in WWE’s women’s division for years to come.
Future championship gold is a near certainty for both of these worthy finalists, and after the success of Evolution, there has never been a better time for women’s wrestling.
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