THE much-hyped Mae Young Classic – a 32-women tournament that’s the first of its kind in WWE – begins tonight on the WWE Network.
The tournament features talent from across the globe, competing for a spot in the grand final – which will air live from Las Vegas on September 12.
Scottish wrestlers Piper Niven and Kay Lee Ray are two of the biggest names in the tournament – both key names in the current British wrestling boom.
Sun Sport spoke with both stars to find out why they’re ones-to-watch in this landmark event for women’s wrestling action.
The 26-year-old powerhouse has wrestled across Japan, the US, and Europe – and made her name wrestling under the name Viper here in the UK.
From Ayrshire, the “Vixen of Violence” was Glasgow-based promotion Insane Championship Wrestling’s first ever Women’s Champion.
There was huge buzz amongst UK fans when she was added to the Mae Young Classic. She faces off against US wrestler Santana Garrett in the first round.
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With a look and style unlike any other female superstar in WWE, she could go far in the tournament – and bring something completely different to WWE rings.
Big moves to looks out for include a version of the Vader Bomb, a huge cross-body block, and the Michinoku Driver.
On why fans should take notice of her:
“A lot of fans get a surprise when they see me – I’m a big girl.
“A lot of time in wrestling big women are depicted as angry, darker character, but I like to be big, blonde, bubbly and smiley.
“I’m a powerhouse and quite impactful. But I’m quite unique because I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone of my size doing the moves that I do.
“A lot of my moves are about using my bodyweight against an opponent but at the same time being agile and technical.
On why the current UK boom is a hotbed for women’s wrestling:
“When I started at my wrestling school there was only one other girl. Now, you go to schools across the UK and there are loads of girls.
“And it’s not just more popular, but the standard is improving all the time.
“This isn’t just a resurgence for the scene British wrestling but for women’s wrestling too – and particularly in Scotland, I think you’ll find.
“We’ve got some of the greatest women’s wrestling in the world.”
On how competing in the Mae Young Classic almost never happened:
“I was part of the World of Sport revival on ITV. Though I’d heard about the Mae Young Classic, I didn’t know anything for sure.
“So when the World of Sport contract came around it seemed silly to turn it down on the whim that I might hear something from WWE later.
“I thought I’d lost my chance with the Mae Young Classic and just accepted that fate and got on with it. So when World of Sport fell through I was devastated.
“Not just because it was a project that so many people worked hard and were excited about, but because also I thought I’d lost out on everything and missed two boats.
“But when the news came about that World of Sport wasn’t going ahead, WWE got in touch and asked if I’d be available to do it.”
On the potential of working full-time with WWE:
“That’s definitely the goal, but I’m having the time of my life travelling the world – and doing it with my friends. There aren’t many professions where you get to do that.
“If I don’t manage to do something more with WWE right now I’m happy with what I’m doing. But WWE is the ultimate goal – that’s the ultimate goal for every wrestler.”
Kay Lee Ray
The 25-year-old from Glasgow is a nine-year veteran and another former ICW champ – reigning for an impressive 251 days before dropping the women’s title last month.
Her signature move is the Gory Bomb – an elevated reverse facebuster (think a outward-facing piggy back which drops the opponent face-first onto the mat).
Kay Lee has wrestler around the world, competing in the US and Japan – but is a prominent part of the UK’s red-hot indie scene and the current WCPW Women’s Champion.
Dubbed the “Queen of Hardcore”, she appeared in NXT in 2015 battling Nia Jax – and now faces Mexico’s Princesa Sugehit in the first round of the Mae Young Classic.
On why she stands out from other competitors:
“I’m a high flyer, but a wee bit of a brawler, and a wee bit hardcore.
“What know about wrestling and see all the time… I like to challenge that. So you might think I’m a bit different, or that you haven’t seen what I do it before.
“What we all do in our individual ways is entertain people. That is wrestling – it’s entertainment.
“But I like to push that a little bit. So hopefully when you see the tournament, you’ll remember me.”
On being a strong female figure in wrestling:
“I feel like you have to lead by example. I’ve just taken examples from strong female role models and tried to put that into my own style.
“If a girl sees wrestling and thinks. ‘I want to be a wrestler and I want to do this for the rest of my life’, it’s incredible that we can pass that on to someone else.”
On how she got into wrestling:
“My story’s a bit different. Most people in wrestling grew up watching wrestling and it’s always been a dream for them. But I never really watched it growing up.
“It was actually my boyfriend, when I was 15 – the boyfriend I’m still with now [ICW wrestler Stevie Boy] – who said, ‘I’m training to be a wrestler’. I thought that was crazy.
“He took me to my first show and then showed me my first WWE match – Shawn Michaels v British Bulldog from King of the Ring – and from that night on I was hooked.
“Since that moment it’s consumed both of our lives. We continue to push each other.”
On competing in NXT in 2015 and if it was a tryout:
“I was out in Florida and it was a case of right place, right time. They needed someone to go up against Nia Jax, so they asked me.
“Any opportunity to go out in front of WWE is an opportunity to let them see what you’ve got and what you can do.
“Whether it was really a tryout match or not, it would be silly not to think of it like that.
“Some of the best wrestlers in the world had their eyes on me that day, so I went out there and gave it my all.”
On what it meant being invited to compete in the Mae Young Classic:
“Honestly, it meant to the world – just to be asked to be a part of it. It was such an honour because this is such a big stage for women’s wrestling.
“We got chance to go to the Performance Center and see what it was like – that in itself was an experience. There’s so much to take in.
“Seeing Triple H at the tournament and him thanking me was just so surreal. Some of the advice I got there I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”
The WWE Mae Young Classic starts tonight on the WWE Network. Episodes 5-8 will be available September 4 and the final match streams live Tuesday September 12.