Exclusive: Kairi Sane Ready to Further Women's Revolution After Mae Young Win

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterSeptember 16, 2017

Credit: WWE.com

To watch Kairi Sane wrestle is to witness poetry.  

The exuberant warrior in white acts as a conduit of emotions between the ropes. She erupts in agony. She emits fury. It all feels like a violent form of literature.

And on Tuesday night, the crowd inside the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas saw that all up close as Sane become the winner of the inaugural Mae Young Classic by defeating former UFC fighter Shayna Baszler in the final.

Sane's victory came by way of nailing Baszler with the masterpiece of a diving elbow drop that is her signature move. When she leaps from the top rope to deliver that artful blow, her body curls in the air, her boots point up to the sky and she juts out her elbow like an arrow ready to burst from a bow.

And this time, the move landed her a career-defining victory.

"When the fans started chanting 'One! Two! Three!' and it was the end, I will never forget that moment," Sane told Bleacher Report through a translator.

The Pirate Princess, long a star for Japan's World Wonder Ring Stardom promotion, has made her way to the U.S. and to WWE, poised to be a keystone in the continuing rise of women's wrestling.

She kicked off that journey with five memorable wins in the Mae Young Classic, a historic showcase event for women. The last of which came against a tattooed bruiser, as Sane and Baszler told a compelling story of power versus speed, size versus heart.

After their thriller of a final, the two gladiators embraced in the ring. Sane and Baszler shared a moment of mutual respect.

Mae Young Classic @MaeYoungClassic

THIS is what the #MaeYoungClassic is all about! @KairiSaneWWE @QoSBaszler @WWENetwork https://t.co/c5HvZi90Ig

"I respect her so much and I told her that," Sane said. "I told her I was happy and I appreciated this chance. Both of us told each other, 'Hopefully, we will have more chances, more competition in the future.'"

For Sane, the immediate future will see her compete for WWE's NXT brand, challenging for that developmental promotion's title at the next live TakeOver special. A new audience will soon see her emote in battle.

And the first Mae Young Classic winner will be looking to build on a series of strong performances in that 32-women tournament.


Reflecting on the Mae Young

Don't let her luminous smile or her frilly pirate-themed gear fool you.

Sane is an absolute badass. She fires off forearm strikes that could crack a door. She stomps on foes from the top rope as if she's trying to send them through the canvas.

Kairi Sane soars at Shayna Baszler.
Kairi Sane soars at Shayna Baszler.Credit: WWE.com

But she is far less intimidating as an interview subject than she is as an opponent. When talking about her run through the Mae Young Classic, Sane sounded more like a motivational speaker than a mauler. 

"I was the smallest among those 32 competitors," she said. "But I learned what's important is to believe in myself. And challenges are always accepted.

"If you don't give up your dreams, everyone has a chance. Always."

As the only competitor from Japan in the tournament, she carried some extra weight on her shoulders. She felt that she was representing her home country in each match. 

"There was pressure, but I was able to turn that pressure into something positive," Sane recalled.

The Pirate Princess was able to funnel that pressure and use it as fuel.

She was one of the stars of the event from the get-go. Her opening-round match against Tessa Blanchard buzzed. Sane went on to deliver standout performances against Bianca Belair, Dakota Kai, Toni Storm and finally Baszler.

One could argue Sane was involved in the best match of each round.

Before the bout against Baszler, a number of thoughts swirled in her head. "This was the first WWE Mae Young Classic," Sane said. "I was very proud of myself for being one of the finalists. And every competitor worldwide was very tough. I had to believe in myself. I was very much focused.

"I had to believe in myself. I was very much focused."


Still in Transition

Sane's NXT tenure doesn't just involve a change in wrestling style and the brightness of the spotlight. She's entering a whole new world.

The Mae Young Classic winner is coming from World Wonder Ring Stardom to WWE but also from Japan to the U.S.

Kairi Sane enters the ring before the Mae Young Classic final.
Kairi Sane enters the ring before the Mae Young Classic final.Photo courtesy of WWE

Being able to perform at a high level is no issue for her. Neither is producing in the ring against a set of unfamiliar opponents. Language has been the most difficult part of the adjustment to her new life.

Sane describes her English as "limited." The slow learning process has frustrated her.

"Carrying on conversations is very difficult," she said. "I can't convey what I want to in English very well. It's hard to understand what's being said to me."

Luckily, she speaks a universal language: pro wrestling.

"In wrestling, I find that feelings are more important than words," Sane explained. "What is important is what's in your heart and I can convey that in wrestling. I felt that throughout the Mae Young tournament. It's the spirit I have felt."

Kairi Sane in action against Dakota Kai.
Kairi Sane in action against Dakota Kai.Credit: WWE.com

You don't need to speak a lick of Japanese to understand the theater she performs.

When an opponent twists her limbs, her anguish is clear. When she's focused and fiery in the heat of battle, there's no translator needed. When she is overcome by the joy of triumph, that can resonate with anyone from anywhere.


What Lies Ahead

With her victory roses still pressed against her chest, Sane found out after the Mae Young Classic Final that another huge match awaits.

WWE announced that she will compete for the vacant NXT Women's Championship at TakeOver: Houston on Nov. 18. The news caught her off-guard.

"After the tournament, I was told of this chance to go to Houston," Sane said. "It was a surprise. It was such a nice surprise. I have to reset my mind now. One thing is over, and I have to focus on training for the next."

The amount of devastation Hurricane Harvey left it in its wake in Houston is not lost on Sane. She will enter that city with her mind on those affected by the storm.

"I heard about the hurricane and people there suffered from it badly," Sane said. "For the audience, I hope that I can give courage and vitality. I would love to help them if I can. I am sending all my good wishes."

Beyond that title bout, Sane promises to figure hugely into the movement in women's wrestling. WWE has never had more female talent on its roster. And the company has never showcased women like it has over the past two years.


"Women's Wrestling in @WWE has never been better, and it's only going to get stronger!" - @JRsBBQ during the #MaeYoungClassic Very true. https://t.co/dS6qC4PozW

Sane is thrilled to be a part of all that.

"The women's revolution, I respect that very much," Sane said. "I keep encouraging fans and, beyond that, women in general. I want to convey the message: women are strong. In the end, I want more people to know and recognize women's wrestling.

"I want to be a leader representing all strong women in the world."

As the winner of the first Mae Young Classic and potentially the next NXT women's champ, she is well on her way to doing that.

Sane's resume is fascinating. She was an Olympic hopeful in yachting, a literary scholar, a teacher and a wrestling champion several times over in Japan. Up next, she's set to be a flag-bearer for the women's revolution.

And she will mark her place in history with the point of her elbow.


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