LAS VEGAS -- Kairi Sane defeated Shayna Baszler in the finals of the WWE's inaugural Mae Young Classic on Tuesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Sane, 28, a rising Japanese star and a top free-agent recruit who signed with WWE earlier this year, hit her signature flying elbow drop on Baszler to secure a pinfall victory after a physically intense match. The win capped off a tournament run that saw her survive a field of 32 women on the way to the Mae Young Classic title.
Sane, all 5-foot-1 of her frame, absorbed damage from Baszler throughout the match, twice failing to follow through with the top-rope flying elbow before fighting Baszler off and hitting several signature moves, including a vicious double stomp as Baszler hung suspended from the turnbuckle.
Baszler dodged one of the flying-elbow attempts by locking Sane into her own finishing submission, a rear naked choke, only for Sane to become the first woman in the entire tournament to break the hold.
Sane got past Tessa Blanchard in the first round and followed that up with victories over Bianca Belair, Dakota Kai and Toni Storm to reach the finals. Baszler beat Zeda, Mia Yim, Candice LeRae and, finally, a wrestling mentor of hers in Mercedes Martinez in the semifinals before falling just shy.
"[Kairi Sane]'s that little dog in the fight that just won't go down," Paul "Triple H" Levesque, executive vice president of talent, live events and creative for WWE, told ESPN. "She leaves it all out there. You can feel her passion when she's in the ring.
"Shayna's a tough competitor," Levesque continued. "Some of the shots she hit her with... there was a kick to the side of her head where I thought, 'I'm glad that isn't me.' That's what people feel from her -- that never-say-die attitude and that fighting spirit."
As the inaugural Mae Young Classic winner, Sane has also gained the right to challenge for the currently vacant NXT women's championship.
"[I'm] very excited that she's the first champion, and now the question is 'What's next for her?' I can tell you what's next for her," continued Levesque. "On Nov. 18 at the Toyota Center at the next NXT TakeOver, Kairi will be fighting to determine a new NXT women's champion."
The inaugural Mae Young Classic brought together 32 women from around the world, a combination of WWE-contracted stars and top independent talent. Over the course of two days of competition at Full Sail University, they competed in a single-elimination tournament until just two women remained -- Sane and Baszler.