Asuka established herself as one of the greatest Superstars in NXT history during her two years with WWE’s developmental brand. The longest-reigning NXT Women’s champion of all time, she held the title for 522 days and joined the main roster in October 2017 having gone through the NXT system without losing via pinfall or submission.
“The Empress of Tomorrow” has since had some huge career-defining moments as part of the Raw and SmackDown Live rosters, notably when she won the first women’s Royal Rumble in January 2018, while she also had a featured match at WrestleMania 34 against Charlotte Flair.
This week, however, the WWE Universe has started a #JusticeForAsuka hashtag on social media after she lost the SmackDown Women’s Championship in an impromptu match against Flair on SmackDown Live, and many fans are calling for WWE to give her more of a spotlight on television.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five storyline examples where the Japanese star has clearly not been treated as a priority by WWE.
#5 TLC 2017 debut
Even though TLC 2017 only took place 17 months ago, the WWE landscape, specifically the pay-per-view model, was very different then to what we see today.
The Raw-exclusive event is best remembered for the illnesses of Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns, which forced WWE to bring in AJ Styles and Kurt Angle at the last minute, but it is also notable because the show began with Asuka making her main-roster debut against Emma.
At the time, the former NXT Women’s champion had been undefeated in almost two years, while Emma frequently lost matches in under five minutes on Raw and she was often overshadowed by the likes of Sasha Banks, Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss. Essentially, even though fans could see how talented Emma was, there was no way her character stood a chance against the mighty Asuka.
That is why it was so surprising when the Aussie managed to last 9 minutes and 25 seconds in the match at TLC, far longer than she had lasted against the rest of the women’s division in previous months. If WWE wanted “The Empress of Tomorrow” to make a huge statement on her debut, showing exactly why she had been such an unstoppable force in NXT, this was the wrong way to go about it. Instantly, she felt like just another woman on the roster.
#4 Overshadowed at the Royal Rumble
The biggest accomplishment of Asuka’s WWE career so far undoubtedly came at the 2018 Royal Rumble when she outlasted 29 other Superstars to win the inaugural women’s Rumble match.
Following her victory, she was all set to choose whether she wanted to challenge for Alexa Bliss’ Raw Women’s Championship or Charlotte Flair’s SmackDown Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 34. However, she was interrupted by Ronda Rousey, who made her way to the ring and pointed to the ‘Mania sign.
Asuka, whose huge moment was completely overshadowed, refused a handshake from “The Baddest Woman on the Planet” and it looked as though WWE could build towards a match between the two submission specialists in the not-too-distant future.
In hindsight, given that the match has still not happened 14 months later, it proved to be just another moment where somebody else was treated as a priority instead of Asuka.
#3 The Carmella title feud
Following the end of Asuka’s 914-day undefeated streak at the hands of Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania 34, she re-entered the SmackDown Women’s Championship picture in the summer of 2018 to feud with Carmella.
The storyline appeared to be all set up for the Japanese star to win her first main-roster title, especially as she had just failed to capture the blue brand’s Women’s Championship from Flair at WWE’s biggest show of the year, but it turned out that the three-month rivalry was less about Asuka and more about her opponent.
In the end, “The Empress of Tomorrow” lost back-to-back PPV title matches, both times due to interference from James Ellsworth, and the decreasing aura she still had following her defeat to Flair was completely gone after the Carmella feud.
For the four months that followed those PPV losses, the once-unstoppable Asuka was largely forgotten on SmackDown Live and she even lost a tag match against The IIconics, albeit in their home country of Australia, at Super Show-Down.
#2 SmackDown Women’s Championship reign
Asuka held the SmackDown Women’s Championship high above her head after winning the title in a TLC Triple Threat match against Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair at the TLC pay-per-view in December 2018.
Although the match was largely about her opponents, as Ronda Rousey interfered to further her storyline with Lynch and Flair before WrestleMania 35, it was still a special moment when “The Empress of Tomorrow” won her first title since joining WWE’s main roster.
However, with the exception of her victory over Lynch at the Royal Rumble, it has felt like WWE has treated the former NXT star like just another member of the women’s division ever since she became SmackDown Women’s champion.
For large spells of her three-month reign as champion, she was the fifth-most important woman on SmackDown Live, with Lynch, Flair, Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose often featuring more prominently on Tuesday nights, and her title defences against Naomi (SmackDown Live) and Rose (Fastlane) hardly had any build-up.
#1 WrestleMania 35 status
WWE announced last week that a Fatal 4-Way match between Carmella, Naomi, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville would take place on the March 26 episode of SmackDown Live, with the winner going on to challenge Asuka for the SmackDown Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 35.
However, there was no mention of the 4-Way match during the broadcast and WWE instead decided to hand Charlotte Flair a SmackDown Women’s Championship match, which she won, against Asuka.
Despite the WWE Universe’s anger at the outcome, Flair’s title win goes along with her ‘opportunity’ storyline and adds some extra intrigue heading into her WrestleMania 35 main event against Ronda Rousey and Becky Lynch.
As for Asuka, she has been confirmed for the WrestleMania 35 Women’s Battle Royal and will no longer have a featured match at the show, proving once again that she is not treated as a priority on WWE’s main roster.