Why WWE was not ready for Asuka
On the 28th January 2018, Asuka’s career path was clear. The Japanese superstar had just won the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble match, and her three-year journey to the Women’s Championship was on the horizon at the biggest show of the year, WrestleMania.
However, the plan did not come to pass. On the 8th April at WrestleMania 34, Asuka lost for the first time ever in WWE to Smackdown Women’s Champion, Charlotte Flair, by submission no less.
Asuka’s loss ended her 914-day undefeated streak. The WWE fanbase was shocked. Everyone expected Asuka to win. It was illogical to think she wouldn’t.
Why would the new star, high on momentum, in the midst of an unprecedented three-year unbeaten streak lose on what was supposed to be her career coming out party?
Why indeed. There is still no reasonable answer as to why this result happened. Asuka’s opponent, Flair was already an established act, a second generation wrestler, daughter to the greatest pro-wrestler of all time, five-time Women’s Champion and a veteran of pay per view main events. Flair gained little from the victory except another string to her bow. Asuka however, lost so much more.
This was a situation that could have been salvaged. With Asuka’s streak over, common sense would dictate that WWE’s creative team would focus on adding emotional depth to her character, now that the main reason for her appeal had been extinguished.
Worryingly, the chances of that happening appeared to be somewhat slimmer when Asuka did not even appear on the post-WrestleMania Smackdown. She had been forgotten.
When Asuka did return to TV, it was in a series of lame segments and matches with newly promoted NXT graduates, the Austrailian double act, the IIconics, which did little to restore her star power.
Asuka’s opportunity for redemption came at the Money in the Bank event, wherein she was granted another title opportunity against new Women’s Champion, Carmella. In another baffling booking decision which further sought to damage Asuka’s aura, the limited performer Carmella had defeated Flair two nights after WrestleMania to win the title by cashing in her Money in the Bank contract, rendering Flair’s WrestleMania win even more nonsensical.
If WWE were hell-bent on giving Carmella the championship, which it evidently was, it would have surely made more sense for her to cash in her Money in the Bank briefcase on Asuka instead.
It could have occurred at WrestleMania itself. The story could have been Asuka finally achieving her dream of becoming champion in a long and grueling match up with WWE’s premier female wrestler in Flair, only for Carmella to sucker-punch her and steal the title.
Asuka’s emotional reaction to her ruined coronation could have begun a redemption storyline of real depth wherein the Japanese superstar would work her way back up the ranks to regain the Championship that was cruelly snatched from her.
In this scenario, not one of the three female performers in the storyline would have been damaged and Asuka and Carmella would have in fact been enhanced.
In the real booking world, Charlotte’s aura has been damaged by two consecutive defeats to the vastly inferior Carmella and Carmella herself has been exposed by a now lengthy run as champion as WWE are reluctant to let her wrestle on TV and when she does, her matches fall apart.
The most worrying plight of all though belongs to Asuka, whose invincible character a matter of months ago boasted a three-year winning streak finds herself losing week after week to inferior wrestlers and inserted into comedy inter-gender matches with James Ellsworth.
During her undefeated streak, Asuka used to say none of her fellow female performers were ready for Asuka. However, the truth is that WWE was not ready for Asuka.
The company had no idea how to market her without the streak and seemingly have great difficulty in promoting a performer who speaks little English. The writing team has similarly struggled to book fellow Japanese star, the legendary Shinsuke Nakamura effectively, presumably for the same reason.
Asuka is no longer a performer that fans can believe in or rally behind. It will take serious surgery for her to ever regain her pre-WrestleMania momentum. As an immensely talented wrestler who should be one of the star attractions of the women’s division for years to come, the sad fact is that she will likely be better off wrestling elsewhere.
Considering she works for the most successful wrestling promotion in the world, that is a terrible dereliction of duty by her employers.