Asuka and I go way back.
Not really, of course. But as a fan of Dave Prazak’s Shimmer promotion from its inception, I was familiar with her from when she wrestled there as Kana. That led me to her work in Japan. That’s not only violently entertaining, scary and sexy, but it’s also a great way to introduce yourself to the modern joshi greats, and see how another culture does intergender wrestling.
NXT was my exclusive beat until a year or so ago. As you may recall, Asuka was kind of a big deal for the brand. WWE promoted her as having a longer undefeated streak than Goldberg’s legendary WCW one from the Monday Night War. She ended the Four Horsewomen era by taking the women’s title from Bayley. Asuka held that belt for more than 500 days, and never lost it, instead vacating it due to an injury then moving to Raw.
A lot has been written about her time on the red and blue brand. The streak was ended by Charlotte Flair. Asuka was one of many women who were de-emphasized while Ronda Rousey was around. A pairing with Kairi Sane & Paige seemed at first to be another way to keep her busy on the undercard, but a heel turn got Kabuki Warriors over in a big way. She’s had her ups and downs there, for sure.
That’s all a long way to establish my credentials before I say that the version of Asuka we’re getting heading into Royal Rumble 2020 might be the best she’s ever been. It’s certainly my favorite.
As a mist-spewing villain, The Empress of Tomorrow has merged the best elements of all her past phases. She’s as otherworldly unsettling as she was as a psycho clown in Japan, and as condescendingly arrogant as she ever was in NXT. Asuka comes across as more confident than ever. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t feel forced at all. Maybe she has a more support from management? Maybe she’s been in the WWE system long enough (and knows she has options should she choose to leave it) that she’s able to give the gimmick her all without worrying about whether everyone backstage “gets it”?
No matter why, it’s all working. The language barrier is still there, but it almost doesn’t matter - and at times serves her well. She’s such a charismatic presence, your eyes tend to find her whenever she’s on screen. Time watching her makes it that much easier to understand the meaning behind her words and gestures. Not that you need much help for moments like this (video queued up to her epic entrance):
That seems like someone who would get under your skin, no? You’d want to punch them in the neck.
When they showed up to a meeting, repeatedly called you “idiot” (baka), snatch the contract away from you before you sign it, then spit in your eyes... that would probably get in your head and make you wonder if you’d be able to beat them and finally put them in your rear view. No?
Last week, I praised Becky Lynch for reaffirming why fans got behind her in the second half of 2018. But I didn’t praise Asuka enough in the process.
More than Ronda or Charlotte, the Empress is the perfect person for The Man to work opposite. You can’t rattle her with tough talk or a well-honed tweet. Hell, even that punch in the neck didn’t change up Asuka’s approach one bit.
No wonder Lynch isn’t sure she can beat Asuka, because we’re not sure she can beat Asuka.
Like Dusty Rhodes was more compelling when he was getting screwed by Ric Flair, and Hulk Hogan was never better than when he was dealing with Roddy Piper, Becky is just more interesting when she’s trying to figure out Asuka.
That’s a credit to two performers at the peak of their powers. And a reason why if WWE is smart, they’ll figure out how to extend this program for months, or (on and off) years to come.
If they don’t, they’re baka.