But the greatest wrestler in WWE NXT history isn’t Adam Cole or Sasha Banks. It isn’t Finn Balor or Johnny Gargano. It’s the Empress of Tomorrow, Asuka.
Every time I look back on her run in NXT, I simply cannot comprehend how brilliant it was. Remember Goldberg’s run in WCW and how he became such a huge, dominant star? Well, Asuka was undefeated for longer and, most importantly, could actually wrestle. She was undefeated for 914 days and held the NXT Women’s Title for 522 days, making her reign still stand as the longest in NXT history regardless of gender.
You’d think that a wrestler who was that dominant for that long would eventually be reviled. You’d think that WWE would have to turn that wrestler from a babyface to a heel to match the growing crowd resentment and the itch to get the title off her.
Except that never happened. WWE tried to turn Asuka heel during her rivalry with Ember Moon, but Asuka was so damn good that nobody booed her. They just couldn’t. How could you boo someone who is that charismatic and that incredible at professional wrestling? Instead, the cheered both Moon and Asuka during their feud, which included one of the greatest and most nail-biting matches in NXT history at TakeOver: Brooklyn III.
The Empress left the Black and Gold brand with her crown intact. She never lost the NXT Title and relinquished it as she received her flowers and ovation from the etenerally grateful NXT faithful, moving on to a first-ever Women’s Rumble win on the main roster. – and eventually world title and tag title reigns.
Asuka had it all in NXT. She was impossible not to root for, her presence on the screen was magnetic, and her strikes and submissions spoke for themselves. The Empress is arguably the second-best in-ring performer in NXT history behind Gargano. Her matches with Bayley, Mickie James, Nikki Cross, and Moon are among the brand’s best matches ever, and it’s so easy to take for granted how consistent she was at making the wrestler she beat look like money. Nobody who lost to Asuka was ever worse off.
Perhaps someone will come around in the next 10 years and replicate Gargano’s match quality, but I don’t think anyone will ever have the run Asuka did as an undefeated, dominant, consistent, and beloved champion.