In a year summed up by uncertainty, one thing you could guarantee was an entertaining effort from Asuka every time she appeared on TV. Asuka is my 2020 WWE Most Valuable Performer, and this is why:
A triumphant Charlotte Flair, who had missed a substantial part of 2020 due to injury, stood beside her new co-tag team champion, Asuka. Charlotte, microphone in-hand, referred to Asuka as “the heartbeat of this division.”
She’s right. While away, Charlotte was watching, just like the rest of us.
While Sasha Banks and Bayley were the more prominent figures of the women’s division in WWE this year, it was Asuka that operated as an on-screen swiss-army-knife. Do you need a threat to Becky Lynch? Asuka can do that. Do you need someone to energize your tag team division? She can do that too. Are you in need of a top babyface now that Lynch is gone? She can certainly do that. Do you want to make people laugh in this hellscape of a year? Asuka’s up for the task.
She *did* do that, she did every bit of it.
Could you believe there was a time in 2020 that wasn’t shrouded by a pandemic and subsequent economic and emotional crises? Crazy, I know. Asuka’s incredible year began in front of 40,000+ in attendance at the Royal Rumble, where she challenged Becky Lynch for her Raw Women’s Championship.
A rematch of their encounter at the same show in the previous year, Asuka and Lynch came into this match with all-new roles. This time, Asuka was a dastardly heel instead of the babyface champion, and Lynch was the champion with a lot yet to prove instead of a rising superstar.
Asuka started the year as a heel and one half of the tag team champion Kabuki Warriors with Kairi Sane; what a run they had together. For the first time in her WWE career, Asuka played the bad guy. As you read this, Asuka is likely the most conventional and prominent babyface in WWE’s women’s division. My point being that performed both roles exceptionally well this year. More on her run as a babyface later in this piece.
Becky was made walking into this match, but something ate at her no matter how much she had accomplished over the last calendar year, she had yet to defeat Asuka. This dynamic between them allowed Asuka to play to that insecurity Becky held. She had nothing to lose, and what we saw from her in this match was arrogance and a strongly held conviction that Becky had to beat her despite being the champion.
Asuka was calm, cool, and conniving, in this match and in the earliest part of 2020. One fateful night turned Asuka from heel to face with ease. The night after the Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View, in what was supposed to be a victory ceremony for Asuka’s retrieval of the MITB briefcase, she was surprised at the reveal of the contents of the case.
Becky Lynch announced to Asuka that by virtue of winning the Money in the Bank Ladder Match, she was now officially the Raw Women’s Champion. Lynch was relinquishing her championship to become a mother. Asuka’s reaction to that revelation helped create one of the most beautiful moments ever captured by WWE cameras.
In a year marked by so much emotional heartache, this moment was a celebration of life amid a global pandemic that had taken so much from so many. Asuka was left in the dark about Lynch’s pregnancy, meaning what we saw in this Raw opening segment was about as organic as any moment in WWE could be.
Asuka’s face lit up and her humanity shined, making her a babyface by default after months of evildoing and taking the easy way out. If WWE is in the business of “putting smiles on peoples’ faces,” I don’t see why Asuka wouldn’t be Employee of the Year. Asuka’s aggressively optimistic personality jumps off the screen any time she appears.
Asuka is very naturally funny and that trait was repeatedly utilized and it provided a boost to whatever broadcast she was a part of. It’s important to note her wrestling ability didn’t slip this year. At her best, Asuka was among the best of all in-ring performers. One thing is unquestionable, her versatility; babyface tag team, heel tag team, dominant/underdog babyface, she managed to do it all this year.
As an aside, her five best in-ring performances (in no particular order) were against Becky at the Rumble, alongside Kairi Sane vs. the Golden Role Models on the July 13th edition of Raw, only two weeks later on Raw against Sasha, her double-duty night at SummerSlam, and once again against Sasha at Survivor Series.
Notice the abundance of Sasha Banks and Bayley in my list. They too had a year worthy of praise, and I partially credit Asuka for elevating them to heights they hadn’t yet reached through their feud that endured an entire summer. Banks and Bayley had a great foil in Asuka; she was someone they can play off of and appear as both dominant competitors and hilarious cowards.
Their entertaining feud with Asuka surely gave WWE brass the confidence to continue to feature them in top spots beyond their conflicts with her. What Sasha and Bayley have done this year has been remarkable, and their years really took off when they met Asuka.
WWE also instilled their trust in Asuka to help Lana become a more respected and well-liked babyface, which I think was about as effective as it could be prior to Lana’s injury.
Asuka performed well in a multitude of roles in the span of 12 months, but her greatest accomplishment was what she accomplished with her enthusiasm and humor. She is my most valuable performer of 2020.