WWE: A career-defining victory still eludes Asuka on the main roster

WWE, Asuka (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)
WWE, Asuka (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images) /

Although it has been a momentous year for Asuka, WWE still seems to have some familiar struggles putting her interesting storylines.

The Empress of Tomorrow has undeniably been one of the most valuable members of the roster in 2020. Her hysterical character work, partnership with Kairi Sane, and exceptional matches have made her one of the highlights of WWE programming in an unorthodox era of shows with no live crowds. The company has seemingly rewarded Asuka for this strong run with more historic accolades to add to her impressive resume.

In May, the first women’s Royal Rumble winner climbed the ladder on top of the WWE Global Headquarters as the fourth woman to earn the mantle of Ms. Money in the Bank. As a result, she unwittingly became Becky Lynch‘s successor for the Raw women’s title and the second grand slam champion. Asuka is also a sole survivor and over the weekend, she won the women’s tag titles for a second time with Charlotte Flair.

With all that considered, it would be ludicrous to claim the most recent dual champion hasn’t had a successful stint with WWE. She has made history on more than one occasion and the company will inevitably induct the Japanese star into its Hall of Fame. However, she has arguably yet to achieve success as a singles star outside of NXT that isn’t a footnote to someone else’s story.

This trend goes all the way back to her win in the inaugural women’s Royal Rumble match in 2018. At the event, Ronda Rousey‘s debut overshadowed her landmark victory as the biggest headline of the night. In December of the same year, Asuka defeated Lynch and Flair in the first-ever women’s TLC match to win the SmackDown Women’s Championship, her first taste of singles gold on the main roster. But she only ascended the ladder to dethrone The Man because Rousey interfered.

This made it seem like The Empress of Tomorrow simply benefitted from what would transition into a rivalry that later headlined WrestleMania 35. To add insult to injury, Flair infamously beat her for the title weeks before The Showcase of the Immortals, leaving Asuka to languish on the kick-off show.

So, it was hard not to be tentative but excited about her reign as Raw women’s champion. After all, her stint with the belt started as an aside to a more noteworthy scenario again as Lynch vacated the title to go on maternity leave. Yes, it was a poignant moment, which clearly wasn’t scripted, but it made Asuka appear to be a placeholder as opposed to someone who beat the best to earn her spot atop of the division. Still, there was hope that this moment would lead to a better tenure than her time with the SmackDown counterpart.

This was the chance to hand the third women’s triple crown champion baton and let her flourish as the new face of the division on the red brand. Unfortunately, her 198 combined days as its flagbearer have been a real mixed bag. Asuka has delivered some stellar matches when given a formidable opponent like Sasha Banks, but it’s easy to forget she’s the champion at times because she hasn’t been a part of a memorable storyline of her own all year.

Asuka dropped the belt as a plot point in Banks and Bayley‘s “two-woman power trip” and eventual feud. Now, she’s seemingly along for the ride as Flair’s newfound friend as one-half of the WWE women’s tag team champions.

It’s telling that The Queen pinned Shayna Baszler to capture the titles in her first match, isn’t it? It’s the same pattern, right? Asuka is a dual champion but she didn’t gain this accolade on her own merits. No, it was in service of Charlotte’s triumphant comeback and vengeance on Nia Jax, who put her on the shelf in June.

The Empress of Tomorrow is a staple at WWE TLC. She is undefeated at the event where she debuted in 2017. Asuka has competed in the main event of the titular pay-per-view twice and she has won championship gold on the card twice. That sounds good on the surface but it feels less significant under a microscope because many of her achievements come off as happenstance. This leaves fans in a position similar to the end of 2018, hoping they will finally get a proper angle that will showcase Asuka as a competent champion.

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This could very well lead to a rematch between Asuka and Flair and hopefully, a definitive win over her longtime rival. At this point, this feels like fool’s gold though because we’ve been here before. Of course, some would argue that the longest-reigning NXT women’s champion doesn’t need to prove anything because she has already accomplished more than most of her contemporaries. But a significant win on her own terms continues to elude her and it will continue to hang over her heading into 2021.