NXT Hall of Fame: Inductee 1 – Asuka

(DISCLAIMER: BEFORE WE BEGIN I’VE USED PICTURES TO HELP MY BLOG TELL THIS AMAZING STORY. OBVIOUSLY THEY ALL BELONG TO THE WWE AS I’VE SAID BELOW EACH ONE. PLEASE DON’T HATE ME WWE. THANKS)

(DISCLAIMER 2: IF ANYONE AT WWE OR EVEN ASUKA HERSELF EVER SEES THIS PLEASE DON’T BE MAD ABOUT SOME OF THE STUFF I’VE SAID. I’M A FAN BUT I’M ALSO HONEST AND IT’S ALL FUN RIGHT?)

So this is my new idea… Every couple of months or so I will be uploading a blog-post where I will look back on the NXT career of a great former NXT superstar and thus induct them into my very own NXT Hall of Fame. I was sat waiting for an NXT UK TV taping me and my friend Stefan were at some months ago, and we got on to talking about past TakeOver events, and looking at the cards and seeing how great certain people were in NXT compared to where they are at now on the main roster. We spoke about if NXT had its own Hall of Fame based entirely on a superstar’s time in that brand and discounting anything they do on the main roster, and who based on their NXT run only would be in should such a Hall of Fame exist, so here it is! So now I’ll be picking a former NXT superstar to induct and put out a blog that goes through their NXT career, and their NXT career only. Before I begin looking back at the incredible run in NXT of my first inductee let me explain a few house rules for my NXT Hall of Fame:

  • Nobody at the time of writing listed on the NXT roster is eligible to be inducted.
  • Superstars are eligible to go in solo and then again as part of tag teams or factions.
  • This will all be down to who I think deserves to be recognized. Just my opinion.

So now all that is out the way let me talk about this month’s subject. Once I’d come up with this idea the next thing was who should go in, and who should go in first. I really place a lot of importance on who goes in first and I see it as a really prestigious honour. To use the comparison again the very first ever inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame was some guy called Andre The Giant, which I think speaks for itself.

There was really only one name that came to my mind right away for who should go in first. One name and then a whole bunch below them of which anyone one of them could justifiably go in 2nd. One name who had about as perfect a run with one brand (never being pinned or submitted) as I think anyone has ever had and that included one of the greatest title reigns in WWE history at over 500 days. My very first inductee in to my NXT Hall of Fame is in my opinion the greatest NXT superstar of all time, The Empress of Tomorrow, the woman who this very blog-site is named after, Asuka.

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NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn was historic for many reasons. The first takeover show to take place outside of NXT’s home of Full Sail University is seen as the event where the modern day version of the brand really began. It is most fondly remembered for the NXT Women’s Championship match between Bayley and Sasha Banks where the fan’s favourite Hugger finally got her moment to shine. Little did we know on the day her title reign began that the woman who would end Bayley’s time as NXT Women’s Champion was earlier in the show pictured sat in the front row in a way we have become all to familiar with as how we are introduced the newest additions to the NXT roster. Then going by her previous name of Kanna it was immediately made clear that WWE had signed one of the top female wrestler’s in the world.

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“… possibly the greatest competitor ever signed here to NXT” – William Regal whilst appearing in a segment on NXT (originally broadcast on the WWE Network on 23/9/2015)

On the 23rd September 2015 edition of NXT it was General Manager William Regal who introduced NXT’s latest signing. As Kanna came out her titantron quickly transitioned to reveal her knew name and one that would become synonymous with NXT forever; Asuka. But her official contract signing was quickly interrupted by two members of the NXT Women’s roster who were less than impressed by their new colleague as both Dana Brooke and her accomplice Emma came out to confront her. After talking her prospects down and making her reluctantly leave the ring as the previously very excitable Asuka seemed to leave feeling and looking pretty sad she would turn back to look at the ring and we’d get the first sighting of the ominous Asuka grin that pretty much sealed Dana and Emma’s fate. 2 weeks later Asuka would make her in-ring WWE debut facing Brooke at NXT TakeOver: Respect.

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In a little over 5 minutes Asuka defeated Dana Brooke in convincing fashion. It wasn’t just her dominance that was notable but how she got the win. She did moves and in a style that we’d never seen in WWE before by a man or woman. Her unique move-set and flamboyant yet fiery persona made her a hit with the watching fans right away. Brooke would hit Asuka with hard strikes, Asuka would take it in, give the death stare and unleash hell. Despite Emma’s attempted interference the debuting Asuka Lock would get the ball rolling for the Empress of Tomorrow. I had the match at **3/4 which is more down to the match being only 5 minutes than how impressive a victory was. She would stare off with Emma after putting Brooke away to let us all know that the Australian was next on Asuka’s hit-list.

After wins against Cameron and then Billie Kay on additions of NXT TV, Asuka was scheduled to face Dana Brooke in a TakeOver rematch on the 25th November 2015 edition of NXT. However the match never got started as Emma jumped Asuka from behind as Dana stood on the entrance ramp. Although Asuka did get a kick to the head in on Emma it was Brooke who provided enough of a distraction for Emma to put her future opponent in the ‘Emma Lock’ submission hold.  Asuka took out her frustrations in a match a couple of weeks later, as Brooke and Emma came out to interrupt they soon backed off such was the intensity and aggression Asuka showed on way to a win over Deonna Purrazzo. And that led us up to NXT TakeOver: London on 16th December 2015 where Asuka vs Emma would open the show. The match went just under 15 minutes, Asuka was super-popular with the raucous London crowd and her and Emma had a really good outing. Comparing it to the Brooke match Emma for sure got more offence in and looked better in doing so, and Asuka raised her game too in turning down the showmanship a notch but raising her in-ring technician levels to an even higher level. At the same time Asuka even sold some of the offence which we were yet to really see from her, although the London crowd wanted one thing and that was for Asuka to kick Emma (and Brooke’s) ass! Overall I’d go **** . It was clear by this point that Asuka really was something else.

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“She’s the only woman on the roster with the Brock Lesnar feel to her like she’s legit” – December 21 2015 Wrestling Observer Newsletter (members.f4wonline.com)

It was soon after this that Asuka seemed to turn her attention towards the NXT Women’s Championship. On the January 13th 2016 NXT Asuka was a part of a battle royal to decide who would be next to challenge for Bayley’s title. Famously Asuka was eliminated second-to-last by EVA MARIE in something that the quicker I move on from talking about the better. After Carmella (who won the battle royal) lost in her title opportunity against Bayley it was Asuka who would come out to make the save from a post-match beatdown by Nia Jax and Eva Marie. However it was a staredown that took place after with the NXT Women’s Champion that suggested a title match between Asuka and Bayley wasn’t too far away. Before her date with destiny in Dallas Asuka would rack up wins against the likes of Santana Garrett, Deonna Purrazzo…again, Emma…again and also in a tag team match against Nia Jax & Eva Marie where she teamed alongside her TakeOver: Dallas opponent in Bayley.

On April 1st 2016 NXT TakeOver: Dallas kicked off WrestleMania weekend. It was in fact my personal first TakeOver show, and it would turn out to be one of the most amazing shows I had ever seen. On a card that featured great babyface triumphs, amazing debuts, emotional farewells and a Demon Balor Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired-entrance it was the NXT Women’s Championship match that would perhaps have the most historical significance going forward. As popular as Asuka was she was up against probably the most over babyface in WWE at the time so it really was different to any match she had been a part of in WWE up to that point. The match was really given a big fight feel in the build up despite coming right after one of the best matches in NXT history earlier in the show. The match itself was really good given the spot they were in, Bayley got a decent amount of offence in but it was clear that Asuka had the tools to pick up the win out of nowhere at any point. As Bayley went to hit her Bayley to Belly finisher Asuka was able to strike her way out of it before hitting her own set of offence that led to her finally transitioning into the Asuka Lock. The heroic Bayley fought and fought as the crowd willed her to escape the hold, but after what seemed like an eternity the referee checked Bayley to see she had passed out and he called for the bell. ***3/4. 

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“The crowd audibly gasped as the bell was rung (Corey Graves commentary of the finish was really great and very much encapsulated the magnitude of the moment). The much-beloved babyface had lost her title. Videos have since come out of young girls crying as their favourite had lost. Asuka was the champion now and the era of Bayley was over. A new one was beginning, and it ended up being one of the all-time great championship reigns maybe in wrestling history let alone WWE or NXT. ” – NXT Takeover: Dallas – REVIEW (nobodyisready.com)

The first TakeOver event of the Asuka era was entitled ‘TakeOver: The End’ and the card featured the new Women’s Champion in her first official title defense. The challenger was originally supposed to be Bayley in her rematch, but after she was beaten badly in a loss to the powerhouse Nia Jax it was then decided after a number one contender’s match involving Carmella and Alexa Bliss that the victorious Jax would face Asuka for the title at TakeOver: The End. With Jax looking on Asuka would warm up for the title match with a win over Eva Marie on the 27th April 2016 NXT episode. This led to the big title match on the June 8th 2016 event held at Full Sail University where the build up saw Asuka positioned in the unfamiliar position as somewhat of an underdog.

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The match itself played out pretty much as expected, the powerful Jax used her size and strength to try and decimate the champion as Asuka used her technical and striking prowess to try and get the advantage over her challenger. Jax’s pre-match claim that she would ‘break’ Asuka looked close to be coming true with her putting in a dominant performance using her power to outdo Asuka at every turn. The champion would occasionally fightback with her fierce offensive arsenal of kicks, elbows and forearms but Jax was in charge for most of the match, which given Asuka’s run up to this point was a stark contrast to what had become the norm. Eventually though after a series of strong leg kicks to Jax’s head Asuka would pick up the win to delight the Orlando crowd. I’d go **1/2. It was about what I expected having not seen the match since the show was broadcast on the network. Asuka looked as good as she always did and a still fairly green Nia Jax played her role as powerful monster well. It was yet another notch on the ever increasing hit list of the Empress of Tomorrow who’s next TakeOver opponent would be a very familiar foe indeed.

Having been on a winning streak since she was cleared to return to in-ring action it was Bayley who would step up to get her rematch and look to become the first two-time NXT Women’s Champion. On the 3rd August 2016 NXT Asuka offered Bayley a ringside seat for her match against Aliyah. But Bayley responded by throwing the chair aside and chose to stand and watch on as Asuka put on a striking clinic on the way to another victory. Asuka even had time to toy and mock Bayley during her match and as the champion had her Asuka Lock submission in for the finish it took her future opponent to enter the ring before the hold was released and Aliyah mercifully let free. The next week Bayley and Asuka made their title rematch official with a contract signing, but it went against the classic WWE contract signing of ending in an all-out brawl, instead they both signed on the dotted line but it was Bayley who refused the handshake from the champion and this riled up the usually unflappable Asuka. The champion though held her title up high to set the stage for a title match for the ages in an arena that has become somewhat of NXT’s spiritual TakeOver home.

Historically NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn has been one of the shows of the year and the 2nd edition was no different. A night fondly remembered as the beginning of the era of Strong Style in NXT was also the place where an NXT legend would have her final match for the Black and Gold brand. But 2 nights before she would debut as a member of the Raw roster Bayley first had her chance to regain the NXT Women’s Championship. The result seemed inevitable sure, but my god was it not still fun to watch.

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This match, albeit one where the result was pretty much a lock before it started, was great. A year on from Bayley winning arguably the best women’s match in WWE history she had the chance again in Brooklyn to regain the NXT Women’s Championship. And yet as great as a babyface as NXT-Bayley was, the crowd still loved them some Asuka. In the build-up Asuka tried to play the heel and even told Bayley during their contract signing that ‘she doesn’t have what it takes’. Brooklyn still though did cheer Bayley and she was still everyone’s girl. Among what seemed almost like a celebratory farewell to NXT for Bayley she put in a hell of a performance here and ran Asuka as close as anyone had up to this point. This Bayley was very much reminiscent of the Bayley we saw win the Smackdown Women’s title recently, still smiling and happy but had that aggressive side she could tap in to as well. Once again Asuka showed off her array of striking options, but these seemed a little more stiff than we’d seen before. It was almost as if this was a big-time shoot fight and Asuka knew she had to bring her A game… Bayley wasn’t dominated by any means and she gave Asuka everything she had in what was essentially a 50-50 match. The closing sequence was exceptional; at this stage the crowd were really hot as Asuka did what can only be described as a flying-Asuka Lock, only for Bayley to turn it into a cradle for a nearfall. Asuka got up from that and hit a really stiff looking kick only for Bayley to get back up, before she would finally succumb to a couple of hard head kicks for the win. They hugged after and really this was Bayley’s night to get the big ovation, but it was Asuka who would continue to carry the NXT Women’s title and the division now that Bayley was on her way to Monday Nights. This was better than their first match in Dallas and so I’d go ****.

With The Hugger now gone from NXT it was her conqueror Asuka who was left as the sole woman leading what was an NXT roster in somewhat of an odd position. We weren’t yet at a point where NXT was just a collection of the best former independent talents in the world and after the most recent draft a lot of top NXT talents had gone to the main roster in a fairly short space of time. So whilst Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nkaamura were battling for the men’s top prize of NXT what for the Women’s title and our undefeated champion? Over the months that followed her win in Brooklyn Asuka would go on somewhat of a period of  being untouchable. There was NOBODY on the NXT Women’s roster that could come close to taking her title from her. So, how do you get round this ahead of NXT TakeOver: Toronto in November of 2016? Well… you go out and bring in someone from outside the NXT Women’s roster! There were rumours that the planned match was to be between Asuka and Toronto’s own WWE Hall of Famer Trish Stratus, but when the former Women’s Champion became pregnant that match was no longer a possibility. So they instead got what you could argue in-ring wise was an upgrade… On the October 26th episode of NXT after Asuka had rag dolled and destroyed Thea Trinidad (wonder what happened to her…) on her way to a win, following up equally straightforward wins on NXT TV over the likes of Liv Morgan and Danielle Kamela (who later became Vanessa Borne) it was NXT GM William Regal who came out to say the following as The Empress of Tomorrow looked intensively on: “I’ve scowered the world for your next competitor and I’ve found that very opponent, at NXT TakeOver: Toronto you will be facing this lady” before pointing us to the titantron where a video would play… the woman in question was none other than MICKIE JAMES! Another former women’s champion who had been absent from WWE for over 6 years! James said in the video ‘they say you’ve beaten everybody, but I say you haven’t beaten me. Until you can beat me you’ve beat nobody, because you see I have faced and defeated some of the greatest women’s champions of all time, the very same women who laid the foundation that you and the rest of the Women’s revolution stand on. So at TakeOver I’m coming for that NXT Women’s Championship, in fact Mr Regal, you might wanna get the UN on the phone because there’s about to be an international incident honey. I’ll see you in Toronto’. Asuka was moving side to side and grinning like an excited school kid whenever the camera would pan back to her as she watched James’ video play, the NXT crowd were excited, we were all excited, what a dream match this would be. Possibly Asuka’s toughest test to date in WWE against the returning legend in James, it was ON!

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NXT TakeOver: Toronto in 2016 took place on November 19th. With Survivor Series the next night headlined by Goldberg vs Brock Lesnar it ended up as one of the more memorable weekends in company history. It began with an EXCELLENT NXT show (one that I may or may not review in the future so stay tuned). Asuka vs Mickie James had the unenviable task of following what would go on to win NXT Match of the Year between DIY and The Revival and played semi-main to the Samoa Joe vs Shinsuke Nakamura title match that would follow. But as always the women of NXT went out there in the toughest spot on the card, and they WENT FOR IT! Although going in the result seemed inevitable throughout the 13 minute match there really were points that made you wonder if Asuka’s time really was up. They kind of billed this as a match between the future of Asuka and the past of James, but Mickie showed in this match just why she would a few months later make her return to the WWE main roster full time. In what by this point had become a theme James was cheered greatly during her entrance, Asuka was cheered for even louder but the crowd were split as the match started. The match was really solid to begin with as both women’s experience showed, and once it got going and towards the end it was really good. Asuka seemed to somewhat disrespect James throughout as the mind-games from both were prevalent, James roared in defiance as Asuka struck her with her signature kicks and then got in a single crab hold of her own. She transitioned into a Muta lock and we had the rare sight of Asuka screaming and coughing in pain before she got the ropes for the break. James got a nearfall after a flying press off the top rope and came even closer to claiming an incredible win after she hit the Mick Kick, only for Asuka to get her foot on the nearby ropes. Not long after Asuka would get the Asuka Lock in tight after a series of exchanges of who was in control of the submission on the mat, and as much as James tried with all her might to escape and gain the advantage once the hold was in she had no choice but to tap. A solid showing for both and given what it was before and came after on the show I’d go ***3/4. Good stuff. After the match Asuka would reject the offering of a handshake as the unbeaten champion marched on.

“that is confidence at its highest level, Mickie offering a show of respect, and Asuka letting Mickie know nothing else matters but my NXT Women’s Championship” – Corey Graves on commentary after Asuka had responded to Mickie James’ offer of a handshake by raising her title in the air following their match at NXT TakeOver: Toronto (broadcast live on the WWE Network on 19/11/2016)

With Asuka now well established as the dominant force of the NXT Women’s division the champion had more than one target on her back. But with Bayley moved on to Monday Nights and now a legend in Mickie James beaten it appeared to be very much true that nobody was ready for the Empress of Tomorrow… well maybe not one woman alone… although it took a woman by whose SANITY (see what I did there?…) could be questioned to push Asuka to the limit. Whilst the likes of a newly arrived Ember Moon and Daria Berenato (Sonya Deville) along with Billie Kay and Peyton Royce, and Liv Morgan made up what was becoming a very competitive women’s roster in the post Bayley-era of NXT it was Nikki Cross whom after weeks of verbally targeting the women’s champion finally was granted her opportunity at the gold first, although it didn’t stop others from trying to get a shot for themselves. On the November 30th 2016 NXT after a routine win of Nicole Matthews it was Asuka herself who pondered ‘I’m afraid there isn’t any left’ when she stated she wanted competition. On the 21st December 2016 episode after Peyton Royce helped her Iconic partner Billie Kay to a win against Daria Berenato they both wasted no time in ridiculing Asuka’s claims that she had no competition and that they would be happy to show her that. In the meantime when NXT on the 28th December was broadcast from Asuka’s hometown of Osaka, Japan she enjoyed another title retention over her former foe Nia Jax.

There would be no time for celebration though as a couple of weeks later, upon NXT’s return home to Full Sail University for the January 11th 2017 episode Asuka was ambushed by both Kay & Royce before the show began. And later after The Iconic Duo picked up a win in tag team action Asuka fought through various officials to try and gain her revenge, but the numbers game soon caught up with her. That was until Nikki Cross came out in a typical-rabid mood to send Royce & Kay running. The unlikely alliance didn’t last long though as Cross then hit Asuka with a dropkick to signal her own intentions. Cross followed this up a week later with a routine win as a fatal 4 way match was made official for the upcoming NXT TakeOver in San Antonio. But before that on the go-home NXT episode there was a a ‘face off’ between Asuka, Cross, Kay and Royce which, as you can imagine, was chaotic to say the least! What made it even funnier was William Regal stating beforehand that all 4 women had assured him this wouldn’t end in a fight… good one… and just as funny was Peyton responding to the crowd’s chants of “Asuka’s gonna kill you” by telling them that ‘she didn’t think so’. They’ve always been funny trust me. The Iconic Duo soon made a swift exit though as soon as Cross and Asuka made their way out. And they were sent on their way again after trying an attack from behind, leaving Asuka and Cross to fight through a plethora of security guards who ran out to calm the situation. Asuka hit Cross with a kick to the head, but as the security dragged Asuka away she was dived upon by the crazed Cross who came flying off the top rope taking out everyone below her. This lead us to TakeOver where Asuka, for the first time, would have to defend her title against not one, or even two but THREE challengers at once. 

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In the penultimate match of what was a pretty eventful show Asuka, in her 7th Takeover match, defended her title in a multi-woman match for the first time at NXT TakeOver: San Antonio on January 28th 2017. The match was… yes it was OK. I know in 2019 despite their recent tag team feud the idea of Billie and Peyton posing a threat to Asuka is a bit far fetched but the added addition of Nikki Cross made this a really… well it was chaos that’s for sure. Asuka asked for all three of them and that’s what she got. The entrances were telling too in terms of crowd reaction; Cross and Royce & Kay got a minor reaction, whereas Asuka was a STAR to the crowd. Figures. At times as you can imagine it was a little bit like a tag team match with the Iconic Duo teaming up and sticking together at every chance they got, allowing for Cross and Asuka to tear away at one another. There was a spot early when Asuka hit a double german suplex to both Royce and Kay that got the crowd going, and after that San Antonio was behind everything the undefeated Champion did. Props to whoever the producer behind this match was because the dynamic between the four of them worked really well; The Iconic Duo played chicken-shit heels that teamed up together, Cross was a psycho who was kept strong, and Asuka was Asuka… The most memorable moment came when Billie and Peyton fought against Cross up to the commentators table (which was located near the ramp way in the spot the announce table is on Raw nowadays), Asuka was laid out back near the ring at this stage, Cross goes for a dive off the announce table, only for Billie and Peyton to team up and they suplexed Nikki off the announce table and through another table that was conveniently next to the commentary desk (it did garner a ‘holy shit’ chant so it did it’s job). After taking Cross out they ran back to the ring to target the champion 2 on 1… but of course Asuka kicked out of a double pin after a knee strike from Peyton. They tried to team up again only for Asuka to smash Kay in the head with a kick, Peyton then kicked Asuka before hitting a widow’s peak for a nearfall. Asuka then hit kicks to both of them before another big kick to Royce gave her the win. As I said the match was fine and did all it needed to do without being a classic, I’d go *** I think.

In February of 2017 Asuka became the longest reigning singles title holder in the history of NXT, and in March she would make a big impression at a series of main roster WWE Live shows. Asuka (replacing the injured Naomi) teamed up with Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella and Tamina in 8 woman tag matches on two nights against Alexa Bliss, Carmella, Mickie James and Natalya and then for a further 3 nights in tag matches with Lynch, Bella and Tamina against Bliss, Carmella and Natalya with James serving as referee. Asuka’s team were victorious on every night. Back home in NXT though there were still plenty seeking a chance to take the NXT Women’s title from her. After winning a triple threat match against Ember Moon and Liv Morgan it would be Peyton Royce who would earn a singles opportunity against the undefeated champion which would take place on the March 1st edition of NXT. Although Asuka would retain her title that would not stop Royce’s IIconic partner Billie Kay from joining in beating down The Empress of Tomorrow after the match. That was until Ember Moon ran out to make the save, which led to an… intense… stare-down between the two. On the 8th March 2017 edition of NXT Moon faced off with Billie Kay and picked up the win with her Eclipse (top rope stunner) finishing move. With Moon remaining undefeated her feared finisher was beginning to gain a reputation as being able to cause damage and after this match there was concern as medical staff had to see to Kay and her neck off the back of the move. It was seen as a given at this point that once Moon hit the Eclipse it was over (REMEMBER THIS WHEN YOU READ ON).

After this match it was made official per NXT General Manager William Regal that when NXT returned home for TakeOver: Orlando the night before WrestleMania that in a battle of NXT’s two undefeated top women that the NXT Women’s Champion Asuka would defend her title against Ember Moon. A few weeks later on March 22nd after Asuka gained another dominant squash victory, during which she grabbed the mic as the match was underway and explained “Ember Moon, this is your head” before hitting a viscous spinning kick to her poor opponent. After her win she wasted no time in taking to the microphone to explain her thoughts about what we would see in Orlando… “NO ECLIPSE!” And later on the final NXT before their hotly anticipated clash the two signed the contract to make their match official. But unlike almost every other WWE contact signing in history their was no physicality between the two just yet, instead the mind games were telling. Asuka laughing when Regal announced her challengers name, Moon sending the warning that the champion had let her success go to her head only for Asuka to respond saying that Moon was not ready for her. Ever since Sasha and then Bayley had departed NXT we went through a few months of Asuka’s dominance were there were no huge match ups that you felt really could spell the end of her incredible run, I at the time thought it was maybe the perfect time. Asuka could go to the main roster to resume her rivalry with then Raw Women’s Champion Bayley, and we would have a new undefeated woman in Moon running the show. It was all set up to be one of the biggest women’s matches in NXT history on WWE’s biggest weekend of the year. It did not disappoint.

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“Asuka vs. Moon was the best WWE women’s match in a long time. Asuka as a worker is, with the possible exception of A.J. Styles, equal to or better than anyone in the company.” – April 10 2017 Wrestling Observer Newsletter (members.f4wonline.com)

Despite Ember’s really cool entrance and presentation, and the fact for me at least at the time it really felt like her time, the pop for Asuka coming out seemed to be even bigger. This match also marked the first time the new (and current) NXT Women’s Championship belt was presented before the match, and it is beautiful. A year to the day that Asuka took her title from Bayley she was faced with her first main rival since the Hugger went to Raw. The stalemate and duelling chants early set the tone for the whole match, Asuka was her usual excellent self but for maybe the first time since she came to NXT she seemed to have met an equally talented opponent. This was about as even as you could get for the majority. And that says a lot about how well Moon performed given Asuka’s NXT résumé up to this point. Be it physical strikes or acrobatic attacks Moon seemed to be equal to the champion and it soon was clear this would be Asuka’s biggest test to date. Their timing of some of these sequences was exceptional, everything just looked so seamless. This was the best match we’d seen by Asuka up to this point, sure Asuka going 50/50 was odd but given the set-up and the opponent it made sense, this really was a great ‘rasslin match. The finish was a huge cherry on a beautiful cake; with Ember on the top rope and Asuka below prone for the Eclipse (REMEMBER what I said before about how big this move was built up to be), Asuka then shoved the referee into the ring ropes which made Ember fall down, she then hit her with a big kick and got the 1, 2, 3. The story being that Asuka, as great and seemingly unbeatable as she is, had to CHEAT to beat Ember Moon. Asuka smiled as she was announced as winner knowing her plan had worked perfectly. The Eclipse and it’s aura stayed intact because Moon didn’t hit it. At the time I felt it was the wrong result because I did then feel it was Moon’s time, but looking back this was done to perfection knowing what was to follow. Ember Moon was looked after and it seemed to immediately set up a rematch. Great booking for a great match, ****1/2 from me.

The next TakeOver event wasn’t that far away and so it seemed Moon would be quick to get her rematch… but with NXT’s premier show in Brooklyn not until August it seemed they would need to go through a mini-roadblock on the way to Asuka vs Ember 2. And indeed on the 3rd May episode of NXT there was a multi woman battle royal to decide who would be next to challenge Asuka at NXT TakeOver: Chicago. It eventually came down to Ember Moon, Nikki Cross and Ruby Riot… but then Asuka came out from the crowd and beatdown the remaining participants. With Moon on the top rope looking to hit another Eclipse Asuka pushed her off the top rope before then absolutely launching Moon through the ring ropes and to the floor below, where she collided with the barriers that hold the fans back. She then beat on Cross and Riot and the contenders match was called a no contest. But this appeared to backfire on the under pressure champion, as later on a furious GM William Regal confronted his women’s champion, before telling her should would instead defend her title in Chicago against all three of the look-to-be contenders. But that was not to be… it was announced on wwe.com a few days later that Ember Moon had suffered a shoulder injury when she was flung to the outside by Asuka, and as a result she was pulled from the match in Chicago and would be forced to watch on as her bitter rival defended her title in a triple threat match against Cross and Riot in Chicago on May 20th 2017.

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WWE

As you can imagine this match was hampered a lot by Moon having to sit it out. We all knew now that Asuka was going to retain as the Moon rematch was almost a given. If Ember was able to compete here at least you’d have the possibility of Asuka or Moon pinning Cross or Riot, but it wasn’t to be. So yes the triple threat saw Asuka defend her title against Nikki Cross and Ruby Riot. Riot seemed very over with the Chicago crowd, Cross was also well received, but Asuka way more so than both. The match was fine, both the challengers played their roles well and the in-ring stuff was sound, but you never really got the feeling watching the match play out that anyone but Asuka was going to win. Ember Moon was shown watching on from above with her arm in a sling and as I said the match was fine… but the finish… so… Ruby hits Cross with what would become known as the ‘riot kick’ and then went down to pin her, only for Asuka to run in, hit the ropes and come with a huge knee strike to Ruby… and then ASUKA PINNED THEM BOTH! Now… sure Asuka was a dominant champion and we all knew she should win… but did she really need to pin BOTH of them?! That’s them DONE now as serious contenders for me after that… but still Asuka won as we all expected and the match was fine, but suffered from a big Ember Moon shaped gap. **3/4.

A few weeks later on the June 14th 2017 episode of NXT the two got a second chance to face off with Asuka, this time in an elimination triple threat. After Nikki Cross eliminated Ruby Riot it was down to the crazed Glaswegian and the Empress of Tomorrow. The two brawled way into the back area of Full Sail, forcing the referee to call the match a no contest. It was Cross who got the upper hand in the end with a cross body that sent both her and Asuka though a table below them. And so with Riot now out of the title picture, and Ember Moon in the later stages of her injury recovery it was set for Asuka and Nikki Cross to settle the score on the June 28th 2017 episode of NXT TV in a LAST WOMAN’S STANDING MATCH with the NXT Women’s Championship on the line. As you can imagine this match was CHAOS! They brawled all over the arena and eventually in what was a terrific match it was Asuka who just BARELY got the win, after a ladder had been set up adjacent to the announcer’s table Asuka superplexed Cross off the top of it and the two went crashing through the announcers table below them. And when she JUST crawled back to her feet before the count of 10 Asuka got another win to retain her title. This was a great match.

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So now that Ember Moon had made her way back to full health the path was clear for one of the biggest matches in the storied history of NXT’s women’s division. NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 3 was one of the best shows WWE had ever put on up to that point, a show full of great moments but in terms of best match there was only one winner. If you’ve read this far you already know just how much has gone on between these two, and it would finally all be settled in the much anticipated rematch at TakeOver in the Barclays Center on August 19th 2017.

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WWE

Remember what I said earlier about how much they built the Eclipse up as such a big move? Yes? OK, well don’t forget that… As Sasha Banks, Bayley and Becky Lynch watched on from the front row we saw Asuka backstage who got a big pop, not as big a pop mind for Ember Moon who’s supposed to be the babyface. This time though it REALLY did feel like it was going to be Ember’s night and they did all they could in the build-up to make people think that would be the case. They even went as far as to have Moon actually hit Asuka with the Eclipse during an in-ring segment the two had on an episode of NXT in the lead-up to Brooklyn. Asuka was so over with this crowd is was crazy, considering she’s SUPPOSED to be the heel.

We were a year on from Ember Moon’s WWE NXT debut in the same building, now she had the biggest match of her and the champion’s career so far. Moon started the match on fire before Asuka got back into it with a variety of joint manipulation moves, and despite targeting Asuka’s left arm Moon cameback with leg kicks instead. They both got nearfalls on eachother as the pace of the match became frantic. There were duelling chants for both women as Ember made her way to the top rope before Asuka hit her with strikes to stop a potential Eclipse. Moon held on to her position though and hit Asuka with a Liger bomb and then a double footstomp that got her a nearfall on the champion… and THEN… the match went into overdrive!!! Moon made her way again to the top rope… and she hit the ECLIPSE!!!!! 1… 2… BUT NO 3! ASUKA KICKED OUT! The fans could not believe it and Ember was just as shocked! This crowd went absolutely APE SHIT as did commentary! (Remember what I said??? They built this move up SOOOOOO big and on their biggest show they had someone kick out of it and it got just as big a pop as the finish of this match did, maybe even louder)! Moon looked angry at this stage, so she went to the top again. But this time Asuka used the ref as human shield, but Moon saw this and instead jumped over them and hit Asuka with a crossbody, only for Asuka to catch Moon and turn it into a roll up pin. But Asuka, up against her greatest threat yet, held Ember’s tights for extra leverage… but the ref caught her and stopped his count! Now it was Asuka who was screaming in fury. Then came a huge Ember Moon superkick  which got a very close 2 count that left Moon irate. By this point the excellent crowd were losing their mind for everything now, and they let them know with loud “NXT” chants. Moon then picked up Asuka who was playing possum and she then put Ember in a cross arm breaker. This was turned into a roll up by Moon for a 2 count, only for Asuka to turn that into the ASUKA LOCK!!! And even though she fought and fought and fought… Ember Moon eventually tapped out!!!! Standing ovation from the crowd and justifiably so! This was an amazing match with a great last 5 minutes. Everything from the Eclipse onwards was exceptional. ****.75 from me. A BRILLIANT match!

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WWE

“I’ve been watching this tv for months now, and they’ve tried so hard to make her into a heel, and it’s just not working… because she’s so great”

“… Asuka should go up to the main roster without losing the title… there’s just nobody”

“She’s like a female Goldberg” 

“You’ve spent 17 months on her and it’s not like there’s anyone on the main roster that anybody is going to believe [can beat her]”

Quotes from Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez on the WOR show released on August 20th 2017 (https://www.f4wonline.com/wrestling-observer-radio/wor-nxt-takeover-roh-ippv-ric-flair-update-tons-more-241321)

 

“The story in the wake of the match is Asuka’s greatness. There has never been a female performer who has brought the sense of a big-match environment the way The Empress of Tomorrow has. She is, by far, the best women’s wrestler on the roster.” – Bleacher Report: NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights(https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2728426-nxt-takeover-brooklyn-iii-winners-grades-reaction-and-highlights)

 

“Asuka’s dissection of Moon’s shoulder was perfectly designed leading to a fantastic comeback story. This was the best Moon has looked in NXT. She portrayed resilience brilliantly, but the other story in play – Asuka’s dominance – took precedence.” – ESPN: NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III – SAnitY and McIntyre claim belts, Cole, O’Reilly and Fish claim spotlight (https://www.espn.co.uk/wwe/story/_/id/20389071/wwe-nxt-takeover-brooklyn-iii-match-recaps-ratings-bobby-roode-asuka-aop-defend-their-titles)

I remember watching back seeing Asuka wincing a little after the match had finished, but thought nothing of it. It turns out that she during the match had suffered a legitimate broken right collarbone. In an interview that was put up on WWE’s website Dr. Jeffrey Westerfield said that “During the match, she landed awkwardly from a throw from Ember Moon and was able to complete the match, but had notable pain and discomfort… We performed an initial ultrasound backstage that was highly suspicious of a break that was later confirmed by an X-ray”. There was a lot of speculation about what the consequences of this would mean for Asuka. On the episode of NXT broadcast on the WWE network on the 6th September 2017 following took place…

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WWE

NXT GM William Regal was in the ring, he said it was his “honour and privilege” to welcome out Asuka. And out she came in all her glory, smiling away in her suit as Full Sail gave her the ovation she deserved. She took to the mic and cut a tremendous babyface promo in between various supportive chants from the adoring NXT crowd. Asuka said: “I have been in NXT for almost 2 years. I have fought so many great superstars. I love NXT. I love NXT. I grow so much here. I am grateful for NXT”. Regal then went on to talk about how she had defended the title with honour and that she’d been willing to risk everything, and that “I can honestly say you are one of the greatest champions in WWE history”. Asuka smiled and seemed almost embarrassed by the attention and adulation she was receiving. Regal went on to explain how other people had started to notice what the NXT universe already knew, and that he was here to announce that Asuka and he had started negotiations with the general managers of Raw and SmackDown Live which got a series of YES chants from the fans. Although Regal went on to say this was a bittersweet moment as Asuka will be stepping down as NXT Women’s Champion, which the fans didn’t like too much. Regal got them back on side explaining that this was a wonderful opportunity for Asuka and now the rest of the world will know what we already know and that is… before letting Asuka finish off by saying “know-one is ready for ASUKA”! She received a standing ovation as the NXT Women’s roster followed by the NXT Male superstars came out on the stage to join in the standing ovation. The crowd continued chanting for her as Asuka took to the mic again to say “you are NXT, I am NXT, and wherever I go NXT come with me”. Asuka’s music played as her standing ovation continued. Ember Moon then emerged from the crowd of superstars and she made her way into the ring. Moon offered Asuka a handshake, bare in mind that during the build up to their match in Brooklyn Asuka had offered Moon a handshake before mockingly taking it away. Moon did the same thing here which was hilarious, and the pair then embraced. Moon raised Asuka’s arm before going back up the ramp to join her fellow NXT superstars. The crowd got really excited and then suddenly Uncle Paul himself Triple H made his way into the ring. He gave Asuka some flowers before they hugged, Asuka in tears almost at this point. HHH gracefully took the belt from her and gave her the flowers before raising her arm in the air again. Triple H then took the mic and said “ladies and gentleman, one last time I give you the undefeated, 523 day reigning NXT Women’s Champion, The Empress of Tomorrow, ASUKA”!

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WWE

Asuka’s reign as NXT Women’s Champion is officially recognised by the WWE as lasting for 523 days, which is by far the longest title reign in NXT history. She also won the Female Competitor of the Year (2016, 2017) and Overall Competitor of the Year (2017) in the NXT Year-End Awards. She was never pinned or submitted in any matches in NXT. She is the only undefeated superstar in NXT history. She holds a perfect 10-0 record at NXT TakeOver events which is the best record at TakeOver’s in history. She is by far in my opinion the greatest superstar in NXT history. This very blog is named in tribute to her. She is the very first inductee into my NXT Hall of Fame, and indeed, in NXT at least, she proved that: NOBODY IS READY FOR ASUKA!

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WWE

“I Love NXT” – Asuka

And NXT loves you back!

Josh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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