Who Is Ready For Asuka, Really?

Some things are just out of our control. You control what you eat for lunch, you control what books you read, you control what you study in college, and you may even control whether or not a movie is going to be good because you’re actually Jake Gyllenhaal. The things we can control are the things we should fret over because it makes sense to do so. For most of us, this issue of fretting over things we can and cannot control is a common, annoying occurrence in our daily life. It’s unavoidable, because we are human beings, to get really worked up and upset over something that is just out of your hands. Sometimes there is just nothing you can do in a situation, but because it is a less-than-ideal one, you work even harder to flip the situation on its head. Through no fault of your own, you’re just in an unfortunate spot, you can’t fix it, and you just kind of have to hope for the best.

This is what WWE Smackdown Live Women’s Champion Asuka is facing.

To close the latest WWE Network special, TLC, Asuka, thanks to some well-timed interference from WWE Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey, became a first-time Smackdown Live Women’s Champion. Asuka going over was the right call to end this event. After spending a year in purgatory, one of the decision-makers in the company decided to revisit utilizing Asuka. Good! The Empress of Tomorrow is very good at her job of being a professional wrestler. Professional wrestling fans like watching Asuka win matches because when you watch her work you’re not sure how she could ever lose. She’s quick, she’s hard-hitting, she’s charismatic and she has been wasted on the blue brand.

Promos in the center of the ring will never be the champs’ cup of tea, which lowers her ceiling a bit, but that sort of thing doesn’t matter when you can wrestle like she can. Fans can look past limited character work if they know when you step into the ring you’re going to follow through on the wrestling front. In her feud with Becky Lynch and Flair, Asuka got to step out of her comfort zone in a few back-and-forths with Flair and Lynch, and the feud was better for it. Every pro wrestler doesn’t need to be The Rock on the microphone, as much as Vince might still stubbornly believe. What every pro wrestler does need is a company that understands what they can and cannot do. Lynch can talk and she can wrestle; Flair only works as a heel and she can wrestle;  Asuka can hit her notes and she can really, really wrestle. That diversity in their skill-sets and character is what made their feud over the title work. The old “let's pit three of our top stars against each other over the title that also closes the next PPV” trick is a timeless one.

There is still a problem, though. Who is ready for Asuka, now? With Rousey getting involved in the ending to the match at TLC, it is clear where the company is headed going into WrestleMania next year. Lynch and Rousey is going to happen, and, because of their stellar match at the last WWE Network special, and, because, well, she is the new Triple H, Flair will likely find herself involved in the biggest feud in the company as well. This Lynch and Flair and Rousey’s world and Asuka is just kind of living in it. Going over Lynch and Flair, shenanigans aside, was a critical moment for the Asuka character. A loss at TLC meant an end to the “Maybe Asuka can still be salvage on the main roster” talk. As much as this company likes to pretend losses don’t actually matter, they do, and they matter more for a character like Asuka. She is the best wrestler in the women’s division on the main roster, so why shouldn’t she win almost all of her matches? A loss to Flair, a horrid feud with Carmella, and another big-time loss to Lynch and Flair would have eviscerated whatever mystique was left for the Asuka character.

But now what? Asuka is the champion now. Great. She is also a babyface on a show where the two top heels are moving onto bigger and better things. By extinguishing  Lynch and Flair, Asuka extinguished her only really compelling competition on Smackdown Live. The IIconics are two years away from being two years away -- shout out to Bruno Caboclo! I still believe, buddy! -- and is there anyone who has watched the product over the last year who would buy Sonya Deville or Mandy Rose as realistic options to hand Asuka her next loss? That isn’t to say that Deville and Rose aren’t talented, they are, and they have a bright future in the company, but they have not been booked in a way that makes them appear to be credible challengers to the best wrestler in the division.

But what other choice does Road Dogg and the writing team have? Flair and Lynch are gone, Carmella is a babyface again, and it would be asking a lot of Nikki Cross to immediately toss her into the title picture and have a WrestleMania-worthy feud with Asuka. Through no fault of her own, Asuka’s title reign on Smackdown can only be forgettable. She will likely have a long run as champ, as she should, but it won’t be memorable, it won’t match the feud that led to her title win, and there is nothing Asuka can do about it.

But she’s not alone. On the red brand, Drew McIntyre is dealing with the same sort of thing. McIntyre, like Asuka, is very good at his job of being a professional wrestler. Anyone who watches a lot of wrestling knows that McIntyre and Asuka have earned a seat at the Build Around These Wrestlers For The Love Of God table with Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, Adam Cole, Ricochet, AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Braun Strowman, Lynch, and the list goes on and on. Like Asuka, McIntyre has gotten somewhat of a push of late, after a year in purgatory, and looks primed for a title run only that would require the WWE Universal champion to be around more than once or twice a year. The money feud for Asuka involved Flair and Lynch, and she got it, but the money feud for McIntyre involves Roman Reigns and that is obviously very TBD. Through no fault of his own, like Asuka, the Chosen One finds himself in a less-than-ideal situation that he can’t fix.

It’s funny how all this works, isn’t it? Asuka does everything right, she gets her her one shining moment on the main roster, and she will be lucky not to be on the WrestleMania kick-off show next year against one of the IIconics. Or maybe Sasha Banks wins the Rumble and challenges Asuka, or Nia Jax (I’m kidding, relax) or Alexa Bliss or any other intriguing-ish option on Raw and it becomes just as appetizing as Rousey vs. Lynch. But probably not, and, unfortunately, there is nothing Asuka can do about it.