A botched, last-second decision on Asuka isn't something WWE can recover from—and she might not be able to, either.
It didn't have to happen. Excuses will fly. Justifications are bound to come up short.
On Tuesday's edition of SmackDown, an impromptu SmackDown Women's Championship match between Charlotte Flair and Asuka saw the champion lose unexpectedly—and for no good reason.
According to Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Radio (h/t Daniel Yanofsky of WrestlingInc.com), CEO Vince McMahon made this decision the day of the show. Considering advertisements hyped a Fatal 4-Way between Carmella, Naomi, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, this seems to have some legs.
In other words, it wasn't some elaborate plan. It didn't have any long-term meaning. It was a throwaway episode, not some crowning achievement for Flair. The company simply ripped a belt off one of its top performers weeks before WrestleMania, which is unfair to her, unfair to Flair and unfair to the division.
Oh, and fans.
Having another title in the main event at WrestleMania doesn't add anything to it. Ronda Rousey is still the Raw champ. Becky Lynch is the obvious choice to win. Flair, whether fans felt she was shoehorned in for no reason or not, didn't need a belt to make her look worthwhile. It's not even clear why the belt is on her.
But this is what happens with silly, on-the-fly booking. Terrible decisions get made, and the performers and fans have to pick up the pieces.
The argument can be made nobody on the SmackDown roster looked like a viable threat to Asuka and the match wouldn't be interesting. But it's a sorry defense. This is WWE, where stars can be made overnight and fan investment is created with the snap of a finger. Look at Batista's attack on Ric Flair.
And it doesn't do much for the women's movement that this WrestleMania is themed around to strip Asuka of the title in such a manner, robbing her of a match and maybe having that belt go undefended at the event. If the goal is to trim down some supposedly "uninteresting" matches from the 'Mania card, let's talk about cutting something like Samoa Joe against Rey Mysterio or Shane McMahon versus The Miz.
There is fluff on the card WWE can move around—Asuka isn't one of those.
This isn't exactly the first time the promotion has handled her terribly, though. She had the dominant streak coming out of NXT, which was fed to Flair at WrestleMania almost right away. She's had some good moments, but now she's going to be casually tossed into other stuff and out of the title scene moving forward.
Whether red brand or blue, she's getting shoved aside and into ho-hum feuds that do nothing to elevate, say, SmackDown's roster. Having a worthy opponent to her on the WrestleMania card would have helped the division.
Not that another random, on-the-fly decision that hurts matters is any surprise. The Lynch-Rousey-Flair build has been mostly terrible and confusing because it had to stretch from the Royal Rumble all the way to 'Mania. Another straightforward story—Kofi Kingston's organic rise to the top to face Daniel Bryan—was a layup WWE managed to make convoluted and stretch on far too long.
Asuka, by extension, is collateral damage of the terrible build surrounding the main event. It was as chaotic as possible before throwing another belt into the equation for no discernible reason.
And yes, this is leaning into the character, but it hits home:
It isn't lost on anyone that WWE might have done this to have the Four Horsewomen close out the show. Lynch raises the Raw belt. Flair raises the SmackDown belt. Sasha Banks and Bayley keep the WWE Women's Tag Team Championships.
Cool. Deserved. But do it in a better way. Why rob Asuka of a moment to get here? Give Flair the belt plenty in advance. Treat that title better. Or scrap the cheesy idea to have the four close the show. Do something that isn't another kneejerk reaction that harms Asuka, if not others.
Once again, WWE's refusal to do anything but prop up its chosen stars leaves performers like Asuka as collateral damage. Maybe this gets corrected out of the blue via another last-second decision before 'Mania, but that might be giving WWE too much credit.
Barring something unforeseen, Asuka's topsy-turvy past year or so continues, this time on a whim with no future direction worth talking about, let alone a spot at 'Mania that's anywhere near as prominent as what was just ripped from her.