Asuka Faces the Defining Night of Her WWE Career at SummerSlam 2020

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2020

Credit: WWE.com

Asuka challenges for both the Raw and SmackDown Women's Championships, battling Sasha Banks and Bayley, in two of the higher-profile bouts on Sunday's WWE SummerSlam card.

On the surface, it merely looks like the logical conclusion of a months-long storyline.

However, deeper digging, provides a look at an immensely talented individual who overcame creative and professional frustration to reign as the leading female Superstar in WWE and the breakout star of empty arena wrestling.


A Long, Arduous Journey

We should have known things weren't going to be quite as smooth for Asuka on the main roster when her 2018 Royal Rumble victory was overshadowed immediately by the debut of Ronda Rousey. 

When she lost her first match in 914 days to Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania 35, with WWE opting to further crown the second-generation star rather than pay off The Empress of Tomorrow's initial run on SmackDown, fans understandably grew more concerned about her prospects.

A few pay-per-view losses didn't help matters.

Asuka, the most dominant woman in NXT history and a certain star of the future, had become an also-ran. She was overshadowed and undervalued, with her talents going to waste in matches that were nowhere near the level of prestige someone with her ability should have been performing in.

Yes, The Kabuki Warriors tag team with Kairi Sane netted her Women's Tag Team Championship reigns, but it still felt like a considerable step down in comparison to the level of work we saw out of her with the black-and-gold brand.

That performer hadn't suddenly forgotten how to deliver a great match, though, and nor had she forgotten how to be taken seriously as an in-ring ass-kicker.

Her growth was stunted by a creative team that favored Flair, Becky Lynch and the same Bayley and Banks she will battle Sunday. This, despite repeatedly proving herself between the ropes against those same women, including a show-stealer against The Man at the 2019 Royal Rumble.


Seizing an Opportunity

The empty arena era of WWE caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has created hardships for management, wrestlers and fans alike. Without the energy of the audience, the shows were difficult to invest in.

What the company needed was for a performer to inject a spark into the product and create a buzz in what was an otherwise crippling silence.

Asuka did just that.

She was loud, colorful, animated and immediately captured the attention of the viewing audience. She understood the significance of breaking the quiet and standing out, rather than enhancing the effect the constraints had on the talent.

Teddi Turnbuckle @TeddiTurnbuckle

Asuka is the best part of these empty arenas. Last week dances! This week commentary. #RAW #WWE https://t.co/BY2viYeT37

She thrived, both in the ring and on commentary, and became one of the few bright spots of those early coronavirus episodes of WWE television.

Then came Lynch's pregnancy and the opportunity for someone to take over the role as the top star of the Raw women's division.

After years of underestimating Asuka's ability to be a leading player, WWE pulled the trigger on The Empress of Tomorrow and booked her to win the Money in the Bank briefcase on May 10.

The following day, The Man revealed the briefcase held the Raw Women's Championship and she handed it to one of her greatest rivals in a passing-of-the-torch moment that helped establish Asuka in her new role.

Weeks of strong in-ring performances didn't hurt. 

An entertaining, if sometimes overbooked, feud with Banks and Bayley will now culminate in what promises to be the most significant night of Asuka's career as a WWE Superstar.


Changing Opinions

Nearly three years after making her main roster debut and the subsequent underutilization of Asuka in a prominent role, WWE Creative has placed her in a position that clearly reflects its trust and satisfaction with her work in this difficult time.

At a time when it most needed The Empress to step up and be the star so many fans already knew she was, she exceeded every expectation and enters SummerSlam as one of the faces of this year's event.

Previous battles with Bayley and Banks have been of such quality that there is no reason to believe the matches themselves will not live up to the hype, and nor is there any reason fans should doubt Asuka will somehow falter and bomb on her biggest night to date.

The question is whether she has done enough to retain her push as Flair makes her way back to work and Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax build their own momentum.

She has, but Vince McMahon's creative whims are rarely sensical.

For now, Asuka has overcome every obstacle and demonstrated the sort of professional resiliency and grit that oftentimes leads to those special, organic connections with fans.

It is that connection, and her unwavering consistency, that has made her such a valuable asset in 2020 and, hopefully, beyond.


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