The main event scene for NXT’s Women’s Division is in a perilous position.
Nearly 300 days into her reign, Asuka is the longest reigning NXT Women’s Champion in the promotion’s history. The division desperately needed an ace after Bayley’s promotion to the main roster (and Becky, Sasha, and Charlotte before her), and Asuka delivered. Not only has Asuka cemented herself as the most dominant woman wrestler in NXT but, more importantly, also as one of the most athletic and naturally gifted performers in the entire WWE.
Last week’s episode of NXT, however, illuminates precisely why Asuka’s obvious “main roster headliner” talents are starting to impede the career development and exposure of the other women wrestler’s at Full Sail—performers who are still very much in the developmental phase of a brand that is increasingly becoming a rest stop for the top indie talent in the world before they eventually make it to Raw or Smackdown.
Without Bayley, a power vacuum opened in the NXT Women’s Division. There was Asuka—who was one of the best wrestlers in the world well before she ever signed with WWE, as fast and tight as a young Daniel Bryan and willing to endure stiffer bumps than Sasha Banks—and there was everyone else. The NXT Women’s Division has talented performers in it, but they’re all eclipsed by Asuka. Ember Moon has the makings of a natural main event attraction someday. Peyton Royce and Billie Kay are growing nicely into the midcard “advance a face’s career” heel role that Emma and Dana Brooke filled so well a while back. Aliyah is another performer to keep your eye on. But none of them have been cemented either through star-making matches or significant storylines as serious threats to Asuka’s reign at the top of the promotion.
Historically, NXT is great at making sure that the title scenes are deep enough that there are at least one or two credible challengers to the champ’s crown (although the year-plus triad of Finn Balor/Samoa Joe/Shinsuke Nakamura challenges this observation a bit). Paige, Emma and Natalya gave way to the Four Horsewomen, who gave way to Bayley, Nia Jax and Asuka, who have given way to… nothing so far.
And it shows in recent booking. At NXT: Takeover Toronto, they had to bring Mickie James back from the indies to face Asuka. At the live special in Osaka, Japan—Asuka’s home town—they had to drop Nia Jax in from the main roster to give Asuka a legitimate challenge to overcome. Asuka and Jax put on a clinic for a small babyface vs. super heavyweight heel match with Jax just tossing Asuka around like a rag doll and throwing some shots to Asuka’s body that were so stiff I almost worried the match had turned shoot.
No one in NXT has been given the credibility to challenge Asuka the way Jax did a couple weeks ago, and recent episodes of NXT don’t paint a hopeful picture for future improvements. Last week Peyton Royce and Billie Kay attacked Asuka in a pre-taped backlot assault that reminded me too much of those cheap Monday Nitro promos where a heel would stomp a mudhole in a face in the parking lot, and Royce and Kay’s striking work isn’t good enough for that type of backstage brawl.
At the beginning of the episode proper, the Aussie duo squashed two jobbers and were talking trash on Asuka when an injured Asuka appeared to avenge her prior beating. Asuka’s injuries kept her from defending herself though, and she was receiving another beating when SAnitY’s Nikki Cross arrived and scared Royce/Kay away. However, Cross—a heel with an ableist mental illness gimmick—attacks Asuka as well to end the opening of the show.
NXT seems to have written itself into a hole where there are now only two options. The first option is shocking the world and letting Nikki Cross beat Asuka at Takeover San Antonio—Cross has a hoss style that would contrast Asuka’s speed and strength similarly to Asuka’s feud with Nia Jax. It would add a much needed element of surprise to NXT’s Women’s Title scene, which hasn’t had any real upsets since Sasha Banks first beat Charlotte at Takeover Rival. And it would give the WWE an excuse to send Asuka off to the main roster, where she’s belonged since she was first signed with the company.
The second option is that Asuka retains yet again. But how does NXT’s Women’s Division move forward after that? Asuka has been made untouchable to a level that has only really been seen with Hulk Hogan, late ‘00s John Cena and HHH in his Reign of Terror days. She’s shown that no one on the NXT roster represents any threat to her. As counterintuitive as it might seem, I’m also convinced this is the most logical booking decision.
Have Asuka retain the title at San Antonio. And on the very next Raw, she shows up to challenge Charlotte and says she’s vacating her NXT Women’s Championship. No one on the roster is worth the trouble to her any more. She wants the real gold. Asuka is on the main roster, and the NXT Women’s Division is now allowed to grow and flourish without this Asuka ceiling none of them are remotely prepared to break through yet.
If Asuka sticks around this division much longer and her peers continue to be unable to step up to her level, it will be a very long time before NXT sees a return even close to the days where the Four Horsewomen redefined the possibilities of women’s wrestling.
Don Saas is a music and games journalist based out of West Virginia. If you want to see his rants about movies and pro wrestling, you can find him on Twitter here.