Wrestler of the Week: Asuka

Kimberly Schueler
Asuka (source: WWE)

RondaRousey.com’s Wrestler of the Week series profiles significant wrestlers from the past and present. 

RondaRousey.com’s Wrestler of the Week is Asuka, the current SmackDown Women’s Champion and the wrestler with the record for the longest winning streak in WWE history. In both her native Japan and the United States, her technical prowess and unique stage presence have made her a trailblazing superstar.

The performer now known as Asuka had a shaky start in the world of pro wrestling. She debuted as Kana in June 2004 in women’s promotion AtoZ, but she had to retire due to medical issues a little under two years later. She returned to her previous profession as a graphic designer for a while but couldn’t stay away from the squared circle for long: About a year and a half after her retirement, Kana revived her wrestling career as a freelancer and worked for companies like NEO Japan Ladies Pro Wrestling, Ice Ribbon, Reina, and Pro Wrestling WAVE. 

Kana made some her most notable career achievements in Wave, becoming one-half of the inaugural Wave Tag Team Champions in 2011 (with Ayumi Kurihara) and rising to the position of the company’s top heroic star as the leader of the Triple Tails stable. Triple Tails—the team of Kana and the Shirai sisters, Io and Mio—also achieved popularity and success in their own right. They worked together for several promotions in Japan through 2015 and even produced their own events. Kana also produced several of her own shows—called Kana Pro and KanaProMania—from April 2010 to September 2014.

While she became a more inspiring and successful figure in the joshi (all-women’s wrestling in Japan) scene, Kana arguably found her greatest success when she tapped into her villainous side. In Smash (a men’s and women’s promotion founded by Taijiri), she adopted a new persona as an oppressive and aggressive gatekeeper of women’s wrestling, declaring that many of her peers should just quit. She wrestled and defeated several men—though lost to Funaki, one of her idols—beat former WWE wrestler Serena to become the inaugural Smash Diva Champion, and dubbed herself “Sekai no Kana” (“World Famous Kana”). By this time, Kana had actually become one of the standard-bearers for Japanese women’s wrestling.


She was even more dominant and evil when she started working for Reina in 2014, using her onscreen behind-the-scenes power to strip rivals of tag championships, winning the Reina World Women’s Championship through dubious means, and launching a stable that would come to be called “Piero-gun” (“Clown Army”) because its members took to wearing their leader’s terrifying clown makeup. By 2015, Kana had pretty much accomplished everything she could in Japan and appearances in promotions like Shimmer had helped her start to actually become world famous among wrestling fans. She relinquished the Reina World Women’s Championship and—after a final match in which she tag teamed with her longtime arch-rival Syuri—she left the promotion.

Asuka explained why she chose to take her skills to NXT in an episode of WWE 24 by saying, “I went as far as I could go in my career [in Japan]. When I received an offer from WWE, I had to take it.” And she took it like wrestling fans hadn’t seen a woman do in WWE in a long time, at a time when women were getting more opportunities to shine in the company than ever before.

After signing to NXT in August 2015, Asuka spent two years in the developmental territory. Her first feud was against Dana Brooke and Emma, the mean girls of the locker room. She destroyed them both on TakeOvers, racking up victories on TV in between. She then defeated Bayley at NXT TakeOver: Dallas to become NXT Women’s Champion and held the title for 510 days, the longest championship reign in WWE’s modern era. She successfully defended against Nia Jax, Bayley again, Mickie James in her return to WWE, The Iconic Duo (now known as The IIconics) and Nikki Cross in a fatal four-way, Nikki Cross (in singles action), and Ruby Riot (now Ruby Riott). She also successfully defended against Ember Moon—in perhaps Asuka’s most-acclaimed NXT rivalry—in great matches at TakeOver: Orlando and TakeOver: Brooklyn III. Asuka had to relinquish her championship due to injury, but when she was called up to the main roster, she took something that was already even more legendary: her streak.

In the spring of 2017, WWE started promoting the fact that Asuka hadn’t lost by pinfall or submission since arriving in WWE, making her both a target and a threat when she was drafted to Monday Night RAW in September of that year. She debuted at TLC 2017, defeating her former developmental rival Emma, and her dominance continued. She racked up more Ws on RAW, won the women’s Survivor Series elimination match as her team’s sole survivor, set the new record for fastest submission victory in a women’s match against Dana Brooke, and defeated RAW Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss in a non-title match. Crucially, she won the first women’s Royal Rumble match by eliminating Nikki Bella—representative of the Divas-era old guard of women’s wrestling in WWE—to earn a match against the champion of her choice at WrestleMania 34.

After a little over a month of mystery, it was revealed that “The Empress of Tomorrow” chose “The Queen,” SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair as her WrestleMania opponent. The theme of their brief feud was “iron sharpens iron,” a conflict of two athletes and self-proclaimed royalty with mutual respect for each other. At WrestleMania 34, Flair defeated Asuka, submitting her with the Figure Eight to retain her title and end the 914-winning streak. It was arguably the greatest women’s match on the “Grandest Stage Of Them All” yet.

Flair and Asuka soon met again when Asuka was drafted to the blue brand as part of the 2018 WWE Superstar Shake-up. “The Empress” saved Flair and Becky Lynch from The IIconics and Carmella, and these groups feuded in various combinations before Asuka found herself back in the title picture. Her feud with SmackDown Women’s Champion Carmella, however, didn’t have the epic quality of most of her previous work, with its most memorable moment being the goofy return of James Ellsworth in a disguise.

This was the start of fans seeing the lower-stakes, lighter side of Asuka. She teamed with Naomi, her new best friend, against The IIconics and the devious duo of Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose. She was also in a similarly loveable role alongside The Miz in both seasons of the Mixed Match Challenge as Team Awe-ska.

But after months of keeping a low profile, Asuka returned to prominence and form after she won a battle royal to be added to the Becky Lynch vs. Chair Flair match for Lynch’s SmackDown Women’s Championship at TLC 2018. With a title on the line, she suddenly wasn’t all that friendly with the woman who ended her streak anymore. The two had an exciting WrestleMania rematch on the SmackDown before TLC that ended with Flair getting disqualified, all three women fighting outside the ring, and Asuka standing tall, raising a kendo stick victoriously in front of a cheering crowd.

Later the same night, she attacked The Miz during the semi-finals of the Mixed Match Challenge, costing them the match to get her revenge on the A-Lister for pushing her into a kick from Carmella. To anyone that still doubted her after that episode of SmackDown, it was clear that Asuka was back.

Asuka, Lynch, and Flair’s main event TLC match kept the crowd invested as all three wrestlers pulled out all the stops. It looked like it could be anyone’s match until Ronda Rousey interfered, knocking over the ladder on which her rivals Lynch and Flair were fighting. This allowed Asuka to climb to the title uninterrupted to win her first main roster championship in WWE.

Although she picked up in the W with some unexpected help, after an awesome TLC match and a history of greatness, fans were happy to see Asuka come out on top. Ultimately, “The Empress of Tomorrow” as champion means more high-profile matches for one of the best wrestlers in WWE and is a good sign for the SmackDown women’s division.

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