On April 8, 2018, I went over to a friend’s house to watch WrestleMania 34. The other people present were drinking beer and myself, a sodie-pop. Probably Dr. Pepper or Barq’s Root Beer. There was a banquet of pizza, wings, li’l smokies, and nachos.
I was a casual viewer at this point, popping up for whatever big WWE pay-per-view was taking place, and there were a few matches in particular I had an interest in. On a night that saw phenomenal matches, disappointing matches and downright stinkers, there was one that has stood firmly in my heart to this day: Asuka vs Charlotte Flair.
This match captured my imagination and spirit, I often credit the match as a huge reason why I’m here today; why I’m a fan.
However, it does not go unnoticed to me that this match is polarizing. Fans today are still salty about it, for good reason.
Prior to her WWE signing, Asuka made a name for herself in her home country of Japan under the name of Kana. Competing across various promotions she would even put on clinics in the American independent circuit while wearing face paint or acting like a clown. As expected with someone of her calibre and talent, Kana caught the eye of WWE and was soon under their umbrella, starting out in NXT with a clear face and clear slate.
From there she began an undefeated streak, defeating the likes of Emma, Dana Brooke and Cameron before dethroning Bayley for the NXT Women’s Championship. As her body count increased, Asuka became a threat and a prize in and of herself, many wanted to topple her and etch their name in the pantheon of NXT megastars, but all fell swiftly to her stiff strikes and mighty power, including legend Mickie James and Asuka’s closest threat yet, Ember Moon. She would remain dominant and seated at the top of the division, William Regal noting her as one of the best champions in WWE’s history and Triple H reportedly wanting to keep her in his black and gold brand.
This version of Asuka was a natural born killer. Those gazing, peering eyes and that sly little grin would freeze most in their tracks as she lowered her mask. Rarely was she to show any weakness; she remained confident in her ability to withstand whichever opponent was sent her way. Her matches were high-octane frenzies that you could not look away from. Transcending language, Asuka was a star among stars.
Charlotte Flair, however, had wrestling in her genetics, she worked to cultivate that into a force that few could manage. She may have had an easy foot in the door, but she made her own path and paved it in gold. If you didn’t like it, you had to learn to love it.
Inevitably, both women were on a fateful collision course towards each other at the Showcase of the Immortals. Asuka would soon be called up to the main roster and at the 2018 Royal Rumble, where I first became a fan of her, she last eliminated Nikki Bella to earn a title opportunity. She would soon declare her choice of which title she wanted to challenge for and she chose the SmackDown Women’s Champion, Charlotte Flair, who was in the midst of her long reign after having won it off of Natalya in 2017.
As Gorilla Monsoon once put it, the unstoppable force meets the immovable object.
The stage was set for New Orleans, for WrestleMania 34, immediately the stakes were high. A winning streak spanning for over two years versus a championship reign by someone born of a high wrestling pedigree. And still, despite all she has in her flowing blood and pumping heart, Charlotte Flair was this time an underdog.
How can you dominate the indomitable? Was the Queen of WWE ready for the Empress of Tomorrow?
Asuka stands physically dwarfed by Flair in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but her aura and shadow obscures the golden talent that stands before her.
Evenly matched at the start, their styles clashed with the agility, speed, strength and sheer unpredictability. Flair did her best to hold fast against the train of offense that is Asuka, but the unrelenting Asuka would prove too much, firmly situated inside the head of her opponent.
Sometimes when I get so into a match, I stiffen and the world dissolves around me, where nothing else exists but the action in the ring. That was the case here, I was staunchly and firmly in Asuka’s corner, quietly cheering her on and praying the streak would continue, that the typical WWE-style would waver in favor of something new.
Asuka was getting the upper hand with her submissions, with Charlotte managing to escape, but each time it felt that victory was truly in the grasp of the Empress. Both showcased their smarts, Asuka jumping on Charlotte’s back to ground her, only for Flair to outsmart and outmanoeuvre this by simply but wisely falling flat on her back.
Charlotte would soon attempt a moonsault, but Asuka’s quick timing managed to counter this with a sublime armbar. Charlotte could’ve tapped out at any moment, the Empress of Tomorrow becoming the champion of today, but Flair valiantly reversed it into a Boston Crab.
It was time to panic.
My inexperienced heart couldn’t take it, this was too much – yet I couldn’t look away. The adrenaline was flowing and the testosterone was pulsating. This is how the sport gripped me in ways I never thought I’d ever face again.
Throughout the match Asuka would target the shoulder of Charlotte, sensing this wasn’t going to be as easy as she thought. Once you break down your opponent, the armor falls off and the flesh is easier to target, but Charlotte was proving ready enough to avoid and dodge, landing a kick to stop Asuka’s running hip attack.
The match then moves to the always perilous ring apron, from which Asuka sacrificed the well-being of both women with a sinister suplex to the floor that shook the wind out of both competitors, but eventually both made a hasty return to the ring to avoid a count-out.
The threat of Asuka was not wearing down, despite how long the match went she would not relent – her stiff kicks and strikes kept Charlotte floored and in misery, yet the champion always persevered. The Queen had yet to unleash her full arsenal, the Natural Selection, but this was met in kind with another arm submission. This time, this time for sure, I thought, desperately lost in the frenzy. There was so much on the line and the end had to come soon. Please, please let Asuka’s streak continue, for the love of God, let it continue.
Flair trapped Asuka with the famous Figure Four, only for it to reversed into the Asuka Lock. A relentless Empress who was ready to go through fire and brimstone to keep her reputation and have the cerulean belt around her waist, this was her destiny. After a back-and-forth Flair finally snatched Asuka up again for the Figure Eight; such a vicious hold for such a damning effect.
The time grew short the longer the hold was maintained and the strings of fate were thinning, ready to be cut. Will Asuka survive? Can she fight out of it like she has many times before? Oh no, oh no, oh no, please no…
The punishment was too much, even for an eternal soldier, and with tears streaming across that thick black line across her face, Asuka frantically tapped on Charlotte’s leg. Her bitter surrender.
It was over and my muscles relaxed. A sigh of relief and of sadness, for the streak had been broken.
914 days broken in a single instant. Undone in a moment was the aura of someone with massive magnitude, and out came just a normal woman with unnatural talent and ability. The frustration among those around me was made justifiably clear and though I was disappointed, I could not find myself to be embittered and angry because I was lost in the story.
Asuka would then declare that Charlotte Flair was ready for Asuka. “Congratulations!” The two embraced. Respect and love were fought for and earned in full.
Though the match didn’t break fifteen minutes, it felt like a grand epic spanning thirty or more while still feeling like it had just started. The performance was endlessly enthralling and captivating.
I became a consistent viewer of wrestling from then on and I had to keep learning more, even if I couldn’t watch or access certain areas. My curiosity and intent for knowledge and experience drove me down the rabbit hole that is professional wrestling.
I had my childhood heroes growing up such as Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker and Razor Ramon, but I had been out of the game for so long. After retirements and death drove me away, I was back. A further nudge was needed, however, and that would come at the clash of a Stone Pitbull and a Cleaner.
I understand everyone’s sentiments about Asuka’s booking, of which she would recover from a few times before becoming an imposter mid-carder who belonged adamantly in the main event. She’d rightfully win the SmackDown Women’s Championship later that year and the RAW Women’s Championship years after, as well as a tag team run with Kairi Sane.
But, the killer in her became soft. Her goofy side is heartwarming and wholesome to see, but that wasn’t the Asuka we all came to know and love. That black dash over her face would be replaced with whatever steaming color ran down her face to symbolize the green mist that would live inside her.
However, during RAW on December 12, 2022, Asuka would emerge in a match against Rhea Ripley with no face paint and no urge to indulge in fun and games. She would lose this match, with posts indicating she needed to return to who she was, with photos of past Asuka and Kana. She said she needed to go back home and “find something”.
After a period of silence the Empress of Tomorrow made her return, but she was not the same – she had new music, a new mask and demented clown makeup reminiscent of her Kana character in days of yore. Instead of spewing mist as much (though she still did), she’s since been letting it ooze. She’s still toying with her prey, while hiding a fact that she could do more if she wanted. Something about that smile… This is the Asuka and the Kana we’ve been wanting.
From far and wide and lightyears away, a new future writes itself as queens will fall to the ground like rain, to the thunder of the force of nature they call by name – Asuka, the Empress of Tomorrow.