What followed was a championship reign marred by lucky breaks, inconclusive finishes, and questionable endings. Asuka’s popularity ascended to a height that could have culminated in another dominant championship reign. However, WWE decided to tell a series of stories that made Asuka appear as someone that wasn’t competently defending the championship, but instead, experiencing a string of good luck.
Asuka’s first high-profile defense came against Nia Jax at Backlash. The match ended in a double count-out with neither woman suffering a loss and neither woman gaining a victory. This match should have fired the opening salvo for Asuka’s title reign. She didn’t necessarily need to run through Jax with ease, but this match could have been the catalyst to a meaningful reign for Asuka. Instead, people forgot about the match as quickly as the bell rang signaling the poor decision.
At Extreme Rules, Asuka defended the championship against one-half of the Women’s Tag Team Champions, Sasha Banks. The match had many spectators in anticipation of seeing two of the top women’s wrestlers go head to head in their prime. Both Asuka and Banks were touted for their in-ring and character work throughout the year.
It seemed that after a rocky start, Asuka’s title reign could find the rhythm it needed. Then, following a referee bump, Bayley took the referee’s shirt and counted an illegitimate pinfall and purloined Asuka’s Raw Women’s Championship belt. The controversial ending granted Banks an unofficial victory.
While the match itself received impressive reviews from critics and fans, the finish left many with a sour aftertaste. Comments from those that watched the match told the story of viewers that enjoyed the effort put forth by both women, but felt the finish tarnished what the two attempted to create inside the ring.
Nevertheless, a rare on-camera appearance by Stephanie McMahon furthered the story when she announced that a rematch would take place to determine the rightful holder of the Raw Women’s Championship. An added stipulation stated that the title could change hands as the result of disqualification or count-out as well as pinfall or submission. The unique conditions of the contest cast a shadow over the impending rematch. Many believed this match would end with outside forces or shenanigans again that would outshine any performance of the competitors.
Those concerns would be warranted. The outcome of the rematch saw Asuka’s tag team partner, Kairi Sane, chase the SmackDown Women’s Champion, Bayley, to the backstage area in an attempt to even the odds. During the match, the Titantron showed Bayley beating Kairi Sane mercilessly against a garage door. Asuka—torn between retaining her championship and saving her friend—made the choice to run to the backstage area causing the referee to count her out of the match. he championship was then awarded to Sasha Banks.
In 78 days as champion, Asuka didn’t look like a formidable opponent worthy of holding the title. She was subjected to finishes that made her character appear lucky and unfitting of the gold around her waist. In pursuing these outcomes, not only did the booking provide a disservice to Asuka as a character, but it devalued the championship that was just on the company’s most popular star.
With a faulty match outcome and a devalued belt, this also takes away credibility from Sasha Banks as the new champion. This feud that featured two of WWE’s best assets, drove everyone’s value to a new low. Sasha Banks’ villainous persona and stellar character work seem to be distracting people from the damage done by these odd booking decisions, but the long-term loss of equity will most assuredly haunt the people behind these decisions.
These aren’t the only questionable choices surrounding WWE’s women’s division lately. Several of Bayley’s matches for the SmackDown Women’s Championship have gone above and beyond the typical heel champion motif with numerous instances of outside interference and attempts at not giving her opponents definitive losses.
Sasha Banks’ first episode of Raw as champion, saw her wrestle Shayna Baszler. The match ended when Asuka attacked Bayley on the outside of the ring—a move that normally doesn’t constitute a referee stoppage. Even Banks’ NXT dalliance with Io Shirai saw interference from Asuka as a way to make sure everyone’s reputation was protected.