Though Becky Lynch earned the WWE Royal Rumble Pay Per View’s crowning moment, outlasting 29 other women for the opportunity to headline WrestleMania against Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey, it was Asuka, the SmackDown Women’s Champion, who may have emerged as the show’s biggest winner.
Since Becky Lynch wasn’t formally announced as a WWE Royal Rumble participant and was instead scheduled to face Asuka for the SmackDown Women’s Championship, the possibilities were endless. Would Becky recapture her title and end Asuka’s championship reign just as it was getting off the ground? Or would Becky fall to The Empress, forced to find a way to face Ronda Rousey at ‘Mania by winning the Rumble?
The WWE Universe witnessed the second option unfold in dramatic fashion, as Becky began the show humbled by one of the single most dominant wrestlers in the world. Yes, Ronda Rousey defeated Sasha Banks to retain the Raw Women’s Championship, but at the Royal Rumble Pay Per View, it was Asuka who scored the submission of the night.
As expected, the bout between Asuka and Becky was brutal, evenly-matched, and filled with submissions and piercing strikes. Desperate to reclaim the title that she vaulted to the main event just a month earlier, Becky even tried to steal the “Asuka Lock”.
In the end, it wasn’t even the “Asuka Lock” that spelled doom for Lynch. No, The Man was bested by a new submission from Asuka that was somehow even more brutal than her armbar or “Asuka Lock”, as she bridged into a “Cattle Mutilation”. Even disgruntled WWE Champion Daniel Bryan had to crack a smile at that one.
Becky had no choice but to tap out, and while it may have been alarming to see the future Royal Rumble winner submit early in the match, that moment solidified Asuka’s status at the top of the card on SmackDown Live.
Over the past several weeks, Asuka has gotten back on track as a character in WWE, as fans are quickly forgetting her booking over the summer. Since capturing the title at TLC, Asuka has been vicious in the ring and confident outside of it, and she showed us all, Becky included, what she’s capable of technically.
Of course, Lynch’s decision to tap out was wise and helped her have just enough energy to win the Women’s Rumble and punch her ticket to face “Ronnie” at WrestleMania 35. But her submission loss to Asuka to start the show was more about The Empress than it was about The Man.
WWE came into this Pay Per View with Becky, Charlotte Flair, and Ronda already established as top stars. With their two women’s title matches, they had the opportunity to elevate Sasha Banks and Asuka into that must-see stratosphere heading into WrestleMania season, and both were accomplished. Sasha lost, but had a classic match.
And Asuka? She tapped out The Man – arguably the most bad-ass, respected star in WWE.
Becky did everything she set out to do by winning the Rumble, taking care of Nia Jax and Charlotte – her biggest roadblocks to facing her ultimate rival – at the end to earn her shot at Ronda. But at the beginning of the show with both women fresh, Asuka defeated Becky one-on-one, no tricks or interference. In an excellent match that showcased both women’s technical prowess and tenacity, it was Asuka who confirmed to the WWE Universe that she is indeed the same woman who ran through NXT (and part of the main roster) undefeated.
Because by booking her to beat the biggest star in the company, WWE showed immense faith – faith that we once weren’t sure existed – in Asuka as a major star in her own right
Asuka will almost certainly head into WrestleMania 35 as the SmackDown Women’s Champion, carrying the title with the same unassailable confidence as her predecessors after defeating The Man herself at the Royal Rumble.