SmackDown Live has a new Women’s Champion, and nobody’s happy. If Asuka lost her title for no reason, that’s bad. If she lost her title because it’s about to be unified with the Raw Women’s Championship, that’s worse.
SmackDown: your women’s division got burned on Tuesday. It wasn’t fair, it made no sense, and it made me want to rip my WrestleMania ticket in half.
Last night, WWE chose to add a completely unnecessary twist to the already convoluted and frustrating plotline surrounding the “historic” women’s main event at WrestleMania. A Fatal Four-Way to determine Asuka’s WrestleMania opponent was announced online and scrapped. Charlotte Flair stormed the ring and demanded a title shot instead. In a twist as shocking as it was deeply infuriating, Asuka lost her title to Flair.
Basically nobody is happy about this. Fans aren’t happy. The women of SmackDown aren’t happy. Even Flair herself, who is currently the most vindictive female heel in WWE, broke character to praise Asuka after the match:
But who wouldn’t feel for Asuka, or the SmackDown women’s division in general, the day after an episode like that? Taking away the fatal four-way removed an opportunity for the SmackDown women’s division to show their stuff and build up excitement for the division going into WrestleMania. Worse still, it gave us a disappointing end to a lackluster title run that did very little to showcase Asuka’s abilities as a champion.
And the cherry on the top? It’s being rumored that this incoherent last-minute booking decision was made so WWE can unify the Raw and SmackDown women’s championships, actually removing one of the five titles women can currently win in the WWE system.
First off, let’s be honest. Asuka has been wasted on the SmackDown roster, and there’s nobody to blame for that but the folks backstage. On NXT, she was a historic champion. On Raw, she was an undefeated monster. On SmackDown, she’s been stuck in feuds that make no sense and matches that are frankly embarrassing to watch. Instead of putting on killer matches, SmackDown wasted Asuka’s time by putting her in inexplicable feuds with Ellsworth and the IIconics.
I’m not saying that Asuka shouldn’t be putting over new talent. She should! But for that to be credible, Asuka has to have good matches, and she has to win enough that beating her is an accomplishment. When given the chance to excel she has, putting in great performances for the blue brand at Survivor Series and Elimination Chamber and continuing to be a highlight of the Mixed Match Challenge. But her week-to-week performance has been a confusing, disappointing slog. As a result, she’s put little shine on her opponents, and even less on herself.
We had reason to hope that Asuka’s title run would be a turning point for her. Yes, it was annoying that Rousey was credited for her win, but we know that Asuka can be a compelling champion. As the reigning heel queen of NXT, Asuka had some of the best matches of her career with talents like Bayley and Ember Moon.
On SmackDown, it seemed like she was forgotten as soon as she won her title. Weeks went by without her getting a single televised match. Her title defense at FastLane had no storyline build and was announced by her Instagram account. And on Tuesday, she lost her title to Charlotte in a 15-minute match for a weekly show that wasn’t even the main event.
None of this makes any sense at all. She was undefeated on NXT and Raw for over two years. On SmackDown, she can’t hang on to a title and she consistently loses to Mandy Rose. Are we supposed to believe that Asuka’s skills declined that quickly? And don’t tell me there’s nobody who could give Asuka a good match on SmackDown when they have Nikki Cross waiting in the wings.
Asuka’s time on SmackDown has been squandered to push other people, and her championship run was cut short for a stupid reason. Fans have every right to be mad about how this has all gone down.
Asuka is one of the best wrestlers in the world. She has proven, both within and outside of the WWE system, that she can carry storylines and be a credible, exciting champion. To see her lose that opportunity without buildup or explanation sucks, and is another big red flag that WWE doesn’t care about their women’s division outside of promoting the historic firsts that garner mainstream media attention.
The rumored reason for Asuka’s loss should have fans even more concerned. Title unification is a bad idea. WWE’s women have a lot to lose in a title unification scenario, and the arguments for it don’t hold up.
For example: the argument that there aren’t enough women to have tag team titles and singles titles is…well, it’s stupid. It’s not as if when you join a tag team you’re permanently banned from singles competition. In NXT, Undisputed Era has held singles and tag team titles at the same time. On the main roster, male singles competitors are put in the tag division for story reasons all the time. Tomasso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano debuted on the main roster as a tag team, and they’re still established singles competitors. Same with Ricochet and Aleister Black.
Remember how Braun Strowman won the tag team titles with a nine-year-old kid last year? It was dumb, but it happened. And he’s still a singles competitor last time I checked. So yeah, WWE can make this kind of thing work if they want to.
It’s also complete nonsense to say that WWE doesn’t have enough heavy-hitting female superstars to sustain multiple individual and tag team titles. The amount of potential in WWE’s women’s locker rooms is off the charts. Natalya, Naomi, and Alicia Fox are former champs that could shine again given the chance. Ember Moon, the Riott Squad, Sonya Deville, and other recent additions to the main roster have the potential to become fan favorites and eventual champions if they’re booked and pushed well.
And that’s to say nothing of Shayna Baszler, Mia Yim, Candice LeRae, Kairi Sane, and the other talented women waiting for a main roster shot in NXT. Anybody who thinks there aren’t enough talented women at WWE isn’t giving their women’s division the credit they deserve (and yes, I am talking directly to you, Vince McMahon).
The simplest explanation for a women’s title unification at this point in the game is WWE just doesn’t care that much about providing real opportunities for the women on their roster. Pushing talent takes time and effort, and women’s storylines that don’t carry that “first ever!” media-baiting cred don’t seem to be of great interest to WWE’s creative staff right now. (I mean, look at how they rewrote their own history to make the “first ever WWE women’s tag team titles”!)
So simplifying the women’s title picture is a pragmatic way to maintain focus on the handful of women Vince likes and leave the rest to do…whatever.
SmackDown’s women should be especially concerned about whatever might entail. The show is about to depart for Fox, and it may debut on a brand-new network without a women’s championship to draw a new audience’s focus to their women’s division. That could be a real problem when trying to connect to a new audience, especially when that audience is used to seeing wrestlers compete for a title. Does WWE have a plan for how they’ll spotlight their women’s wrestlers if there isn’t a title picture for them to be in? (Somehow, I doubt it.)
The other brands should be angry too. In general, titles lead to bigger opportunities for wrestlers, including increased income through PPV paydays and merchandising. In a company that already has a noted pay and recognition gap when it comes to female employees, taking opportunities away from women in the middle of the “women’s revolution” is as optically bad as it is empirically dumb.
The proposal to axe a women’s title is out in the open now, and there hasn’t been much pushback yet. There should be. WWE doesn’t deserve kudos for looking at a locker room full of incredibly talented women and deciding that it’s too much effort to invest in more than five of them at a time. Instead, they should rightfully be asked what the hell they’re thinking, and why the women’s division needs to make this kind of sacrifice.
I sincerely hope that I am wrong about all of this. It’s entirely possible that Asuka is injured, or there’s another reason this is being handled like it is. My secret hope is that they realized the Mandy/Asuka feud was a nonstarter, so they pivoted to a windup to build heat for Charlotte and give Asuka a rematch with Charlotte at WrestleMania 35. That would be an awesome match no matter what happens to the title involved. But WWE has not earned that benefit of the doubt when it comes to their women’s roster in the past, and they sure haven’t earned it when it comes to Asuka.