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4 questions and 4 reasons to be excited about Asuka’s debut

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Phelan Ebenhack/AP Images for WWE

Nobody is ready for Asuka? Who are you kidding, Asuka? With all due respect, we have been waiting a long time for you join us on Sunday and Monday nights. “The world famous,” the “Empress of Tomorrow,” whatever you want to call Asuka, she is the right woman to take WWE’s women’s revolution to the next level. Here’s why.

Asuka is Asuka – Asuka did not change who she was based on baby-face or heel alignment during her steamroller-like run through the NXT women’s roster. Whatever the storyline, her character made decisions that fit her character. The Asuka that hid behind a referee to survive at NXT Takeover Orlando was the same woman who battled Bayley with honor and respect in her title debut one year earlier. It never felt forced or fake.

Perfect Storytelling – No woman has ever gone from NXT to the main roster with a better backstory. Heck, no person has ever gone from NXT to the main roster with a better backstory. Sure, Kevin Owens had an epic debut, but his departure from NXT was disorganized and predictable when he dropped the championship. Asuka’s story is so perfect that she has never lost in a WWE ring, and does not have to go back down to NXT to awkwardly transition her title to another superstar.

Glorious Domination – Asuka can be the woman to succeed where powerhouses like Nia Jax or Kharma have failed since the division said goodbye to Beth Phoenix. Think about the crowd reaction when Braun Strowman’s music hits with the hunger for destruction that follows. Asuka can be that and more for the women’s division. Emma is taking credit for the women’s revolution again? Boom, hit Asuka’s music. Alicia Fox wants loses her mind again? Boom, hit Asuka’s music. Take it one step further. Is Enzo running his mouth during the Royal Rumble? Boom, Asuka kicks his face in.

Merchandise – Asuka may not have the same connection with kids as Bayley or Sasha Banks in the WWEshop.com department, but a mask always sells. The more kids (and adults) see Asuka destroy her foes every Monday in her Kabuki-Ish (shout out to Brother Love) mask, the hotter it sells. With the grand stage of the main roster, Asuka takes her unique pre-match attire and entrance themes to the next level.

FOUR QUESTIONS

Who is Asuka?

If you are reading this, you have probably heard of Asuka. But put yourself on the couch of your average wrestling fan that only watches pay per views on the network or watches Monday Night Raw and that is it. To them, Asuka is nothing but a few video highlights and a promo from Emma through which they probably fast forwarded. It is essential that Corey Graves and (gulp) Michael Cole get across who Asuka is without the same overkill as other recent NXT call ups. How should the commentators explain Asuka? Let her entrance and in-ring do the talking. Yes, she is the undefeated Empress of Tomorrow…

How does Asuka communicate?

Not every wrestler needs to cut 10-minute promos, but they need to get their message across in some way or why are they there? Asuka can do her talking in the ring, but that is not how communication takes place on Monday and Tuesday nights. Look at Shinsuke Nakamura and how tough it has been to get his message across. Don’t let Asuka get pigeonholed into being “the artist” or “the empress.” Becoming the first Paul Heyman girls is a dream for many fans, but there are other options for a mouthpiece. Lana and James Ellsworth are successful side-pieces to villainous women. Options are out there.

What should be her first real feud?

It depends on if WWE wants her has a fan favorite, a heel or someone on the fringe, but the logical choice is Bayley. It may feel stale to fans that watched them fight in NXT but both are improved wrestlers with changed characters over their time apart. Don’t forget that Asuka is just two years removed from uprooting her life in Japan, and Bayley was one of the first to show her the ropes in NXT. Have Asuka go to war with Bayley and a few things happen. First, you get heat with young girl in the audience. Second, the “look at me” fans that tried to boo Bayley out of the building this summer have a new favorite wrestler. Third, it naturally leads to built-in stories with Sasha Banks and Mickie James before whatever big plans take place on the road to WrestleMania and beyond.

Who breaks the streak?

Sorry Curt Hawkins, but face the facts. Asuka’s streak is the most valuable one in sports entertainment since Brock Lesnar put the one in 1-21 three years ago. This streak cannot be ended lightly. When it does, it has to mean something. Of the active women in WWE, no matchup is more anticipated than Asuka vs. Charlote Flair, and no woman is a bigger threat to the longest winning streak in the company.

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WWE

Rey Mysterio should be a part of Best of the Super Juniors

Chris Schubert

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In a few short months, one of the more exciting tournaments in all of professional wrestling will get underway. The months of June and July are consumed by New Japan’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Featuring all of the high-flyers from the junior heavyweight division, this tournament steals the show each and every year.

This year, they could steal it even more with an addition to the pool. Current free agent Rey Mysterio being a part of the tournament would take it to another level.

It isn’t like getting Mysterio to be a member of New Japan would be all that difficult. Mysterio was slated to face Jushin “Thunder” Liger at Strong Style Evolved back in March before suffering an arm injury that forced him to withdraw.

Mysterio still made an appearance at the event, getting in the ring after Liger’s match with Mysterio’s replacement, Will Ospreay. The current IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion made a challenge to fight Mysterio in a New Japan ring, to which Mysterio didn’t seem to object to.

Following an attack by Marty Scurll on Ospreay, Mysterio hoped into action, getting his mask ripped off by Scurll. In a matter of minutes, New Japan had setup three future feuds for Mysterio. One with Liger, who he was supposed to face in the first place. Another with Ospreay, who challenged Mysterio. Then a third with Scurll, for ripping Mysterio’s mask off.

What better place for New Japan to be able to get the best of all three of those feuds than the Best of the Super Juniors tournament? Mysterio being a surprise addition to that tournament would create a massive buzz for casual New Japan fans, potentially getting them to sign up for NJPW World to see Mysterio in action.

It’s well known that the last BoSJ was the last for Liger, but a potential match with Mysterio could certainly convince him to give it one last go. If not, New Japan can still get Mysterio against the rest of the division and give it another high profile name alongside the mainstays of the division.

Rumors have circulated about Mysterio’s involvement with WWE’s Greatest Royal Rumble event later on this month. While it’s unclear if that would be a one-off or not, Mysterio has been using the free agency thing to his advantage.

Because he is able to bounce around from promotion to promotion, it has made him into a huge attraction these days. His tenure with Lucha Underground is a perfect example of that, taking an already popular product and getting more people interested in it because he’s there.

That same theory can apply to the BoSJ. It’s an event that has gained major appeal over the last three to five years because of the wrestlers that are involved.

Adding Rey Mysterio to that group, even if it’s just for those two months, would be a huge coup for New Japan. They are trying to expand into the United States; why not add the face of lucha libre in the United States and Mexico for the past 10-plus years?

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5 questions we need answered on SmackDown Live 4-17

Chris Schubert

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Night two of the Superstar Shakeup is here, and SmackDown Live is going to need an influx of talent. In the first night, the blue brand lost Bobby Roode, Dolph Ziggler, Jinder Mahal and Natalya, among others. We did learn on Monday Night Raw that The Miz would be coming back to SmackDown Live. Who else could be joining him?

With that in mind, here are five questions we need answered on tonight’s edition of SmackDown Live.

So which superstars will be joining SmackDown Live?

Paige seems to already be making her mark as the new general manager of SmackDown Live. She was able to survive Raw’s purge of the roster and keep Daniel Bryan, Shinsuke Nakmaura and A.J. Styles as part of the blue brand.

Tonight we get to see what she was able to get from the Raw roster. We know that The Miz is coming over, but surely there is more talent coming to Tuesday nights. One of the mid-card champions needs to come back over, and Seth Rollins would be a perfect choice. Surely a tag team will be moved, perhaps The Revival.

Then there is the NXT element. We saw Drew McIntyre make his return to WWE television alongside Dolph Ziggler. Perhaps another former NXT champion and his associate could make SmackDown Live “tranquillo.”

Does Daniel Bryan finally get his hands on The Miz?

It was a segment that put SmackDown Live on the map during the first version of the new brand-split. The Miz cutting a vicious promo on Daniel Bryan, who then was the GM of SmackDown Live and unable to complete, during Talking Smack. Now, Bryan is back in the ring and he pulled some strings to get The Miz back over to the blue brand.

This is a match that most fans didn’t think we would see again, but now we have that chance. Does WWE put it on tonight? Or do they have this be The Miz’ first feud on SmackDown Live and let it burn until Backlash?

Will Shinsuke Nakamura explain his actions this time?

Sarcastic heel Nakamura had a great first week on SmackDown Live with his new character. He cut a very good promo and then proceeded to ruin a dream matchup between Styles and Bryan.

There haven’t been a lot of answers to why Nakamura has taken this direction as a character, and that mystery is adding to this angle. With Bryan now being thrown into the mix, does this now become a triple-threat angle for the WWE Championship? Either way, Nakmaura needs to start answering for his actions.

What does the reign of Carmella look like?

Carmella finally cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase to become the new SmackDown Live Women’s Champion, defeating Charlotte. The Queen was busy getting attacked by the IIconics, allowing the Princess this opportunity.

Now that she is the champion, and she will have to face Charlotte in an actual match for the championship, can the reign of Carmella last? Tonight is the first week of her reign, so we will clearly see how they are setting up Charlotte/Carmella.

Can the Usos prove they can hang with the Bludgeon Brothers?

The Usos earned another chance to become SmackDown Live Tag Team Champions, getting another match against the Bludgeon Brothers.

So far, it’s been very difficult to gain the upper hand against Rowan and Harper. Jimmy and Jey will have to find a way to do that if they want to recapture their championships.

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5 questions we need answered on Raw 4-16

Chris Schubert

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Raw

If the buzz from WrestleMania is wearing off, don’t worry. The WWE is here to provide its audience with even more buzz and excitement with the Superstar Shakeup. Tonight, superstars will begin to switch brands and the makeup of both Raw and SmackDown Live will undergo a makeover.

With that in mind, here are five questions we need answered on tonight’s edition of Raw.

Who is coming over from SmackDown Live in the Superstar Shakeup?

Both Raw and SmackDown Live need fresh superstars to mix into their main event scenes and their rosters in general. SmackDown Live, in particular, had gotten boring and stale.

So who from SmackDown Live could come over and get a fresh start on Monday Night Raw? A popular name that has been thrown around is Daniel Bryan. Bryan is clearly the most over superstar in the company, but Vince McMahon will probably hesitate on putting Bryan and Roman Reigns on the same show.

Perhaps Randy Orton could come to Monday Night Raw. A.J. Styles is the WWE Champion, so it’s tough to move him. Shinsuke Nakamura is probably tied at the hip to Styles for the time being. It doesn’t leave a lot of options, so it will be interesting to see what WWE does to shake up Raw besides sending people to SmackDown Live.

Is Roman Reigns being punished?

That’s the way that Roman Reigns portrayed his upcoming contest against Brock Lesnar at Greatest Royal Rumble. His promo last Monday indicated that the people in the back were punishing him by putting him in matches for the Universal Championship.

Reigns has an opportunity to win a championship and, in kayfabe, earn more money/fame/glory. He might be the only person on the WWE roster that looks as that as a bad thing.

That’s at least how WWE is trying to portray it. No wonder Reigns can’t get over with fans. Reigns needs a promo tonight where he saves this, and explains himself. Or else none of this makes any sense.

Will Bayley and Sasha Banks settle their drama tonight?

The Bayley/Sasha Banks saga has been going on since the Royal Rumble back in January. Now, on Raw tonight, they will get the chance to finally do battle and settle this score.

These two have had an odd relationship over the last couple of months, seeing both act in heelish ways at times. This is actually a feud that WWE has booked well, and haven’t given away the payoff at all before their first encounter.

It’s weird that it’s happening on free TV, but that might mean one of these two ladies is headed over to SmackDown Live.

What’s Bobby Lashley going to be doing?

Somewhat lost in all of the post-WrestleMania buzz and Superstar Shakeup rumors was Bobby Lashley’s return to WWE. Lashley showed up to destroy Elias and make a statement in his return for the company.

So what will Lashley be doing? Is a feud against Elias up first? Rumors have been circulating of a Lashley/Lesnar feud at some point, but Lesnar’s contract may make that impossible. Only time will tell what WWE’s plan is for Lashley.

Does ‘Woken’ Matt Hardy’s expedition of gold continue?

Matt Hardy procured Andre the Giant’s trophy. Now, Hardy is on an expedition of gold, hoping to become the Raw Tag Team Champions. He isn’t doing so alongside his brother Jeff Hardy; this time it’s Bray Wyatt who is teaming with the Woken One.

Hardy and Wyatt need a victory tonight to secure themselves a spot at Greatest Royal Rumble against The Bar for the titles. Can this newly found (and weird/cool) partnership earn themselves a championship opportunity?

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So far so good for Shinsuke Nakamura’s heel turn

Jaime Eisner

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WWE shocked the world on WrestleMania Sunday when they decided to have fan-favorite Shinsuke Nakamura turn on WWE Champion A.J. Styles following the conclusion of their title match. The low blow heard ’round the world was the beginning of a new journey for the King of Strong Style, a journey some are skeptical of.

Can Nakamura — a highly-popular wrestler fans actively want to cheer — be successful as a heel? Will he be able to cut promos that get him over as a bad guy?

We’re now one week in. So far, so good. We don’t want to get too carried away just one show in, but the way Nakamura was utilized on SmackDown Live this week gives us plenty of hope for the future.

Nakamura had two key moments to build his character on Tuesday. The first was a backstage promo with Renee Young and he aced that test. His sarcastic, disingenuous apology to Styles was the stuff of heel gold. His “sorry, no speak English” walk-off retort drew a massive pop from those in attendance in New Orleans. It was the best promo segment he’s done on WWE television.

Act II of his first SmackDown as a heel was breaking up the dream match between Daniel Bryan and Styles. Clearly something was up since it seemed odd to book that caliber of a match for a 15-minute spot, unadvertised, at the end of the show. There was no chance we got a clean finish — and we didn’t.

Nakamura kicking Bryan in the head fits his character’s move set and also plays into the angle WWE apparently is going to run ad nauseam regarding Bryan’s previous head injuries. Nakamura low blowing Styles multiple times hammered home the point that the old Shinsuke isn’t coming back (for awhile).

It may seem basic, but making a great heel doesn’t have to be convoluted. Nakamura, a legit international star who (in kayfabe) has the ability to beat anyone in the world with his skill set is resorting to low blows simply because he can — and he’s doing it over and over and over. He’s not hitting Styles below the belt because he has to, he’s doing it because he wants to.

What annoys a fan base in any sport more than an athlete who resorts to dirty tactics when they have all the talent to succeed the right way? That, at its core, is what Nakamura’s heel turn is about. So far, it’s working marvelously.

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Assessing future for post-WrestleMania NXT call-ups

Jaime Eisner

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The Raw and SmackDown Live shows after WrestleMania did not disappoint this year. One of the major reasons why was the handful of NXT call-ups that made surprise appearances, signaling the official beginning of their main roster journey.

Where do they go from here? What is their potential upside?

With the Superstar Shakeup only days away, it would be foolish to predict exact scenarios. But let’s take a big-picture look at the six wrestlers who now call the main roster home.

Ember Moon

The highest upside of the first wave of post-WrestleMania NXT call-ups belongs to Ember Moon. The former NXT Women’s Champion not only succeeded in bridging the gap between the Asuka era and the current Shayna Baszler/Kairi Sane era, she built her character into a main event-caliber act fans are more than willing to pay to see.

Moon has found the perfect character mix of being a true babyface that’s not afraid to be aggressive when the situation warrants. It’s quite difficult to trek into the area of ruthlessness while being a character babyface, but her feud with Baszler allowed Moon to put her full skill set on display.

She has “Women’s Champion” written all over her. She can carry a brand (likely opposite of Charlotte Flair) as the top female, both as a scratch-and-claw babyface and a dominant yet likable champion. Her ascent to the top of the main roster women’s division may be slower than some fans prefer, but it will be worth it in the end.

No Way Jose

We’ll call this the “Apollo Crews call-up” — the one no one really saw coming, but there’s no concrete argument against it. It’s been a while since No Way Jose was a mainstay on NXT television, but if not for injury this call-up would be right in line with the arbitrary timetable many would’ve put on him after his NXT debut.

Jose is a rare true babyface through and through. He’s fun and brings energy whenever his music plays in the arena. There’s always the concern that he falls into the Brodus Clay or Adam Rose world of WWE — a short-lived comedy act that quickly wears out its welcome. However, the role those aforementioned talents filled was a valid one and Jose has the benefit of being a better worker.

The upside here is limited, though. Jose appears destined to be a mid-to-upper-mid-card performer, which is perfectly OK. Jose can fill a vital feel-good role for WWE with the ability to wrestle in more serious situations when needed. He’ll be a fan favorite and a solid merch seller.

Iconic Duo — Peyton Royce and Billie Kay

It’s about time.

The Iconic Duo have been off NXT TV for far too long, so it was awesome to see them debut on SmackDown Live in a pivotal segment involving Charlotte Flair and Carmella.

Women’s tag team wrestling may not be a thing (yet) in WWE, but the writing team will have a lot of fresh storyline ideas to choose from with these two women. Whether they “Freebird” one of the women’s titles or decide to recruit/hold try-outs for a new third wheel every week for 6-woman tag competition, expect to see something just a little bit different from the norm.

There’s plenty of upside for both women, but Peyton Royce will be groomed to be the breakout singles star by 2020. Expect a 12-18 month reign of dominance, pettiness and comeuppance for the Iconic Duo before Billie Kay turns on Royce, creating a new heel and babyface for the women’s division on either Raw or SmackDown Live.

Authors of Pain — Akam and Rezar

Labeling this call-up “overdue” doesn’t show enough respect for the Authors of Pain’s sensational run on NXT television of late, so let’s just say they had the ability to be on the main roster sooner. The evolution of Akam and Rezar during their time at NXT was truly something special to watch.

The duo squashed the fear of them being just another big guy tag team very early in their NXT run. They put on athletic, story-filled wrestling matches with every team they faced. They learned how to sell but not die in the ring against smaller opponents while maintaining the realism their stature dictates. They learned that every move means something when you’re that size. They became one of the greatest tag teams in NXT history.

Their ascent may be rapid. Assuming they’ll be on the show opposite of the Bludgeon Brothers, the Authors of Pain seem destined for a tag team title run in the next six months. They won’t have Paul Ellering by their side any more, so now we’ll see if they can talk enough to hang with the main roster talent. It would be a mistake to doubt the ability of these two.

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