A Tribute to WWE’s Asuka: The Empress of Tomorrow

After a terrible week in the news, it’s time for something uplifting and aspirational, don’t you agree? Tomorrow night is SummerSlam, which is traditionally viewed as WWE’s #2 show of the year. But for the past few years another show has taken some of that hype and thunder. That would be the the show that has become the WrestleMania of WWE’s NXT developmental brand, TakeOver: Brooklyn, the third edition of which is set for tonight. The biggest match on the card, whether it closes the show or not (and it should), is the match for the NXT Women’s Championship.

Here, we will see Asuka, “The Empress of Tomorrow,” defend her championship against Ember Moon. Asuka’s reign has been nothing short of historic. She now owns what’s being billed as the longest undefeated streak in WWE history (it’s currently at something like 195-0, with a few draws and no-wins in multi-women matches where she was never beaten herself). Asuka’s streak far surpasses Goldberg’s streak of 173-0 from 1997-98 which made him a household name. As of this week, Asuka also became the longest reigning champion in WWE of any kind in the modern era, with a reign currently at 504 days.

Think of how much the world has changed since the Empress of Tomorrow won that NXT Women’s Championship last April 1st. Since then, we’ve seen Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the Chicago cubs winning the world series and reversing a century-old curse, numerous terrorist attacks, the resurgence of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the discovery of Proxima b, an earth-like world only four light years away, and, closer to her home, the retirement of The Undertaker from WWE, just to name a few. Asuka reigning as the undefeated WWE NXT Women’s Champion has been a constant through all of these events.

Ember Moon, meanwhile, is being billed as the one character that’s seemed to finally have found a chink in the armor of the undefeated Empress of Tomorrow. With the hype of the most devastating finisher in WWE and the narrative that Asuka had to cut corners the last time they faced each other, followed by the empress deliberately inflicting an injury on Ember Moon to keep her out of action a few weeks afterward, the story has been told very well heading into TakeOver: Brooklyn tonight.

My pick for tonight is actually Ember Moon. I generally have her odds at 66%, if I had to put a number on it. It seems the natural conclusion to this story. Someone does eventually have to beat Asuka and tonight looks to be the night, as the Empress of Tomorrow has now broken every record to be broken, and the WWE main roster awaits. Both Raw and Smackdown’s women’s divisions have been stale beyond measure and need her extremely badly. There’s nothing left for Asuka to do in NXT but make someone a star on her way out.

Also, it’s just too symbolic that there’s going to be a solar eclipse over North America on Monday. Ember Moon’s finisher is called the Eclipse, and in the build to their previous battle in Orlando in April, Asuka, displaying her knowledge of symbolism and imagery (see below), confidently proclaimed that “the moon never shines brighter than the sun.” The comparison was obvious (Louis XIV would be proud). True…but sometimes the moon eclipses the sun. Is it a coincidence that the sun will be eclipsed Monday? This sort of thing almost forces you to believe that we live in a giant simulation, like Scott Adams often proclaims.

But how did this all happen? There were a lot of barriers in the Empress of Tomorrow’s way that could have stopped her from achieving the success she’s had. How did Asuka do it? You can hear from most people about her feats. I’m here to tell you about her storytelling ability, the Scott Adams-like system she uses, and her persuasive prowess, which are the crucial skills you need to succeed in the scripted world of professional wrestling, and even outside the squared circle, as an individual she is very unique and multi-talented, all of which translated over.

The Manipulation of Appearances

Asuka, real name Kanako Urai, didn’t start out like many of her peers did. She doesn’t seem to have been a kid who watched wrestling, loved it, and wanted to get into it. Instead, born, raised, and educated in Osaka, Japan, she went on a more conventional path, starting out as a graphic designer prior to beginning her wrestling career in 2004.

It might seem like these paths are completely unrelated, but I would argue that Asuka’s education as a graphic designer was the first plank in her talent stack that’s led her to such great heights in WWE.  “All power is based on appearances,” Robert Greene famously says. By starting out as a graphic designer, the very thing Asuka learned was how to manipulate appearances to get the best response from an audience.

This naturally bleeds over into her wrestling character. Like The Undertaker, Asuka has an entrance that is nothing if not a spectacle, sauntering down to the ring in an elegant kimono and a menacing-looking mask to create a contrast that oozes tension, and thus charisma, through the contradiction.

Her entrance and its attire aren’t the only appearances that Asuka manipulates to establish her presence. Longtime readers know that I’m normally aghast at unnaturally-colored hair, but it works for the Empress’ character. The bright colors, usually contrasting on either side of her head, serve to draw more attention to herself. There is a Pre-Suasive element just to that alone. The Empress of Tomorrow, when still in school in Osaka, would have been versed in color theory, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an element of that in her entrance attire, hair, masks, ring gear, and so on. Speaking of her ring gear, it’s also brightly colored, with much contrast. Compared to the more monotonic attire her peers like Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Charlotte Flair wear, it serves to make her stand out that much more.

If you don’t think that matters, it does. It’s well known that certain color combinations lead to better conversions in sales and marketing, and Asuka uses it for her character. Color theory is one thing I’m behind on in my overall persuasion education.

Expect to see a focus on it for 2018.

Branding

Outside of the ring, Asuka is also a business owner. She owns a hair salon called “Another Heaven” in Yokohama. In addition to that, prior to signing with WWE, Asuka (then known as Kana), basically marketed herself as a brand and organized her own wrestling shows in Japan which sold out, even though women’s wrestling is far from as popular there as it was in the past. All this means Asuka knows about marketing and branding. It’s a necessary skill for any business owner. Branding also matters in professional wrestling. Each character needs to have a stamp that contrasts it with every other character, a unique selling proposition, if you will. One reason why WWE hasn’t been able to match the highs of the Attitude Era for so long, I argue, is that there’s little contrast between most of the characters. They’re mostly overly scripted and have little differentiation between them, basically just guys reading lines that can wrestle well. Few of them have a unique selling proposition.

While Asuka can indeed wrestle well (she’s among the best in the company and certainly the best woman), she’s differentiated herself by making her skill so supreme that it’s basically become a brand in itself. Her USP is basically that of the female Brock Lesnar or Goldberg – an ultimate fighting machine that crushes everybody in her path because no one has the skill to match her. The Empress of Tomorrow coined a perfect catchphrase that embodies this USP:

It’s a perfect headline/slogan, one which embodies a unique selling proposition. Avis famously had “We’re number two, we try harder.” Priceline had “name your own price.” Asuka has “nobody is ready for Asuka.” It differentiates the Empress of Tomorrow from everyone else on the WWE roster, declaring in effect that she’s too good for everyone else, and her other work all backs that USP up.

And notice the way she delivered her slogan? This brings us into the most astounding thing about the success of the Empress of Tomorrow.

Communication Good Enough to Break Barriers

English, obviously, is not Asuka’s native language. She’s picked some up, but based on what I’ve heard from friends and associates that have expatriated to Japan (chief among them RVF’s Tokyo Joe), the state of English education in that country is not that good. English is also a very difficult language for Japanese speakers to pick up due to certain pronunciations, as Shinsuke Nakamura, who’s command of the language is far more advanced than Asuka’s, explained a while ago.

But as we’ve seen here many times, nonverbals dominate communication far more than any words that leave your mouth.

Broken English, but pay attention to the Empress’ body language, expressions, and tonality. Even the “foo” botch for “moon” worked well because, while accidental, it belittled her opponent and caught attention the way a typo does.

And again. Asuka’s command of English is limited, but her body language, expressions, and voice tonality all serve to advance the story that she’s telling despite it. The Empress’ command of her body movements, facial expressions, and vocal range (as told in Stumped) are all on point. She has a perfect contrast in her nonverbal communications and vocal tones – believably both almost childishly cute one minute, absolutely terrifying the next. All of this creates charisma without a single word spoken.

Asuka vs Nikki Cross

So long as the Empress of Tomorrow isn’t asked by WWE to do long talks in English, she looks totally credible and is an enhancement in selling a story. That’s quite an incredible accomplishment for someone with limited command of the English language in an English speaking WWE that reaches millions of primarily English speakers.

Asuka hair flip

But not to be limited merely to nonverbals and broken English, Asuka has used her native language to her advantage in telling her story.

When she goes mental or whispers ominously in Japanese, it not only helps to keep an air of mystery since most fans don’t understand the language, it’s combined with her nonverbal communications skills and her great command of vocal tonality to help make for an even better promo.

Ring Skills

As mentioned before, Asuka’s ring skills are among the best in WWE, if not the world. All of her matches are a great pleasure to watch. Her command of body language and even her vocal grunts and taunts during her matches help her even further to establish an awesome presence that demands attention from the fans.

You can put Asuka out there and it’s guaranteed she’ll put on a good show. I haven’t yet seen a match with her in it that was bad.

Timing/Luck

It can’t be denied that part of Asuka’s success was luck. She came at just the right time to ensure her run would be of historic proportions, because the NXT women’s division was decimated when many of its top stars were called up to the WWE main roster. The Empress of Tomorrow was needed to bridge that transition, which is now complete given a spate of new signings coming out of the WWE Mae Young Classic tournament to start next week.

Yes, her run would not have been quite as dominant if she came a year earlier, but her talents made it far easier for luck to find her at the right time.

Conclusion

Asuka’s had an incredible run. The language barrier alone could have easily shredded her rise, but she managed to overcome that and any other barrier through her talent stack. Let’s run through it again and, roughly, grade it:

Appearance and presence: A (thanks in huge part to her education)

Branding: A- (her business experience, ring skills, and her USP have put her ahead of most of her peers)

Second language: D (this is by far her biggest weakness)

Nonverbal communication: A (in this all-important category, she is well ahead of most of her peers)

Vocal tonality: A (most of her competitors are comparatively monotonic compared to the excellent range she has)

Japanese verbals: A (can help sell a story to a great degree)

Ring skills: A (among the best in WWE, if not the best)

Luck: A (thus far anyway, as she came at just the right time to ensure a massive run, we’ll have to see how that changes on the WWE main roster)

As you can see, with a talent stack this good, it’s little wonder why the Empress of Tomorrow has been on such a historic course. Her ring skills and out of ring life have combined with lucky timing to make something special. She’s a unique personality and if you aren’t following her on Twitter, you’re missing out.

Asuka is mistress of many skills. To get some of the Empress’ magic, read Stumped, because she uses most of the same skills.

Asuka WWEUpdate:

Looks like I was wrong about last night. Asuka retained after what was probably her best performance to date against Ember Moon, who also got much more out of that match than she had going into it. We saw Asuka’s talent stack coming together perfectly last night, particularly in what was her most spectacular entrance to date. I’ll see if I can find video of it later.

  • Ainigmaris Thales

    Only strike against Asuka is that she really doesn’t have much to work with in NXT.

    View Comment
    • Yep. That’s why I was convinced Ember was going to win, and why I think it was the wrong decision to have her retain. The NXT women’s division needs a refresh, and Raw’s women’s division especially does also. But she was injured during that match, so we will see where it goes from here.

      She and Braun Strowman are the hottest acts in wrestling right now. Both of them deserve their WrestleMania moments next April.

      View Comment