Asuka (c) vs. Bayley
The Hugster returns to the scene of her greatest triumph to face the woman who delivered her most crushing defeat.
The Road to TakeOver
It’s not easy to do a better job than the above hype video, which aired on this past Wednesday’s episode of NXT, but let’s at least try to make a few points very clear.
Bayley is a unique figure in the history of the brand. Not only is she one of the, if not THE, biggest stars associated with NXT, she is someone we’ve watched grow as a character and performer during the life of the show which now airs on WWE Network.
Sure, she worked the West Coast indies and even a Shimmer taping or three as Davina Rose. But almost the entire wrestling community has watched her "grow up" as Bayley right in front of us. And as that character progressed from fangirl to champion, it was hard to not think something similar was going on for the woman behind the act.
We’d seen her lose before - it’s part of the appeal. She’s everyone who ever had to struggle for their dream, who didn’t get it right on the first try. But even as she became the champion, we still knew her as that over-excited woman-child, which made seeing her passed out on the mat in Dallas that much more disturbing.
And it was Asuka, a joshi great as Kana even before any of us knew her signing with WWE was even a possibilty, who did that to her. Some fans, this writer included, may have over-estimated the impact being the one to so demonstrably humble the Hugster had on the Empress’ popularity. If anything, it added to her Brock Lesnar-esque aura, which may not help her move merch, but will definitely sell some tickets.
Creative’s decision to run an injury angle with Bayley built suspense for this inevitable rematch, but it also introduced an element of doubt. Was our hero scared of the undefeated Asuka? Though she gained retribution for being wounded by defeating Nia Jax, and fighting her way back into championship condition, there’s a question there... is the current champ the one mountain Bayley can’t climb?
Even as she revealed a new side of her persona over the last couple of weeks... a take-no-prisoners badass unafraid to go toe-to-toe with Asuka... there was a slight hesitation to Bayley’s actions. If she’s not 100% sure she can do this, how can we be?
It’s excellent storytelling backed by great performances which will be paid off in what promises to be a brutal match. Pro wrestling doesn’t get much better than this.
What's at Stake?
Waxing lyrical about what’s been presented on screen only covers one facet of Saturday night’s co-main event.
While a loss really brings no shame to either woman - Bayley would be falling to someone no WWE talent has pinned or submitted; Asuka to the Ace of the brand and a former champ - there are still legitimate concerns as to how it could mess with their connection to fans. Do people want to see a Strong Style machine lose? How will Bayley’s fans react to seeing their girl lose - again?
Then there’s the always present "business" question which comes from NXT’s role as a feeder promotion for Raw and SmackDown. Neither woman needs to be in a Developmental program, and there’s opportunity costs to keeping them working shows with a smaller audience. Does a loss equal a promotion, or could either woman follow in Kevin Owens’ footsteps and hold the NXT title while working at the next level?
And do you want them up there at all if it means less minutes to work and a near-zero chance of getting a story this layered and deep any time soon?
How we’re able to appreciate and enjoy this match may depend on how well we’re able to set those questions aside and go on the journey on which Asuka, Bayley and NXT’s writers want to take us tomorrow night.
I’m game if you are.
You know where to find me, and all your fellow Cagesiders, for Asuka vs. Bayley II - right here at cSs.