WKPWP - Mailbag - Keller & Fann talk WrestleMania line-up
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Art is the creation of something from nothing that elicits a reaction. Pro wrestling embodies that definition. In wrestling, men and women step inside the squared circle and create with their actions, expressions, words, and bodies to garner a specific and distinct reaction from their audience. In turn, the audience responds to, engages with, and affects the work. No other art form in the world carries that uniqueness. In this column, we explore that art form inside real and relevant examples. Enjoy.
Asuka debuted in the WWE in 2015 to maximum fanfare. As Triple H built out the NXT roster, Asuka was a prized win due to the legitimacy and credibility she brought with her to the company. With the WWE working to carve out and expand their women’s divisions, Asuka was the perfect free agent signing to lay in as the foundation.
Asuka held up her end of the bargain and had four star level matches with all comers including Bayley, Emma, Nia Jax, Mickie James, Peyton Royce, Nikki Cross, Dana Brooke, and a tremendous two match series against Ember Moon. Throughout that run she amassed an undefeated record in the company that still stands and held the NXT Women’s Championship for a record 510 days before relinquishing it due to injury. On the WWE main roster, Asuka has continued to deliver in the ring. After winning the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble, she’ll now challenge Charlotte for her first main roster championship at WrestleMania.
Throughout her entire WWE career, Asuka has produced a pristine in-ring product. Whether it’s a brawl with Nikki Cross or a technical masterpiece with Ember Moon, her style can fluctuate to succeed in any situation. Asuka’s promos have lagged behind that in-ring success. In NXT, where much of the product is pre-taped and recorded, she was protected and shielded from any potential mishaps on the microphone. On Monday Night Raw or SmackDown Live, she’ll undoubtedly be responsible for selling her matches and needs to become more comfortable in how she presents herself to do so. Asuka’s segment with Charlotte this week on SmackDown is a microcosm of her lagging promo abilities and if not corrected, they could hold her back from becoming a mainstream star for WWE.
On Tuesday night, Charlotte walked to the ring and told the audience that she was excited and honored to be facing Asuka at WrestleMania. She then said that she wanted to be the one to officially welcome Asuka to SmackDown Live on her first official night on the blue brand. Asuka’s music then hit and she walked to the ring to confront her WrestleMania opponent. Asuka’s entrance is always an artistic wonder. The white mask contrasted with the colorful lights and color on her ring attire is a sight to see. The way she dances to the ring is majestic and conveys intimidation that only she can pull off. On this night, that is where Asuka’s successful art ended.
Out of the gate, Charlotte welcomed Asuka to SmackDown Live and Asuka responded by saying “thank you.” Her delivery of that line was off base and formulaic while having nothing to do with the fact that English is her second language. Her English wasn’t a barrier to her success within this line. It was the way she spoke the words and the tone that she used. She yelled. She was in the ring with Charlotte for 15 seconds and was already yelling at her. And yelling “thank you” no less. In a poker game, this would be like having a pair of aces in your hand, betting all of your chips, and winning nothing because everyone at the table rolled their eyes and folded. Asuka needed to bring the audience into this moment and yelling didn’t do that.
From there, Charlotte did a nice job in building Asuka up as an incredible challenger and told her that she hoped Asuka would pick to face her at WrestleMania. Charlotte then told her that they’ll see who will bow down at WrestleMania and that she would end Asuka’s streak. Then, it was Asuka’s turn to rebut and her flaws danced around like her entrance. Again, none of the artistic faults in the remainder of the promo were because of her English. Asuka slowly lifted the mic to her face in an effective way that displayed her confidence, but then floored it to 160 miles per hour. Her words were fine in saying that she chose Charlotte because she likes a challenge but her delivery was too intense. She yelled and put an emphasis on the word “challenge” which would have led one to believe that she’d been embroiled in a month long feud rather than a first encounter. Asuka then said that Charlotte was a queen and she was an empress while doing a strange shimmy-like dance move that was out of left field. Asuka finished by saying that she bows to nobody and that nobody is ready for Asuka. Just like earlier in the promo, her intensity within these lines didn’t mirror her environment and because of that miss, the entire thing was disconnected.
What Asuka said in this promo made perfect sense. Her words built Charlotte up while positioning herself as a threat at WrestleMania. Mission accomplished in that regard. That said, the way in which Asuka spoke these words and the artistic choices behind them took away from their effectiveness. She seemed unable to feel the moment she was in and delivered the words without that very important element. This disconnected the fans from what she was saying. Asuka’s yelling was overwhelming and it forced the audience to focus on that awkwardness instead of her content. Same thing with the shimmying while saying the word “empress.” Instead of focusing on the line and being able to soak it in and contrast it to Charlotte as the queen, the audience’s focus and attention was on her moving around.
If Asuka is going to be a prominent mainstream star for the WWE, her promos and the art behind them need to catch up with her in-ring talents. She needs to be able to showcase a range to her mic work. As indicated on Tuesday, she has one speed and one artistic point on her ladder that she can reach. Her one intense speed isn’t always applicable and she needs to find other rungs on the ladder so she can effectively sell a feud throughout all points of its existence.
Asuka has an “it” factor that other stars dream of possessing. Plain and simple: It has allowed her to be as successful as she has. Without increased promo attention, artistic integrity within her promos, and growth in that body of work, she’ll fail in taking a big step forward. Ultimately, that innate “it” factor alone won’t get her to where she wants to go.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: ARTISTRY OF WRESTLING: Mustafa Ali proves he’s more than just the in-ring standout of the 205 Live cruiserweight championship tournament