Monday, October 2, 2023

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NXT Redux (March 23rd, 2016): Emma Tries to Show Up the Number One Contender

NXT TakeOver: Dallas is just over a week away, so it’s time to ramp up the action in anticipation of our big title match, in which Bayley will defend the NXT Women’s Title against the undefeated Asuka. On this week’s show, Asuka will square off with her TakeOver: London opponent Emma in an effort to prove why she was named number one contender. Of course, a little momentum never hurt, either.

That match was our main event, but it wasn’t the only Divas action on the show. Preceding it was a bout between Alexa Bliss and Sarah Dobson, the woman better known as Crazy Mary Dobson:

Alexa is accompanied by Blake and Murphy, while poor Sarah is all by her lonesome. The bell sounds, and Sarah displays her eagerness by performing a quick forward roll. The women circle and tie up, Sarah taking Alexa down with an arm drag.

Alexa regroups and charges at Sarah, but her attack is ducked, and she’s taken down with a dropkick. Alexa backs into the corner, drawing Sarah towards her. She dodges Sarah, sending her into the turnbuckle. Alexa takes Sarah to the mat and lands a few right hands to her head. She goes for the cover, but Sarah kicks out.

Alexa gets cocky, standing on Sarah’s back for a few moments before slapping her across the face. She mocks Sarah and immediately pays for it, as she’s pulled into a small package pin. Alexa kicks out and springs back into action, nailing Sarah with a knee to the stomach and then locking in a submission, punishing Sarah’s left shoulder. Sarah gets to her feet, but Alexa sends her back to a seated position. Alexa soon releases the hold, but continues to wear down Sarah.

Sarah crawls to the ropes, where Alexa chokes her. Alexa sends Sarah into the corner and charges at her, nailing Sarah’s midsection with her shoulder repeatedly. When Alexa whips Sarah into a neighboring corner, Sarah manages to use her momentum to her advantage, flipping out onto the ring apron. She fends off Alexa and kicks her in the head before scaling the turnbuckle. She flies off the top rope to hit Alexa with a crossbody, her knees nailing Alexa in the face. She goes for the pin, but Alexa kicks out.

When Sarah pulls Alexa to her feet, the Diva decks her with a forearm. Alexa tries to continue her attack, but a drop toe hold sends her into the ropes. Sarah runs the ropes and goes for a handspring attack, but Blake and Murphy interfere, Blake distracting the referee while Murphy pulls Alexa out of the way. Alexa slams Sarah to the mat and hits a double knee drop before climbing to the top rope. She hits the Sparkle Splash, getting the pin and the win.

Prior to Emma’s match with Asuka, she and Dana Brooke spoke to Alex Reyes backstage:

Alex asks Emma what will set this match apart from her loss to Asuka at TakeOver: London. She says a lot is different about this match: she’s been training and has put her head together with Dana for strategy. Dana says she’s helped Emma with her preparation, putting to use her fitness expertise.

Dana recalls the match that put her on the injured list, blaming Asuka for where she is now. She says, if it were up to her, she’d be out there squashing Asuka, but Emma’s going to do the job instead.

Emma says she’s been waiting for a chance to prove herself. She says she should be the one having a title shot against Bayley. Emma vows that the “Empress of Tomorrow” won’t make it past today.

Later on, it’s time for Asuka to prove why she’s challenging for the belt at TakeOver:

Off the bell, they tie up, Asuka winning control by backing Emma into a corner. It’s short lived, though, as Emma quickly turns the tables and forces Asuka into the defensive position. The referee forces a break, and Asuka spins out with a kick, which Emma narrowly avoids. The Divas circle again, Emma ducking the tie-up to lock in a side headlock. Emma takes Asuka to the mat, but Asuka is quick to get back to her feet. She shoves Emma off into the ropes, but is taken down with a shoulder block from Emma.

Emma hits the ropes, but Asuka trips her up. She locks in a side headlock of her own. Emma fights her off, but finds herself leveled by a shoulder block too. Asuka runs the ropes, avoids a trip-up from Emma and ducks an attack, capping it all off with a mocking dance move. Emma charges at Asuka, only to be taken down with a jumping armbar. Emma frantically rolls to the ropes, where she forces a break.

Emma tries to regroup on the ring apron, but Asuka has other ideas, running the ropes and sending her crashing to the outside with a flying hip attack. As Dana tries to help Emma gain her bearings, we head to a commercial break.

When we return, Emma’s back in the ring and is in the process of fending off Asuka. She attempts a suplex, but Asuka grabs hold of her arm, going for another armbar. Emma struggles, and Asuka opts for a hammerlock. Emma twice tries to free herself with a tumble forward, but Asuka hangs on tight. She finally gets to the ropes and forces Asuka to let go. Asuka immediately tries to seize Emma’s arm again, but Emma thwarts her. Asuka then opts to take her down by the legs, locking in a kneebar. She transitions it into an ankle lock, which Emma frantically tries to free herself from. She hops up onto one leg and heads for the ropes, where she flips forward, sending Asuka to the outside.

Asuka quickly makes it back to the ring apron, but Emma attacks, knocking her off her feet. Emma beats on Asuka and takes her into the corner, where she lands some stomps to the midsection. She then snapmares Asuka into the center of the ring and kicks her square in the back before standing on her hair, yanking the rest of her body up by her hands. She releases the hold quickly and goes for the pin, but Asuka kicks out.

Emma once more grabs Asuka’s hands, planting boots on either shoulder and tugging. She earns a one-count by pinning Asuka’s shoulders to the mat for a moment, but Asuka kicks out, fighting the hold on her side. Emma returns her shoulders to the mat, but Asuka again lifts a shoulder up. Emma switches the hold into a headlock, fighting Asuka to the mat. Asuka eventually gets to her feet, but Emma manages to take her down once more, maintaining the hold.

Asuka again gets to her feet, using her hips to earn her freedom. Emma lets go of the hold, but nails Asuka with a right hand to the back, sending her to her knees. Emma runs the ropes, only to be met with a flurry of kicks from Asuka. Emma ducks one and pulls Asuka into a roll-up pin attempt, but Asuka kicks out, springing to her feet for another attack. Emma ducks it and slams Asuka to the mat by her hair. She goes for the pin, but it’s not enough.

Emma stretches Asuka’s arms back into a submission hold, taking her to the mat and driving knees into her back before switching to a back submission, arching Asuka back with two fistfuls of hair. Emma lets go of the hold and fends off Asuka’s attempt to rally, sending her into the corner. Emma twists Asuka up in the tree of woe, nailing her spine with a few knees before slipping out of the ring and pulling her back by her hair.

Emma lets go of the hair pull and reenters the ring. The referee admonishes her, allowing Dana to slip in and do some hair pulling of her own. Emma hits Asuka with the Emmamite Sandwich and goes for the pin, but Asuka kicks out. Emma attempts another pin, but doesn’t even earn a one-count. Asuka is angry, screaming as she crawls to the corner and attempts to use the ropes to get to her feet. Emma nails her with right hands, but Asuka starts to fight back. The two perform a bit of a tete-a-tete with rope runs before Asuka wins the exchange with a flying hip attack.

Asuka hits kicks to Emma’s chest, and though her last kick is caught, Asuka manages to stay in control, hitting Emma with strikes to the head. Emma ducks a kick and socks Asuka in the side of the head, dropping her to her knees. She then runs the ropes and hits a dropkick, which only serves to propel Asuka into the ropes and back at Emma with a hip attack. Asuka covers Emma for the pin, but Emma manages to kick out.

Emma backs into a corner and ducks a knee from Asuka, but Asuka stays on her, grabbing her by the hair. Emma backs Asuka into the corner and rolls her into a pin, using the ropes for leverage. The referee notices this just in time and stops his count. Emma argues with the referee and doesn’t notice Asuka creeping up behind her. She ducks Asuka’s spinning kick, but her responding kick is caught, and Asuka twists around to take her down with a German release suplex. She runs the ropes and takes Emma down with a kick to the face.

Asuka grabs Emma by the arm and takes her to the mat for the Asuka Lock! Emma taps out, handing the victory to Asuka. We close out the show with the image of a victorious Asuka grinning ear to ear.

Thoughts: It’s always nice to see a bit of Alexa! It feels like it’s been a while since we’ve seen her, mostly because there are so many Divas in the mix week in and week out. It’s easy for a Diva to get lost in the shuffle, but I think Alexa managed to keep herself in the larger conversation with her victory here. This win allows her to regain some of that lost mojo, and the manner in which she got it – Blake and Murphy’s cheating – elevated it beyond a generic win to a reminder of what makes her a real threat in the division: the constant presence of her “boys.” If she leveraged them correctly, she could easily be Women’s Champion. When the division undergoes a re-shuffling after Bayley’s inevitable departure, that scenario might not be too far off.

Emma and Asuka’s main event was spectacular, taking Asuka to places she’s never been and making Emma – one of the most deserving Divas on the roster – look stronger and smarter than ever. No longer is she underestimating Asuka. No, she’s learned her lesson, which is something heels don’t normally do particularly well. She’s also learned how to get an edge on Asuka: slow her down. Emma went after that strategy with the intelligence of a veteran, using any means necessary to ground Asuka and rob her of her biggest weapon: her speed. It worked for a while, at least, which is more than any other Diva can say.

This really felt like the first time Asuka has been truly challenged, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Seeing Asuka display weaknesses only makes her match with Bayley that much more compelling. A crack in the facade of the unstoppable Asuka might make those predicting a title change a bit more hesitant; suddenly, the match doesn’t seem so elementary. I’m really not sure who will win – if Asuka’s undefeated streak trumps Bayley’s title reign – but I do know that booking neither Diva as invincible makes for a more compelling story. Each have weaknesses to exploit, and half the fun will be seeing which strategy wins out. Truly, it’s anybody’s game.

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