Thursday, June 13, 2024

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NXT TakeOver: Dallas in Review: The Asuka Era Begins

NXT TakeOver: Dallas brought with it the biggest challenge yet for the woman who’s made a career out of the playing out a constant David vs. Goliath narrative. At this point, overcoming the odds must be second nature for Bayley. Facing a challenger like Asuka, though, required her to throw out the rule book: there was no precedent for this.

In putting her Women’s Title on the line against a woman who has yet to be defeated in NXT, Bayley may have finally met a Goliath she couldn’t defeat. Though, if anybody could do it, it would be Bayley.

Before we can get to that, though, there’s the pre-show. If you’re a fan of Lita, Renee Young or cool women in general, I’d recommend that you watch it:

Later on, about an hour into the show, it was time for the action. Let’s see how Bayley fares against the (thus far) unstoppable Asuka:

After a spectacular video package, the women make their entrances, Stephanie McMahon looking on from ringside. The opening bell sounds, and they circle, Bayley backing away to avoid a spin kick from Asuka. They circle again and tie up, Bayley taking control by latching on to Asuka’s arm. Asuka quickly turns the tables, but Bayley soon regains control, taking Asuka to the mat. She keeps hold of Asuka’s arm until a right hand forces her to let go.

Bayley backs off, the right hand having rocked her. They tie up again, Bayley locking in a side headlock. Asuka shoves Bayley off into the ropes and the women perform a fear near misses until Asuka knocks Bayley to the mat with a shoulder block. Asuka runs the ropes and starts another quick exchange, which ends with Bayley taking Asuka down with a hip toss. Bayley hits the ropes, but misses her attack. Asuka does the same, and the women end up in a stalemate, circling once more.

Asuka eschews another tie-up in favor of some kicks, but when she goes to whip Bayley into the ropes, it’s blocked, and Bayley socks her. When Bayley tries to send Asuka into the ropes instead, she gets the same treatment. Asuka goes for another whip attempt, and though Bayley reverses it, Asuka comes thundering back with a flying hip attack on the return. Asuka hits Bayley with a sharp kick for good measure, and, spotting Bayley regrouping on the apron, tries to hit another hip attack that would send her to the floor. Bayley slips out of the way, though, leaving Asuka hanging on the ropes.

Bayley knocks Asuka off her feet and climbs to the second rope, where she hits a flying elbow. She goes for the pin, but Asuka kicks out. Bayley sends Asuka into the corner, hitting her with some shoulders to the midsection and a flying elbow. A follow-up elbow is blocked, Asuka catapulting Bayley over the ropes. Bayley lands safely on the apron, though, fending off Asuka and climbing to the top rope. She hits Asuka with a crossbody and attempts another pin. Asuka kicks out.

Bayley drives a knee onto Asuka and drives an elbow into her back. When she runs the ropes once more, though, Asuka catches her by the arm, taking her down for an armbar. Bayley frantically makes it to the ropes, forcing a rope break. Bayley backs into the corner, Asuka pummels her. Bayley eventually catches one of the kicks and props up Asuka in a tree of woe. Bayley then springboards off the bottom rope and drops an elbow on the prone Asuka. She goes for the pin, but it’s still not enough.

Asuka rolls into the corner and fights off Bayley. She sits atop the top rope, but before she can attack, Bayley halts her, climbing up there with her and taking her out with a hurricanrana! This prompts another pin attempt, but Asuka kicks out. Bayley stays on Asuka, locking in a guillotine choke. Asuka struggles, getting to her feet but being dropped down again. Out of nowhere, Asuka turns it into an ankle lock! Bayley struggles, hopping to the edge of the ring and flipping Asuka to the outside.

Asuka gets to her feet on the outside and Bayley meets her there, catching her and taking her down with a hurricanrana! Bayley quickly gets Asuka back into the ring and attempts another unsuccessful pin. Bayley hits Asuka with a few right hands, but it does nothing but infuriate Asuka. Bayley hits the ropes, but Asuka is hot on her tail, taking her down with a dropkick. Asuka hits Bayley with a flurry of kicks. Asuka’s whip into the corner is reversed, but she catches herself, cat-like, and flies back with a dropkick to Bayley.

Asuka continues to lay into Bayley with kicks, but Bayley starts to fight back. That momentum doesn’t last long, though, as Asuka soon drops her with a sharp knee to the head. Asuka hits Bayley with a running knee to the face and goes for the pin. Bayley kicks out. Asuka gets to her feet first and tries to pull Bayley up, but her feet are swept out from under her, Bayley flipping over her and bridging into a pin. Asuka kicks out.

Asuka hits Bayley with forearms and runs the ropes, attempting a flying hip attack, but Bayley catches her, hitting her with a suplex! Bayley pulls Asuka to her feet, but is quickly taken out with an enziguri. The women get up on opposite sides of the ring and run at each other, going for dropkicks that don’t connect. They then spar with dueling forearms and slaps, Asuka going for a kick that’s somehow caught by Bayley! Bayley locks in a kneebar! Asuka flails and nearly gets to the ropes, but Bayley drags her to the center of the ring, slams her knee to the mat and lets go of the hold.

Bayley moves to capitalize on this, and though Asuka tries to fight her off, Bayley succeeds in doing more damage to Asuka’s knee, dropping it onto her own and whipping her to the mat by her leg. Bayley tosses Asuka once more before charging at Asuka, but she pays for it! Asuka leaps and takes her down for an armbar! Bayley fights it, but Asuka manages to get into a kneeling position. Still, this allows Bayley to free herself with a roll-up pin attempt. Asuka kicks out.

Two wild kicks from Asuka are ducked by Bayley, and the champ takes her down for another sudden pin attempt. Asuka kicks out again. Bayley pulls Asuka to her feet, but comes very close to being trapped in the prelude to the Asuka Lock. Bayley fights free, though, and hits a suplex followed up a running clothesline. She goes for the pin, but Asuka kicks out.

Bayley goes for an arm submission of her own, mirroring the moment that earned her the decisive fall at TakeOver: RESPECT. Asuka struggles and gets herself into another pinning position, but manages to kick out. Bayley goes for the Bayley-to-Belly, but Asuka fights off, sending Bayley into the ropes and hitting her with a vicious kick to the head. Asuka takes the stunned Bayley to the mat with a suplex and then locks in an armbar, which she transitions with some difficulty into the Asuka Lock!

Bayley fights to gain freedom, getting to her feet. It’s no good, though, because Asuka soon brings her back to the mat. In that position, Bayley’s done for, and she passes out! Asuka is your winner and the new NXT Women’s Champion!

Asuka celebrates with her new belt as Bayley recovers, slowly realizing what’s happened and looking as disappointed as we’ve ever seen her.

Post-match, Bayley spoke about her loss:

Bayley congratulates Asuka, acknowledging that it’s hard for her to wrap her mind around what happened. Asuka bested her at every turn. Bayley says she might have not been prepared for this match and confesses that she feels that she’s let everyone down. She says she’s planning on getting back up and getting better, because that’s what a true champion does.

Thoughts: Having watched this match through twice, I found my opinion warming. At first, I was pretty disappointed with it. I think a lot of that had to do with the sky high expectations I had going into it – this could top TakeOver: Brooklyn! – but that wasn’t the entire story. It just didn’t deliver on everything these women are capable of, and even though I liked it better on my second viewing, it still felt lacking. That doesn’t mean this was a stinker of a match. Far from it!

The capabilities of Asuka and Bayley are well documented. They are two of the best female wrestlers in the sport – Bayley can put on a show like few others, and Asuka is simply a wonder to behold – so it was almost stunning to not experience that euphoric feeling that other TakeOvers brought on. The pieces were there, but something was missing to pull it all together. You can blame it on a lack of chemistry, nerves, or an slightly deflated crowd (seriously, the DEATH SLOT?), but I’m putting most of the blame on the absence of story.

I can definitely see the beginnings of a story: the match featured a series of tete-a-tetes and callbacks to Bayley’s previous successful title defenses – the guillotine choke from London, the arm submission from RESPECT, the risk-taking from Brooklyn – but it just didn’t carry all the way through the match. Though it was exactly how a babyface-versus-babyface match should be booked, it somehow didn’t resonate in the way I hoped it would. This was the culmination of all the challenges Bayley has faced since August, but unlike all those other defenses, there wasn’t a discernible angle here. It just felt like Bayley was fighting for her life from the opening bell, and as a result we didn’t have a journey to go on: we just waited for her to succeed or fail. Maybe that is down to the lack of storyline in the match’s lead-up, but there was so much to milk from the simple angle of Bayley finally encountering a mountain she couldn’t climb. Have her be driven mad by Asuka’s resilience! Or have Asuka be driven mad by Bayley’s “never quit” spirit and beat her down, leaving Bayley to stumble around, barely conscious, until a final Asuka Lock knocks her out. It would have been much more satisfying to see Bayley’s struggle lead us to that finish rather than a sudden twist of fate bringing the match to a sudden, flat end.

Still, this was faaaaaaar from a bad match. It was very cool to see Asuka pushed this far. It felt strange (in a good way!) to see her flail in a submission hold. Bayley dodging some of her sure-fire attacks was cool as well. This challenge brought out a side of Asuka was haven’t yet seen, and I’m kind of sad that, outside a possible Bayley rematch, we won’t see Asuka really test her limits again for a while.

Despite my complaints about the body of the match, I can’t object to the way the ending was booked: Bayley maintains her reputation as the valiant underdog, never having submitted, while Asuka extends her undefeated streak and ushers in a promising new championship reign. In a way, it’s extremely fitting for Bayley to end her reign this way: from day one, her time as champion has been about overcoming the odds and fighting until her last breath. It makes complete sense that it would come to an end when someone finally found a way to break her – by literally taking her breath from her, no less. Bayley went out as heroically as possible, calling to mind the valiant efforts by the beloved babyfaces of the 80s. In anyone else’s hands, it could have come across cheesy, but this is Bayley: sincerity personified.

I definitely see the main roster in Bayley’s near future, but I’m not sure she’ll be jumping there on the post-WrestleMania Raw. It just doesn’t seem very Bayley-like for her to take her ball and leave after suffering such a devastating loss. I’d like to see her wrestle Asuka in a rematch and, upon losing, make a valiant exit. It’s sort of a Sasha Banks move, but with no main roster obligations to answer until she makes her official move.

As for Asuka’s prospects as champion, I’m very excited to see what she brings to the table. Her reign, in all likelihood, will be very different from Bayley’s. She is, in no shape or form, the underdog. She won’t be overcoming challenges – she’ll be dominating. Even her celebration felt fresh: she wasn’t so much a humbled victor as a very self-satisfied one. I fully expect her undefeated streak to continue until she drops the title, and that will make for a compelling narrative: whoever unseats Asuka will have all the bragging rights. That will take one hell of a woman to do that, and I’m so excited to see turns up to accomplish the impossible. Until then, we’ll be in the Era of Asuka, and let’s face it: no one is safe.

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