Asuka is my favorite promo in wrestling today, and since I don’t speak Japanese, I don’t understand 90% of the words that are coming out of her mouth.
On the surface, that’s absurd: promos are nothing but speeches, and if they are in another language, how can you possibly connect or relate to them? But these past few months, Asuka has been the undisputed MVP of the Empty Arena Era by proving it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
In late 2019, Asuka and her fellow Kabuki Warrior, Kairi Sane, ditched their manager and mouthpiece Paige and began cutting promos in Japanese. This was almost certainly an effort to accentuate their heel turn, as in WWE, anything perceived as un-American is usually bad. See: Jinder Mahal wanting to speak to HIS people in HIS language of Punjabi, Andrade mocking his opponents in Spanish, Muhammad Hassan and his manager Daivari chiding the audience in Arabic — the list goes on as far back as pro wrestling itself does.
However, in the case of Kairi and Asuka, it had the opposite effect. “What” chants were few and far between, as the Kabuki Warriors managed to hold the audience’s attention with their over-the-top emoting and their undeniable passion. While you may not understand every word of what Asuka is saying, you certainly understand how she feels and what she’s trying to tell you, even better than most WWE Superstars who speak completely fluent English.
Wrestling is an art of extremes — you have to play to the last row in the crowd, as they say (when there are crowds, anyway). Asuka’s promo style exemplifies this, as she wears her emotions on her sleeve: happiness is denoted by dancing and humming with a wide grin on her face, while anger is shown by her complete change in demeanor and raising her voice. No action of the Empress of Tomorrow is wasted.
That somebody who doesn’t even cut promos in English besting nearly everybody who does on the mic gets at the core problem of WWE’s promo style. WWE’s promos are infamously scripted to the letter, and while the higher card, more confident wrestlers often find ways to put that into their own words, most members of the roster don’t. Even if WWE’s writers produced Shakespeare-worthy soliloquies in the scripts every week (and trust me, they don’t), the delivery is often so wooden, so unnatural that it wouldn’t matter.
Asuka, on the other hand, could honestly be saying anything for all I know, but the way she says it and the natural emotion put behind it means that it sells her matches and feuds better than nearly anybody else on the roster. I am assuming that writers don’t script her Japanese promos, and the end result is that her promos come off as entirely natural. And thanks to her peppering in a few English words and phrases here and there, it’s easy enough to use context clues to glean the point she’s trying to get across.
Asuka was literally handed the Raw Women’s Championship the night after Money in the Bank as a result of Becky Lynch’s pregnancy, which solidified her as an all-time great in WWE women’s wrestling. She’s the only woman to win everything a woman can possibly win in WWE: she’s won the Raw Women’s Championship, SmackDown Women’s Championship, NXT Women’s Championship, WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship, Money in the Bank, Royal Rumble, and she had the longest winning streak that WWE recognizes, eclipsing even that of Goldberg.
While this was almost certainly not the original plan (rumors claim that Shayna was supposed to win the briefcase and feud with Becky), there is nobody on the roster who deserves to be the flag bearer of the division more. Asuka is the hero professional wrestling needs right now.
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