Royal Rumble 2019 was a monumental night in Becky Lynch’s career. It was on that night that after months of speculation, Lynch punched her ticket, earning a title match at the upcoming WrestleMania. A memorable triumph, Lynch’s victory was well-deserved, as WWE embraced her organic momentum that in mere months, had shifted their entire trajectory. The rest is history, as Lynch famously headlined WrestleMania, leaving the event as double champion after defeating Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair. With that moment, Lynch’s place in the pro wrestling pantheon was secured, completing one of the most stunning ascensions in WWE history.
However, a different challenge then awaited. Lynch would now have to maintain those heights, facing a fresh set of foes as she looked to continue her elevation of the women’s division. When pondering the names best suited for that feat, it was hard not to think back to Royal Rumble. The memory in mind wasn’t Lynch’s elimination of Flair though but instead, the way that event begun. While slightly lost in the grand scheme of things, Lynch entered Royal Rumble as SmackDown Women’s Champion, meeting Asuka in the PPV’s main card opener.
Though it paled in comparison to what followed for Lynch, that clash was one of the finest of her career, eventually reaching an emphatic climax. Without any of the expected uncertainty, Asuka simply won, submitting Lynch in an admirably bold booking move. It was a refreshing choice and for Asuka, a necessary one also. 2018 had been a bizarre year for her, starting undefeated and ending as champion but tackling months of frustration in-between. Regardless of the belt around her waist, Asuka’s aura had diminished in that time but with the victory opposite Lynch, it received momentary resuscitation.
That was imperative too, as the match itself so vividly showcased. In terms of performance, Asuka remained virtually unparalleled, masterfully combining crisp execution with her own spiteful, flashy flair. Asuka’s brilliance was clearer than ever against Lynch, a timely reminder of what she can bring to any brand’s division. Unfortunately, that instance proved to be a false dawn rather than a new chapter of dominance, as Asuka was unceremoniously dethroned just weeks before WrestleMania. Without a clear opponent in place, Asuka’s SmackDown Title reign was sacrificed, allowing for the aforementioned double title match to even take place.
In a vacuum, that decision was understandable but in truth, the indecision felt revealing. Though her handling against Lynch was encouraging, the lack of creative focus before and after told a different tale. Since having her undefeated streak taken, Asuka’s inconsistent presentation was a sign of adjusted priorities. While still featured, ‘The Empress of Tomorrow’ was no longer a central focus and in WrestleMania season, that had left her without a fitting destination. If nothing else though, the Royal Rumble clash with Lynch presented an opportunity, even if its initial follow-up had underwhelmed.
Potentially fueled by the title loss, Asuka suddenly seemed in position for a genuine heel turn, embracing the villainess edge that was apparent in the final stages of her NXT stint. In theory, that shift would’ve provided Asuka’s presentation with a much-needed jolt. Either way, a fresh start now felt necessary, as this most recent impetus had already stalled. In reality, a different route was taken though, as Asuka entered the tag team ranks, forming the Kabuki Warriors with Kairi Sane. A new babyface tandem was required and with Paige by their side, Asuka and Sane fit that bill.
Unfortunately, any fleeting high hopes would soon diminish, as the Tag Titles’ wavering importance proved limiting. Though their potential was never in doubt, the Kabuki Warriors struggled to land a consistent presence on WWE TV. In the meantime, Lynch’s reign tried to find its own balance, taking on Lacey Evans in a lengthy program that frankly, caught many onlookers off-guard. Though not exactly critically acclaimed, Lynch kept the feud afloat, performing well and continuing to produce against Natalya too. The circumstances may not have been perfect, but Lynch maintained her popularity, even if the division’s momentum had slowed.
In August though, Lynch would receive much more suitable assistance, entering an enthralling program with Sasha Banks and getting her 2019 firmly back on track. Interestingly, Asuka’s own step forward wasn’t far away either but at times, it appeared more unlikely than ever. In fact, her alliance with Sane quickly felt like a short-term ploy, as fans began to ponder a split that’d kickstart a rivalry which ideally, could allow both women to flourish. Sane’s arrival had been disappointing and Asuka appeared aimless but in one match, this team’s future would alter dramatically.
Receiving an almost impromptu tag title shot, the Kabuki Warriors would become champions after all, wrestling as villains and defeating Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross. An Asuka heel turn was very much anticipated but in that scenario, Sane appeared the perfect victim for a betrayal. Instead, this match highlighted a very different opportunity, as in mere minutes, Sane transformed into a natural antagonist. Suddenly, the Kabuki Warriors were champions and heel champions at that, armed with a green mist shortcut that at long last, supplied a spark of which this team could build upon.
On the same night, Lynch produced one of her finest matches yet, sharing a brutal Hell in a Cell battle with Sasha Banks and bringing her title reign to new heights. One week later, the October draft placed Asuka and Sane alongside Lynch on RAW, laying the groundwork for the rematch that still, had never happened. Since then, the writing has been firmly on the wall as Lynch has gone back and forth with the WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions until this Sunday at Royal Rumble, she finally looks for redemption opposite Asuka.
In the modern WWE landscape, this matchup presents a quite unique moment. In a time where rematches come and go, this is a rare case of revenge truly resonating. Though the RAW Women’s Title is the prize between these two rivals, the stakes truly extend beyond that belt. Lynch is chasing her challenger here, returning to the scene of the crime and attempting to erase that prior defeat. After last year’s match, Lynch and Asuka couldn’t have possibly had more contrasting 2019’s but by its conclusion, they were once again on a collision course.
Too often, things feel creatively rigid on the main roster but in this case, that was thankfully avoided. This story has always been worth telling and that’s been embraced, combining Lynch with the Tag Team Champions in order to make the best matchup possible. Even as tandem titleholders, the Kabuki Warriors were not pigeonholed in that role, extending beyond it and proving to be perfect foes for Lynch. That’s partly due to the history between Asuka and Lynch but in truth, it’s also a compliment to the elite talent involved.
At times, it feels hard to gauge where Asuka stands within her WWE stint, whether it’s at its latter stages or still yet to peak. Either way, these last few months feel likely to stand out as a clear highlight of her main roster efforts. Alongside Sane, Asuka has provided constant reminders as to what makes her so special. She’s become undeniable in fact, making the creative focus feel warranted with each and every outing. An effort has been made to re-establish Asuka for this very moment and thus far, it’s paid off and then some.
This Sunday at Royal Rumble, the only two female Rumble winners will finally meet in a rematch of last year’s enduring encounter. While one result appears to be the clear favorite, this match’s sheer stature is a credit to those involved. This is not a token rematch but instead, a marquee match in itself, standing out as the event’s central title tilt. It’s now in the performers’ hands and based on the evidence at hand, that makes this a pretty safe bet. Stylistically, these two just feel made for each other, and with Asuka as the villain, the sequel could have an even higher ceiling.
At one time, this rematch felt as though it could be a lost opportunity, an unfinished conflict. Now though, we are unsure if this is even the finale after all. Lynch’s on-screen redemption will come, it’s just a matter of when. For Asuka though, this match symbolizes a redemption of its own, a return to the spotlight that even still, her talent demands.