Established in 1988, the Royal Rumble match is regarded as one of the most anticipated bouts among wrestling fans. From the mystery of guessing which participant will enter next to seeing who eliminates the most competitors, it’s easy to see why the Royal Rumble pay-per-view event is many fans’ favorite of the year. However, prior to 2018, this match was largely exclusive to men’s wrestlers. That year, WWE announced that it would hold the first Women’s Royal Rumble match in history, meaning that two Rumble bouts, instead of one, were to take place on the card. On January 28, 2018, Asuka made it a point to not only enter the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble but create history by going all the way.
Asuka Wins the First Women’s Royal Rumble
The Path of the Empress
Known as “The Empress of Tomorrow,” Asuka made her WWE debut in September 2015, quickly establishing herself as the most dominant women’s wrestler on the NXT brand. She built a nigh unshakable winning streak, trumping the likes of Emma and Dana Brooke en route to the NXT Women’s Championship, which was held by Bayley. The following year, in April, Asuka defeated Bayley to capture the gold. While a collarbone injury cut her title run, as well as her time in NXT, short, she amassed a 510-day reign as champion; this record has, as of this writing, yet to be broken.
It wasn’t until September 2017 that Asuka made the jump to the main roster. She was assigned to Monday Night Raw, where her path of dominance continued. Becoming the sole survivor of Team Raw at Survivor Series in November and besting such names as Emma and Alicia Fox in singles competition, it was clear that the aforementioned collarbone injury did little to hamper her momentum. If anything, it was this very momentum that carried Asuka to the Royal Rumble event, where she’d compete in the first-ever 30-woman over-the-top-rope elimination match.
The First-Ever Women’s Royal Rumble Match
Though she was chomping at the bit, Asuka eventually entered the first Women’s Royal Rumble match at number 25. During her time in the match, she eliminated Ember Moon, who she feuded with on NXT and even captured the title after Asuka vacated it due to injury. Eventually, the final three women’s competitors came down to Asuka and Nikki and Brie Bella, the latter two collectively known as The Bella Twins. The two WWE Hall of Fame participants seemed to focus their attention on Asuka, who had no allies in the match at that time. However, Nikki made her true intentions known by eliminating Brie with a well-placed forearm to the face.
Ultimately, the Women’s Royal Rumble match came down to Asuka and Nikki Bella; would “The Empress” stamp the proverbial ticket to WrestleMania 34 or would it be the Hall of Famer to seize the glory for herself? Both competitors were weary but the allure of a women’s title match at the biggest show of the year kept them in the fight. Nikki hoisted Asuka on her shoulders, ready to dump the former NXT Women’s Champion to the outside. Asuka stayed in the fight, however, blocking Nikki’s offense while standing on the ring apron. From there, Asuka hooked Nikki with her legs, dragging her onto the apron with her. One kick to the lower legs later and Nikki fell to the floor, Asuka standing tall as the first Women’s Royal Rumble winner.
One could argue, however, that Asuka’s victory had its thunder stolen to a degree. Following the match, Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss and SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair, both of whom were sitting at ringside to witness the match, entered the ring as Asuka celebrated. Asuka eyed both of her potential opponents, a confident smile on her face. However, the sounds of Bad Reputation by Joan Jett blared throughout Wells Fargo Center as Ronda Rousey made her first appearance as a full-time WWE Superstar. The former Ultimate Fighting Championship star marched to the ring, eying the three other women in the ring before pointing to the WrestleMania sign suspended from the ceiling. Asuka didn’t seem too pleased with Rousey’s intrusion, slapping “The Baddest Woman on the Planet’s” palm as she went in for a handshake. Rousey’s appearance notwithstanding, Asuka was WrestleMania-bound.
Following the Royal Rumble Victory
Without question, Asuka made history by winning the first Women’s Royal Rumble contest. However, what’s just as important is the follow-through. En route to WrestleMania in April, Asuka was kept busy with names including Nia Jax, who desired a women’s title match at WrestleMania as well. In March, Charlotte Flair bested Ruby Riott in a SmackDown Women’s Championship match at Fastlane. Following the match, Asuka officially challenged “The Queen” at WrestleMania. Asuka’s winning streak, which started in NXT, had extended to nearly 2 and a half years at this point. Meanwhile, Flair was seemingly unbeatable, taking on all comers with her trademark confidence intact. Asuka and Flair’s WrestleMania encounter would prove that, between an irresistible force and an immovable object, something had to eventually give.
On April 8, Asuka challenged Flair for the SmackDown Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 34. This was the second match to take place on the show proper and went a little over 13 minutes. Despite “The Empress of Tomorrow’s” best attempts, she eventually succumbed to the champion’s Figure Eight Leglock. Following the match, the unsuccessful challenger embraced Flair, saying that the champion, “was ready for Asuka.” Despite losing her first attempt at capturing gold on the main roster, this would be far from Asuka’s only opportunity to do so.
In fact, in hindsight, Asuka went on to become one of the most decorated women’s stars. In addition to being a former NXT Champion, she captured the SmackDown and Raw women’s titles once and twice, respectively. She is also a former 3x WWE Women’s Tag Team Champion, an accolade only shared with three others: Sasha Banks, Nikki Cross, and her most recent partner, Alexa Bliss. In 2020, Asuka won the Women’s Money in the Bank match, which immediately led to her winning her first Raw women’s title. Though her booking throughout the years wasn’t without its ups and downs, it’s difficult to deny her success across multiple brands.
The Women’s Royal Rumble has become a staple of WWE programming since its introduction in 2018. After Asuka’s history-making accomplishment, other women emerged victorious in their own endurance-testing matches. Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Bianca Belair, and Ronda Rousey have all come out on top, which allowed them to move on to WrestleMania and achieve further greatness. However, history often speaks loudest about the originators, which is most certainly the case with Asuka. Her triumph in 2018 is one to look back on, as it set the pace for Women’s Royal Rumble victories to come.
Header Photo Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment
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