With the growing excitement over pro wrestling in the past two years, a new era has begun. An era when a major population in the wrestling world are finally getting the recognition that they deserve in this business.
Smaller wrestlers, who were mocked and told that they would only be booked for the beginning of shows, are now drawing huge crowds for main event matches. Women who graced bingo halls and promotions like Shimmer, are finally main eventing WWE PPV’s.
There is another demographic that is getting a huge platform in NXT, and I want to express my deep gratitude as a wrestling fan to be able to witness this. I’d like to go on record right now to declare that 2017 will be the year of Asian wrestlers on WWE television.
The history of the success of Asian wrestlers in WWE hasn’t been the best. Usually the characters are stereotypical or someone of a different race portraying a Japanese wrestler. For example, Yokozuna who was a phenomenal talent, but of course was Samoan.
The wrestlers that were actually Asian, in my generation, never really got a huge push. Wrestlers like Tajiri, Funaki and Taka Michinoku, they were always seen as the opening talent in the show, or used as comic relief when they would let them talk.
So to see fully fleshed out Asian performers like Hideo Itami, who isn’t a caricature, but an assertive man who is classy, respectful but no slouch in the ring, is a sight for sore eyes. Before Hideo’s shoulder injury, NXT really took their time to distinguish Hideo as a major talent on the roster.
WWE made a huge event of his signing in Japan, on July 12, 2014, by having Hulk Hogan go to be an Ambassador of sorts for the company. Video packages of Hideo’s first days at Full Sail were documented. Letting the WWE universe into his inner most thoughts about this major change in his career helped to solidify that Itami was a big fish coming to the NXT pond.
Immediately, Hideo was given fruitful feuds with Adrian Neville, The Ascension and Tyler Breeze. His already established fanbase in Japan and worldwide were happy to know that he was being used right.
Sadly, at the height of his rise to the top of NXT, a serious injury popped up and left Hideo out of action for over a year. Many other hungry wrestlers stepped up and took their places among the NXT elite.
Now, Hideo has to recreate a place for himself to on the ever-growing roster, but I have no doubt that he will. Hideo has been back in action since June 30th and has made an impact with the wrestlers that he has singled out like Austin Aries.
In 2015, another exciting acquisition was announced and this time it was for the female roster. Asuka, formerly known as Kana, was given an opportunity to shake up the women’s division and that she did. With stiff kicks, lighting quick chops and a scream that can move mountains, Asuka made it clear that she was coming for that NXT title.
Her matches with women like Bayley, Emma and Nia Jax, helped to catapult her career in the States, but she also, took her competitors style to a more aggressive direction. Asuka’s assassin like defense in the ring is reminiscent of former Japanese WWE women’s champion, Bull Nakano.
Nakano deserved a better run and should be mentioned along the likes of Alundra Blayze, and Luna Vachon as the architects of the early 90’s women’s division, but all we know that won’t happen.
Asuka is the current NXT women’s champion and she earned that spot in the dynamic match that she had with Bayley at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn. Asuka is also the only female Asian wrestler to hold NXT women’s title. That’s something worth celebrating. Creative is entrusting the division to be represented properly in her hands. I can see Asuka holding that title for a while and I predict many epic feuds coming up.
Now, I can’t finish this article without talking about Mr. Charisma 101 aka Huge Pops Every Time He Steps Out, the one the only, Shinsuke Nakamura. Just like Hideo and Asuka, there was a lot of hype and excitement over the announcing of Nakamura signing with NXT. Coverage of his arrival and meeting with Vince and Triple H fueled the anticipation for his in ring debut.
With such a respected legacy in Japan, the ‘King of Strong Style’ definitely needed to show that he could transition and bring his skills to the biggest promotion in the world. At NXT Takeover: Dallas, not only did Nakamura prove his place in WWE, but him and his opponent Sami Zayn received a chant that I hadn’t heard in any match, EVER.
Towards the middle of this epic bout, the crowd started to chant to ‘Fight Forever’. If that wasn’t a confirmation that Shinsuke was the man, then I don’t know what is.
Shinsuke immediately put himself in the title hunt upon his arrival. As he stated, for him to be the man, he had to beat the icon, Finn Balor. Their match helped to seal the end of Balor’s NXT career and send him off to the main roster in a glorious way. What was next for Shinsuke? Well, that would be none other than the Samoan Powerhouse Samoa Joe.
After a hard-nosed brawl with Samoa Joe, Shinsuke became the 9th NXT Heavyweight Champion. Nakamura brings an over the top grandiose persona to that title and it is quite refreshing. The fans hang on to his every word, when he comes to the ring his instrumental theme is sung by the crowd, his pose and outfit is imitated by the Full Sail live audience. Make no mistake about it – this is the Nakamura era.
This is the first time in WWE that Asian wrestlers are main eventing major shows. They have true merchandising drawing power in the company that rivals their peers. They have international success and a following that came with them from Japan, and then they sway the American fans to love them just the same. And last, but certainly not least, the Asian wrestler of the ‘Reality Era’ have fans that purchase NXT tickets specifically to see them.
Asian wrestlers are finally, FINALLY getting the spots in NXT, CWC and the main roster that they deserve. Thank you to all the Indy fans who supported them in the past few years when they would visit the States. This support opened the eyes to the powers that be in WWE, to see the drawing power in these talented individuals. We are truly excited to see what is to come moving forward.
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