Asuka vs. Mickie James at NXT TakeOver: Toronto on 11/19/16

Event: NXT TakeOver: Toronto
Date: November 19th, 2016
Location: Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Announced Attendance: 18,659

While the vast majority of reviews on Joshi City are of complete shows, this one will just be of one match. A match I never thought I’d ever see, as it pits my favorite wrestler from the last era against my favorite wrestler from the current era of women’s wrestling. My build-up to the match below is how I saw wrestling while I was watching it as a teenager, so if you don’t like something I say, take it up with Vince.

I have been a wrestling fan my entire life, and from watching wrestling in the 1980s and 1990s I was taught from the start that women were valets/eye candy, while the men did the wrestling. It wasn’t that there wasn’t any women’s wrestling, but most of it either wasn’t on TV where I lived, or the women’s programs were just seen as secondary. That isn’t to say that Madusa and Bull Nakano weren’t great, but their feuds tended to be over before they started and it was back to the regularly scheduled program as they were more of a special attraction than a long term fixture. That finally started changing in WWF (it never really changed in WCW) when Lita rose to popularity and wrestlers like Ivory and Molly Holly started making the women’s division a bit more of a focus around 2000 and 2001.

While I enjoyed that stretch, let’s face it, during the Attitude Era the women were still seen as a few notches below the men in importance, and most of their storylines still dealt with their interactions with the male wrestlers (Ivory/RTC, Vince/Trish, Molly/Crash, Lita/Matt/Edge, etc.). It was a step in the right direction, but it was still far from equal. The equality tipped a bit more by around 2004, as Trish and Lita were the main event of RAW for the first time, with the focus of their feud being on them and not lots of outside forces. I know to some that Chyna was seen as the first to break the gender barrier in wrestler, but since she was mostly fighting with men/involved in feuds with men at the time it didn’t feel the same as the women having their own respected division.

That brings us up to Mickie James, which is the reason I just went on that monologue. She arrived in 2005 to RAW and pretty quickly became my favorite female wrestlers up to that point in my life. It wasn’t a knock on Trish or Lita, but Mickie had the right combination of charisma and in-ring ability, and while she still had to do some of the lingerie-type matches, for the most part she came in as that phase of women’s wrestling was ending and when the women had their own storylines. Mickie’s feud with Trish Stratus in 2006 was fantastic, as Mickie played her role so well, and its the first women’s feud I can remember just watching RAW or a PPV to see what would happen next.

Its well documented that Mickie wasn’t treated well on her way out in 2010, and like most I didn’t like the child-like insults they called her prior to her departure from the promotion as while no one deserves that, Mickie certainly didn’t as she had been a big asset to WWE. I watched Mickie some in TNA and got the chance to meet her a few years ago while at a TNA Meet and Greet, and through everything Mickie has always come across as a genuinely good person that loves her fans. The shop on her website ships quickly and she is very interactive with fans on Twitter, and even long after being gone from WWE she still has a substantial fan base not just because of what she represented in the ring, but what she represents out of it.

So all that is what was swirling around in my head when it was announced that Mickie James was returning to WWE to wrestle there for the first time since 2010, and she was wrestling against my current favorite female wrestler. It came out of left field, as while Mickie has stayed active in wrestling she mostly just does spot shows as she has a family now and has a music career as well. But Asuka needed a big match for TakeOver for the NXT Women’s Championship, and none of the current NXT wrestlers are quite ready, so in comes Mickie James to save the day. Now 38 years old, Mickie James makes her grand return to WWE for her first title match in the promotion since February 23rd, 2010.

asukamickie1 asukamickie2

asukamickie3Asuka and Mickie both come into the match full of confidence, as neither has any reason to believe they aren’t walking out as the champion. They feel each other out to start, neither has ever faced the other even leading up to the match, so both are taking things slow. Mickie gets the offense rolling and she drills Asuka with a sliding kick, and Asuka has to roll out of the ring to re-group. Mickie kindly/condescendingly holds the ropes for Asuka to return, but Asuka refuses to go through the ropes she is holding open as she gets in the ring. Asuka works a hammerlock but Mickie gets back up, kicks by Mickie but Asuka decks her with a hip attack. Mickie falls out of the ring and Asuka holds the ropes the same way for her, Mickie goes to enter the ring under the ropes but Asuka hip attacks her back to the floor. Asuka goes for a hip attack off the apron but Mickie moves, Mickie sits on the apron and hits a headscissors which sends Asuka back to the floor.

asukamickie4Mickie goes for a kick but Asuka catches it, Asuka spins Mickie around and drops her with a German Suplex onto the floor outside the ring. Asuka returns to the ring to dance around while Mickie slowly recovers, and Mickie is able to make it back in before the referee’s count. Asuka flings Mickie to the mat and does another dance, fully confident that she has the challenger where she wants her. Dropkick by Asuka, and she covers Mickie for two. Asuka waits for Mickie to get up and elbows her in the back, she goes for a hip attack but Mickie moves. Luckily for Asuka she lands safely between the ropes so she doesn’t get hurt in the process, kicks to the chest by Asuka but Mickie ducks one and puts Asuka in a single leg crab hold. Muta Lock by Mickie, but Asuka is able to inch to the ropes and she forces the break. Mickie and Asuka trade elbows while they are on their knees, Asuka throws Mickie in the corner but Mickie fights back and slaps Asuka hard in the face. Asuka looks pissed but her anger doesn’t help her as Mickie quickly hits a neckbreaker followed by a string of lariats.

asukamickie5Asuka jumps up on the turnbuckles but Mickie avoids her dropkick, flapjack by Mickie and she kips back up to her feet. Mickie goes up top and hits the seated senton, but Asuka kicks out of the cover. Mickie waits for Asuka to get up and goes for the Mickie-DT, but Asuka blocks it and applies a cross armbreaker. Mickie is too close to the ropes and forces the break, low kick by Mickie and she nails the Mick Kick, but Asuka is too close to the ropes and gets a boot on one to break the pinfall. Mickie re-positions Asuka and covers her again, but Asuka has recovered enough that she kicks out of the pin. Mickie goes for the Mickie-DT again but Asuka ducks it and goes for the Asuka Lock, Mickie briefly pins Asuka down on her shoulders but Asuka keeps the hold locked on. Asuka finally gets it fully applied in the middle of the ring, and Mickie has no choice but to tap out! Asuka is still the NXT Women’s Champion!

After the match, Mickie asks for Asuka’s hand to congratulate her, but Asuka stares her down and puts the title up in Mickie’s face instead. Asuka continues to get more and more cocky and arrogant the longer she is the NXT Women’s Champion, who will finally knock her off her throne? Perhaps a rematch?

asukamickie6My gut reaction was the same as much of the people I was “watching along” with online, which was that the ending was very abrupt. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t logical to the story they were telling, it was, but it ended so quickly that the crowd didn’t even have time to react. Watching it a second time it made more sense, now that I knew where they were going. The Asuka Lock, like any good submission hold, is one that can get a win at any point in the match regardless of what is going on. It has been very well respected, and Mickie tapping out to it in of itself wasn’t the the surprise. I think people were just disappointed that Asuka didn’t get more of a ‘finishing stretch’, but part of that depends on where they are going from here. The match was very physical, between the suplex spot on the outside and Mickie connecting well with the Mick Kick, and it didn’t have the communication issues I was afraid may be present since they were having their first ever match together in front of over 18,000 people.

asukamickie7Leading up to the finish, it was a well laid out match. Both wrestlers never for a moment showed any emotional weakness or despair and neither portrayed themselves as the underdog, which is how it should have been with Mickie getting the respect she needed in order to be seen as a worthy challenger. They mentioned that Mickie had been watching Asuka wrestle to know her moves, and aside from being caught with the German Suplex outside of the ring, Mickie controlled much of the action. Asuka tried several times to cut her off, but failed each time, and she only survived the Mick Kick because she happened to land next to the ropes. The champion was in trouble and struggled all match to wear Mickie down, so a flash submission was her most likely path to victory. The cross armbreaker didn’t work, so Asuka had to go to Plan B. The Mickie-DT in the middle of the ring would have won the match for Mickie, but Asuka reversed it into her own finishing move. Since Mickie wasn’t that hurt, she struggled for a good 15 seconds before Asuka even got her on the mat, so even though she tapped quickly once she was on the mat she did put up a fight to get out of the initial hold. I would have loved as a fan to see the match go a few more minutes and Asuka get a bit more offense in, but I can respect what they were going for.

asukamickie8Is this it for Mickie in WWE? I doubt that Mickie has any interest in going on the road full time since she has a family and another career to manage, but I hope that she can at least become one of WWE’s long term part time wrestlers as she still has the ability and popularity to help with the younger wrestlers. But even if this was Mickie’s farewell, this was a much better sendoff than the one she got last time and as a long time fan of Mickie James it was great to see her hold her own against Asuka. Overall this was a really solid match, not a classic but entertaining, and I have a feeling from the face off at the end that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Mickie in NXT or WWE.