By Bryan Rose, WrestlingObserver.com
One of the most interesting names signed by WWE this year is Asuka, the new name of top joshi wrestler Kana who was signed recently to a WWE developmental deal. At 33, it’s a surprising signing as WWE usually signs women about ten years younger, but during these last ten years, Kana has made herself into one of the top women’s wrestlers in Japan, despite the fact that joshi wrestling is nowhere near the popularity of its heyday 20 years ago.
Right now, despite some satellite TV play, it’s pretty much under the radar in Japan, and even more so in the United States, to the point that when she was signed, not a lot of people had heard about her.
What’s funny about that is that despite all of the above, she’s carved herself quite a formidable career as a joshi wrestler in a unpopular era, and even just as an individual she is very unique.
Here are five things about Asuka/Kana that you might not know:
1) Her favoritest wrestler of all time is Triple H...but she’s had other inspirations growing up.
Sure, it's a mandatory requirement whenever a indy name signs with WWE, they say that Triple H is awesome, he’s so great, etc. But in other interviews not mandated by WWE, Kana has stated her inspirations include Keiji Muto, Akira Maeda, Volk Han, and Minoru Suzuki. Even though their rise was during a period where women's promotions such as AJW were building momentum, she was never a fan of women’s wrestling growing up.
2) She is a product of a post AJW world.
Well, many women wrestlers in Japan are. But she broke into the business in 2004, right as AJW was on its last legs. Whereas in the early to mid 90s, All Japan Women’s wrestling was at its peak, by the late 1990s, financial issues and talent defections took their toll, and once their television was taken away from them in 2002, it was only a matter of time before the promotion closed down. Joshi wrestling obviously still exists in Japan as there were a number of promotions to come out in the wake of AJW’s downfall, but none are more than a blip on the radar when it comes to the wrestling scene in Japan.
One of the promotions that would rise under AJW’s downfall would be AtoZ, founded by former AJW star Mariko Yoshida. Although they had a mix of both new talent and known AJW talent, they didn’t last long, with Yoshida leaving a couple of years after its inception. However, this is where Kana would break into the business, wrestling there until 2006, when she had to retire. The promotion folded shortly after.
3) She’s had to retire before.
Kana might not even have been close on WWE’s radar if she had decided to continue her retirement. She announced her retirement way back in 2006 due to recurring bouts of nephritis, which inflames the kidney area. This didn’t last long, however, as she came back as a free agent in 2007 and has worked for various promotions include Pro Wrestling Wave, Shimmer, Reina, SMASH (where she had a memorable feud with former WWE star Serena), and it’s successor promotion New Wrestling Classic.
4) This isn’t her first time working in North America.
Although joining NXT means she’ll be leaving Japan for a long period of time, this isn’t the first time Kana will be wrestling outside of Japan. Before signing with WWE, she was a regular with Shimmer, working as a heel against the likes of now WWE trainer Sara Del Rey, Cheerleader Melissa, Lufisto and more. She’s also worked a bit in Chikara, defeating people just as Jessie McKay, who is also in NXT as Billie Kay. Her most recent match in the United States was against Kay Lee Ray and Courtney Rush at a Shimmer taping last October.
5) She’s really into video games.
Interestingly enough, Kana has been a freelance video game writer when not wrestling. Favoring western developers such as Ubisoft and EA, she has previously written for Xbox Magazine in Japan and has even been sponsored by Microsoft in the past, sporting the logo on her gear for matches. She’s also been a graphic designer, working games for both the Nintendo DS as well as mobile titles.
It’s very interesting to see how Kana will do in the WWE. It’s a completely new style she’ll have to get used to, and she’ll also have to learn English. I keep thinking about Hideo Itami’s run so far, and although he’s not a failure by any means, he’s had his struggles. Kana might have these same struggles when she reports to the Performance Center later this month, but with the experiences she has been through, it might be an easier transition.