Quantifying Asuka's historic NXT women's championship reign
A lot has happened since April 1, 2016.
The WWE ran a cruiserweight classic, then formed the entire cruiserweight division that now has its own show.
Heck, ESPN hadn't even launched its WWE page yet.
One thing that hasn't happened since that time is a single loss for Asuka, the reigning NXT women's champion who has held tightly onto her NXT title.
On April 1, 2016, Asuka defeated Bayley to win the NXT women's championship. On Monday, five days before her title defense against Ember Moon at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III, Asuka's championship reign will hit 500 days -- truly rarefied air in WWE history.
It's the longest title reign in NXT history, easily surpassing the 364-day reign of The Ascension (Konnor and Viktor) as NXT tag-team champions. Looking at the bigger picture, Asuka will have just the eighth title reign of 500 days or longer in WWE/NXT history.
Even if you add in WCW and ECW title reigns, you get only one addition to the list: Rob Van Dam held the ECW television title for 700 days. Lex Luger held the United States title for 523 days while the title was still under the jurisdiction of the NWA.
The last time there was a title reign this long in WWE was when Rockin' Robin held the women's title for 502 days from October 1988 to February 1990. But there are stark differences between her reign and Asuka's current run at the top.
Robin's last defense of that belt came in June 1989, so there was another eight months added to her championship reign before the title was officially ruled inactive.
Asuka has been anything but inactive during her 500-day reign, defending her championship against Bayley, Nia Jax, Mickie James, Billie Kay, Peyton Royce, Nikki Cross, Ruby Riot, and once before against Moon. In the post-Four Horsewomen era of NXT, she has carried the division through its rebuild and introduction of new talent; as the Mae Young Classic promises a big infusion of female talent to the roster, those who join the fray in NXT will have big shoes to fill.
Her reign hasn't just been marked by successful defenses. During this run, we've seen her character shift from exciting newcomer to dominant force to a borderline heel who toes the line of overconfidence and does whatever is necessary to maintain the title, even cutting corners when necessary.
Asuka's reign is also dramatically different from past 500-day title reigns in WWE in that there wasn't anywhere near the volume of challenges currently faced by a long-term champion. There's more weekly TV hours to fill, not to mention more pay-per-view events. During the days of Sammartino and Moolah, house shows ruled the day, matches meant mostly for the in-house audience. Today's state of wrestling necessitates something more to keep from growing stale.
The New Day, whose 483-day run as tag-team champions ended in December 2016, transitioned from heels to faces during that year-plus reign. The only other 400-day champion in the last 10 years, CM Punk, was controversial and interesting. Asuka managed to get over and stay relevant despite facing a language barrier on the microphone; her message and charisma shined through from her in-ring performance.
After such a long period of dominance in NXT, the next question (and the inevitable one) -- when will she move to either Raw or SmackDown? Then, the follow-up -- will she or should she drop the championship before leaving? Or does she carry a certain value with her if she gets the call-up while still undefeated in one-on-one matches?
It seems like the stage would have to be the Raw/SmackDown after either SummerSlam or a WrestleMania. Her first entrance deserves to be a grand stage with a crowd that would instantly recognize her accomplishments to make the debut as memorable and impactful as possible.
As for dropping the title on her way out the door, it's not a necessity; Paige, the first NXT women's champion, didn't do it when she left for the main roster. On her first night on Monday Night Raw, she defeated AJ Lee for the then-Divas title and vacated the NXT title.
Somebody beating Asuka, whether it's Moon at TakeOver or another challenger down the line, would provide a huge boost. But would it be more advantageous for Asuka to still be undefeated upon her main roster promotion? Should the division just have a hard reset upon Asuka's departure?
Win or lose at TakeOver, Asuka now will have the honor as forever gaining entry into a rare class of names who have been 500-day champions in WWE -- names like Hogan, Moolah, Sammartino. Hers will be the only such reign in the past 25 years. Even to WWE fans who don't watch NXT, that's an accolade that can be repeatedly quoted to provide instant credibility.
And once she steps into the ring, her work will speak for itself.