It’s the match and opponent that has eluded Shayna Baszler — until now.
The former MMA fighter took part in the first Mae Young Classic tournament in the summer of 2017 with Asuka in the midst of her undefeated NXT women’s championship reign. The two never got to cross paths in the ring as Baszler debuted on NXT television in August that year and Asuka went to Raw in late October after relinquishing her NXT title because of injury. Baszler went on to beat Ember Moon for the belt and eventually became the first two-time NXT women’s champion, holding the the title for a combined record of 556 days.
“When I came in and Asuka was still there and I was kind of sitting and waiting and waiting, waiting, that was the match I wanted from day one,” Baszler told The Post in a phone interview. “Who doesn’t want to chase the champ? That unfortunately didn’t happen.”
That changes Monday when the two best NXT women’s champions ever will finally have a match on this week’s “Monday Night Raw” from Barclays Center (8 p.m., USA Network). They will then be part of an Elimination Chamber match with four other women at next Sunday’s pay-per-view (7 p.m., WWE Network) with a shot at Becky Lynch’s Raw women’s championship on April 5 at WrestleMania 36 at stake.
In Baszler’s mind, this match isn’t about who is the best NXT women’s champion ever.
“That’s been decided,” and it’s her, as far as she’s concerned. Baszler, a trained catch wrestler, is still reveling in the chance to end the debate as far as the audience is concerned. Having a match with Asuka — who uses a strong-style approach with submissions mixed in — is getting Baszler’s “creative juices flowing” because she gets to think of “new ways to make people bend in ways they’re not supposed to.”
“I think for my own selfish reasons I love this and I think it will shut all the fans up for sure,” she said.
The Winnipeg fans at last week’s Raw had a palpable reaction when Baszler and Asuka, currently holding the WWE women’s tag team championship with Kairi Sane, came face to face during the contract signing for Elimination Chamber. To Baszler, it was recognition of what both women have done in their careers. Her match with Asuka is part of a Raw that includes Beth Phoenix giving an update on her husband Edge, who was attacked by Randy Orton after the WWE Hall of Famer returned at the Royal Rumble.
“Whether it was then or later, it [this match] was going to happen either way,” said Baszler, a close friend of former Raw women’s champion and UFC great Ronda Rousey. “It just shows that both of us and our accomplishments are known enough to the fans that that’s something they want to see now.”
This is Baszler’s second run on Raw and SmackDown, the other coming during the build in the fall for Survivor Series, where she beat Lynch and Bayley to close the show and clinch brand supremacy for NXT that night. After that Baszler took part in the Royal Rumble and appeared on Raw in February. That night she attacked Lynch, bit her in the back of the neck and came up with a face full of blood. The polarizing reaction it received from the WWE audience proved to Baszler that “people are watching.”
Despite the opportunities in front of her with Raw, Baszler is still listed as a member of the NXT roster on WWE’s website. NXT boss Triple H joked on a conference call in early February that the other brands would have to “make a deal for her to go someplace else.” As far as Baszler is concerned she could show up anywhere and didn’t rule out wrestling under the NXT banner again.
“Wherever there’s a body long enough to break in half that’s where I go. It doesn’t matter the letters behind them,” Baszler said. “If there is something I feel needs to be done there, I’ll go and do what I need to do. Right now I have this. Plan all the way to the end. That’s one of the laws of power. I have this going on and we’ll see what happens when this is done.”