NXT Recap: Asuka's run ends as NXT women's champion

Asuka's reign as champion ends at 523 days. Nick Laham/ESPN

What a run it has been.

For nearly two years, Asuka has brought her brilliance to NXT by way of her supreme intensity and brilliant in-ring prowess. It was clear from the moment she stepped foot in an NXT ring, all the way back in September 2015, that she was going to take the brand by storm.

That ended up being an understatement.

It wasn't long before Asuka made her way into the championship picture, and on the night before WrestleMania 32 at TakeOver: Orlando, Asuka defeated Bayley to become the fifth superstar to hold the NXT Women's Championship. There wouldn't be a sixth. Well, not yet.

After a 523-day reign as champion, Asuka relinquished her title on Wednesday night. The legitimacy of WWE.com's announcement that Asuka had broken her collarbone at TakeOver: Brooklyn III remains unclear, but on the NXT broadcast, William Regal announced that negotiations to send Asuka to either RAW or SmackDown Live were ongoing, all but confirming the end of Asuka's NXT career.

She was just the eighth superstar in WWE history to hold a championship for more than 500 days. Quite a feat.

"You are NXT. I am NXT. And wherever I go, NXT comes with me," Asuka exclaimed to the Full Sail audience serenading her with "Thank you, Asuka" chants.

As the NXT roster approached the stage to give her a standing ovation, Asuka's current rival, Ember Moon, entered the ring and hugged Asuka, to the roar of the crowd.

The segment came to a close when Triple H entered the ring and took the title from Asuka while presenting her with a bouquet of roses, a wonderful send-off for arguably the greatest NXT superstar in history.

"Since I've been in WWE, and I've been a champion in NXT, the whole point has been to get to SmackDown or to Raw," Asuka said to Tim Fiorvanti two weeks ago.

Now we all wait to see where Asuka shows up next.

What's next for Hideo Itami?

Itami has been a sensation in every promotion he's performed in, but his journey through NXT has been a bumpy one. When active, his in-ring performances have been solid, but significant injuries turned into extended absences, and he has been unable to truly connect with the audience. In an attempt to steer the ship back on course, Itami underwent a character transformation, regularly displaying heel tendencies filled with cheap shots on his opponents and verbal tirades about the lack of respect he has been shown.

More often than not, Itami's newfound fury has been directed at Kassius Ohno. That rage escalated when the two squared off a little more than a month ago. Itami got himself intentionally disqualified via a low blow to Ohno, followed by a vicious post-match attack.

They took part in a no-disqualification match this week, and both veterans pulled no punches -- or elbows in Ohno's case -- and put forth quite a match. As has been the case more often than not during his two-year run in NXT, Itami came out on the losing end.

Where does Itami go from here?

Quite honestly, this week's loss was a curious decision. If the expectation was that a character adjustment would propel Itami's career forward, some amount of success has to follow. Since his heel turn, Itami has taken the pinfall in a tag match with SAnitY, Aleister Black and now Ohno.

Perhaps a bigger-picture plan is in place, but as it stands right now, Itami's future appears murky.

Almas continues his winning ways

On the other side of the spectrum is the recent success the rejuvenated Andrade "Cien" Almas is enjoying. Pairing Almas with Zelina Vega was the secret ingredient needed to take him to that next level. Prior to her arrival, Almas was traveling a similar path as Itami, dropping matches regularly without any significant advancement.

However, Vega has brought on a more determined Almas. Under her guidance, Almas picked up the biggest win of his NXT career at TakeOver: Brooklyn over Johnny Gargano.

The progression continued this week, with Almas' successful pursuit of retribution with a victory over Cezar Bononi, a superstar who got the better of Almas before he started taking direction from Vega.

The Almas/Vega pairing is intriguing. The exact details of their relationship, outside of a brief mention by Vega on commentary this week that they met seven years ago, have yet to be revealed, but it has turned Almas into a serious player.

Lars Sullivan and Sonya Deville dominate

After Sullivan obliterated three superstars in a handicap match, he was confronted by No Way Jose. Sullivan attacked Jose from behind two weeks ago, and Jose asked him to try it face-to-face. Well, that's exactly what he did, and once again, Sullivan took care of business.

Deville maintained her winning ways with a convincing victory over Mae Young Classic competitor Zeda. The short bout was another early chapter in the rise of the MMA-inspired Deville.

Next week

  • Johnny Gargano will take on one member of the team of Riddick Moss and Tino Sabbatelli.

  • Ruby Riot and a partner of her choice will face off with the Iconic Duo.

  • U.K. Championship match -- Pete Dunne vs. Wolfgang