RAY IS WAR
I’ve been trying to really sink my teeth into what’s been bothering me since WrestleMania lately, and it’s taken me some time to put my finger on it. But I finally have. I don’t have an issue with Roman beating a washed up Undertaker. I don’t have an issue with the “Superstar Shakeup” (though I wish there were more kayfabe transparency about the way stars switched brands). It took the words of the beautiful Maryse last night to make it all click for me. As she stumbled a bit saying that “it’s not the title that makes the man, it’s the man that makes the title” to Dean Ambrose it hit me like a ton of bricks.
WWE has grossly mishandled the Universal Championship since the inception of the title. I never hated the look of the title like many people did, but there’s no question that creating a title that people either hated, or didn’t think was that bad was not a good start for the new title. I don’t remember seeing anyone laud the look of the new belt. It was either “ehhhhh” or “that’s awful”. That’s not a good foot for the new belt to start out on. Beyond that, I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not a huge Finn Balor fan. I think he’s a solid wrestler with a boring finisher and a pretty cool entrance. This isn’t a bias against his size, or the fact that he came from nXt. It’s just that I don’t buy into him. There’s nothing about Balor that makes me go “I have to see this guy” like I do with Shinsuke Nakamura. There’s no awesome character like there is with Bobby Roode. There’s no wrecking ball persona like with Samoa Joe or Kevin Owens. There’s no tremendous underdog tale like with Sami Zayn. I’ll go out on a limb and say that I found Balor the second least engaging nXt Champion of all time (sorry Big E).
Yet Balor was the first to hold the Universal Championship. That was mistake number one. WWE tried right there to let the title make the man. They thought that by placing Balor on RAW and handing him the title that suddenly he’d be earmarked as the next big thing. Keep in mind that he had to defeat the criminally underutilized/underpushed/underappreciated trio of Cesaro, Rusev and Kevin Owens to get a shot at Roman Reigns, who he then beat to get a shot at Seth Rollins who he also defeated. I’d say that any of those five would have been a better inaugural Universal Champion than Balor. Oddly the fans didn’t revolt for this massive push like they did for Roman’s…but I digress. In a terribly unfortunate scenario for Balor with a serious shoulder injury, WWE got the chance to correct their initial error. They had a chance to put the title on a man who could help put some shine on the still brand new title.
In a great match they simultaneously set the course for a Rollins face turn, his feud with HHH and put the Universal Championship on the incredible Kevin Owens. Owens had been doing great work both in the ring and with his character since the day he arrived in WWE. He survived losing a series to Cena (something that set back many stars) and rebuilt himself from that in record time. He carried the Intercontinental Championship with great aplomb. So putting the title on him seemed the perfect choice. Except that they then neutered his “Prize Fighter” character. I’ll freely admit that his work with Chris Jericho was tremendously entertaining, but it did nothing for him as the Universal Champion and his losses to Roman Reigns surely didn’t help give any credibility to the man or the title. WWE sacrificed the prestige of both the man and the title for the sake for Roman. This is actually a fair gripe for the Roman haters to hang their hats on.
However, in a stroke of good fortune and in order to ramp up the impending Owens/Jericho WrestleMania clash…they allowed Owens to unleash the same animalistic side he’d once unleashed on his best friend Sami Zayn. The “Prize Fighter” Owens was back. No longer was he forced to play the cowardly heel, nor was he forced to eat losses against the Chosen One Roman Reigns. No, Owens came out with the attitude, brashness, and arrogance befitting the character that walked into WWE holding the nXt Championship and promptly left the “Franchise Player” John Cena laying.
But we couldn’t have this reinvigorated Owens carry the title into the hottest feud of WrestleMania season could we?
No, that would make far too much sense. Instead, let’s take the match with two part timers and toss the top RAW title into it. The knock on the current crop of RAW stars was that they “couldn’t draw on their own” and “that’s why we need Goldberg and Brock Lesnar”. If those things are true, and they may well be, why on God’s green Earth would the guys who you’re bringing in to draw need the title to draw interest to their match? It’s nonsensical. Did WWE decide that the Universal Title would have more prestige by having Goldberg’s name in its lineage? Perhaps, but at the end of the day they removed the title from a white hot feud that fans would have salivated to see revolving around the show’s top title…and put it in the middle of a feud that had no need for it and was simply about Lesnar overcoming the man that he couldn’t beat in Goldberg.
Ah, but now the title is on Brock Lesnar, and surely he gives a credibility to the title that Kevin Owens never could. That may well be true, but the concept of having Brock Lesnar holding that title totally flies in the face of the reason that the belt was created in the first place. It was created because it was determined that RAW needed a World Champion after WWE Champion Dean Ambrose was drafted to Smackdown. Wellllllll now we have a RAW that is regularly without it’s World Champion. Now I rather enjoyed Lesnar’s reign with the WWE Championship. But that reign happened in a different time where Lesnar was both an absolute scorching heat magnet after defeating The Undertaker, and in the pre-brand split era where John Cena was still anchoring the program. Lesnar is a part time attraction. He’s a viable threat to anyone on the roster.
But he is not the right fit for Universal Champion.
WWE has plenty of bright spots on RAW, Braun Strowman in particular has been built beautifully despite the early criticisms of his squash matches. But unfortunately for RAW they haven’t built their top title nearly as well. Every step they’ve made has been marred. Every step has been a misstep. Whether it’s been poor choices for the champion, totally changing the man who wore the title or now flying in the face of the inherent logic of the creating of the title. It’s not the title that makes the man, it’s the man that makes the title…but more than anything the company has to foster the importance of its top title and WWE has failed woefully in making the Universal Championship the prize that it should be.