SummerSlam is fast approaching and the main event features four monsters – Brock Lesnar, Samoa Joe, Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman – doing battle over the Universal Championship. While each man has his own reason to stake claim to the title and each is certainly capable of further elevating it in the aftermath of SummerSlam, I am here to say that WWE Universe, Samoa Joe is the Universal Champion that we deserve. Before I explain why, I’ll break down why the other three competitors are not.
It’s only fair to start with current reigning, sometimes defending, Universal champion Buh-rock Lesssnarrrrr!!!!! (Paul Heyman voice, obviously). Oh Brock, where do we begin. It was just three short years ago that fans were all in on Brock Lesnar destroyer of worlds and SuperCenas the world over. Don’t believe me, check the tape:
I encourage you to watch the entire match and listen to the fans vocal embrace of Brock Lesnar as he MURDERS John Cena in front of a live crowd.
Yes, at that specific moment in time, we were all in on Brock Lesnar. This was partially because we were all (foolishly) out on John Cena and we didn’t realize what an extended Brock Lesnar championship run would mean – weeks on end without the champion present, a short list of guys that WWE was willing to let fight him and an even shorter list of guys WWE was willing to let him lose to. The initial excitement quickly turned to frustration as the title was rarely defended and Brock appearances were even rarer than that. By the time Seth cashed in at Wrestlemania about eight months later, a lot of people were happy to have the title back on an every week wrestler.
So here we are, roughly four months after Brock’s Mania Universal championship win with only one title defense and maybe a handful of appearances and once again we are out on Brock as a world champion. It’s not due to a lack of talent, charisma, in-ring presence or any other tangible metric. It is quite simply because we want to see a world championship being defended on a regular basis. We want to see the main champion of one of the two brands on TV more than once a month on average. There is also that lingering problem of a limited number of guys WWE is willing to let him work with and an even more limited list of guys WWE is willing to let him lose to. We don’t want to go through that again.
Let’s not even begin to talk about the rumors of a potential return to MMA and a superfight with Jon Jones. Unbelievably, we may be back to a place where Brock Lesnar, stick-up artist, is back in business trying to hold WWE hostage over allowing him to go do “one more match” in UFC or somewhere else. This is another lingering concern with Brock, his desire to be a full-time or long-term WWE wrestler seems to always be ready to waver depending on what opportunity may lie beyond the confines of professional wrestling.
Update: Brock is definitely fighting Jon Jones at some point in the next year. This will likely take place after April to allow Brock to both clear his USADA suspension and fulfill his contractual obligations to WWE if in fact he doesn’t re-sign.
Truth be told, I am all in on Braun Strowman. There is something about the southern almost Hulk Hogan voice (PAUSE), combined with his monstrous size (PAUSE) and don’t give a damn attitude that makes watching Braun Strowman wrestle a very entertaining experience (and PAUSE). His feud with Roman Reigns has gone from potentially intriguing, to this is entertaining, to this has probably been my favorite feud of the year thus far. He has been a perfect foil for Roman. He is bigger (PAUSE), meaner and nastier than Reigns could ever hope to be. He is the anti-Reigns. He represents (whether kayfabe or shoot) the opposite of everything that fans think is wrong with Roman. He doesn’t talk much. He arrives, raises hell and leaves (to quote an old Stone Cold t-shirt). Generally speaking he is the epitome of an old school monster heel that fans have fallen in love almost single-handedly because of his juxtaposition with Reigns. Here are some highlights of Braun’s early 2017 run.
The pros of a Strowman title run: he’s already had fun matches with Reigns and Rollins and seems like he could work well with guys like Finn, Dean and others. He would be even more fun having a feud with any of the three other monsters in the SummerSlam main event. His story is largely untold and there is a ton of room for narrative building for Strowman the character and the man behind the monster. Which reminds me of another potential title feud out there, and probably one with a lot of untapped potential and that is with his former leader, Bray Wyatt. So there would be a lot to like about a Strowman title run.
The cons of a Strowman title run: there is one big, obvious drawback to a Strowman title run, he is still green in comparison to most of the guys in the Raw main event scene. He has only been a pro wrestler for a few years. His time in NXT was nil. His time on the main roster out of some sort of spotlight is also nil. So while he has done well in the spotlight, much of his matches have been monster spot-fests and squash matches before that. We actually do not know yet what Strowman would look like in a 20 to 25 minute main event match with someone not as experienced as Seth, Roman and Joe – the three most recent feuds and potential feuds that Strowman has faced. So a part of the appeal of a Strowman title run – relatively fresh feuds and a definite fresh face in the Raw main event scene – could also be a drawback due to the question mark that the run could become if Strowman can’t handle the spotlight with less talented wrestlers.
Ok. So let’s get the criticism out of the way first. One, Roman Reigns as Universal champ would not be ideal because the fans are mostly over the idea of Roman being (undeservedly) pushed to the moon. As much as I no longer really care about this narrative, it is one that still exists. For much of the WWE universe, in particular the “smart” fans, there is nothing short of an actual, tangible heel turn that will change their perception of Roman Reigns. So to a large subset of WWE’s fanbase, making Roman Reigns Universal champion is a non-starter at this stage. Whether you agree with that assessment or not, it is something that needs to be taken into consideration.
Now, if this subset also wants to argue that Roman Reigns should not be champion because he is not a credible in-ring talent, then that’s where we have to hit pause. Whether you appreciate the manner in which WWE has pushed Reigns or not, one cannot argue with his ring work, especially not in the last 12 to 18 months. Consider that every PPV match that Reigns has been involved in has been high quality (with the one exception being his match at Mania this year against Undertaker, which was equally a booking problem and an Undertaker is old problem). Go back to Fastlane 2015 and his match against Daniel Bryan. Go back to his feud last year with AJ Styles. Look at his matches against Braun, who is arguably one of the greenest wrestlers to ever be seriously considered as a world title contender. He has had high quality matches with Seth and Dean as well. Roman Reigns has been putting on a series of excellent matches dating back over two years. I hate to use the phrase, but, you can love him, you can hate him, but you actually can’t deny his ring work and the quality of matches he has had.
You can, however, point to his mic skills as still being substandard in comparison to everyone in this match except probably Braun. But even Braun, because he is allowed to just be a monster and spit out one-liners, has outshone Roman on the mic these past few months. So that’s another point against Reigns.
Now, if you consider long-term goals, then it also may make sense to keep the title off of Roman due to the rumored WrestleMania 34 match of Roman vs Cena. That is not a feud that needs a title and even if it does, Roman does not need to have the title from SummerSlam to WrestleMania to make that match more meaningful. We already know that this match would represent the “passing of the torch” and that could even take place by having Roman be someone who denies Cena his record-breaking championship victory, but it is not absolutely necessary.
The other challenge with Roman as Universal champion is the fact that he has had a feud with almost everyone at the top of the Raw card. Seth, check. Bray, check. Strowman, check. Brock, check. Dean, not really a check, but also no one wants Dean near the title right now. Finn, ok maybe there is potential to flesh out a feud there. But overall, Roman’s seat at or near the top of the card for the last two years has reduced the number of fresh feuds he could have to just Finn and Joe at this point. Not that there is anything wrong with either of those feuds – but I think the universe is over Roman Reigns to the point that this would be ineffective at best and completely unaccepted by the fans at worst.
Samoa Joe – The Champion We Deserve
Now, let us consider why Joe is the absolute best choice to be Universal Champion coming out of SummerSlam – if these seem like counterpoints to all of the cons for the wrestlers above, that’s because they are.
Firstly, Joe is around. Look at that, a novel thought. Here is a guy who can actually be counted on to be on Raw every week and to defend the title every month or every other month on ppv.
Secondly and thirdly, Joe is OVER with the WWE Universe and he is more than capable on the mic. It may not have been as much when we first debuted in the leadup to WrestleMania 33, but in the past seven to eight months, Samoa Joe has gotten extremely over with fans. One can point to his winning the Fatal Five-way at Extreme Rules in June. One can point to his interactions with Paul Heyman, especially the one below and just the sheer look of fear and trepidation on Heyman’s face alone is enough to sell me on Joe.
Fourthly, his in-ring ability is beyond reproach. Don’t believe me, here are some of the guys that Samoa Joe has fought with over the course of his career, pre-WWE:
CM Punk in Ring of Honor
Kurt Angle in TNA
Jay Briscoe in ROH
Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan) in ROH
AJ Styles in TNA
Kenta Kobashi in ROH
I implore you to track down some of these matches and watch them on your own time – there are some gems out there. Some of these matches date back to as early as 2004/2005. Samoa Joe has been and is a wrestling machine and works a style that can still translate at age 38. Out of all the guys in this match, he and Reigns (somewhat begrudgingly) are the two guys who can have a match with almost anyone on the card and it be believable one way or another. He is not too small to face a Brock, Strowman, or Big Show and he is not too big to fight guys like Seth, Finn, Dean and others. From a workrate standpoint, Joe is as solid as any wrestler in WWE today. Big plus there for him.
Fifthly, Samoa Joe, while a veteran wrestler, has had only one definitive feud (with a guy still on the Raw roster) since his call-up earlier this year – Seth Rollins. Basically, Joe is an open book for feuds. He can rekindle his feud with Finn from NXT (bearing in mind that not everyone is going to be well-versed with those matches and those who are are probably not opposed to more of the same). He can continue a feud with Brock (if he bothers to stick around). He can build on the feud with Roman. He can start a feud with Strowman. He can feud with Bray or Dean or The Miz or basically anyone else on the main roster because he is a fresh face.
Finally, Samoa Joe could be considered an experiment as champion. If you read last week’s article on John Cena (shameless plug) then you will be familiar with the thought that post-SummerSlam and the fall months in WWE are considered an ideal time to experiment with new/young talent holding world championships. We saw it last year with KO and AJ. Technically we saw it the year before with Seth holding on to the title through November of that same year. So what better time to experiment with a fresh face to the WWE and to the main roster than now. Joe can hold on to the title for a few months to see if he can sustain his current level of fan reaction while building his credibility as champion through feuds with many of the guys mentioned above. Samoa Joe vs John Cena anyone?
Overall, Samoa Joe may not be the champion that some people want, but he is the champion we need, the champion we deserve.