Ok, stop me if you’ve heard me say this before, but damn we need to get the Universal Title off of Brock Lesnar as soon as possible. For those of you who might not remember, the Universal Title has been held hostage by the Beast Incarnate and his advocate Paul Heyman since last year’s Wrestlemania. In that time, Brock has defended the title a grand total of three times while wrestling four televised matches since Mania. Whatever happened to the 30-day title defense rule? What happened to “the reigning, defending…” part of Heyman’s beast? If you ask me (and if you’re here you’re asking me) it is time to put the beast down… and for good.
On April 2, 2017 Brock Lesnar defeated Bill Goldberg for the Universal Title. The Beast has defended the title as follows:
While these defenses were all entertaining, by the time we got to August most fans were clamoring to see any one of Brock’s challengers take the title off of him (yes, even Roman Reigns). But no, stubborn Vince McMahon kept the title on Brock. By the time Brock defends the title again at the Royal Rumble (against Kane and Braun) it would have been four months since he defended his title. Yes, we got an excellent match between Brock and AJ at Survivor Series, but that hardly makes up for the lack of title defenses. Would you like to know how many times the WWE title was defended between Wrestlemania and the end of the year? Eight. More than double that of the Universal Title. Even though all 8 of those matches included Jinder Mahal, the WWE title was at least getting air time and play on WWE television. Brock Lesnar appeared on TV or PPV less than 10 times between Wrestlemania and the end of 2017.
The entire purpose of a championship is not just to show who the top guy is in the company or on a show but it is also to propel guys up the card and into new phases of their careers. By not being around to defend (and also by not losing it yet) WWE has eschewed the opportunity to truly elevate guys like Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman into that next stratosphere. Instead we have both men taking Ls to a part time beast after one F5 (Brock’s finishing maneuver) while he kicked out or escaped multiple finishers from both Joe and Strowman. What favors is this doing to your future?
This is especially frustrating for a guy like Braun. One of my first articles on 10YS last year was detailing Braun’s background and sudden rise to heavily chanted monster against Roman Reigns. While he was not ready at that time for a championship run, by the time he got to his one on one match against Brock at No Mercy Braun was ready to strap the proverbial rocket to his back and take his place amongst the superstar monsters of the past, at least in this writer’s opinion. Fast forward four months and most likely Kane will eat a pinfall at their match at the Rumble to allow Lesnar to retain the belt while not making Braun look weak. For all intents and purposes, Braun seems capable to pull off a royal (no pun intended) cutass of both his opponents in this match and storm out new Universal Champion. But that’s not the story WWE wants to tell.
A (Bad) Long Term Plan
There is obviously a long term plan in play here that WWE wants Brock to have held the title from Mania to Mania before he loses the belt to the next guy. This is why they kept his defenses to a minimum. It’s also why they kept him from losing – even when the consensus seemed to point to an unplanned new direction as the best story. I personally would have loved Strowman ragtagging Brock at No Mercy a la Goldberg last year and holding the title through Mania setting up a rematch with Brock that Braun would also win clearly positioning Braun as the new monster in WWE and the new mountain to overcome.
The problem with all of this is that clearly was not their long term plan and WWE was not of the mind to veer from the long term plan. Now, as the Royal Rumble comes into view, rumors are swirling that Roman Reigns might be the winner of this year’s titular match. While I am not as down on Reigns as I was at this time last year (let me pause that), I am also not interested in WWE’s continued pursuit of Roman Reigns, Cena 2.0. While some fans are still resistant, many smart fans are able to recognize Roman’s improvements in the ring and on the mic. We get it Vince, he is a top guy. What this means though is that Roman doesn’t need the rub of beating Brock at Wrestlemania.
Things like this are the precise reason why it’s so difficult for some fans to embrace Roman Reigns. WWE has essentially forfeited a year of legitimate Universal title defenses and storylines in service of giving Roman the rub from a Mania win over Brock that he doesn’t need. Here’s a hot take, Roman Reigns is better than Brock Lesnar in the ring and on the mic and has been for the better part of at least 18 months. I can’t stress this enough, Roman Reigns does not NEED the rub that comes from beating Brock at Mania. Trust me.
Cardo, one of my fellow OTTB podcast partners, and I were having a discussion on Saturday after we recorded the most recent episode of the pod. The discussion centered around what a piss poor decision it was to have the title on Brock the past year. My argument, which I stand by and which Cardo mostly agreed with, is that Brock Lesnar has elevated beyond the need of a title. While he doesn’t have Undertaker’s Streak or Cena’s Ultimate Company Man hallmarks he has the hallmark of being the only former UFC champ on WWE’s roster, the man to end the streak, and the man to destroy Cena in a brutally one-sided title match on pay-per-view. He is a monument to himself. The idea of a clean victory over Brock is alone a rub of epic proportions – the title is actually irrelevant. For example, look at the amount of additional respect and adoration was outpoured on AJ Styles for putting up a legit fight against Brock. AND AJ LOST THAT MATCH. It wasn’t for the title and AJ lost, yet his position among certain fans grew (think Vince McMahon type fans) and the fact that WWE let him hang with Brock and not just get universally destroyed spoke volumes about his position in the company. That match stands as the exact reason why Brock does not need a title for his matches to be important.
Cardo’s response, after some sidebars, was basically that WWE, for all its advancements in technology, storytelling, in-ring work, promos, video packages etc. took the Universal Title in 2017 and treated it like a TV title from the 1970s. Back in those days the TV title was the belt that was defended whenever there was a televised show. It wasn’t the world title, but it was the other thing that you can fix your attention on outside of the main title. So basically televised non pay per view events is what these titles were made for. In 2017 WWE took its Universal title, the top title for its Raw brand (you know, what they treat as the A show) and essentially treated it like a TV title. Nothing could basically happen with regard to the title (other than determining the next challenger/s) in the time in between appearances by the champion and it would be no problem because you knew you would get that title match. There are so many problems with this that I cannot even begin to navigate.
First, this is one of the two major belts in the company.
Second, Brock is supposed to be the “reigning, defending” blah blah blah. Jinder Mahal, a jobber prior to his WWE title run was more of a reigning, defending champion last year than Brock.
Third, WWE should not be using any approach from the 70s in 2017. It does not matter what it is.
Fourth, smart fans are almost universally in agreement that this all seems to be primed on setting Brock up on a platter for Roman to conquer.
Fifth, so many writers and fans took to websites (like this one), blogs and social media time and time again in 2017 to decry the absence of the Universal title. How is this good for the product?
WWE’s response is likely to be that by keeping Brock off TV so much it added intrigue to his matches. But if any smart fan can see that there is no real threat to the title because of Vince’s “Roman must conquer Brock at Mania for a title” then it devalues the match. I watched all of Brock’s title defenses this year with great anticipation at a title switch. Each time I was more and more deflated by the outcome and more and more resigned to the fact that it’ll be Roman at Mania. (Again, I’m not mad at anyone, short of Jinder Mahal, taking the title off Brock at this point, but damn Vince. Damn.)
So here we are, one week into 2018 and wrestling fans are coming to the sad realization that we won’t get a Braun title run before SummerSlam (even after he destroyed Lesnar and Kane last night, and technically could be charged for attempted murder) and it’ll probably be screwy and not last long (pause) and all of the potential that could have been might be lost. We also might never get a Joe title run. And we might have missed a multitude of potential feuds in the past year just because Vince wanted Roman to slay a near unbeatable Beast. Maybe it’ll be worth it, it probably won’t, but nonetheless we as fans have to suffer through it. Nonetheless, when Brock inevitably drops the belt, please, let’s never go back. Let the beast go back to his cage in UFC (if he so desires) or let him hibernate until the next special attraction match – not for a title.