Back in the summer of 2016, the WWE brought back the brand extension. This meant that for both of their main shows, Raw and SmackDown, consist of two separate rosters. On July 16, 2016, then WWE Champion Dean Ambrose was drafted to the SmackDown brand. At the Battleground pay-per-view, Ambrose successfully defended his championship against Raw draftees Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, leaving Monday Night Raw without a top title.
The following night on Raw, commissioner Stephaine McMahon and then general manager Mick Foley debuted the Universal Championship, named after the fans of the WWE (WWE Universe).
The belt itself was heavily criticized. Most media members and fans alike did not like the design of the belt, basically a copy of the WWE Championship but with red straps. Despite all that, there was potential on how the belt can be carried in WWE.
We are now three and half years since the belt has been debuted and for the most part, you can say the title has been disappointing (to say the least) up until this point but the early years of it had a lot of promise.
Recent NXT call-up at the time Finn Bálor defeated Seth Rollins at SummerSlam 2016 to be crowned the first Universal Champion and the potential was there. Bálor was seemingly over with the crowd and many fans were excited about how he was going to be booked from there on out.
Those plans came to a halt right away as Bálor had to vacate the title due to a labrum tear that would cost him to be out of action for quite some time. A week later, a fatal four-way elimination match took place between Rollins, Reigns, Kevin Owens and Big Cass to determine the new champion. Owens shockingly won to become the second Universal Champion.
Owens’ reign as champion was a good one, having an alliance with Chris Jericho and putting on great matches against the previously mentioned Rollins and Reigns during the next couple of pay-per-views. Leading up to Fastlane in 2017, a match was set up between Owens and the returning Goldberg for the title. When the match took place, Goldberg beat Owens in 22 seconds to win the Universal Championship, where I and most fans believe, that was when the Universal title started to lose its value.
While Goldberg is one of the best wrestlers of all time, he did not have an impressive 28-day reign as champion. He ended up losing the championship to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 33.
Lesnar had a 504-day reign during his first reign as champion but there was one major problem with Lesnar, he barely showed up to Raw. Lesnar is considered a part-timer, meaning that he did not have to show up to the weekly TV shows and only had to appear in a few pay-per-view matches a year. During his reign, he only defended the title the title six times on pay-per-view against the likes of Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns, Kane and Samoa Joe. Tim Fiorvanti of ESPN had an interesting statistic during Lesnar’s reign compared to C.M. Punk’s historic run as WWE Champion.
Fans were getting frustrated with the booking decision as time went on but things looked to take a turn when Roman Reigns defeated Lesnar for the championship. While fans did not like the constant pushing on Reigns being the next top star, it also gave people a sign of new hope that they’ll have a champion that’ll be on TV week in and week out.
However, this past October Reigns had to vacate the title due to his diagnosis of leukemia. This news shook the wrestling community, and while it was deeply upsetting, it unfortunately meant WWE had to find a new champion. In what was originally scheduled to be a triple-threat match between Reigns, Braun Strowman and Lesnar for the Universal title changed to a singles match for the vacated championship.
Many fans believed that this was the time Strowman would finally come out on top and be crowned champion, but Lesnar beat Strowman in a matter of minutes to be champion once again. Fans and media members alike could not believe that WWE booked this again and once again Lesnar has yet to defend his title during this time the article has been posted.
Now, WWE seems to be right back where they started. Currently, Lesnar is scheduled to face Strowman for the championship at the Royal Rumble but who knows if the plan is for him to keep the belt for an extended period of time once again.
While the design itself did not have a good first impression, the first couple of months of the title debuting were not bad at all with plenty of good matches to talk about. Having Kevin Owens drop it to a part-timer like Goldberg and dropping to another part-timer Lesnar was not a good call in WWE’s book.
As of now, the Universal Championship has not been looked at like a legit title compared to others in WWE. While you can not change the past, WWE can change the future for the better.
Simply put, Lesnar needs to drop the title sooner rather than later. There is more than plenty of enough talent on the Raw roster that deserves their chance to hoisting up Raw’s top prize. If he does not drop it to Strowman at the Royal Rumble, he needs to lose it at WrestleMania 35 the latest.
Changes need to be made, let’s hope WWE can learn from this mistake.