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What’s the status of the Universal Championship?



Last week, Brock Lesnar surpassed CM Punk’s previous record of 434 days as WWE champion, the longest reign of the title of the “modern era” of sports entertainment. What exactly that translates to, and perhaps the motivation behind it depends on perspective.

When Punk had the run in 2012-2013, it was set in motion by the infamous promo on Raw in 2011, which had the main stream public take notice of the wrestling business again. That momentum was quickly squashed when Triple H pinned CM Punk at a pay-per-view a few months later. The former Ring Of Honor and WWE champion got over because he voiced his frustrations with management, an aspect of the industry that the audience identified with. The real-life tension he had with the direction of the product was cleverly weaved into the storyline and he became the anti-hero that stood up to the corporate machine.

The problem was, the discontent Punk had and the way it portrayed management were a little too real for WWE brass. His momentum after the pipe bomb promo was diminished as a way for the office to make sure they could dictate the narrative of the company. Ironically, it was yet another reason that legitimate competition is important for the best product possible because even today, personal agenda, not business can dictate the direction of the promotion.

As we all know, CM Punk quit WWE and his account of his exit on Colt Cabana’s “Art of Wrestling” podcast resulted in a four-year lawsuit by a WWE doctor. Last week also saw a jury rule in favor of Punk and Cabana, which meant they don’t have to pay a settlement to the doctor. After a four-year debacle and expensive legal fees, clearly CM Punk won’t send the McMahon family any holiday cards. That said, it’s laughable that some people assume that because the lawsuit was finalized that Punk would return to the WWE. Still, before he walked out of Raw in 2014, his name was etched in the record book as the longest reigning champion in the past few decades.

So, when Brock Lesnar went on a year-long run to build up for a Roman Reigns win that didn’t happen, it put the former UFC Heavyweight champion in the unique position to replace Punk at the top of the list of champions. Management knew that Reigns would get booed at WM 34, but went along with the plan for the match to be booked. They also knew that Saudi Arabia was a place that Roman wouldn’t get booed because of the newer fan base there. However, the decision was made for Brock to retain to continue his run as champion that get closer to the record after both matches.

Is it possible that Vince McMahon made the decision to keep the title on Lesnar long enough to beat Punk’s previous record?

I doubt it, but on some level, it does seem possible. At this point, Roman will get booed no matter when he wins the title from Lesnar so why exactly delay the switch? If anything, it made more sense for Lesnar to drop the belt as originally planned because the feud peaked at WM 34 and anything after that yields a diminishing return. Granted, if Roman was over as a possible champion to any considerable extent, he would’ve won the title a few years ago, and this wouldn’t be a point of discussion. Make no mistake about it, Roman Reigns will still be the champion at some point in the future since WWE brass invested too much TV time and marketing strategy into the Reigns push to change the plan. Plus, the company dominates the industry and the market share so they can present their chosen star. Again, it’s possible Lesnar was kept as champion to break Punk’s record, but I doubt Vince McMahon would be that petty.

But, what happens with the Universal Championship?

Reportedly, the direction of the belt and Brock Lesnar’s schedule for it are undecided. Originally, the plan was supposedly a switch at Summer Slam, which makes sense because it’s one of the company’s marquee events. Recently, there was speculation that Lesnar might not appear at SummerSlam and isn’t scheduled for any Raw events. This could simply be a way for the writing team to buy time until there’s a solution as to what to do with the title. As I said, the Brock/Roman feud peaked a few months ago, and another bout will have a “been there, done that” atmosphere to it. Maybe there will be a transitional titleholder between Lesnar and Reigns? The MITB stipulation could allow for a cash in on Brock before Roman challenges that particular competitor.

I wrote an article last year following the Brock/Samoa Joe match about the diminishing effect of Lesnar for the product. His matches became repetitive and his performances reached a level of complacency, which is still the situation nearly a year later. The initial reason or manufactured justification for Brock’s limited schedule might’ve been to create rare appearances to present more of a “special event” when he defended the belt, but the argument could be made that the opposite effect took place. Instead of being viewed as rare, the concept of the champion is almost non-existent and gets further lost in the shuffle when there’s a three-hour show. Sure, the premise might be that a limited schedule leads to rare appearances, but at the same time, what about the concept of a fighting champion?

This is just a guess, but I’d say that the whole scenario is probably a way for management to buy time to figure out what to do with the championship. The MITB pay-per-view gives them a gimmick event as an excuse for Lesnar not to be there, and as mentioned, maybe the cash in stipulation will be used for Brock to drop the belt. Still, the whole situation has a rather flat atmosphere around it, is anyone really looking forward to the next Lesnar title defense?

In some ways, the plan to give the championship more credibility with limited defenses and a legitimate athlete as the title holder has actually reduced it to an occasional prop at pay-per-views. Without the credibility or importance in terms of storylines, what exactly is the point of title matches? The importance of the championship is the foundation of feuds for the title. This might seem like a fundamental problem with the product, but after the WWE signed TV deals for a few billion dollars over the next five years, the perception of a title might be a moot point. Considering the talent on Raw, it just seems like the quality of the product could increase exponentially if the belt was used as a way to elevate the full-time competitors on the roster.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta