Last weekend’s disastrous Crown Jewel PPV was full of crazy creative decisions, Brothers of Destruction v DX in a 30 minute main event, Shane McMahon being declared ‘The Best Wrestler in the World’ but none were more head scratching than the WWE hitting reset on years worth of storyline and handing the Universal Championship back to Brock Lesnar.
Over the past three years the WWE put so much effort into giving Roman Reigns that one big win over the unconquerable beast that it seems they left themselves without a clear Plan B. Now Reigns is indefinitely on the shelf, one of the most intriguing questions coming out of Crown Jewel is who will be the man to re-dethrone Brock Lesnar as the number 1 guy on Raw?
So today let’s have a look at the contenders, from the obvious to the more out their options for Brock Lesnar’s Universal Championship. You can also let me know at the end who you think will be the next champ.
Let’s start with the man Lesnar beat for the Universal Championship at Crown Jewel. Most of us, me included, thought now would be the time for Strowman to fulfil his obvious potential, beat Brock and assume that mantle as the Monday Night Monster. Since his first one on one meeting with Brock at No Mercy last year Strowman has done a lot to prove himself, he now has an extremely over catchphrase, he’s shown he can mix shades of light into his obvious intensity, he has been built back up as a credible championship threat and crucially has remained wildly popular while eating a few losses.
Historically it is also the time of the year the WWE is most likely to take a chance on a rookie champ. Guys like AJ Styles, CM Punk, Jeff Hardy, Randy Orton and even as far back as Kurt Angle have been given a chance to prove themselves as a champion in this lower stakes period of the year.
The fact Strowman still lost the match despite having so much going for him does not bode well for his future opportunities. After a number of failed title shots he is fast approaching Big Show and Kane territory, a great contender but rarely a champion. While the WWE would probably argue they ‘kept him strong’ and that Lesnar has always got out of his matches with Strowman by the skin of his teeth, a giant can’t keep getting chopped down at the knees and remain credible for long.
He isn’t completely out of the picture as the WWE creative may want to sent him up for a more long term journey peaking at Royal Rumble or Wrestlemania. If they want to capitalise on Strowman’s obvious upside then he must win the Universal Title in his next shot or his credibility may never quite recover.
Now onto the man it should be.
Since the start of 2018 Seth Rollins has put together an extremely persuasive argument that he should be the man leading the charge on Monday Night Raw. Night after night, week after week, month after month, in singles, normal tag and 6 man tag team action, Rollins has put on match of the night performances against wrestlers as varied in skill as Dolph Ziggler and Mojo Rawley. His efforts this year have made the question of wrestler of the year a completely moot point already and every time he goes out to the ring the cries of “Burn it Down” get louder and louder.
All the while Rollins has been adding to the climactic arc of his multi-year story about overcoming the darkness that took hold of his life when he embraced his worst self and turned on The Shield in 2014. He is about to enter another chapter of the story that will challenge his newfound convictions more than ever before and hopefully solidify him even further as a truly heroic figure that rises above even the most toxic of hate.
Coming out of such a personal feud in three or four months time, just in time for Wrestlemania, would leave him in the perfect position to finally complete his character’s journey back to the top, defeating The Beast he never beat four years after the Heist of the Century.
Seth Rollins bag of brass rings is overflowing right now and if the WWE is at all honest about it’s claim that they reward those who make themselves the hottest commodities, then Rollins is the only option to beat Brock Lesnar and become the Universal Champion.
Before there was Roman Reigns as ‘The Guy’, Drew McIntyre was branded as ‘The Chosen One’ by Vince McMahon himself. While things did not fall into place quite as anyone originally intended, Mr McIntyre has found his way back to the top of Monday Night Raw and looks poised to mix it up with Braun Strowman over the coming weeks.
As a potential champion Drew has lot of similarities as a wrestler to Roman Reigns. He has an amazing look, hard hitting but versatile offence that works against all styles and is no slouch on the mic as either a face or a heel.
The thing that has impressed me most about McIntyre since his return is his obvious drive and passion. This is a guy that clearly wants to excel in wrestling and is willing to put in the work to do so. After being let go in 2014 he could have easily drifted through the indies and eventually gone onto other things but instead he took stock, turned his life around and has come back with a fire in his belly and drive that cannot be quenched.
McIntyre is a very believable contender for Brock Lesnar and if the WWE want to go with Diesel over Bret Hart (it isn’t a perfect metaphor) but are worried about Strowman’s perceived shortcomings then they could do a lot worse than McIntyre.
Dean Ambrose is more of a wild card in this list given that it is quite unclear how his new character arc will shape up. Despite that, Dean has shown time and time again that no matter what the WWE brass throw at him creatively he can turn garbage into gold. In 2015 he forced his way to the top of the card opposite Seth Rollins, dodged some very rough creative to become the most popular face on the roster in 2016 and even if the match wasn’t what a lot of us wanted to see, he is still one of the few people Brock Lesnar has actively been afraid of in the ring.
Dean is amongst the best two or three talkers on the roster and in the ring tells old school emotionally engaging stories better than just about anyone in the company. In his favour as well is that he has recently come back with a remodelled physique and a fresh heel turn that some of the most vocal members of the audience have been calling on for years.
Even though he is my favourite wrestler of all time I will admit Dean is probably only an outside chance, especially as a heel. However if lightning strikes with his heel turn it is entirely possible he could be the man that wrests the Universal Championship off Brock Lesnar and set up a mouth watering chase for Raw’s most popular face, Seth Rollins.
If I was writing this list back in April Daniel Bryan and his miraculous recovery would have been right at the top. Since then it is fair to say that WWE has done just about everything they could to mismanage the out of the blue return of the most universally beloved wrestler the company has had this century.
All that aside there is still a story to be had here if the WWE wants it. The contrast between the two men is the stuff great stories are made of, a smaller underdog who had to scratch and claw his way back to the ring he loves, against the prize fighter who would probably prefer to be doing anything other than wrestling if it wasn’t so lucrative for him. Lesnar’s original reign of terror also began as Bryan began his prolonged exit from the company just to add some history to it as well.
Are you telling me the entire crowd wouldn’t erupt in “YES!” chants if the everyman stepped up to The Beast?
I’m not conspiratorially minded so I don’t think Bryan’s creative issues have been completely intentional done to halt his momentum. Sadly though, after the booking bind he put them in at Crown Jewel I doubt management will be feeling overly generous towards Bryan in the next little while so this seems even more unlikely than ever despite how awesome it would be.
This is where things get a little crazy, but hear me out.
Since day one the Universal Championship has been a title kissed by misfortune. The first winner barely lasted 24 hours before he had to give it up, the hot potato from Kevin Owens, to Goldberg, to Lesnar did it no favours, Lesnar’s absentee run seriously tested fan patience and now it is the belt tainted by Roman’s departure.
What if all of this is a sign that perhaps this big red belt was just never meant to be? What if Vince McMahon decided that the prestige of the WWE Title, the title his Father created and has been held by so many legends of the business was enough? What if he decided to unify the titles.
It is worth noting at this point that Brock has a pending UFC fight against Daniel Cormier and there is absolutely no way that the WWE will risk having their champion humiliated in the UFC. Brock was also reportedly over the moon with his match with AJ last year, apparently even selling for AJ backstage after the cameras were off.
These two have a match scheduled for Survivor Series, both have reigned more or less for a year each and both have taken out all comers in their divisions. If the WWE wanted to add some eyes to Survivor Series this move would be a serious attention grabber or a win for AJ could allow him to propose a unification bout.
Is it likely to happen? Probably not. But my goodness if it did it would be the kind of moment that the WWE love to eulogise and could be a quick way for Brock to get to the Octagon without the risk of the next champ being reigning UFC Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier. Speaking of which…..
Well nothing is beyond Vince’s hubris at this point, maybe putting the Universal Championship on the line in a legit MMA fight is what he thinks will give it the legacy it needs.
It must be said that even though Cormier has never been in the ring he is likeable, can talk and is a huge pro wrestling fan (check out this video of him at Wrestlemania 31). Crazier things have happened and the WWE seems to be making sport of jumping sharks lately.
No championship conversation would be complete without throwing in Cena’s name. He is after all sitting equal with Ric Flair as a sixteen time World Champion and given the WWE’s propensity for breaking records you can only imagine it is a matter of time before Vince’s favourite son takes the record for himself.
Cena may currently be entrenched as a mid-card feature act and not spending a whole lot of time with the WWE but with Roman now out, he is only a promo away from reclaiming the main event and that fateful championship fight.
While I would love for Cena to go on a longer quest to win his 17th title, beating Brock to win that it would still be a nice journey for Cena given how Brock demolished him on the way to the WWE Title in 2014.
Of all the part timers that could do it I feel like this is the most likely.
The Rock or Batista
Mainstream recognition (check), Hollywood roles outside the WWE (check), history as a former champion (check), will get a huge nostalgia pop, rumours of a Mania appearance and have no record against Lesnar since his return thus offering a “#DREAMMATCH” for Michael Cole to bang on about (check, check and check).
Oh God, this is going to happen isn’t it……
Both these men tick far too many of the boxes that the cynic in me feels Vince McMahon values as a Universal Champion. Neither of them should be anywhere near that title but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Well that wraps it up for this list, there are some names I missed out who may also be an outside chance but let me know who you think will be the guy to beat Brock Lesnar and claim the Universal Championship in the comments below. You can also chat to me further on Twitter @Sir_Samuel or on the LOP Forums in the Brock Lesnar thread, just click the link here.
You may have also noticed that a few veteran Lords of Pain writers have retired recently, well down in the Columns Forum we are currently recruiting and have had a couple of new guys try their hand this week. It is where every single writer on this site started and if you have strong thoughts about pro wrestling then why not try for yourself? You could be next!
If you would like a hand then drop me a line or if you’d like a taste of what it is like down there why not check out The New Event #4: Roman’s Revenge, Dean’s Turn & Rollin’s Redemption, a great piece by returning Columns Forum regular Don Franc.
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