Watts on Wrestling: How to Save the WWE Universal Championship

When WWE reinstituted the brand split in 2016, the so-called flagship show, Monday Night RAW, found themselves without a top men’s title after Dean Ambrose, who had been drafted to SmackDown Live, retained the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in a match with Seth Rollins at the Battleground PPV. The next night, Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley announced that there would be a tournament for the chance to fight for a newly christened title…the Universal Championship.

Right then and there, the Internet Wrestling Community had a fit.

They’re calling it what? Universal Championship? Why not a Galaxy Championship? That name sucks! They’re so desperate!

Be that as it may, the tournament continued, and the final match to become the inaugural champion would be Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor. Just before their SummerSlam championship match, the new belt was unveiled and the response was…less than stellar. The crowd booed the gator-skinned looking red leather. Rollins and Balor had a really awesome match that was unfortunately overshadowed by chants of “That belt sucks!” Finally, Finn won the match with a celebration that could have been a marquee moment, but was cursed with an overall lackluster response. Rollins was openly critical of the WWE Universe on Twitter for disrespecting both the belt and the men fighting for it. But the irritation of that night soon gave way to sadness. On RAW the next day, Finn Balor announced that he had been injured during the match and would have to relinquish the title just one day after winning it.

Since then, the Universal Title has been, at best, a seldom seen accessory – and, at worst, a failure. A waste of time. Besides a decent run with Kevin Owens and a quick “nostalgia win” with Goldberg, the Universal Title has been owned by Brock Lesnar, who has shown up to Monday Night Raw with it’s top title a total of 11 times since April 2017. Let that sink in. The Universal Title is the main title of the main brand of WWE. In almost 100 episodes of Monday Night Raw, that title has appeared on 11 of them. 11.

It’s no wonder almost all except the most hardcore and forgiving of WWE fans feel nothing for the Universal Championship. It’s rarely defended and, when it is, the outcome is plain to see. After that, it’s months before there is a new challenger, all the while, the champion isn’t even showing up to the show. I love Paul Heyman, but even he can’t save this situation. When the belt isn’t busy being absent from the show it represents, it’s being contested in match after match between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. Even when Reigns finally got it, it was short lived, as he became the second person forced to relinquish the title, this time to deal with leukemia.

Seriously, is this thing cursed?

We’re about to go into our third WrestleMania in a row where Brock Lesnar has a pretty good chance of walking out with the Universal Title. WWE, this is unacceptable. I no longer believe in the Universal Title. It’s a red belt that you pay Brock Lesnar millions of dollars to not wear, promote or defend. For crying out loud, you just showed a “behind the scenes” video of Brock THROWING THE TITLE AT HIS BOSS. At this point, you’re literally PROMOTING the fact that no one…not the champion, not the fans and not the owner of the company…cares what happens to this thing.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

As long as pro wrestling is a thing, bad booking will always be a thing. Putting a championship belt on someone too early, or too late (or at all) happens all the time. It’s not something that can’t be overcome, but it takes a certain level of humility and a willingness to step outside of the comfort zone and shock people. Admittedly, this is not something the WWE has been good at in about 20 years. But it’s not the end of the world. In this edition of “Watts on Wrestling”, we’re going to fantasy book the Universal Championship back to life. It won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible.

Seriously, if Impact Wrestling Heavyweight Championship  can recover from Jeff Jarrett, this belt can be saved.

This man should not be allowed near a creative team. He can only destroy.

Step 1: Get The Belt Back On TV

Having the Universal Championship be the top title on Monday Night RAW, then never having the title actually appear on Raw is completely pointless. And to the people saying “The title never being on TV makes it special,” you are fooling yourselves. A wrestler that only appears on special occasions is special, like Andre the Giant was. A BELT that only appears once in a while is worthless. By that definition of “special,” Zack Ryder’s Internet Championship and that God-awful belt that Braun Strowman won at the Greatest Royal Rumble deserve just as much adoration.

When this belt is the prize, no one wins.

We don’t need the belt defended on TV every week, but the belt and the wrestler holding it need to be on our screens every Monday, without fail. At the time of me writing this, Seth Rollins has won the Royal Rumble and will face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. Seth is not my first pick (I’ll get into that later), but he’s a thousand times better than what we have now! Let me make this 100% clear: Lesnar. Must. Lose. At. Wrestlemania. The title cannot survive another co-main event where Lesnar does a few boring moves and walks away, sweaty and richer, while the fans seethe. Seth has to win. He has to perform like he’s never performed before. He needs to channel the “Tyler Black” in him and go crazy. We need to believe that Seth Rollins is so determined to beat Brock that he would rather die than let Brock win. Seth. Must. Win. Then, he has to go on the Today Show. Then, Fallon. Then, he shows up to Monday Night Raw, with his championship and proclaims the Lesnar era to be over. And Brock must not come back. Even if he just appears at Raw that night, it’ll ruin everything. We need to believe that Seth Rollins vanquished The Beast, for now and for always, even if we know, deep in our hearts, that Vince is always one phone call away from paying Brock $3 Million to scratch his backside on an episode of RAW sometime in the next three to five years.

Step 2: Let a Known Commodity Establish Himself With the Belt

I mentioned it before, Seth Rollins is not my first pick for this spot. As a face, he’s mostly whiney. His promos are not that compelling. I think he’s trying to sound determined, but he sounds like he’s complaining. It doesn’t help that his moveset is rather bland, but that’s not his fault…the WWE will only allow people to be exciting to a certain point. All that being said, as much as he annoys me as a face, he totally pulls me in as a heel. He’s slimey, he’s an opportunist and he’s supremely selfish. With Roman on the shelf and Dean Ambrose possibly leaving WWE (I’ll believe it when I see it), this is the perfect time to bring back heel Rollins.

I’d be very interested to see Seth Rollins with no Authority and no Shield to back him up. I think it could be reminiscent of Edge in the 00’s, being opportunistic and cunning, which is something the title really needs. Seriously, as a WWE fan, are you telling me you want to see more F5’s from Lesnar in a Universal Title match? But moveset aside, Rollins can do something that Lesnar never had much interest in doing: he can make the title worth fighting for.

I’m not saying that Rollins has to be “evil.” Heels in general don’t do well in the WWE. WWE is about bright lights and happy children, so you can’t do a standard evil character. The age of gimmicks so evil they scare children is over (The Undertaker) and anyone doing a gimmick like that, regardless of how talented they are, is eventually relegated to house shows and obscurity (Bray Wyatt). Rollins has to be terminally unlikeable. Cheat to win. Hit refs. Yell at the crowd. Win by disqualification. Use every “champions advantage” he has. He has to sell the fact that he would do literally anything to keep that Universal Championship. And the lower he sinks to hold onto that belt, the more the fans will want to see it taken away from him. All of a sudden…the WWE Universe cares what happens to the Universal Championship. See how that works?

Step 3: Do Not Put The Belt on Roman Reigns When He Returns!

Alright, this one might earn me some hate, but I’m trying to help and I have a method to my madness, so don’t @ me!

Every wrestling fan/blogger/podcast/random person on Twitter has weighed in on WWE forcing Roman Reigns down our throats. Vince obviously wants him to be the face of the company. I’m not going to go into the pros and cons of that because it’s been done and, honestly, every company pushes a face of the company. Fans of other promotions don’t like to admit it, but TNA belonged to AJ Styles the same way NJPW belonged to Tanahashi, then (arguably) Kenny Omega. The company needs to push one guy as the top guy.

That being said, putting the Universal Title on Reigns will hurt both entities. Reigns will once again be looked at as a golden boy that gets everything he wants regardless of if he deserves it, which isn’t true or fair. The Universal Title will be viewed as a prop that Vince uses to try to justify the amount of money he spends on keeping the person that holds it happy, which might be true, but definitely isn’t fair. See? No one wins in that scenario.

Reigns should come back and, if he wants, go right back to doing exactly what he was doing before. It’s my yard, I’m the big dog, etc. But WWE needs to realize that in wrestling, “top guy” has never had to mean “champion.” Yes, holding the belt means you’re on top in the company. But most people that have actually been in the business will tell you that the MAN should make the BELT, not the other way around. A top guy doesn’t need a title to be the top guy. Think about all the times that Triple H booked himself to be champion. Did anyone think less of Stone Cold Steve Austin? Or the Rock? Of course not! Because they still acted like stars and they were still treated like stars! Did John Cena make less money or become less important when CM Punk was in his record setting reign? No, and I’m sure he might have liked some time off! But he was still John Cena!

Reigns will come back and still be Reigns. He doesn’t need the belt to be in the title picture, he just needs to be booked well. Strong booking alone will keep him in the title picture because people will always be wondering when he’ll go after it. And that will keep people invested in the title.

Step 4: Good, Long Feuds with Believable Challengers

This is when the fantasy booking really gets going. If you want a feud to matter, you have to put in guys that know how to work, know how to talk, and know how to think on their feet. This involves long term booking. Again, I know this isn’t WWE’s strong suit, but we’re trying to save this belt, dang it!

Let’s say that Seth Rollins is still the champion. You need to put him in the ring with people that can sell the conflict and the desire to have that belt. That can’t just be anyone. This has to be timed and well planned. WWE can’t book a show in Japan and decide to have Tozawa challenge for the title for the cheap “cultural pop.” This is the kind of thing they love to do, and it does nothing but cheapen the title as well as the men involved. Don’t believe me? Jinder Mahal.

And now, I’m going to play booker and write up some feuds to get this title moving!

Samoa Joe

The Samoan Submission Machine knows how to get a program over. Besides his impressive resume outside of the WWE, he’s had great matches with Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar. He’d be great to have a feud with Seth Rollins. Joe looks like a mad man and his size is scary, especially for how fast he can move. Rollins and Joe have history, with Joe injuring Rollins’ knee shortly before Wrestlemania 33. They can call on that or they can start fresh. Maybe Rollins is incorrigible and really believes he could withstand a slugfest with Joe. Maybe he spends weeks and weeks ducking Joe, refusing to fight him for the title. It doesn’t matter who wins this feud, what matters is that both of these guys have the in-ring skills and the mic work to make this feud long lasting, brutal and entertaining.

Kevin Owens

Owens, as of the time of this writing, is the only decent Universal Champion we’ve had. The work he did with his “best friend” Chris Jericho got over because the matches were good and they were hilariously entertaining. I’d love to see a program where he says he has a rightful claim to a rematch. He never received his rematch for the title after losing to Goldberg, so it’s a feasible story, and having him bring up his 2-year old rematch clause would show that he really does care about this belt. And the best part is, all you have to do to make this feud work is let Owens talk. He’s fantastic on the mic. He’ll tell Rollins he’s nothing without the Shield or the Authority. He’ll tell him he’s been beating him since they were in RoH together. He’ll tell him the only reason he’s the champion is because Brock Lesnar doesn’t like working on Mondays (Heyman reference). Rollins gets infuriated and we get a fantastic series of matches.

Finn Balor

Part of me believes that in the Irish Catholic faith, Saint Devitt is the Patron Saint of Missed Opportunity. But if there was ever a time to revive him, this is it. For this feud to work, WWE should openly do something they’ve been doing secretly for decades: rip off NJPW. Don’t get upset at me for saying it, this is Pro Wrestling. Everyone rips off everyone else. Shoot, that was TNA’s business plan for the first 10 years.

I thought it was clear, but if it’s not…I don’t like Jeff Jarrett.

WWE fans may not know this, but in New Japan, Prince Devitt (Finn Balor) was a smiling, saccharine babyface that the crowd loved. But after years of success, he hit his ceiling. He started losing. He became an afterthought. And when that anger and frustration reached a breaking point, Devitt himself broke. What we got in his place was “The Real Rock n’ Rolla.” Leader of Bullet Club. Massive heel who came to the ring, painted black and purple, emerging from a coffin where the old Devitt was dead and buried. Devitt needed to become something else to be a champion, and that’s exactly what he did.

WWE’s Finn Balor needs to do the same thing. He needs to challenge Seth Rollins And he needs to lose. And then he must challenge again. And he must lose. Have him win Money in the Bank, have him win the Royal Rumble…heck, have him win King of the Ring! But Balor must suffer. Because the more Balor suffers, the more Balor has to endure…he will break. And when Rollins has finally beaten and destroyed Finn Balor…the Demon will take over.

 

I think Demon King Finn Balor should come to the ring, interrupting a Rollins promo, destroy him and take his belt. Remember, Seth Rollins was beaten by Demon Balor at SummerSlam 3 years ago. That version of Balor has never lost the Universal Title. So, to the Demon Balor, he’s still the rightful champion. Seth is infuriated that his belt has been stolen and Balor is so consumed by his inner demon, he doesn’t even recognize that Owens or Lesnar were ever champions. He only sees himself as the true Universal Champion, and it’s HE who must accept ROLLINS’ challenge, not the other way around. The buildup to this would be epic. We already know the match would be. It’s far fetched, but I believe this could work!

 

Bray Wyatt

DON’T STOP READING! DON’T STOP READING! HEAR ME OUT! This might be total fantasy, and probably deserves it’s own article, but we can fix Bray Wyatt!

It is my opinion that, no matter how many times WWE beats down and buries Bray Wyatt, he can always be saved, and that is because he has something that can’t be taught: he’s believable. You know he can’t disappear and reappear on command. You know he doesn’t have the ability to control people’s minds. You know he’s not a cult leader. But when he’s on his game, you buy in. Bray Wyatt, for all of his faults and his consistent mistreatment at the hands of Creative, sells his gimmick like his life depends on it. That’s why he’s fantastic.

I think the way to book this is to have Bray slowly build a new Wyatt family. I won’t speculate on who would be in it, but I’d say two is enough and three would be great. The Wyatt Family on the warpath to get the Universal Championship would be a great program. Of course, they would do everything in their power to make sure the scales are tipped towards Bray, but Bray is so good, he doesn’t need the Wyatt Family when it comes to intimidation. Give him a microphone and 10 minutes, and Bray will scare everyone in the building. I really believe this could work. Let Bray be Bray and cut his promos his way. Let him stalk around the outside of the ring during the champions matches. Let him saunter around ominously backstage, interrupting interviews and generally being off-putting. WWE, let Bray Wyatt be who he is and not who you think he should be to sell merchandise. Bray doesn’t need to push t-shirts, he needs to make the heart of every smiling babyface skip a beat. You put the belt on him and you get the psychological version of Brock Lesnar’s entire gimmick; Instead of “Who’s big and strong enough to beat Brock?”, you’ve got “Who’s got the mental fortitude and a strong enough grip on sanity to beat Bray?”.

I want to hear your opinion on this. Do you agree or disagree with any of my points? Do you think the opponents I mentioned can pull off a Universal Championship program? Do you think someone else can? Let me know on Twitter @WattsUnfiltered. Even if you disagree with me, tell me what you think about saving the Universal Championship. Fantasy booking aside, can’t we at least agree that the “supposed” top title in WWE deserves more from the company that created it?

 

 

Alex Watley

Alex sells craft beer by day, writes about geek stuff by night and does stand up comedy on the weekends. He's also been known to binge Japanese wrestling, host a sports podcast and drive an Uber...at the same time.

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