The last seven months have not been kind to the WWE Universal Title. A combination of poor booking decisions and out-of-their-control decisions has led the WWE’s “other” world title to lose a lot of its luster.
It would be easy to blame a lot of what’s happened on the COVID-19 pandemic. To an extent, that might be true; remember that Roman Reigns was scheduled to face Goldberg for the title at Wrestlemania and, presumably, go over to start his first run as champion after his latest fight with leukemia. But Reigns pulled out early in the pandemic which led to having to change booking on the fly.
Of course, the company had booked itself into a corner by even having Goldberg in the match to start with. Remember that the company decided that Goldberg would be the way to defeat “The Fiend” for the title at SuperShowDown in Saudi Arabia in February.
It would have been a much better story for a returning Roman Reigns to be the first one to defeat The Fiend, but what do I know.
Goldberg only had a limited number of appearances on his contract, so he had to drop the title at Wrestlemania, no matter what happened. So win Roman Reigns withdrew from the event somebody had to go over Goldberg to win the title. I suggested at the time that they should use this opportunity to elevate somebody to main event level by winning the title off of Goldberg. Imagine what would have happened had Ceasaro had gone over to win the title? The internet would have melted down.
But no, the pick was Braun Strowman. Strowman was going to get the title run three years after he was hot as a main event babyface, after two years of bad booking, and with no actual backstory whatsoever.
The match was terrible, by the way.
And yet, somehow that booking only got worse from there. From the day Brain Strowman won the title on March 25th to the day that he lost the title on August 23rd, Strowman defended the title three times.
Strowman defeated Bray Wyatt at Money in the Bank in May;
Strowman defeated The Miz and John Morrison in a handicap match at Backlash in June;
And Storwman lost the title to The Fiend at SummerSlam.
Strowman wasn’t working a Brock Lesnar schedule here. He was on TV most weeks and just….didn’t defend the title. Not on TV. Not at all the pay-per-views. And he spent the entire time in a feud with various iterations of Bray Wyatt.
In the middle of all of this Otis, a tag team specialist who has never had a singles run, won the Money in the Bank contract. Everybody might like Otis, but he’s the least believable Money in the Bank contract winner ever. Not only that, he’s been overshadowed by his kayfabe girlfriend for the entire summer. And on top of that, Otis made no attempt to cash in his briefcase since he won it. It almost makes me wonder if he’s going to lose the briefcase before cashing it in.
Then we come to The Fiend, who’s title reign lasted exactly one week because Roman Reigns, the guy who should have been champion all along, came back to punk both The Fiend and Strowman and won the title.
Now the Roman Reigns heel turn was masterfully done. But how does his title reign start? With an upcoming title program against Jey Uso, a tag team specialist who not only has never received a shot at a singles title, but hasn’t even had a singles run.
Is there really nobody to pair with Reigns to start his title reign?
The Universal Title is, ostensibly, the top title on the WWE’s top show (if you assume that the show with the fat network TV contract is the top show). And yet for six months that show and that title have been spinning their wheels with a series of nonsensical booking decisions, lack of strong booking, and no interest in elevating anybody to be a series contender for the title. If the WWE wants their ratings to improve on Friday nights, it’s well past time for them to start paying attention to the details and start booking Smackdown’s top title in a way that means something.