When Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley first pitched in the idea of Universal Championship to the fans backed in 2016, they stated that the championship has been designed to represent WWE’s fans, also fondly called as the “WWE Universe”. Mick Foley said that “since this brand new championship title is named for all of you out there in the WWE Universe, Stephnie and I have decided to call that title, WWE Universal Championship”.
Fans thought that the championship would mean exactly that. Going by the name and what it stands for, the holder of that belt should be someone that fans would want to cheer and rally behind. A Universal Champion should be someone who would fight continuously to increase the prestige of the belt on a weekly basis and would always be on his toes to prove his position. The word ‘universal’ had a meaning to the fans back when then.
When it first came into existence, WWE had an opportunity to give its loyal fans what they want and could have created a unique history for generations to come. But, what they did was completely opposite. Everything from the champions to the design has been strongly opposed by the fans. When they first unveiled the belt design in Brooklyn at SummerSlam 2016, the crowd rejected it after taking the first look and chanted “this belt sucks” throughout the match between Seth Rollins and Finn Balor. Many fans took to social media to express their displeasure, but WWE stuck to their initial design and have not changed it till date.
The management doesn’t listen to the fans while choosing the champions either. Initially, they tried to give it to a fan favorite like Finn Balor and Kevin Owens. While Balor’s reign lasted only 24 hours due to a shoulder injury, Kevin Owens was made to look like a coward champion, who always required Chris Jericho‘s help to protect his championship. Even though these wrestlers may not have been able to do wonders with the belt, at least we got to see the champions who were not the usual “handpicked heirs” that Vince McMahon usually ran with to rule the industry, despite fans’ resistance. Fans and wrestlers were equally happy for the future, as fans were getting what they wanted and for wrestlers, it was all about the performance and no sweet talk was needed.
But soon WWE threw everything out of the window and moved back to their old ways. They again started placing the performers over the championship. They first gave the belt to part-timer Goldberg, who was only there to put Brock Lesnar over. But, that was sufferable to a certain extent as it was only a matter of a month, but things started going south when they gave the belt to Lesnar. He literally kept that belt hostage for one and a half years and only defended it in the Big Four pay-per-views. The championship became a rare sight and crowds would get to see the champ only a couple of weeks before his match. Finally, when the better sense prevailed and Vince finally decided to bring the belt back to Raw, he chose one of the most polarizing wrestlers to do the honors. Roman Reigns was loudly disliked back by a vocal group of fans in August 2018, when he became the number 1 contender for the Universal Championship at SummerSlam. But when he won the championship match, the crowd cheered for him because everyone was relieved that the era of the coward beast is over and the belt was back where it belonged.
No one was overly excited with Reigns winning and the crowd went back to booing him the next day itself. When Roman announced in October that he was diagnosed with leukemia and had to relinquish the title, naturally, everybody came to support the man in his tough time. It was time to look ahead. Braun Strowman seems like the logical option for the next champion, as he was a crowd favorite and a pretty decent in-ring worker. But, since the meaning had been completely changed for the championship in 2017, they again decided to go with Brock Lesnar and all the hard-work that Reigns did with the belt for a couple of months was completely ruined, as once again, Lesnar had made the belt his hostage.
Now, Seth Rollins is scheduled to face Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 35. But, going by the result of last year’s Mania, Brock could easily dominate the match before walking out with the belt, because he is a big player to whom the management is paying a lot of money for and apparently, WWE is a promotion that is run by the money and not by fans’ satisfaction. The championship that should have been the most over among the fans is nowhere to be seen and many have stopped caring about it altogether. The Universal Championship is indeed the biggest irony in WWE’s history.