What a difference a year makes. At this time a year ago Braun Strowman was heading towards a triple threat title match with Brock Lesnar and Kane at the Royal Rumble. And until last night he was going to get a one on one match with Lesnar for that same title at the 2019 Royal Rumble but just like that, it’s gone. And now the Monster Among Men is at a major crossroads in his short career. It’s become so clear that Lesnar doing the job for him or even just playing ball and having a good match with him is a fantasy, to the point where a lot of people I talk to flat out did not want the match to happen or for it to be on the preshow so it could be easily skipped. And when Vince removed him from it and set up a match to determine a new challenger, that sound you may have heard was a huge sigh of relief. The truth is we’d rather see Finn Balor face Brock even if he gets ragdolled for 10 minutes and pinned clean. That’s where we are now with Braun. But what happens with him now? Is he finished as a top contender? And if so, what went wrong? Was it the often blamed bad booking or was he just never that guy to begin with? And either way can he be salvaged as a main event guy and future champion?
If you ask me, which I’m assuming you did since you’re reading this and all, a few things went on here. One, Braun is a limited guy in the ring and that puts some constraints on what all you can do with him. Because of his size, strength, etc. there aren’t but a handful of guys you can put in the ring with him in a believable contest that doesn’t involve a bunch of shenanigans. So before you can even do anything you pretty much have to rule out either lengthy title reigns or multiple title victories, which are the two most obvious outcomes should you put a World Title on him or put him in World Title matches. Watching him go eight months burying your roster until Brock or Roman Reigns beats him or he’s put in a multi-man match where someone else can take the pin would get boring pretty quickly. So would putting him in title match after title match and having to come up with ways to screw him out of winning; it would be Dusty finishes all over again.
Now that kind of thing used to be no big deal. You take your Andre the Giant or Big Show or Kane, keep them away from the title picture until you absolutely had to do something with them there, and find a bunch of big dudes to feed to them or other feuds to put them in. And then at some point along the way you can give them a token title win here or there, and then get the belt off of them after a month or so (or in Andre’s case, a few seconds). Sometimes the sleight of hand was obvious, like when Andre immediately gave up the title to Ted DiBiase, and sometimes it wasn’t. Either way it was no big deal. But now in the era of ‘anyone good or with a cheering section should get a title and a main event’, it’s not quite as simple to pull off this kind of thing. And for Braun the cheering section came to life rather abruptly which threw everything out of whack. In January 2017 he went from a guy who had some interest but wasn’t thought that highly of to an big sensation when he jumped and began feuding with the favorite foil of televised wrestling crowds, Roman Reigns.
At that point anyone with any potential was going to get cheered by the so called smart fans if they got into it with Roman, and you can judge for yourself by the crowd noise how much things changed for Braun. He was now the darling of the ‘Anyone but Roman’ crowd, and because Roman is always in the mix for the top title then that meant Braun was now in that mix as well, and consequently a lot of people now wanted him to face Brock Lesnar and take him down. The two had a few exchanges in the 4 way main event at Summerslam, but followed that up with a singles match at No Mercy that was mostly a dud and became notable for how little they clicked with each other in the pedestrian 10 minute affair. After that it was clear that Braun is dependent on his opponent and when they cooperated like Roman and Big Show did he could do fine but if not then things could go south real fast. Which poses a real problem because now you have somebody who some people want pushed beyond both his capabilities and how history says you book guys like him, so now you have to keep finding ways to get him close enough to appease the mob without fully exposing him.
And then there is the other big problem, one Brock Lesnar. Brock is the worst guy you can possibly have to work with someone like Braun, because as we’ve all seen if Brock doesn’t think much of you he doesn’t let you do much and sure as hell doesn’t sell much for you. So long as he is the final boss in that division Braun’s goose is cooked whenever they lock up, and apparently Vince has decided for the moment that the best thing to do is to not go back to the well. Now to be fair, some of Braun’s booking has hurt him as much as Brock not playing nice or his own shortcomings. The match at Crown Jewel made him look like a real lost cause, even with all the shenanigans involved. And winning Money in the Bank and to be used mainly as a plot device afterwards also made him look like a guy who was never going to be the main man. But that’s life; you don’t always get booked in a way that favors you the best and you have to overcome that when it happens to you if you’re going to be a true top guy. If you need perfect booking at all times then it’s going to be real hard to stay relevant at the highest level over the long haul.
So do I think Braun can be salvaged? Depends on what you were expecting for him. If you were looking for him to be the top guy and Universal Champion, then that ship has sailed. But I never thought there was every any real chance at him becoming the true top guy for the company, for the reasons I’ve listed here. However there’s still no reason he can’t properly fill that Andre the Giant lane and do well. I’d keep him as far away from Brock as possible, and keep him out of the title picture until there’s a champion who won’t shoot punch him in the head for slipping up. I do think you got to give him the belt for a short run, and just have him lose in the way I mentioned earlier. But there also needs to be some realization amongst his biggest supporters that you can only do certain things with him, and that any kind of long run as World or Universal Champion is just not going to happen. And look, if the YouTube video viewing numbers for the January 14, 2019 episode of RAW are any indication then plenty of people are good with him destroying stuff backstage as a reason to watch him. This is one of those times where we have to accept that certain people have certain lanes that they can occupy and aren’t really suited to move outside of them. That’s not a knock on them it just is what it is. Better to maximize what they can do well and enjoy it than keep trying to put him in a position that will ultimately prove unsatisfying no matter how much you may be demanding it. With guys like him, less is often more and usually best.