The WWE declared a “brand new era” for the company’s flagship program, Monday Night RAW, last night, and while the jury will continue to deliberate for quite some time on whether the statement has any validity, by all accounts the first episode of the brand split was excellent.
Sasha Banks and Charlotte tore the house down in an epic battle for the WWE Women’s Championship. Finn Balor debuted and smacked a home run right of the park on his first night under the bright lights by winning a four-way match and then defeating former golden boy Roman Reigns cleaner than a mountain stream in the main event.
Balor’s prize: a match with Seth Rollins for the red brand’s new top shiny at SummerSlam.
Ah yes, the new top title on RAW. Its introduction is the one moment that had many fans scratching their heads on social media. The announcement came as a surprise to no one as rumors persisted all summer that the company would reintroduce a second world championship after the brand split. No, the real surprise was the moniker given to the nascent top prize.
The WWE Universal Championship.
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) July 26, 2016
Yes, that’s the right, the new title will grant the holder supremacy over the entire universe-well the WWE’s at least.
The reaction to the announcement was understandably negative. The name sounds hokey for a company that reputes its main championships to hold some level of prestige. In fact, it seems like something that either an e-fed or a grimy Japanese indie promotion would name their alpha strap.
— Wrestling LAD (@WrestlingLAD) July 26, 2016
By the way, "WWE Universal championship" is literally the dumbest thing in the history of the world
— Cageside Seats (@cagesideseats) July 26, 2016
However, beyond the guffaws and eye-rolling, are several intriguing morsels for thought, and so below are a few of my takes on the WWE Universal Championship.
First Take: Raw Is the Best Place to Introduce A New Championship
Titan Towers could have easily had either Seth Rollins or Roman Reigns beat Dean Ambrose for the WWE Championship at Battleground and stuck the Universal Championship on the “B” show, and by doing would have rendered the title as “less important” from the get go.
No matter how loudly fans howl about SmackDown’s status as the little brother, it is not changing anytime soon. Monday Night RAW and wrestling are synonymous with one another. RAW has always been the big show. History happens on RAW. Huge announcements typically happen on RAW. Bookings plans have and will change due to the show’s ratings.
Clearly, and despite criticism, the WWE associates RAW with prestige, what is crucial for the main championship to have above all else? Prestige.
Just by its association with RAW, the Universal Champion will instantaneously feel relevant to casual fans. It will be the championship that the most heavily pushed wrestlers will vie for; it will represent the best wrestler on the industry’s top program; it will mark its holder as the de-facto chief attraction in the world’s largest wrestling company.
All that would take months to build organically on SmackDown, and the WWE wisely speed up the process by placing the Universal Championship with the correct brand.
Second Take: The WWE Could Have Spun the Name Better
Mick Foley was the perfect person to announce the new championship’s name, after all, he is the master of the cheap pop, and make no mistake about the name was designed to get a cheap pop from the crowd. It represents the “WWE Universe”. The belt—in theory—is important because of it being joined at the hip with the paying customer. It will remind the fan that the company does in fact value them and hopefully further ensure their loyalty for years to come.
Stupid, I know.
Interestingly enough, the WWE could have taken an interesting approach in explaining their reasoning. While the word “universal” usually implies the cosmos; it can, according to Google, also mean “applicable to all cases.”
What does the main championship imply in wrestling? Simple, the wrestler that holds it is considered the very best in all possible cases. The definition alone might have saved the announcements dignity.
Also, the WWE could have offered an explanation that might have scored points with hardcore fans. If, by definition, the champion is the best wrestler in all relevant situations than they should be the best regardless of weight class.
Traditionally, the top title in the WWE and in wrestling as a whole, is reserved for the largest competitors on the roster: the heavyweights, and by doing so the industry perpetuated the idea that the no matter how skilled they are, the only thing that matters in wrestling is size–a principle grip amongst hardcores.
Say, Stephanie McMahon declared that the championship would determine who the best wrestler in the world was regardless of weight; it would have served as a subtle wink to the hardcore fans and also added a touch of reality to the scripted sport.
Third Take: The Championship Could Make Finn Balor in Under a Month
One of the oldest tropes in wrestling used to establish a new star is that the performer comes in—preferably as an unknown—and unseats the reigning champion. If used properly, the story creates new hero or villain in no time at all with the right execution.
The circumstances in this situation are definitely different. Finn Balor’s run in NXT made him a known commodity to most WWE fans, and obviously, he didn’t win the title in one night, but if used correctly the same approach will work.
Balor has already beaten Roman Reigns, the man who this year’s Wrestlemania main event. If he defeats Seth Rollins at SummerSlam—the much-hyped number RAW draft pick—Balor is a made man because he’s defeated the brand’s two established main players.
Like I already wrote, the rest of the angle would depend on the writers, etc., but if they wanted to build Balot up as a big deal quickly, then giving him the championship—and making history in the process—would be an excellent building block.
Final Take and Cheap Plug
At the end of the day, the birth of the WWE Universal Championship offers fans a unique opportunity to witness the establishment of a totally new world championship.One without a belt tied to a previous enity and with a fresh lineage.
Of course, these takes are just my opinion. I know I missed on some interesting viewpoints and would love to hear what you have to think about RAW’s new championship. Hit me up on Twitter @WarrenETaylor with any ideas or criticisms inspired by the content in this week’s Taylor’s Takes.