When Braun Strowman re-entered the title picture after SummerSlam, you’d be forgiven for not responding with great enthusiasm. After all, this was a familiar sight and not a particularly positive wrestling reminder either. In fact, this was the third straight year that Strowman had occupied this position. It must be said though, the surrounding circumstances and expectations have certainly evolved in that time. However, the result, well that’s remained the same. This Sunday at Clash of Champions, Strowman enters two title matches in a unique position, embarking on a potentially pivotal new chapter of his career.
Two years ago, Braun Strowman was one of WWE’s central rising figures, seemingly standing at the precipice of super-stardom. At SummerSlam, Strowman had headlined, battling Samoa Joe, Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar in a memorable Universal Title tilt. Even when matched with RAW’s biggest and baddest, Strowman maintained the audience’s attention, garnering more and more support with each chaotic week. He didn’t leave the summer as champion but by its conclusion, felt like an inevitable titleholder. Not a matter of if but considering his trajectory, more a matter of when.
That question soon had a possible answer too, as Strowman was booked to face Brock Lesnar at No Mercy, RAW’s September 2017 PPV event. Though the Universal Title already had a destination likely pencilled in, Strowman’s organic ascension offered a different route. With his almost cartoonish feats of strength combining with a captivating programme opposite Reigns, Strowman had become an undeniable main event player. With that in mind, a sudden title change felt possible, using Lesnar to catapult Strowman upward as the former’s long-term future remained somewhat uncertain.
That option wasn’t taken though, as Lesnar retained his crown while Strowman briefly turned away from his natural babyface progression. Instead, Strowman battled the reunited Shield before being betrayed and at long last, officially altering his alignment. As a protagonist, Strowman remained central but still failed to claim the Universal Title. In WrestleMania season, he took a relative backseat too, only returning to the title picture after becoming Mr Money in the Bank. The briefcase didn’t exactly feel like a natural fit and in hindsight, appears to have been an even stranger choice.
Incredibly, Strowman was once again opposite The Shield in the months following SummerSlam 2018, soon returning to his villainous roots and forming an alliance with Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler. Creatively, Strowman’s size and style certainly made him a natural heel. He was easier to handle in that form, filling a more traditional role but losing his unique charisma in the process. There was and is a charm to Strowman that makes him different to the big men that have historically been conquered in WWE’s past. As one of those big men though, Strowman felt far more commonplace than he actually was.
Nonetheless, the direction was certainly understandable until Lesnar’s return meant that Strowman’s Money in the Bank victory was quickly rendered pointless anyway. Before long, Strowman was a babyface again but left 2018 as he entered, a star that was still awaiting that final nudge forward. The similarities didn’t end there either, as Strowman once again took a lesser role as the Road to Wrestlemania commenced. In truth, Strowman’s portrayal had steadily settled into a pattern. Though his actions were familiar, the perception surrounding Strowman was suddenly far more muted.
After once looking like a centerpiece in the making, Strowman now felt more like a separate attraction. An entertaining piece of the card that often contrasted its world title counterpart. That was clearer than ever with Strowman’s almost absurd throwback programme against Bobby Lashley. It’s a position that if nothing else, can certainly highlight Strowman’s strengths while bringing variety to the overall product. However, it’s not quite what everyone envisioned when Strowman truly emerged back in late 2016. He’s filled a valuable role certainly but it’s perhaps more peripheral than his initial momentum suggested.
In the last month though, those prior predictions suddenly feel possible again. After being absent from SummerSlam, Strowman appeared in the following RAW’s closing segment, setting the stage for what’s followed since. That brings us back to Clash of Champions, as Strowman and Seth Rollins look to defend their tag team titles on the same night that they meet for the Universal crown. There’s certainly a chance that in just a few short months, Strowman will be removed from this picture, suddenly embroiled in a different programme with far fewer stakes.
In fairness, that’s the direction that recent history would point you towards too. Timing is everything and though on occasion times, circumstances have stalled Strowman, the evidence is rather overwhelming at this point. For better or worse, Strowman doesn’t seem set to fill a greater role, unlikely to be the champion that a brand is built around. For some, that’ll be fair and for others, a miscalculation but if it’s likely to change, it feels as though the clock is ticking on that particular adjustment.
Braun Strowman is a home-grown success story, unique in stature, presentation and appeal. That much won’t change in the coming months but Strowman’s ceiling certainly could. If the Universal Title still remains in his future, it appears to be now or never. What was once deemed inevitable now seems to be the opposite, as Strowman suddenly stands at a creative crossroads of sorts. This next few months will either confirm his recent role or redefine Strowman’s part in WWE’s future. Whether their choice will prove correct or not, well that’ll be a debate for another day.