After two consecutive title defenses, neither of which many fans expected Brock Lesnar to win, it’s now being reported by Cageside Seats that he won’t be back in WWE to defend the Universal Championship again until SummerSlam on August 19, 2018. If this rings true, then Brock Lesnar’s reign will clock in at 504 days in length at SummerSlam. It’ll make him the longest reigning “world champion” in WWE since Hulk Hogan’s four year long WWE Championship reign from 1984 to 1988.
It would also give him the longest reign with any championship in WWE during the last two decades. With the inclusion of NXT, he’d only be second to Asuka’s 510-day reign as NXT Women’s Champion. On the surface, it sounds like a truly historic reign. Unfortunately, Brock Lesnar’s tenure as champion has been an utter disgrace. It’s disrespectful to the industry of professional wrestling, to the men and women of WWE who work throughout the year, and to the fans who watch WWE’s product on a weekly basis.
Before we get to specifically why Brock Lesnar’s reign is so pitiful, it’s worth getting some context on the situation. In the last 20 years, only seven championship reigns in WWE have lasted for more than one year (365 days). To put Brock’s reign in perspective, let’s see the numbers on each of these.
Brock Lesnar’s reign will be included, and for the purposes of a fair comparison, his numbers include the reported defense at this year’s SummerSlam and the total length up to that point. For a title defense to be "televised" it must have taken place on one of the weekly shows or a pay-per-view. The listings for total defenses include non-televised defenses at house shows and other live events.
Historic reigns by the numbers (in order of length)
NXT Women’s Championship: Asuka
- Won on April 1, 2016 at NXT TakeOver: Dallas from Bayley
- Vacated due to injury on August 24, 2017
- Televised Title Defenses: 11
- Total Title Defenses: 101
- Total Days Held: 510
WWE Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar
- Won on April 2, 2017 at WrestleMania 33 from Goldberg
- Could be lost on August 19, 2018 at SummerSlam
- Televised Title Defenses: 7
- Total Title Defenses: 15
- Total Days Held: 504
WWE/Raw Tag Team Championship: The New Day
- Won on August 23, 2015 at SummerSlam from The Prime Time Players
- Lost on December 18, 2016 at Roadblock: End of the Line to Sheamus & Cesaro
- Televised Title Defenses: 21
- Total Title Defenses: 144
- Total Days Held: 483
WWE Women’s Championship: Trish Stratus
- Won on January 9, 2005 at New Year’s Revolution from Lita
- Lost on April 2, 2006 at WrestleMania 22 to Mickie James
- Televised Title Defenses: 11
- Total Title Defenses: 46
- Total Days Held: 448
WWE Championship: CM Punk
- Won on November 20, 2011 at Survivor Series from Alberto Del Rio
- Lost on January 27, 2013 at Royal Rumble to The Rock
- Televised Title Defenses: 22
- Total Title Defenses: 145
- Total Days Held: 434
WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Gregory Helms
- Won on January 29, 2006 at Royal Rumble from Kid Kash
- Lost on February 18, 2007 at No Way Out to Chavo Guerrero
- Televised Title Defenses: 10
- Total Title Defenses: 47
- Total Days Held: 385
WWE Championship: John Cena
- Won on September 17, 2006 at Unforgiven from Edge
- Vacated on October 2, 2007 due to injury
- Televised Title Defenses: 14
- Total Title Defenses: 111
- Total Days Held: 380
Editor’s Note: Major thanks go out to ProFightDB and CageMatch for the amazing databases that helped me compile the statistics for all of these championship reigns. Without their documentation and recordkeeping going back decades, this would not have been possible.
What made each of these reigns special?
Before getting to the specific reigns, it’s worth touching on the importance of title defenses. While often overlooked in WWE, in the grand scheme of professional wrestling they can be even more crucial than the amount of times someone holds a championship. Particularly in New Japan Pro Wrestling, successful title defenses are as meaningful as the holding of the title itself. Current IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada has held the belt for 689 days, but it is his 12 successful (though grueling) defenses along the way in exclusively spectacular matches that makes the reign even more special.
Okada’s most recent defense broke the record of 11 defenses set during Hiroshi Tanahashi’s 404-day reign as IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Despite having a reign over 180 days longer than what Lesnar’s will be by SummerSlam, Okada’s has continued to raise the prestige of the championship and the stature of every opponent who has stood against him. Seeing a champion constantly prove themselves like this elevates the company as a whole, along with all contenders who push their way to the top.
John Cena's reign as WWE Champion
With the importance of defenses emphasized in a lengthy reign, let’s start with the shortest of these historic reigns in WWE. Starting with Cena’s 380-day reign as WWE Champion, all of those listed above have been historically crucial for one reason or another. When John Cena was essentially crowned WWE’s "top guy" back in 2005, he started to go on a tear and knocked off big names one after another. When he was drafted to Monday Night Raw while holding the title in 2005, Cena was at the peak of his popularity. Cena went on to feud with several different stars, constantly elevating their status and having countless battles with Edge as "The Rated R Superstar" became a top guy in his own right.
Cena’s constant presence and 380-day reign set the tone and helped solidify him as the deserving workhorse WWE turned into the face of the company for years after that. Even when stars like Edge were merely in the hunt and couldn't topple Cena, they were given added credibility just by holding their own against him. It was only an untimely pectoral injury that dethroned Cena, potentially saving him from what could have become a progressively stale title reign in the following months.
Gregory Helms' reign as Cruiserweight Champion
While probably the least remembered of these reigns, Gregory Helms held the Cruiserweight Championship at a time when it was often overlooked. Despite a stretch of over two months without a televised defense, Helms continued to defend the title on house shows and was constantly present, title in tow, on weekly television.
Even with one of the least appreciated belts of the time, he did everything he could to keep the title relevant. While SmackDown embraced their cruiserweight division inconsistently, stars like Kid Kash and The Mexicools continued to put on classics against Helms. It’s often said that the man makes the title, rather than the title making the man, and Gregory Helms did everything in his power to make the Cruiserweight Championship matter during his 385-day reign.
CM Punk's reign as WWE Champion
When CM Punk held the WWE Championship for 434 days, it was one of the most dynamic times in WWE over the last decade. Flying in the face of established norms, Punk cut the infamous “Pipe Bomb” promo before threatening to leave the company with the WWE Championship in tow. While this lengthy reign started a few months after that, the popularity of Punk garnered from that promo and his epic encounter with John Cena at Money in the Bank were the driving force behind it.
Even when he turned heel, Punk became one of the most hated faces in the company and ensured that many fans showed up in hopes that he would finally lose that coveted title. Whether he was being obnoxious all on his own, flaunting Paul Heyman's presence at his side, or using The Shield to conveniently turn the tides in his favor, Punk gave every situation his all. As the longest reigning WWE Champion of the modern era, CM Punk’s 434-day odyssey will always be incredibly important to the history of WWE during that time and the prestige of the WWE Championship.
Trish Stratus' reign as Women's Champion
Similar to Helms’ reign as Cruiserweight Champion, Trish Stratus was dealing with an often overlooked prize when she held the WWE Women’s Championship in 2005. Years before the Divas Revolution would reshape the landscape in wrestling for female superstars, there existed a time that the in-ring skill of women was often disregarded in favor of “Bra and Panties” matches or other nonsense. During that turbulent era, Trish Stratus held the WWE Women’s Championship for 448 days and did everything in her power to communicate how much it meant.
Even in short matches, Trish’s constant presence as the leader of an entire division made clear the championship was important, even if the management didn’t remember that it was. In the final stretch of her title reign, Trish feuded with up and comer Mickie James going into WrestleMania 22. It was the foundation that Trish had laid which made Mickie’s win at WrestleMania mean so much more. Without that prestige, Mickie may not have gone on to become the 6-time champion and current legend she is today.
The New Day's reign as WWE Tag Team Champions
The only tag team on this list, and easily one of the most influential in a revival of tag team wrestling in recent years, is The New Day. When their record-shattering 483-day reign began by them capturing the WWE Tag Team Titles from The Prime Time Players, fans had not yet fully bought in to a set of characters that were still finding their groove. The titles didn’t make the team, but they quickly found their groove and became one of the most formidable and entertaining groups seen in recent years.
Thanks to their huge fan-following, The New Day became one of the hottest merchandise selling acts in the entire company. While some criticized the latter part of their reign because it was so clearly the goal of WWE to have them break Demolition’s record, The New Day still gave it their all night in and night out to show what the (eventually renamed) Raw Tag Team Titles meant. In the final weeks, they even defended the titles twice in one night to show that they faced true competition on the road to that record.
Asuka's reign as NXT Women's Champion
Before we get to the current reign, which will be covered below, I’d like to touch on the only NXT reign I’ve included. While it could be argued that the nature of NXT makes this comparison less valid, Asuka has shown herself as valuable to the company as a whole as any main roster champion could be. For over 500 days, she dominated NXT’s women’s division and lead their own part of the evolution of women’s wrestling. Not only was her reign special, but Asuka remained undefeated during the entirety of it.
After having to relinquish the title due to injury, Asuka went on to continue her undefeated streak on the main roster. She won the inaugural women’s Royal Rumble and challenged Charlotte for the SmackDown Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 34. While her streak ended at WrestleMania, the 914 days she went undefeated stands as the longest streak of its kind in WWE history. Even after moving to the main roster, the foundation Asuka left for Ember Moon when she later captured the NXT Women’s Championship helped that division stand strong despite the departure of their most dominant performer.
How does Brock Lesnar’s reign as Universal Champion stack up?
In short, it just doesn’t. Brock Lesnar’s reign has been so deflating because he simply isn’t there. While it’s telling that he will have only seven televised defenses, less than even the numbers of Helms’ and Stratus’ reigns with lesser championships, perhaps most stunning is the total defenses. Because of Brock Lesnar’s current contract and schedule, he rarely works live events. This means that the vast majority of WWE shows do not feature their supposed top champion.
While some can make the argument that his absence makes Brock a more special attraction, this willingly ignores several other issues with his reign. When he’s not on television for long stretches of time, Lesnar’s presence becomes a mere afterthought. It can be a talking point to be the next man to challenge him, but he serves no purpose in the year-round storylines and matches on his brand until he shows up.
When most other talents have such busy schedules and sometimes work in excess of 300 dates per year, it spits in the face of their hard work to give the top championship to a man who rarely competes. In the year-long span between WrestleMania 33 and WrestleMania 34, Brock Lesnar wrestled only 15 matches in total, half of which were brief appearances at non-televised events.
The only two other reigns that included world championships, the 424-day WWE Title reign of CM Punk and 380-day WWE Title reign of John Cena, both included more televised defenses that Lesnar has had matches since capturing the title. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an argument that Brock Lesnar shouldn’t be in WWE if he can’t be there day in and day out.
Other stars work limited schedules and remain present for big matches. The most obvious examples in today’s WWE are The Undertaker, John Cena, and Randy Orton. Most notably The Undertaker, who tends to only work a few matches a year. Meanwhile, Cena and Orton work more, but don’t work most of the non-televised live events, similar to Lesnar’s schedule.
The key difference here is that they aren’t the Universal Champion. They aren’t attempting to represent an entire brand as their top star week in and week out. With the exception of a brief WWE Championship reign in 2017 by Randy Orton and an even briefer reign by Cena, none of them have even held a top tier championship for a serious period of time over the last two years. None of them has remained a top tier champion while working a limited schedule, much less for an unprecedented 504-day reign.
Going in to WrestleMania 34, even John Cena emphasized that he was focusing on The Undertaker so he didn’t take a spot away from a more deserving superstar. Their match at WrestleMania 34 lasted all of three minutes and served as the attraction it needed to be without occupying a championship that could be contested by deserving full-time talents.
Despite the crowd’s reluctance to embrace him, Roman Reigns spoke truth in the weeks leading up to WrestleMania 34. He called out Lesnar for a lax schedule, special treatment by management, and for not being on television to represent the brand. At WWE’s last pay-per-view Backlash, the Universal Championship was nowhere in sight. Instead of having the WWE Championship main event the night, WWE opted to have two potential Universal Championship challengers in Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe close things out.
Had Roman captured the title at WrestleMania 34 or even at Greatest Royal Rumble, this would have made the match all the more intriguing. Instead, it was a clash we’d seen before with zero consequences. As a result, multiple reports have come out indicating that fans simply got up and left during the main event. WWE’s paying customers opted to beat traffic instead of witnessing their chosen main event. This is less of a condemnation of Joe or even Roman and more indicative of how boring Raw’s main event picture becomes without a true prize.
If reports are true and Brock continues to hold the title until SummerSlam, history has shown us his reign will be all but meaningless even if it ends there. CM Punk’s record-setting WWE Championship reign included “The Summer of Punk” and featured some instant classics against Daniel Bryan as well as nearly 150 total title defenses. Even if Brock’s reign continues to SummerSlam, he will have only had 15 total defenses despite holding the title over two months longer than Punk held the WWE Championship.
Can Brock Lesnar’s championship reign be salvaged?
Unfortunately, no amount of work could salvage this disappointing and pointless championship reign. Even if Lesnar worked more house shows between now and SummerSlam, something he almost certainly won’t do, he’s been at the helm during some of the most terribly written stretches of Monday Night Raw in recent years. It reached the point at one time that there were serious arguments about whether being the number one contender for the Universal Championship was actually a more prestigious honor than holding the belt itself.
I do need to make something incredibly clear though. This isn’t Brock Lesnar’s fault. None of this is because Brock Lesnar isn’t a capable competitor. None of this is because Brock Lesnar doesn’t deserve to be champion. None of this is because Brock Lesnar’s doesn’t have the accolades, inside and outside of WWE, to prove himself worthy of championship gold. Instead, the blame lies solely on the writing team and top decision makers at WWE.
It’s a poorly-kept secret that much of Lesnar’s reign, and the attempts to dethrone him by Roman Reigns, have been the work of Vince McMahon. While the once villainous authority figure known as Mr. McMahon has lessened his influence in the day to day operations of WWE in recent years, he still remains the absolute top of the totem pole. The big decisions don’t get made unless Vince McMahon approves. Even if other producers such as Michael Hayes or people on the writing team have played a part in things, none of it could have happened without the full-throated endorsement of Vince McMahon.
For whatever reasons he has chosen, Vince McMahon has made a part-time talent that works at most a few dozen days out of the year to be his Universal Champion for the last 407 days and potentially for another three months on top of that. Despite names like Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe, Seth Rollins, and The Miz holding WWE afloat in Lesnar’s absence, the man known as “The Beast Incarnate” gets to sit at home and collect his multi-million dollar paycheck without working even a fraction of the amount they do.
Several reports have come out that Vince is trying to get Roman over as a fan favorite, and part of the plan going into WrestleMania 34 in doing that was to have him attack Lesnar’s absence from WWE television. Yet, despite this apparent acknowledgment of the issue and the crowd’s unhappiness with it, Brock Lesnar is still the Universal Champion. He is still comfortably collecting his paycheck while he trains for a UFC return and prepares to be able to take care of his family long after he retires from active competition in WWE or UFC. You can’t fault the man for that, but you can absolutely fault WWE for allowing it to happen.
WWE's only course of action at this point should be to get the title off of Brock Lesnar as quickly as possible. Even if that meant bringing him in for a shocking defense on Monday Night Raw, it would revitalize the belt and change the landscape in a positive way. Sadly, it's almost guaranteed that this won't happen. Instead, the Universal Champion will continue to be missing in action for weeks to come and Raw's main event picture will be left without purpose during this time.
How do you feel about Brock Lesnar's reign as Universal Champion? Let us know in the comments below!