Brock Lesnar is the WWE Universal Champion. It is a fact that we all must live with. The Universal Champion, the preeminent Championship on Raw, is absent most nights. But, we have found out that it will be defended. The who is still a mystery. Five names have emerged as the front-runners to enter Suplex City. Let’s examine…
The WWE have announced that Brock Lesnar's first Universal Championship defense will be at the hillariously-title "Great Ball of Fire" pay-per-view on July 9th. Issues of the "30-day rule" aside, the biggest question around the title defense is who the Beast Incarnate will be defending his title against. We believe there are five viable candidates to be the number one contender for the big red strap - which one do you think should be the one to take on Lesnar?
Why he deserves a shot (in storyline): Of all the five wrestlers we've singled out, no one has a stronger claim to being the first one to take on Lesnar than the Demon King. The inaugural Universal Champion was forced to relinquish his belt due to his shoulder injury, and has yet to receive an opportunity to reclaim it. Interestingly, none of the three men to have lost the Universal Championship have been given a rematch - Goldberg has again retired, and Kevin Owens is now on SmackDown - so surely Balor is owed a shot at getting back his title?
Why he deserves a shot (in real life): Since Finn left NXT, he has been on a bona fide supernova path. His entrance is Top 5 in the company, his moves are as devastating as they are beautiful, and his workrate is close to unparalleled. Finn has all the tools necessary to breathe new life into the "man vs monster" in-ring narrative beats that this fight would no doubt hit, and whether he would emerge triumphant or be unable to down the Conqueror, this is a match that would blow the roof off the arena and leave both men looking strong.
Why the match might suck: Finn does have some lingering health concerns, and while those well-trodden in-ring narrative beats can allow for intensely engaging 'David vs Goliath' matches, there's guarantee that Brock will play ball (see his WrestleMania 32 match against Dean Ambrose). With his size and strength, Brock can easily - and believably - no-sell a lot of Finn's offense, should he be so inclined.
Why he deserves a shot (in storyline): Bray's claim to get a shot at Lesnar is more tenuous, but there are some legitimate grounds to make his case. It was a different title, sure, but nonetheless, Bray Wyatt never received his contractually-obligated rematch for the WWE Championship, thanks to the atrocious "House of Horror" match against Randy Orton at Payback being downgraded to a non-title bout. Since he never got a chance to reclaim his own title, there could be an argument that he should instead get to challenge for the Universal Championship.
Why he deserves a shot (in real life): On the sheer showmanship side of professional wrestling alone, his entrance may be the most over in the business - and no matter how much his stock may have been dragged through the mud due to atrocious bookings, it's hard to envision a time when entire arenas won't be shining their phones whenever "Live in Fear" plays. Coupled with his unique promo delivery style, and WWE's penchant for creating genuinely unnerving vignettes, the build to this bout could be something truly special (who wouldn't want to see Paul Heyman's response to Bray's voodoo-esque shananigans?). In the ring, his style is a sharp contrast to Lesnar. His body build could put up with the beating Lesnar doles out, and as one of the few men who has not been systematically destroyed by Lesnar, that lends an edge of unpredictability to the matchup, potentially positioning Bray as a legitimate threat. That's before we get into any of the supernatural elements that Bray apparently now has at his disposal, not to mention the possibility that the Eater of Worlds may well recruit some new blood to follow him.
Why the match might suck: Can Bray go for a solid 20-30 minutes on a PPV and keep up with Lesnar? His conditioning is not what is in question, but does he have enough to make it believable? If you watch a lot of Bray’s matches, there is a ton of time between moves. He is not a classic chain wrestler. Does he have the move set to put Brock down for extended periods of time so he can have those pregnant pauses during the goings on of a match?
Why he deserves a shot (in storyline): Everyone's favourite person to boo, Roman Reigns may not technically 'deserve' a shot at the title. When he lost the belt to Seth Rollins at Money in the Bank, he received his rematch at Battleground; he was included in the tournament for a shot at the brand new Universal Championship the following day, and came up short; he had a chance at winning the UC the night after SummerSlam (OK, we'll chalk this one up to Trips' interference); he received two shots at winning the belt from Kevin Owens at Roadblock: End of the Line and the Royal Rumble; and he even, to the resounding howls of anger from the crowd, entered the Royal Rumble match itself later that night in the coveted #30 slot. Surely Reigns has had enough opportunities? Perhaps - but you can't discount the fact that Lesnar himself wants to face Reigns. The night after WrestleMania 33, on his client Brock Lesnar's behalf, Paul Heyman called out "the 2 in 23-2". As the only two men who defeated the Undertaker at WrestleMania, Brock Lesnar wants to settle the score as to which of the two is truly the most dominant. If that's what the champ wants, surely that's what the champ should get?
Why he deserves a shot (in real life): For all of the many criticisms that have been made of Roman Reigns, it can't be denied that he is a very good worker in-between the ropes. Before Seth Rollins cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase at WrestleMania 31, Reigns and Lesnar were having a good match, certainly better than was expected. Since then, Reigns has only improved as a wrestler. While, for booking reasons, the idea of a seemingly inevitable Reigns/Lesnar rematch leaves many fans frustrated if not outright bored, the match itself would be a highly entertaining one.
Why the match might suck: We have seen this before - not just Reigns/Lesnar, but seeing a big guy who is being shoved down fans' throats going against a champion. When John Cena faced off against C.M. Punk, we saw seas of “If Cena wins, we riot” signs. This match would see the same response, if not worse. While this may be the most certain match to definitely happen at some point over the next year (injuries permitting), it would be roundly rejected by the fans - and the last thing the WWE want is another high-profile Brock Lesnar WrestleMania match getting booed out of the building by a pissed-off smarky crowd.
Why he deserves a shot (in storyline): This is a harder case to make. Strowman isn't a former belt-holder himself and hasn't been named a number one contender. That said, he has had one title shot in the past, against Kevin Owens, in a match that was ended by disqualification thanks to the interference of Roman Reigns. Strowman never received a second shot to make up for that. With the path of dominance he's carved out since the brand extension, surely now is the time to grant him a title opportunity to make up for the previous occasion?
Why he deserves a shot (in real life): Reinforce the ring because these two will destroy it. Braun has been built up as a monster equal to, or even greater than, Lesnar. While you wouldn't ever want to label Lesnar an underdog, Strowman is bigger and potentially stronger, and can match the Beast in ruthless violence. While he doesn't have the technical skills or agility of Lesnar, he's no slouch in either department either. As a sheer spectacle alone, this match would attract a large audience - and not just among wrestling fans, either. Thanks to the Strowman/Big Show broken ring spot going viral, Braun has gained a little recognition among non-fans; combined with the marquee grativas that Lesnar brings, this match would make a lot of business sense.
Why the match could suck: Is Strowman ready yet? Yes, he's impressed with agility that belies his size, and even showing some technical skills in his clashes with the Big Show - but wouldn't the WWE be better to hold off on this monster matchup until Strowman can hone his skills further? While Strowman has shown he can hold up for longer matches against Roman Reigns, that was unquestionably helped by Reigns' in-ring ability as a worker. Lesnar, of course, is undoubtedly as skilled in the ring, and could carry part of the match if needed to extend its length - but will Lesnar be willing to shoulder that load? Will he put in the necessary work to make the match everything it could be, or would he be as stubborn as Dean Ambrose alleges Reigns was when preparing for their clash at WrestleMania 32? And then, there's the elephant in the room - Strowman's reported legit rotator cuff injury. Rumours on the internet is that Strowman's injury is likely to hold him out for 4-8 weeks. If it's the nearer end of that estimate, then Strowman should be match-fit come Great Balls of Fire, should the WWE still want to go down that route - but if it's the full eight weeks, then Strowman is basically out of the picture. Even with an early return, there's no guarantee Strowman will be at his best - would a match against a not-at-full-strength Strowman be able to live up to the hype?
Why he deserves a shot (in storyline): The weakest claim on a UC shot of all five. Rollins had many of the same opportunities as Reigns to win the belt - Battleground, SummerSlam and the following night, and numerous opportunities to win the belt off of Kevin Owens, including Clash of Champions, Hell in a Cell and a no-DQ match on Raw. So, when Rollins claimed on last week's Raw that he had set his sights on Lesnar, what grounds did he have to do so? I'll be honest - I'm not sure there are any.
Why he deserves a shot (in real life): He’s Seth Freakin’ Rollins. He may not have any kafabe justification to demand a shot at the belt, but he is too good of a talent not to be in, or at least hovering around, the title picture. As he stated on last week's Raw, he has been to Suplex City and walked, or limped, out. We never got to see a how Lesnar's rematch clause from his WrestleMania 31 loss went down, thanks to the Undertaker's interference at Battleground 2015. To finally put these two in the ring together to settle the score once and for all is something that fans both in the arena and online would explode for. Then there's all the same in-ring reasons why the Balor match would be so good.
Why the match might suck: ...and similarly, all the reasons why the Balor match might suck is equally applicable here. Lesnar would need to be willing to give more effort than he did against Ambrose, and with all the internet rumours pointing to Lesnar holding the belt until WrestleMania 34, will he must the in-ring workrate needed to make a 'David vs Goliath' match work, especially if Seth's knee injury prevents him utilising his full offense against a wrestler so significantly larger than him?