WWE Hell in a Cell 2018 ended the exact same way that SummerSlam did: With Roman Reigns, not Braun Strowman, as the Universal Champion. But not before “The Beast” returned.
Brock Lesnar made a shocking return to WWE at Hell in a Cell and dismantled both “The Big Dog” and “The Monster Among Men,” causing the match to end with no clear-cut winner or loser in the process.
Prior to SummerSlam, there was speculation that either Strowman or Reigns would be turning heel, based primarily upon Raw’s fall live events being built around Strowman vs. Reigns matches and WWE traditionally avoiding booking face vs. face bouts as house show main events.
Of course, the hope among WWE’s most diehard fans was that the company would use the golden opportunity created by the departure of Lesnar to finally pull the trigger on a heel turn for Reigns while also moving forward with Strowman as the Universal Champion and a massive fan favorite.
But Lesnar’s unexpected return has thrown a huge wrench into any expected plans for Reigns and Strowman.
Vince McMahon reportedly still views Reigns as “the guy,” and even though fans have walked out of Reigns’ matches, booed him mercilessly or showed complete and utter indifference to many of his marquee bouts as a way to protest his overly strong babyface push, WWE remained resolute in its determination to ensure Reigns is the top babyface on its flagship show.
That meant that the heel-strapped Raw needed to look elsewhere for its No. 1 villain, and because Reigns couldn’t remain the top face on a show that also featured Strowman as a fan favorite because the fans wouldn’t allow it, WWE turned Strowman at a time when his popularity was peaking.
It was in early 2018 that Strowman joined the likes of Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, AJ Styles and Reigns himself as one of WWE’s best merchandise movers at a time when crowd reaction indicated he was perhaps the most popular star in the entire company.
The widespread thought was that WWE would capitalize on Strowman’s soaring popularity by having him successfully cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase, whether on Reigns or Lesnar, and cement himself as a perennial main eventer by giving him a run with the Universal title.
Then, WWE forced Strowman into a heel role and brought back Lesnar much sooner than expected. So now, we’re right back where we were just a month ago, with Lesnar, Strowman and Reigns all battling over the Universal Championship.
No surprise, fan resentment of Reigns isn’t letting up in the slightest, and in fact, it’s probably only going to get worse after what transpired at Hell in a Cell, which seemingly ended Strowman’s reign as “Mr. Money in the Bank” with absolutely no payoff whatsoever (assuming he actually cashed in) and likely put an end to any realistic chance he has of becoming champion in the near future. And now we have to ask, where do we go from here?
One of the biggest issues with Lesnar’s 500-plus day reign as Universal Champion was that he was booked to be so dominant in comparison to everyone else on Raw that virtually no challenger posed a legitimate threat to his reign, even including Reigns and Strowman at times.
With Lesnar mowing through all of the competition and even defeating both Reigns and Strowman clean in singles match, no one seemed like a credible challenger for him.
Now, he’s back much sooner than expected, and reports indicate he may have signed a new deal to remain with the company while still preparing for a UFC return.
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Of course, Lesnar’s dominance, combined with his frequent absences, resulted in a really rough stretch for Raw’s main event scene, which seemed like a revolving door of pointless feuds as none of its top stars measured up to Lesnar.
During that span, Raw generated its lowest viewership in the show’s 25-year history, which many attributed to a lackluster product that largely stemmed from a poorly booked main event scene that all stemmed from Lesnar’s unnecessarily dominant championship reign.
While Reigns isn’t pushed to be quite as dominant as Lesnar, it has been made clear over the last few years, especially with Reigns being the one to ultimately slay “The Beast,” that he is viewed as a notch above the likes of Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Bobby Lashley and other top babyfaces.
With most of the red brand’s most featured fan favorites also being viewed to be a step above Raw’s top heels, ranging from Elias to Baron Corbin to Dolph Ziggler, that brings Raw right back to square one with a championship feud between Lesnar and Reigns that should have ended long ago.
Is that really any different from Lesnar and Reigns endlessly feuding during The Beast’s poor title reign? No, it isn’t.
It’s just a role reversal of sorts, with Reigns assuming Lesnar’s spot as a champion who isn’t well-liked while Strowman continues to be overlooked and Lesnar is back at a time when many fans were glad he left.
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