To sum it up nicely, this year’s SummerSlam had way more valleys than peaks.
One of the deepest of those valleys was the reveal of the WWE Universal Championship, in addition to the odd placement of the match that would crown the first participant to hold that title – Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor. Besides the winner not being able to hold the title for a complete day due to an injury that would occur as a result of Rollins’ running turnbuckle powerbomb on the barricade (which should be banned as it has cut Balor’s career short while ending Sting’s completely), the title was rejected by the fans immediately. Instead of paying attention to the match, fans were focused on expressing their displeasure for the newborn belt with chants of “This belt sucks,” “Heeeyyy, we want a new belt” and even the TNA inspired “Delete.”
WWE’s reaction to the fans’ reaction, is of course, bitter – and who could blame them? They named the title after their fans – the WWE Universe. Unfortunately, what they didn’t realize was that in doing this, the WWE did what they haven’t been able to do in a very long time: create a legitimate top heel. How did they perform this often unachievable feat in an era where kayfabe is dead?
Exhibit A – The Design Is Lazy
First things first. When the title was announced the name choice, while not the best, is something fans are slowly getting used to as the logic behind the titles title made sense. With a name like the Universal Championship, fans speculated as to what it could look like. Will it have a globe on it? Could it hearken back to the days of older titles? They wouldn’t make it spin again, would they?
Instead, we got none of those things. What we did get was the same exact plates of the WWE Championship with a red strap (you know, so we didn’t forget which title was on Raw).
The design itself is boring, uninspired, and lazy. Rather than a fresh new look for a fresh new belt, The Universal Championship’s lackluster template comes off as a cheap imitation of something we already have (that we already weren’t too fond of to begin with). If the idea was to change straps all along, why not just put a blue strap on the WWE Championship, call it the SmackDown Championship and instead name the Universal title the Raw Championship? It would have made more sense both name and design name-wise. Seeing as SmackDown went that route for their Tag Team titles, it seems as if the idea had already been taken into consideration, but executed elsewhere.
A better thought: take a good look at the best looking titles; the two Women’s Championships. While both straps are white, the negative space is filled in with brand specific jewels – red for Raw’s and blue for SmackDown Live’s version. Although the designs to all heavyweight championships are identical, the extra miles gone to separate the women’s belts look great. Why not do the same for the men’s heavyweight titles but with black straps? It would have at least shown effort and continuity, things we barely get on WWE programming (NXT, on the other hand…).
Exhibit B – The Presentation Was Awful
While the build was initially not bad with two Fatal Four-Way matches, a singles match between the two winners and a match against handpicked contender Seth Rollins, it didn’t keep the fans eyes on the prize. Over the next few weeks, WWE slowly started to show us that even if Roman Reigns isn’t in the main event, he’s still in the main event. Rather than revolve the last segment of every three-hour Raw around the Rollins/Balor title match, we instead got Reigns and Rusev or Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton in that spot.
The Universal Championship hadn’t even been officially called up to the main roster and it was already floundering in the midcard.
Lesnar is a special attraction, but when you’re trying to introduce your new biggest championship to your audience, you don’t make him top priority – especially after said special attraction was caught doping after his now unrecognized UFC victory against Mark Hunt.
This goes triple for Reigns, who continues to be booed out of the building no matter where he is on the card.
It also doesn’t help that there was barely any interaction between Balor and Rollins. Aside from the initial encounter and Balor awakening The Demon King, there was nothing. Just vignettes that while good, didn’t carry the build by themselves. We really needed those in-ring segments with both competitors there to make this title feel like a big deal – and they had to go on last. It is very important that your Heavyweight Championship interactions go on last – even when they don’t revolve around John Cena.
When the big day finally arrived, there had been no contract signing, no title hype and more importantly, no unveiling ceremony for the star of the match that should have gone on last. Even on the big show, the title was again shuffled down the card in favor of Reigns and Lesnar – who’s matches were a) for lesser championships or none at all and b) had no legitimate finish (heck, Reign’s match didn’t even officially start). What happened was a casual uncovering of the brand new belt right before the match. It was essentially WWE telling it’s universe, “Here’s you go, don’t you like it?” like a relative who gets a seven year-old clothes for Christmas.
With hype like that, what did they think was going to happen? But it gets worse. Like Jesus Christ, the Universal Championship was betrayed by one of it’s own before being condemned by its many followers.
Exhibit C – WWE Told Us Not to Like it
In the month leading up to the red belt of disaster’s debut, all SmackDown Live did was trash the title.
Brand Manager Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan poked fun at the Universal Championship’s name every second they got, both on and off-screen. From jabs in interviews saying it should be called the” Galaxy Championship” because a galaxy is bigger than a universe to tweeting mock designs in the form of a giant “U” with a strap (which actually looks better) to lambasting the title on TV, SmackDown basically told us the title was stupid from the get-go.
The idea was to create a sense of competition between brands, but this can only work if the new design blows everyone’s expectations out of the water. Since this was obviously not the case as evidenced by Exhibit A, the plan backfired completely. In Exhibit B, WWE showed us that despite being Raw’s new main title and that the crowning of its first champion would take place at SummerSlam, it still had less importance than both the United States title (which is considered the SECONDARY championship) and a beast that cheated in a legitimate sport when he didn’t have to. Finally, in Exhibit C, WWE goes on to tell us it doesn’t mean anything and we should treat it as such.
But it’s the fans that are in the wrong.
Was the WWE Universes behavior disrespectful? Absolutely. Balor and Rollins put on a stellar bout and should not have been overshadowed by a mediocre title. The problem is that it’s not the just the Universal Championship’s concept that caused fans to riot in their seats. It’s the overall carelessness that went into the belt, its match placement and overall booking itself that really did the damage.
At the end of the day, no matter how much WWE wants to blame smarks, the IWC and the rest of their “beloved” Universe, Mick Foley (who used to agree with the internet and slam the company on a regular basis before he and his family suddenly started working there), Vince McMahon and the rest of his glad-handing “Yes” men have no one to blame for The Passion of the Universal Championship but themselves.