At the time of writing, the Universal Title is almost four years old. In wrestling terms, this isn’t long but for the Universal Championship, it feels like an eternity.
Let’s be honest, the title hasn’t enjoyed the best of existences within WWE.
Injuries, illness, and bad timing have seemingly cursed the Championship from its inception.
But there’s also a huge element of poor foresight from WWE’s end and poor booking that have condemned the Championship to an afterthought.
From that awkward unveiling and all the memes to having Goldberg win the title multiple times because it’s Goldberg, all the way through to that match we all agree totally didn’t happen because it was the actual worst.
The end result is a championship that a lot of fans simply don’t care about and a title that has yet to establish itself as an important feature within WWE.
Championships in wrestling are only as important as the booking makes them. A title that is poorly booked will inevitably flounder in the eyes of fans.
The Intercontinental Championship has experienced this several times, notably during the Attitude Era when the belt was handed around like free cake at lunchtime. It felt like everyone was getting a free ride with the Championship and it diminished the importance of the title among fans who went from seeing it as an important stepping stone to a prop.
This is why World Championships in particular are so protected and so revered within the industry.
Every wrestler wants to be a World Champion but only a few get to be that. It has to be that way in order for a title to mean something. If everyone got a World Title run, it wouldn’t be special when someone won that title.
Not only this, it’s the moments that these Championships create that became iconic within the industry.
When I ask you to think about the WWE Championship’s greatest moments, which one comes to mind first?
Do you think of Andre and Hogan at Wrestlemania? How about Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels fighting for 60 minutes?
Maybe Rock and Austin at the height of the Attitude Era? What about Eddie Guerrero finally scaling the WWE mountain?
Now think of the greatest moments for the WWE Universal Championship.
Is it Goldberg defeating Kevin Owens inside 12 seconds? Is it Brock Lesnar lobbing the belt at Vince McMahon? What about Seth Rollins retaining his Universal Championship by DQ inside Hell… I’ve been told we don’t talk about that match.
A big part of the problem with the Universal Title is that it hasn’t really had any of these huge moments.
Prestige is a huge part of what makes Championships so revered within wrestling yet every time the Universal Title could have one of these iconic moments, WWE seems more interested in short term shock value over long-term planning.
The decision to build to Owens and Jericho through much of 2016 only to have Owens drop the belt to Goldberg a month before Wrestlemania was a good example of this.
Goldberg taking the Championship and walking into Wrestlemania with it not only robbed the title of a potentially great match; it set an unfortunate precedent that WWE has continued to wheel out to this day; that is slapping the Championship on a nostalgic name will create one of these moments.
Brock Lesnar’s Universal Title reign was arguably the apex of this. I’ve seen the argument that not having a main event title around every week can make it feel more “special” but here’s the thing; that only works if your title actually meant something in the first place.
Wrestling isn’t MMA or boxing. Titles in wrestling are not just a prize for the best fighter but a hugely important part of the storytelling process. It’s a source of huge conflict, jealousy for those who don’t hold it, and a target on the back of whoever is the Champion.
In the past huge conflict has occurred between Superstars just to get their hands on the WWE Championship.
Vince McMahon spent the whole of 1998 trying to keep the title as far away from Austin as possible. Steve’s whole journey through that year was about fighting against every obstacle Vince threw his way until that obstacle became so huge that Austin failed. Then it became about getting that Championship back however necessary.
Fans loved this chase and the stories it told created space for the likes of Mankind, The Rock, and Triple H to flourish because the storyline allowed them to play huge roles.
With the Universal Championship, this simply has never happened.
When Brock took the belt with him off TV, it stopped functioning as a story device; at least a competent one.
WWE didn’t really know how to maintain the presence of the title during this period and it harmed the main event scene on Raw more than it helped it.
It also had the side effect of harming the natural rise of Superstars who could have benefitted from being given a full title program.
Braun Strowman broke out during this period as one of the hottest acts in WWE. Fans were clamoring to see him capture the Universal Championship but it never came to pass.
If a title is meant to elevate and showcase the best of WWE, this was a major failure.
Even now in mid-2020, Braun Strowman’s reign with the Championship has fallen completely flat.
The belt feels insignificant in the grander scheme, a prop that has only been defended twice in four months and might as well have not existed for all the good it’s done Braun. It doesn’t help that it feels like Braun is waiting to drop the title to Roman Reigns when he returns.
Ultimately this is the problem with the Universal Championship. It’s a title that doesn’t elevate the holder and a title that fans don’t rate it as they should.
Seth Rollins attempted to course-correct this by pitching himself as the Championships savior but that ultimately fell flat when his Universal Title run hit its own problems, namely Baron Corbin.
How does one go about fixing a problem like the Universal Championship?
The obvious answer is to treat the belt with more reverence. Instead of slapping it on Goldberg just to lose in a three-minute match, maybe build a Superstar from within the current roster who fans want to see lose the Championship.
Make the Universal Title feel like a prize that everyone should want.
Perhaps more importantly, tell stories with the title that elevate it and the people fighting for it. Instead of having people say they’re going to make the Championship feel important, actually deliver that.
There are plenty of guys on the WWE roster who could fill this role perfectly yet WWE seems almost scared to let this happen. Instead of creating new stars, the company tries to rehash old ideas; even if there’s diminishing returns on that.
When the first match that comes to mind featuring the Universal Title is a Hell in a Cell match that might go down as the worst of all time; it’s no wonder that fans don’t view the title with importance.
The Universal Title could still be a great championship but WWE needs to re-evaluate how it uses the belt.
Ultimately a championship fans don’t care about is a championship that doesn’t benefit anyone.
Not even Goldberg.
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