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Not very long ago, I joked that the best thing about Braun Strowman was that his entrance theme began with a primal scream, which was an apt indication that an abysmal match was about to take place, giving the fans in attendance plenty of time to go to the bathroom or get a snack. I will be the first to admit that I was embarrassingly wrong on that accord; Strowman has gone from being an enormous question mark in WWE and a stumbling giant, to one of the most popular wrestlers in the company and a weekly highlight on RAW. Strowman has had a better 2017 than almost any other wrestler in WWE, and now that he is on the verge of his first singles match for the Universal Championship, Strowman may just end up being the mammoth superstar that WWE has been craving for years.
Strowman's successful rise through the ranks has been attributable to a number of factors. For starters he has gotten better in the ring, allowing him to have longer matches that are not only passable, but often times quite good. For someone as physically large as Strowman, the bar is always going to be lower, but Strowman has consistently rose to the occasion. When Strowman first began receiving his singles push, WWE wisely had him go out on the house shows and work 10-15 minute matches with The Big Show. The matches were not very good, but by working with a veteran Strowman, who was very much still a novice at that point, was able to learn every night how to put on a professional match in WWE. That learning process has paid huge dividends because Strowman has gone from being very limited in the ring, to being a part of some of the most exciting matches in WWE.
The most important factor in Strowman's success so far has been WWE's consistent commitment to making him look like a dominant figure in the company. Strowman's character is never made to look weak, he never cowers from his opponents, he is always is the aggressor and he never uses underhanded tactics to get the edge. His character is simple, an enormous man capable of withstanding massive amounts of punishment and performing feats of strength, but it is effective and has gotten over because WWE never puts him in a situation that would make him look like he wasn't the most intimidating figure in the company. By having him manhandle stars like Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar, Strowman comes across as a star that is different than any other wrestler on the roster. When you have someone with the physical attributes of Strowman, they should never feel like just another wrestler on the roster, but that isn't always the case.
The consistent booking of Strowman as an unstoppable powerhouse has also enabled him to become a better talker than originally envisioned. Strowman's promos have been very simple; basically "I'm going to kill you and there is nothing you can do about it." However, because Strowman has been portrayed as being such a legitimate monster, that kind of promo becomes very effective. If a guy like Seth Rollins, who is a legit star, says "I'm going to crush you" in a promo, that is probably considered a pretty crappy promo. However, if Strowman says "I'm going to crush you," then it comes across as more believable because Strowman, from throwing office chairs across the arena to tipping over ambulances, has done so much outrageous stuff that the audience really does think that something incredible is going to happen. The booking of Strowman has been so strong that he doesn't have to be a dynamic talker on the mic, as long as he can deliver those simple lines sincerely, he is going to be fine.
Another good sign for Strowman is that he has been able to get over rather organically with the audience. Strowman was never supposed to be a babyface; yet he is probably the most popular babyface in the entire company right now. At SummerSlam Strowman was in the ring with one of the most popular wrestlers in the company (Lesnar), the guy WWE has been pushing for years as a superstar (Reigns) and a beloved indie star who the hardcore fans love (Samoa Joe) and yet it was Strowman who was getting the loudest cheers. As long as WWE avoids compromising his character, there is no reason to suspect that Strowman is going to lose any of that support as a career progresses.
WWE has managed to string Strowman's push along in a gradual way that they would be wise to copy in the future. Strowman wasn't pushed as a main event star right from the get go, but WWE carefully monitored what he was doing on the undercard. They then slowly brought him along and nurtured his career by carefully constructing storylines and segments that would maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. While steadily bringing him up the card, Strowman has largely aced all of the checkpoints and is now ready for his first really big shot; a singles match against Lesnar for the Universal Championship.
In a way it mirrors what a sports team would like to do with a prized prospect; you wouldn't want to bring the prospect in and immediately shove him into the spotlight with the hopes that he would solve all of your problems. You also wouldn't want him to sit on the bench and never get into the game; you would want to slowly integrate them into your team and put them into comfortable situations and eventually hope that their natural talent allows them to progress at a good rate. The is Strowman's first real big test; the ball is in his hands with a minute left on the clock and the game tied; if he has a stellar outing against Lesnar, win or lose, then he reaches that checkpoint again. If he does not, it will be a step down for him and require some additional improvements before he is shoved into the spotlight once more.
Strowman (and really WWE's) biggest challenge looming is how to sustain his popularity. Strowman's popularity is largely based on his invincibility, and as we have learned in wrestling time and time again, eventually that invincibility is taken away because one day they are going to have to lose. Strowman has already lost some matches in WWE, but each time WWE has managed to book him stronger after the matches and maintained his character's dominance. Part of that has been because Strowman has never really "lost" a feud, at worst, like in his feud with Reigns, Strowman trades victories. His match against Lesnar will be a fair test because if he doesn't win the match he will be seen for the first time as someone who failed to achieve his goal, unless WWE chooses to protect him with a DQ finish or a count-out or some other antic.
The worst case scenario for Strowman is Rusev. Rusev debuted and was booked as a dominant force, until he was beaten regularly by John Cena, and then all of a sudden he was unable to retain any momentum. Quickly he just became another guy on the roster and that aura was zapped from him. Look at any other wrestler who entered (or returned to) WWE as a monster heel; Mark Henry, Umaga, Big Show, Earthquake, The Great Khali, King Kong Bundy, etc. The story is almost always the same; the guy comes in, gets built up and gets over, loses to a top babyface and then struggles to remain the same, dominant force.
Strowman turning into a babyface may help him in this regard; fans will be more forgiving to a babyface who loses the occasional match than a monster heel. The pattern should really be how WWE maintained The Undertaker's popularity over the years. The Undertaker came into the company as a heel, but shortly after getting a push he became a babyface, partially because it is fun to root for a dominant star and partially because his character was so damn cool. Strowman is obviously not as talented as The Undertaker, but Undertaker proved that your character can be built on invincibility and maintain that aura for years and years, even if you lost the occasional big match.
Strowman's rise through WWE has been one of the biggest success stories the company has had in recent years. Through improvements he has made in the ring and consistent booking practices, Strowman has gone from being a bore to being often the best thing on RAW each week.The future remains in question, but Strowman has provided enough interest that he is already worth the time they invested in promoting him as a monster. I have no idea if WWE will be able to maintain that interest for the forthcoming years; but it has already gotten him a lot further than I originally imagined.