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Since Roman Reigns had to relinquish the WWE Universal Championship in October, the main title in WWE has been in-flux. Brock Lesnar won the championship at Crown Jewel in November and has not defended it since. The title picture has been inconsistent, Braun Strowman was hyped as challenging Lesnar for the title at the Royal Rumble, but was replaced last week by Finn Balor. There is no clear favorite in the Royal Rumble match to win and face Lesnar at WrestleMania, and really this is the most wide-open the main title picture has been this close to WrestleMania in recent memory.
Obviously there are several favorites to be paired with Lesnar, but who would be the best opponent for Lesnar. As I examine some names, I'm looking at three questions:
1. Who could have the most interesting build for a WrestleMania match against Lesnar?
2.Who could have the best match with Lesnar?
3. Who would make the best Universal Champion if they won?
Of course, Brock Lesnar might not even be the champion at WrestleMania, since he does have a title defense against Finn Balor at the Royal Rumble. While giving Balor an upset win would be a welcome change of pace for WWE, I think it's fair to predict that Lesnar will have the Universal Championship at WrestleMania. For the purpose of this exercise, I'm assuming that Lesnar is the Universal Championship at WrestleMania.
Rollins has been reported as being the one in line for a title shot at WrestleMania, but this far away nothing is set in stone. As far as merit is concerned, Rollins probably deserves the championship opportunity more than anyone else on the roster. Working more on the undercard, Rollins as earned the reputation as an extremely hard-worker that has gone out and had a lot of really good matches, buoying some weak cards (especially on RAW) that desperately needed them.
Rollins could definitely have a really good match with Lesnar, and he did have one of the best matches in recent WWE history as part of a Triple Threat between himself, Lesnar and John Cena at the Royal Rumble in 2015. If the goal is to give the people what they want, Rollins is a very safe choice since few fans will deny that he deserves the shot, and since there is no clear and obvious choice, fans should be satisfied with Rollins getting the opportunity.
As much as I like Rollins, I don't think he is the perfect choice though. WWE has really struggled with his character in recent months and he struggles to deliver some of the crappy WWE dialogue. His promo on Monday about just being a "regular guy" was awkward and felt forced, and his rivalry with Dean Ambrose was disappointing. I think he lacks the character that he possessed back in 2015 when he was the Crown Prince of WWE. None of that is really his fault, but I'm not sure this current incarnation of Seth Rollins would be a great champion.
Strowman was originally slated to face Lesnar at the Royal Rumble before he was replaced by Balor, the reason reportedly being that WWE did not want to have Strowman do another job to Lesnar. That looks like a good sign for Strowman, since clearly WWE has bigger plans for him if they are protecting him like that.
Strowman is still popular with fans, but I don't see him as a great opponent for Lesnar. For starters, we have already seen it before; Strowman lost his title match to Lesnar at Crown Jewel and also beat Strowman at last year's Royal Rumble in a Triple Threat that also included Kane, and also lost a singles match to Lesnar at No Mercy in 2017. So Strowman vs Lesnar isn't breaking any new ground and does not feel like a special match worthy of WrestleMania.
Strowman as a Universal Champion would be interesting; if WWE really wanted too they could just have him be an unbeatable champion that squashes his opponents, similar to how Lesnar is booked. That has a chance to really get over and turn Strowman into a larger-than-life character because he does have the natural size to believably pull that off. However, WWE has always seemed reluctant to go all the way with Strowman, as evidenced by his lack of world title reigns. Strowman has always been positioned as a threatening figure that ultimately fails to achieve his goals. WWE could make Strowman an unbeatable monster, but they haven't shown the willingness to really commit to that image.
Since he returned to the WWE main roster, McIntyre has been protected and groomed for a major run. He hung around as an enforcer for Dolph Ziggler before shedding that label, but right now he lacks a significant direction. WWE has protected McIntyre through their booking but unless they find a significant storyline for him fans will begin to lose interest. Putting him on the path to a WrestleMania match with Brock Lesnar would certainly give him that kind of needed direction.
McIntyre does not have the track record in WWE that Rollins or Strowman has, but in some ways that works to his advantage. He has never faced Lesnar in a match before and doesn't have any real storyline baggage that Rollins or Strowman may carry into a match with Lesnar. A lot of fans probably don't have a solid, concrete opinion on McIntyre, so WWE can still really shape that perception by putting him over big. He also could have a really good match with Lesnar, because he can bump and sell more than a guy like Strowman can, but he's big enough to convincingly trade blows with a guy as big as Lesnar.
WWE historically likes to fill out the big WrestleMania matches with iconic names. Drew McIntyre, as good as a prospect as he is, doesn't quite fit that bill. I'm sure that for the biggest title in WWE (which is and always will be whatever world championship is on RAW) Vince McMahon would consider having The Undertaker, Triple H or John Cena in the match at WrestleMania. That being said, WrestleMania also presents WWE with an opportunity to make someone a big star, something they have failed to do over the last several years. If McIntyre were to defeat Lesnar, he could springboard into eventually being an iconic name.
While Rollins, Strowman and McIntyre are the favorites, the field always has a shot to end up surprising everyone and getting the title shot. The most interesting person would probably be Johnny Gargano; having him come up from NXT, win the Rumble and immediately be thrown into a title match with Lesnar at WrestleMania might be the kind of shot-out-of-a-cannon push that WWE needs to do to find the next big drawing card.
That's obviously a long shot; and other names are still in the conversation. Bobby Lashley and Dean Ambrose are candidates but seem a little bit too far down the ladder to surge into a title match at WrestleMania. The part-time names could also end up being a factor, which would be boring but historically that is how WWE has liked to do things. Lars Sullivan's situation is up in the air, but he was scheduled for a monster push so he could be lurking as a dark horse candidate. Maybe Roman Reigns makes a surprise comeback, or The Rock shows up.
Ultimately I think McIntyre is the best choice. His feud with Lesnar and Paul Heyman will be fresh ground for WWE, he can have a good match and if he were to win the Universal Championship it would be a new face for WWE to build around. Eventually WWE is going to have to create new drawing cards to bring people to the product and with his size, charisma and wrestling ability McIntyre checks the most boxes.
Jesse Collings appears on the WINCLY Podcast each Thursday to discuss his latest column. This week, Jesse and WrestlingInc Managing Editor Nick Hausman discuss NXT and WWE's plan of global localization. The discussion begins at the 48:30 mark of the podcast.