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At WrestleMania 36, WWE crowned two new world champions. For both Drew McIntyre and Braun Strowman, it was their first time holding world championships in WWE and what better way to do it than at WrestleMania? Since then though, the two champions have been heading in opposite directions.
While everything looks different due to the pandemic and fans not being permitted to attend the shows, the effort WWE has put into building Drew McIntyre into a major superstar has been remarkable. WWE has fiercely protected McIntyre at all costs, rarely allowing him moments of vulnerability on television. He eliminated Brock Lesnar and went on to win the Royal Rumble, and then beat Lesnar at WrestleMania in dominating fashion. Since then he has been on an unstoppable roll.
Strowman did not have the benefit of getting a monster push on his way to WrestleMania. In fact, Strowman wasn’t even scheduled to win the title until the last minute, when Roman Reigns couldn’t perform on the show and WWE had to audible the title over to Strowman, since the title couldn’t stay on the current champion, Goldberg. So while McIntyre had months of build to get him ready for a title run, Strowman, who had been protected and treated like a big star for most of his WWE run but wasn’t particularly peaking for WrestleMania like McIntyre, was starting from behind.
Since WrestleMania though, there have been some obvious differences in how WWE has handled each man’s title run. Perhaps McIntyre had the benefit of more planning leading up to his run, or perhaps it is the difference between having had Paul Heyman at the creative helm of one show and Bruce Prichard at the other, but McIntyre has been booked extremely well and Strowman simply has not.
A clear difference is the opponents both men have faced since winning the title. McIntyre’s first program was with Seth Rollins, who while at sort of an awkward state character wise, is at least a credible name who people see as a star worthy of challenging McIntyre for the title. The two had arguably the best match of the Covid-19 era in WWE at Money in the Bank and it helped McIntyre continue to establish himself as a great champion.
McIntyre then moved on to feuding with Bobby Lashley. While Lashley hasn’t really done a ton of interesting things since coming back to WWE, over the past month WWE has worked hard at building him into a credible challenger. They had him squash R-Truth at Money in the Bank and had him dominate his opponents on RAW. They gave him MVP as a new mouthpiece/heater to help him and have been pushing his full-nelson finish as a vicious, inescapable hold. This only took a few weeks to pull off, and now WWE has a real, viable challenger for McIntyre at Backlash.
This seems like an easy thing to do, but as we have seen with WWE over the last several years, the company has a hard time stringing together logical storylines over a multi-week period. Lashley wasn’t really a big star one month ago, he lost his match at WrestleMania and looked like a complete idiot in the process. However, partially due to the pandemic limiting their roster and partially due to WWE’s historical failure at creating new stars, the company didn’t have many new options for McIntyre at Backlash. That being said, they have done a really good job getting Lashely ready over the last month.
Strowman has not had the same amount of good fortune. His first opponent was Bray Wyatt, and while there was an obvious story to tell between the two men, it felt too soon to rush Strowman into that kind of angle. The match at Money in the Bank was an awkward affair, complete with puppets running in and Strowman doing a massive dramatic reveal with the black sheep mask. In the end, Strowman squashed Wyatt and Wyatt hasn’t been seen since.
Things only went downhill after that. Apparently completely devoid of any other options for Strowman, WWE came up with the idea of having the heel tag team of Miz and Morrison challenge for the title in a handicapped match. There should really never be a handicapped match for a title, it cheapens the value of the championship and asks all sorts of questions about what would happen if two people won a singles championship.
It also isn’t like Miz and Morrison are a hot team, they lost the tag titles at Money in the Bank and are two guys solidly in the midcard. That being, said it shouldn’t be that hard to at least build a 2-on-1 match for a PPV. You just have the two heels constantly using their numbers advantage to beat up the babyface, selling the heels as a threat to beat the giant babyface, right?
Wrong. Instead of doing any of that WWE decided to have Miz and Morrison pull a bunch of pranks on Strowman. Comedy isn’t bad in wrestling, especially now, we could all use something to laugh about. You shouldn’t do comedy with the world title at stake, again it reduces the value of the championship if everything surrounding it becomes a big joke. It is bad enough WWE is doing a handicapped match for the title, to make it look like the 24/7 championship with comedy being the main selling point of the title match, makes things even worse.
So as a comparison, McIntyre’s two post-WrestleMania opponents have been Rollins and Lashely. One of those guys was already an established name and the other one needed to be built-up a bit, but they were both good opponents. On the flip side, Strowman’s two opponents have been an army of puppets and two guys pulling pranks on him. Who do you think is going to be more over when crowds return?
Part of this does come down to roster depth, and despite WWE having a huge roster full of names who on paper should be capable of credible, main event level work, the reality is that the company doesn’t have a lot of names at that level. Sure, Reigns would be a guy who could be used in that role and he isn’t there. But beyond that, significant damage being done to names like Shinsuke Nakamura, Cesaro, Bobby Roode, Finn Balor, and other performers who in another world might have been booked properly and have credibility to wrestle Strowman, has hurt WWE’s ability to line up credible opponents for the few names who do come across like main event stars.
This also showed the creative difference between RAW and SmackDown, and it might reflect on the amount of focus being put into each show and the capability of the people in charge. After Money in the Bank, both RAW and SmackDown had rosters lacking credible challengers to their big babyface champions. On the RAW side they came up with a plan to build up a heel and executed it well. The SmackDown side created a nonsensical storyline where a tag team would challenge for the title and it would be built around comedy. In that instance, one side clearly understood what they needed to do and the other side didn’t, and that has the two champions headed in opposite directions. Now Heyman is no longer in charge and in theory the SmackDown side is running both shows, and it will be interesting to see what happens to McIntyre moving forward.