The World Wrestling Entertainment draft in July 2016 was the turning point in the career of Braun Strowman. The purpose of the draft was to split up Raw and Smackdown talent into two because it would make each show feel important since talent would only appear on one show rather than both. Since WWE’s roster has well over 100 people, it made sense to split them up.
A lot of big names went high in the draft including Seth Rollins (#1), Dean Ambrose (#2), Charlotte Flair (#3) and Roman Reigns was “only” #6 because it came at a time when he was suspended for a Wellness Policy violation. Otherwise, he would have been first. However, the biggest steal of the draft was when Raw picked Braun Strowman at #48 in the 59-person draft.
Here’s a list of some questionable names picked ahead of Strowman: Titus O’Neil #20, Golden Truth (R-Truth & Goldust) #31, Sin Cara #38, Jack Swagger #40, The Ascension #41 and Summer Rae #44. I don’t mean to pick on them as being below average performers because anybody in WWE is pretty good, but clearly Strowman has outperformed them and nearly everybody else in the 16 months since the draft. (Strowman was barely ahead of Eva Marie by three spots! Way to go, Braun.)
This isn’t like a sports draft either. Obviously, WWE is in a different realm of entertainment because it’s a scripted show where they can do what they want instead of having competitive matches to determine winners. However, what the draft does show us is how they viewed certain talent back in July 2016.
I was optimistic about the Strowman pick when it happened, as I wrote when I analyzed the draft here on The Comeback:
“In terms of long-term main event potential, he’s way ahead of a lot of people picked in front of him. Since he’s on the show opposite of Wyatt Family leader Bray Wyatt, he’ll be on his own. WWE boss Vince McMahon likely loves him since he’s so tall, so they’ll probably give him a shot to see what he can do in the near future.”
Considering he main evented a PPV (Payback in April 2017) less than a year after the draft, I think I was right about his main event potential.
From Wyatt Family beginnings to a man seeking competition
Strowman, a 34-year-old named Adam Scherr and former Strongman competitor, debuted on the main roster in August 2015 as part of the Wyatt Family. He originally signed with WWE in May 2013, spent over two years developing at the WWE Performance Center and WWE kept him off NXT television because they wanted him to start on the main roster when he was ready.
As part of the Wyatt Family, Strowman was often protected. When the team took part in tag team matches, it was usually Erick Rowan or Luke Harper who would get pinned. That’s because WWE knew of Strowman’s potential and didn’t want fans to think of him as a loser. Strowman rarely talked when in the Wyatt Family because Bray Wyatt is a great talker who handled that most of the time.
From the moment Strowman appeared, I thought he could be something big because he appeared to be more athletic than most 6-foot-8, 380-pound guys. It’s not like when a guy like Mason Ryan debuted as part of Nexus earlier in the decade and fizzled out quickly. Ryan was just a body guy who didn’t know how to adapt to wrestling. Strowman has only been in the business for four years and he keeps getting better every time we see him.
When Strowman became a singles wrestler on Raw, it was a chance for him to develop as a performer. That led to him winning squash matches in under two minutes week after week for several months. You probably remember the most famous squash match against James Ellsworth, who gained notoriety for his unique look and even worked for WWE for a year until he was recently released.
I thought the run of Strowman beating enhancement talent (or “jobbers”) went on too long. They put him in a brief feud with Sami Zayn where Zayn survived 10 minutes against him in a match, but otherwise it was Strowman dominating Zayn all the time.
The moment I thought he would rise to the next level was at WrestleMania this year. At Fastlane one month before, Strowman had a competitive match with Roman Reigns (more on him shortly) where he came up a bit short, but also proved he belonged in the ring with a top guy.
Instead of putting him in a featured match at WrestleMania 33 that he should have won, Strowman was part of the Andre the Giant Battle Royal on the Kickoff Show. Remember this was a seven-hour show counting the Kickoff Show, so he wasn’t even on in the last five hours of the show. In my preview of that event, I wrote: “If they don’t put Strowman over, I’d be very surprised.”
Not only did Strowman not win, he was barely a factor in the match and made to look like a loser. The winner of the match was Mojo Rawley, a tag wrestler on Smackdown who loses about 90% of his matches — or at least it seems that way. Way to push Strowman at the biggest show of the year, WWE. Brutal booking.
The rivalry with Roman Reigns helped both men
Strowman went from having no significant feuds on the Raw brand to suddenly being pushed to the forefront as the main rival of Roman Reigns, who was the biggest “face” on Raw. I put face in quotes because normally that face would get cheered all the time by the fans (like current WWE Champion AJ Styles). But Reigns gets booed more than most of his opponents. It’s a weird period for WWE, that’s for sure.
Strowman and Reigns wrestled at three Raw brand PPVs this year (Fastlane, Payback and Great Balls of Fire) with Strowman winning at Payback and Great Balls of Fire, which was an Ambulance Match. They were also part of the SummerSlam 2017 main event in a 4-Way with Brock Lesnar and Samoa Joe that saw Strowman beat up Lesnar, but Lesnar ultimately came back to win by pinning Reigns. In addition to those four PPV matches, they also had several matches on Raw including a Last Man Standing and Steel Cage match. They also wrestled dozens of times usually as the main event of live events this year too.
A lot of fans think that Reigns is protected by the booking more than anybody, and in a lot of ways he is, but Strowman has defeated Reigns in televised matches more than Reigns has beaten him. That shows how much WWE values Strowman if they aren’t willing to have him put over Reigns like nearly everybody on the roster other than Lesnar.
Give WWE credit for going out of their way to make this seem like a more personal feud. They had a lot of cool moments in backstage scenes such as Strowman attacking Reigns while he was on a stretcher, Strowman tipping over an ambulance (the magic of television helped) and Reigns committing vehicular assault on Strowman, who ended up walking away fine.
In August 2017, Strowman praised Reigns heavily in an interview with CBS Sports:
“Roman Reigns is, if not the best, one of the best performers in the world, hands down. I don’t care what anybody says. He does it night after night, and it doesn’t matter who he’s with, they tear the place down. Lately, it has been me and him blowing the roof off the arena on every place we walk into on God’s green earth.”
“That’s the thing that people just don’t get and that’s the work ethic behind Roman Reigns. He’s just a tough S.O.B. I’ve spent so much time in this program, just nailing him and nailing him, and whether it’s stubbornness, stupidity or heart, he just keeps getting back up, which just keeps giving me a reason to knock him back down.”
I think this feud has been excellent and is arguably the best WWE feud of 2017. If it’s not first, then it’s in the top three. When I write some sort of awards column in the next month, I’ll certainly be praising this rivalry for how fun it has been. The key to a successful feud is that it must benefit both participants. We must be able to look at the rivalry and ask ourselves if these guys are in better places today than they were when the feud started. It’s true in Strowman’s case, while Reigns is still in the top guy position he has been in for the last few years.
Big Show and Brock Lesnar played crucial roles in the development of Strowman
The rivalry between Braun Strowman and Big Show isn’t going to be remembered as the best of 2017, partly because they didn’t have a singles match on a PPV, but they had three better than average matches on Raw which put over Strowman in a big way.
I recall not being excited about their first match, yet after 15 minutes of action I was so impressed by their willingness to do anything to have an exciting match. The ring collapsing match in April was memorable because of the ending. By the time they had the third match which Strowman won in a steel cage, I was genuinely impressed. Show did a fantastic job of putting over the giant of the future who’s a decade younger than him.
In Lesnar’s case, Strowman targeted him after WrestleMania. Unfortunately, an elbow injury sidelined Strowman for a bit and delayed their feud originally scheduled for July, but it turned out just as well.
Strowman’s performance in the SummerSlam main event was incredible. As I mentioned earlier, Lesnar beat Strowman, Joe and Reigns in an exciting 4-Way main event (one of my favorite matches this year), but it was really Strowman who stood out. That’s because Strowman gave Lesnar two Running Powerslams through two announce tables and each time it happened, the crowd went wild. They loved it.
When Raw held their No Mercy event in September, it was a no-brainer for Lesnar to defend the Universal Championship against Strowman. Anticipation was high among fans because it was a nice test to see how much Strowman had developed.
Sadly, the match was a disappointment. They only got nine minutes and there really wasn’t a point in the match where people thought Strowman might win. Lesnar only needed one F5 to put Strowman away, which made Strowman look weak because you would think a guy needs to do another finisher to beat a “Monster Among Men” like Strowman. However, WWE wants to protect Lesnar’s F5 and not have people kick out of it, so that’s partly why Lesnar won easily.
Going into the match at No Mercy, I thought Lesnar winning was a lock, but I really think Strowman should have won. If WWE is so deadset on doing Lesnar vs. Reigns at WrestleMania, they still could have gotten there by having Strowman win the title at No Mercy in September, Reigns or Lesnar winning at the Royal Rumble and then go to Reigns vs. Lesnar from there. The main reason WWE didn’t want to do it is because they want to give Lesnar a one-year title reign from WrestleMania to WrestleMania.
Ever since the title loss at No Mercy, Strowman has been booked like a monster while starting up a feud with Kane and having a lot of success at Survivor Series as well. We know Kane’s role will be similar to Big Show as a veteran “giant” putting over the younger, but what else is there? Let’s explore.
Here’s what WWE is LIKELY to do with Strowman from Survivor Series until WrestleMania
The Survivor Series main event earlier this month saw Braun Strowman and Triple H as survivors for the Raw brand against Smackdown. Strowman was dominant in the match, beating Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode and Randy Orton for his team. Triple H nearly turned on him, but then he hit Shane McMahon and pinned him to win the match. Strowman told Triple H not to play games with him. Triple H tried a cheap attack, Strowman hit him with two Running Powerslams and left to a big ovation. It’s obvious where all of this is going.
Strowman will likely feud with Kane on the Raw brand in December and into January heading into the Royal Rumble. There isn’t a Raw PPV before that, but I expect them to have a TV feud similar to Strowman vs. Show and Strowman should win his matches against Kane.
During the Royal Rumble match, Strowman will likely be dominant from the moment he gets in there – most likely near the end of the match. He will probably make it to the final four when Triple H will show up, attack him as a surprise and eliminate him from the match. I don’t have a Royal Rumble pick right now, but if WWE goes with Roman Reigns like they did in 2015 (also in Philly for 2018), then that would be a big mistake. I hope it’s Shinsuke Nakamura.
That attack from Triple H at the Royal Rumble would set up a WrestleMania match with Strowman getting revenge in his first singles match against the villainous WWE legend and on-screen Chief Operating Officer, Triple H. The company would say it’s one of the main events of WrestleMania, but it won’t feel as big as the Universal Championship (likely Lesnar vs. Reigns) or the WWE Championship match. After Strowman wins, WWE will call it the biggest win of his career because it’s at a WrestleMania and he hasn’t won a title before.
Triple H putting over Strowman would follow a pattern similar to the last two WrestleManias. At WrestleMania 32 in 2016, Triple H put Reigns over for the WWE Title and the crowd booed Reigns. At WrestleMania 33 earlier this year, Triple H put over Rollins in what was just an average match. Now Rollins is a tag team wrestler, so is he really in a better spot after that feud? I don’t think so. Triple H at 48 years old is more than happy to put over the younger guys because it gives him a big match at WrestleMania every year.
That’s what is likely going to happen, but it’s not what I want.
Here’s what WWE SHOULD do with Strowman from Survivor Series until WrestleMania
The win by Strowman at Survivor Series was a smart move to do in terms of elevating him to the next level. I thought Kane would eliminate him from the match, but putting him over is smart because of where they can go with it.
Like I wrote above, using Kane to keep Strowman busy through the months of December and January until the Royal Rumble is the right move. What I’d do with Strowman at the Royal Rumble is try to stack the deck against him.
Strowman vs. Triple H doesn’t have to take place at WrestleMania. They can do it at the Royal Rumble. Let’s say Strowman is in some big match on Raw on January 8 or January 15. Bring Triple H back as a surprise, have him attack Strowman (maybe Kane joins in too) and say that Strowman is injured or something along those lines. The next week, announce Strowman vs. Triple H and the winner of that match gets to be in the Royal Rumble.
At the Royal Rumble on January 28 in Philadelphia, have Strowman beat Triple H clean in a violent, physical brawl that’s a Street Fight or some other stipulation. Make it look like Strowman is too exhausted to be in the Royal Rumble. During the Rumble match, have Strowman enter at #28 or something like that. On his way to the ring, Triple H can attack to weaken him even more. Somehow, Strowman gets back in the ring and ends up winning the match. Imagine if he beat Reigns to win? Fans in Philly hate Reigns and Reigns is Strowman’s biggest rival, so having Strowman beat him to win would be an awesome moment.
(I’ll admit that some of the booking above was lifted from the 2001 Royal Rumble, but that’s because it worked so well back then.)
The win at the Royal Rumble means that Strowman gets to face either the Universal Champion Brock Lesnar or WWE Champion AJ Styles. Since Strowman is a Raw guy, he can go for Lesnar and talk about how he had something to prove after Lesnar beat him at No Mercy. Keep in mind that Lesnar would be Universal Champion for one year going into this, so fans see Brock as a dominant champion.
I should point out here that last March, there were reports that WWE wanted to do Lesnar vs. Reigns for the Universal Title at WrestleMania 34 next year, so it’s been the plan for a while. That doesn’t mean WWE has to stick the plan because we all know they like to change their mind.
The insistence of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon to put Reigns in another WrestleMania main event is silly considering he main evented the last three. Four in a row? Really? It’s not necessary. The crowd response for Reigns is better these days because of the reunion of The Shield, but it’s not like fans are clamoring for him in another main event. I don’t even care who they put Reigns against at WrestleMania. I’m not a Reigns hater either. I just want common sense to prevail and for Strowman to be in that spot because he deserves it more.
The reason WWE wants Reigns in that spot is because he’s more marketable to children as a smiling face that does the right thing like John Cena has been for the last decade. With Strowman, he’s seen as a “Monster Among Men” and kids may fear him. That’s the main reason why it’s Reigns in that spot and no change in sight. I hope there is change, though, because it’s needed.
What I want is this: Put Strowman in the main event of WrestleMania against Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship.
The fans support Strowman more than anybody on Raw. Win at Survivor Series, win the Royal Rumble and win the Universal Championship in the main event of WrestleMania. It would solidify Strowman as a top guy while the future of 40-year-old Lesnar is in question because nobody knows if he wants to keep wrestling past next year.
It’s an easy story to tell because WWE can talk about how Strowman has run through everybody in his path except Lesnar at No Mercy last year, so in order for people to really buy in to Strowman as a big deal, he must beat Lesnar. Beating Triple H doesn’t accomplish anything because he’s just an older wrestler who loses to younger guys at WrestleMania. Lesnar is the bigger star and the guy seen as unbeatable.
They also can play off the No Mercy match at WrestleMania. At No Mercy, Lesnar hit one F5 and beat Strowman. If Lesnar hits an F5 at WrestleMania, people will think that’s it, but when Strowman kicks out it should blow the roof off the Superdome in New Orleans. Have Strowman kick out of another F5 and the people will love it more. Let them have a wild brawl that sees them break tables and make it feel like a fight. That’s what people want to see. In the end, Strowman should win and he will go from a developmental signee in 2013 to WrestleMania main eventer in 2018. Not a bad story to tell at all.
The booking of Strowman from the July 2016 Draft to the present day has been very good. I would call it brilliant if he wins the Royal Rumble and the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 34 next year. Will it happen? If I was a betting man (and I am), then I would say no, but I sure hope I’m wrong on that one.