At a time when WWE Raw has never felt more lifeless, few full-time stars on the show come across as truly special. However, WWE deserves an ample amount of credit for perfecting its slow-burn build with Braun Strowman as a monster heel.
Once Strowman was separated from his stablemates in The Wyatt Family in the 2016 WWE draft, there was a decent chance that he would flounder on his own. Up to that point, he had been protected via tag team matches, and his limitations in the ring were wisely masked.
However, instead of immediately placing him in a main event-level program, which had been rumored by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Nick Paglino of Wrestle Zone) in the months preceding WrestleMania 32, WWE decided to take a different approach in starting him out in squash matches against unknown talent.
Local athletes had been slowly phased out from programming years ago, but bringing them back benefited Strowman, who was able to showcase his skills as an unstoppable force while not damaging the credibility of another Superstar on the roster.
Any doubts fans may have had regarding Strowman and his future as a singles star in WWE have been put to rest with how he has been used in recent months. With a number of dominant victories under his belt, it's safe to say Strowman has firmly established himself as Raw's most legitimate heel at the moment.
Strowman's first feud came about when Sami Zayn confronted the former Wyatt Family member on an episode of Raw in mid-October. The two then embarked on a collision course heading into Roadblock: End of the Line, where their match had a time limit of 10 minutes.
Although Zayn managed to survive Strowman's onslaught, their match was merely mediocre and failed to stand out from anything else on the card. They resumed their rivalry in the weeks that followed, with Zayn refusing to back down from his archenemy, leading to a blockbuster Last Man Standing match on the premiere edition of Raw in 2017.
Unsurprisingly, they produced the best bout on the entire episode that night by taking the fight all over the arena and battering each other with weapons. In the end, Strowman defeated Zayn in decisive fashion by slamming him repeatedly on the ringside floor and even ambushing him on the stretcher after the match was over.
Only an hour or two removed from that brutal beating, Strowman announced his intentions to win the 2017 Royal Rumble match, which he will be considered a realistic candidate to win. As of now, he has yet to be beaten in one-on-one action, so a title shot either at the United States title or WWE Universal Championship has to be on his radar.
Regardless, his rivalry with Zayn was successful in setting him up to be one to watch in the annual Royal Rumble. If he does fall short of winning the Rumble, he must remain a top priority heading into WrestleMania season.
Other than Strowman, Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho are seemingly the two top heels on Raw. That said, despite being in possession of the Universal and United States Championships, the two hardly come across as threats to Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins in their constant encounters.
Strowman's lack of losses helps, and the way he has been booked over the past six months is an example that thinking long-term is what works. Jeri-KO may be positioned as the biggest bad guys on Monday nights, but a significant amount of damage has been done, and taking the titles off them won't make much of a difference.
WWE has a track record of building up monster heels, only to feed them to conquering heroes such as Reigns or John Cena. And after they suffer their first defeats, they are sent spiraling down the card before becoming comedy acts (see: Rusev).
Strowman likely won't be a mainstay in the main event scene forever, but if nothing else, he is a fresh face. After all, WWE has been in desperate need of a new giant to replace the aging likes of Big Show, Kane and Mark Henry, and it might have finally found one in Strowman.
For as much praise as WWE should receive for everything it has done right with Strowman so far, the coming months will be crucial in determining his value to the flagship show for the remainder of the year and beyond.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a Digital Journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.
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