Brock Lesnar is the WWE Universal champion. He's also not on TV.
Fans knew that was coming, but they nevertheless cheered him on against Goldberg at WrestleMania 33. Whichever man won that night would not be available on a full-time basis, so the crowd had to pick the lesser of two evils.
But the problem is the championship itself is not gaining any measure of importance.
The same thing happened when Lesnar became the WWE world heavyweight champion in 2014. Fans cheered for him against John Cena that night even though Lesnar was the heel in the match. Fans' hatred for Cena managed to override common sense; everyone knew Lesnar would disappear with the title.
That's exactly what happened. As time passed, fans began to complain that the champ was nowhere to be found. How could the company not book Lesnar on TV when a locker room full of Superstars was working to move up the ladder to face him?
Evidently, putting the belt on a marquee star was more important than featuring the title itself.
Fast forward three years, and WWE has once again pulled a fast on the fans. Everyone knows Lesnar's dates are limited, just as everyone knows that both sides must have agreed to those terms to begin with. Lesnar certainly can't be blamed for not working on TV every week, but the company has put him in a situation in which he needs to be on TV every week.
He's the top titleholder, and he's missing in action.
Paul Heyman @HeymanHustle
With this in mind, my client @BrockLesnar and I are "open4business" and we look forward to hearing new, innovative ways for @WWE to .... https://t.co/YtqUs0gyVs2017-4-6 23:10:46
The issue this time around is the Universal Championship. Unlike the WWE Championship, the Universal title has no history behind it. It does not have 40 years' worth of strong champions, amazing matches and all of the respect that goes along with it.
The title is under a year old, and there's been little work done to get it over. But why is that?
Considering the title had an uphill battle in front of it, WWE should have put much more emphasis on building it from the ground up. Fans were not sold on the belt from the beginning, and they had no reason to be. It was a manufactured championship, created only because the WWE title was on SmackDown Live.
Fans were waiting for the company to impress, and they were disappointed. Instead of promoting the title as a highly valuable prize, the Universal Championship sat on the shoulder of Kevin Owens for 188 days and made virtually no progress.
Paul Heyman @HeymanHustle
promote / market @BrockLesnar as the once-ever athlete and performer that has blessed @WWE with his presence. #SuperstarShakeup #RAW https://t.co/DAXXxzKHRY2017-4-6 23:12:10
Owens was booked in a comedy team with Chris Jericho, and the two men were highly entertaining together. Fans loved everything they did, and the best friends were consistently the highlight of Monday Night Raw.
Their run was so good and so fun that it will likely never be forgotten.
But KO's place as the top titleholder was diminished to a large degree because of the storyline. Owens needed Jericho to win so often that fans began to wonder why Owens had the title at all. He certainly didn't need the belt to get over, and the title needed much more than what WWE was giving.
KO was capable of bringing a tremendous level of respect to the Universal Championship, but that never happened. When he dropped it to Goldberg at Fastlane, many fans were more than a little upset.
That likely had nothing to do with the title's standing, however; fans just didn't want to see KO lose it that quickly to a guy who wasn't going to be around that long. It was an understandable reaction, though Goldberg versus Lesnar needed the gold at 'Mania, while Owens versus Jericho did not.
But putting the championship on Lesnar seemed to be a move in the right direction. At least Lesnar was a serious fighter with no comedy to be found. He should have brought instant credibility to the title. He should have taken the Universal Championship one step above the WWE Championship.
Everyone knew deep down that was not going to be the case.
The Universal Championship cannot grow if it's not being defended. The history behind the WWE title cannot be matched, and only time will tell how long the Universal title will even exist. But this is not about duplicating a title's history or trying to measure one championship next to another.
It's about building the Universal title into something that deserves respect. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Dean Ambrose and Braun Strowman are all full-time stars who could grow along with the championship. Fans should look at Raw's red belt as something highly valuable, something that's worthy of the main event spotlight.
But as long as The Beast Incarnate wears the championship, that's likely not going to happen.
The belt will be valuable when he defends it for the first time. It will be even more valuable after he wins and then defends it again. But none of that has happened to this point, and as long as the championship is out of sight, it's out of mind as well.
If WWE truly wants the Universal Championship to command respect, then it should be back on Raw, where it belongs. Until that happens, the title is becoming nothing more than damaged goods.
Tom Clark can regularly be seen on Bleacher Report. His podcast, Tom Clark's Main Event, is available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Android, Windows Phone and online here.