Brock Lesnar and His Universal Championship Cast Dull Shadow over WWE Raw

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterMay 25, 2017

Credit: WWE.com

Only Brock Lesnar's name is a part of WWE Raw right now.

The Beast Incarnate is mentioned by his potential Universal Championship challengers, but he hasn't shown up to survey his kingdom in a long while. He's an abstract entity, a distant figure.

And that is hurting Raw.

It has robbed the red brand of what should be its centerpiece. Lesnar is without a rival, has not issued any violence or even glared at any would-be opposition in weeks. The show has felt less momentous as a result. 

The universal titleholder need not be on every edition of Raw, but today's audiences expect to see the champ on screen more than they are right now.

AJ Styles was the heart and soul of WWE SmackDown as world champ. Current WWE titleholder Jinder Mahal may not be everyone's first choice for that role, but his rise has been the foundation of the blue brand. The WWE title and the man carrying it can now be what the show builds itself around.

Raw hasn't had that luxury of late.

After dethroning Goldberg at WrestleMania 33, Lesnar showed up the next night to gloat. A brief staredown with Braun Strowman followed.

The champ hasn't appeared on seven straight editions of Raw since. And as NoDQ.com's Aaron Rift noted, Lesnar's not scheduled to appear on the show until June 12.

The Payback pay-per-view has come and gone without Lesnar. Extreme Rules will be sans Beast, too. Instead of a universal title bout, the June 4 event will feature a Fatal 5-Way No. 1 contender's match.

Lesnar's absenteeism has become a running joke, even among the men on screen. Finn Balor made fun of it on the latest Raw, for example:

The counter argument is that the infrequency of Lesnar's appearances makes them special. He's a marquee attraction who isn't around each and every night.

There's truth to that. When Lesnar does stomp down that entrance ramp, it's generally a big deal.

The issue, though, is that when he's the promotion's top champion and slides away into hibernation like this, it hurts the show. It's a signal to the audience to tune out for a while. The important stretch of Raw will come later, it says.

And the numbers suggests that the audience is hearing that message.

The May 1 Raw, despite coming the night after a PPV, drew just a 1.99 rating (roughly 2.87 million viewers). As Jason Powell of ProWrestling.net pointed out, "This is the first time Raw has dipped below the 2.0 mark in 2017."

The May 22 edition didn't fare well either. Geno Mrosko noted on Cageside Seats: "This week's episode of Monday Night Raw hit a new low for viewership in 2017, drawing just 2.61 million viewers."

Lesnar's absence clearly isn't the sole reason for these figures, but it has to play a major part. With him and the universal title gone, this stretch of Raw feels transitional, the precursor to the must-watch portion.

There's no need to make Lesnar a workhorse fighting champion who defends the belt at every house show in middle America, but he needs to have more of a presence on Raw.

WWE could show us him training out in the wilderness, Rocky IV-style. He could appear via taped interviews. He should be lurking, an ominous force that hovers over the show.

There isn't a magic number for the right amount of Lesnar appearances, but anything more than once since April would be an improvement.

Former TNA world champion Bully Ray told Busted Open he'd like to see the Beast show up monthly:

As he said, that's not going to happen. Lesnar's contract has severely limited dates. The powerhouse is a part-timer and WWE has to work around that.

With all the buzz he brings and the magnetism he wields, the company has to accept that while he's on the throne, Raw won't be the same. The show will suffer a lack of momentum as we've seen in past weeks.

And unfortunately, an elbow injury has meant there's no Strowman-created wave of destruction to distract us from the champion not being around.