Samoa Joe has run away with his opportunity opposite Brock Lesnar at WWE Great Balls of Fire. And what is shaping up to be a one-off showcase—Samoa Joe is currently listed as a steep 17-2 underdog to win the Universal Championship, according to Wrestling Inc's Kevin O'Neal—is suddenly developing into quite the intriguing rivalry.
The legitimacy of both Joe and Lesnar as real-life tough guys has created the aura of a UFC bout. The UFC booking strategy—rife with pre-taped interviews in front of dark backgrounds—is often used for Brock Lesnar matches. But through a combination of Joe's intensity, putting his hands on Paul Heyman and even getting the better of Lesnar in physical altercations, the shootfighting element of this feud does not seem as forced.
WWE was going to have to work hard to get fans to overlook a pay-per-view title that has come under fire. And after a series of entertaining segments for this much-anticipated Universal Championship feud, it's safe to say it almost succeeded.
With a logjam of top stars on Raw patiently waiting to get their shot at Brock Lesnar's Universal Championship, there are many pros and cons of WWE shaking things up and pulling the trigger on a shocking upset in its Great Balls of Fire main event at American Airlines Center on Sunday.
Pro: The Universal Championship Returns to Weekly Television
WWE's viewership has seen violent tumbles in 2017. Things got particularly ugly following the Memorial Day broadcast on May 29, where Raw's rating was the second-lowest in WWE history, beating out only one out of all 288 episodes of the ill-fated Monday Nitro, per Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Wrestling Inc).
Given Lesnar's part-time schedule, he is practically holding the Universal Championship hostage, as WWE's top title—and its biggest box-office draw—is typically off television. The payoff on pay-per-view is usually worth it, having no world champion on Raw for the majority of 2017 certainly hasn't helped the show's declining television ratings. A Samoa Joe win would not only create surprise and shock that would drive audiences to their TVs, it would mean the return of having a dominant world champion on Raw every week.
Con: Lackluster Pay-Per-View Main Events
One of the more intriguing aspects of Brock Lesnar being champion is it could lead to an array of excellent matchups against a variety of opponents. Lesnar matches against Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns have been proven winners, while challengers such as Bray Wyatt, Finn Balor and Braun Strowman present novel matchups and storylines that will churn out fresh feuds.
With thinner rosters during the brand extension era, some combination of Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt has already happened on free TV. Should Joe win the Universal Championship, it will be difficult to get excited about the majority of potential main event pay-per-views against full-time foes.
Pro: Momentum for WWE's Product
This past Friday, AJ Styles defeated Kevin Owens for the United States Championship in a rare title switch at a house show. Booking an equally as stunning upset at Great Balls of Fire that sees Samoa Joe become universal champion will further break the monotony that has plagued WWE in recent months. Creating a feeling of unpredictability will give fans incentive to tune into first-run programming so as not to miss potentially shocking moments.
Con: Brock Lesnar's Mystique Takes a Hit...Again
From November of last year all the way through WrestleMania, Brock Lesnar was extremely generous in allowing Goldberg to defeat him in record fashion. That span also saw Goldberg effortlessly eliminate him from the Royal Rumble match while boasting a 2-0 record against The Beast.
Lesnar never looked more human than during his feud with Goldberg, though he was able to overcome the former WCW star with a thrilling victory at WrestleMania 33.
Now that Lesnar is a world champion yet again, his marketability could take a hit if he lost in his first Universal Championship defense to a major underdog. This would make it difficult to get behind potentially mouthwatering matchups against the likes of Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns.