WWE Raw has covered up the Brock Lesnar-sized hole in its brand with The Shield's high-octane matches.
Over the past few weeks, there has been no sign of the universal champ. Lesnar hasn't appeared on the show since Nov. 13 ahead of Survivor Series. That's the norm for The Beast Incarnate, Raw's sporadically present marquee attraction.
Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, however, have given the show something else to focus on.
The Raw Tag Team Championship chase and the intercontinental title picture have been the center of the red brand's world. The Shield have been the foundation for the show of late, both in terms of storyline and in-ring action. It's been a necessary departure from tradition with Raw's top champion only around part-time.
WWE continued to lean on that formula Monday night when it kicked things off with Reigns in the spotlight.
The Big Dog wanted to extract his pound of flesh from Samoa Joe after The Destroyer attacked him last week. Instead, he found himself defending the IC title against a whiny-but-game Jason Jordan. What followed was a back-and-forth compelling bout.
Independent wrestler and former WWE star Zach Gowen is among those who liked what he saw:
That marked Reigns' third straight hot match. The Big Dog dethroned The Miz the night after Survivor Series. He thrilled against Elias the following week. And he kept his roll going against Jordan on Monday.
His Shield brethren have done their part to keep Raw engaging too.
Ambrose and Rollins took on Cesaro and Sheamus in singles action on consecutive episodes before they tried to reclaim the tag team titles from The Bar in Los Angeles. The main event match boasted a buzzing energy. The bout pulled fans in as The Shield drew oh so close to being champs again.
Reigns' adversary Joe barreled into the ring to cause the challengers to come up short.
Darryn Bonthuys of Critical Hit called the match "a terrific show that saw big boots fly wild and suicide dives aplenty."
Action like that has softened the blow of the Universal Championship being a non-factor. We don't know who Lesnar will face next. There has been little on-air discussion of the contender hierarchy.
The Beast Incarnate doesn't have a defined rival coming after him.
But no matter. Raw has chosen to shift its attention to its other titles, and it's worked.
Reigns' passion for the Intercontinental Championship has come through. Ambrose and Rollins' hunt to wear gold again has compelled. Three former world champs all have clear goals and no shortage of obstacles.
Combine those storytelling basics with a beloved trio and an audience still thrilled about seeing them together again after three years apart and you have more than a suitable replacement for a living, breathing Universal Championship picture.
Lesnar will be back with that prize in hand more often before long as WrestleMania season arrives, but for now, Raw can depend on The Hounds of Justice and their own title pursuits.