It happens in every sport more often than not: The old star overstays his welcome. Think Jordan in Washington, Shaq in Cleveland and Boston, Rice in Seattle, and Favre in Minnesota.
Brock Lesnar with the Universal title.
The Beast Incarnate's current reign over the WWE landscape made sense at first. The rarity of title shots and the far-off-final-boss endgame for wrestlers on the roster made for an interesting dynamic.
Now the Universal champion has held the strap for more than 460 days—and it shouldn't go a day longer.
In the meantime, WWE won big on television deals with USA Network and Fox Sports in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars. Stars have hit on natural upswings and downfalls, and storylines have ultimately sputtered because the final boss at the top of the ladder was never truly within reach.
For context, the longest reign before Lesnar's belonged to CM Punk at the 434-day mark.
Yes, technically a different championship and yadda yadda, but consider this: Punk defended his title more than 150 times overall while Lesnar has defended the Universal Championship 13 times.
That's about half as much as it should be if WWE were interested in doing something other than prioritizing Lesnar.
Braun Strowman was hot and could have taken the championship off him. Samoa Joe had an incredible, believable bout with him after outtalking Paul Heyman (look at me when I'm talking to you). Roman Reigns lost twice in a row, though to keep him looking strong the storyline suggests he should have won at Greatest Royal Rumble.
This has left WWE spinning its wheels. There's nothing wrong with propping up the Intercontinental Championship, but the end game for every person in the Raw locker room should be its top championship.
It's simply not available to them, and for those trying to seek it out like a person lost in the dark, they finally flip a light switch and it's Reigns pinning them so he looks legitimate enough to fight Lesnar again at a later date.
But the later date can't happen. Speaking of the red brand, the big winner in the television deals was SmackDown. WWE even called it the "flagship program" when promoting the agreement with Fox Sports.
Raw needs something to compete. And that something is its top title.
Getting the title off Lesnar by any means necessary isn't just in the interest of wrestling becoming wrestling again. Now it can also serve the dual purpose of making Raw unpredictable and worth sitting through once more.
Maybe Strowman cashes in on an unexpecting Lesnar while Heyman is chatting away. Or he cashes in during some parking-lot mayhem. Or instead of simply vacating it so he can run off back to UFC, he's forced into an open challenge he loses, giving the belt back to the white-hot Seth Rollins.
Fantasy booking aside, an unpredictable end to The Beast's ho-hum reign with repeated wins when it seemed like he'd drop it seems right. It could also spare fans another same old, same old encounter.
This isn't saying Lesnar can't put on a great match when he's actually around because the work and story he can put on has been somewhat forgotten in the repetitive "suplex city" business.
Maybe the lone exception to the above was his disaster of a match against Dean Ambrose at WrestleMania 32, where he was presumably saving his body for a UFC event. Funnily enough, one has to wonder if him showing up at UFC 226 Saturday and reportedly getting ready to return there results in an anticlimactic finale for his Universal reign anyway.
In the wake of WWE's television wins, it almost feels like it's propping up UFC to help out a friend at this point anyway. UFC needs Lesnar. Card after card without star power keeps passing. Bringing on an entertainer breathes a pulse back into the Octagon. The "freakshow" bout, like CM Punk or otherwise, props up the promotion.
WWE doesn't need that.
The cross-promotion worked when WWE needed the help. Now Raw needs the help. Freedom to do whatever they want while locked into a fresh television deal should not mean more of the same while coasting.
Lesnar is the bad guy here, but his lone action is failing to show up and do his job, which WWE is happy to spin into an angle so they get cheers for the guy who eventually takes him down.
WWE is in business if fans are mad at the bad guy. They'll tell you faces and heels don't matter anymore while selling The Beast as the biggest form of the latter possible. But is sacrificing the prestige of a top championship worth that investment? Is it good business and a worthwhile payout if fans are mad not at the actions of a character but simply because a champion doesn't show up?
This is what some call the "Reality Era" and stand behind it as justification. Yes, UFC champions don't defend their titles at every show. But WWE isn't UFC and shouldn't want to be—look at the television numbers alone, or take solace in the fact all of UFC's biggest stars would eventually rather go to WWE anyway.
Trying to capitalize on Lesnar's connection and add legitimacy made sense, but note the past tense. We're talking about a Universal title with the following resume:
- Finn Balor (22 hours)
- Kevin Owens (189 days)
- Goldberg (28 days)
- Brock Lesnar (460 plus)
WWE missed the sweet spot. If the goal was making the title respectable and using Lesnar's dropping it to crown the next big thing, the door slammed shut long ago.
But WWE has received a get-out-of-jail-free card with recent developments. The championship no longer needs to kick off a new era for one superstar. It doesn't have to change hands at a massive pay-per-view event when so little of its business is now tied to the archaic acts.
This is all wishful thinking, of course. The hope is WWE has some master plan with Lesnar, no matter how much it has seemed like everybody involved is asleep at the wheel. The company might have fresh ideas for another tired UFC crossover with The Beast, but it's never been more apparent that the title has to come off.
The "how" of Lesnar dropping it, more than ever before, could help get WWE and its future stars back on the right course. Maybe it's not how the powers envisioned this unfolding, but the reign can still have a meaningful ending—no matter how abrupt and on what program.