The Braun Strowman ship is leaving port with speed.
WWE has had a few chances to bump Strowman the extra bit necessary to show he's more than cannon fodder for true top guys like Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar.
Instead, with a silly loss to Lesnar at Crown Jewel and now fixing his attention on Baron Corbin, of all people, Strowman is looking more like a Big Show or a Bray Wyatt than a top guy—a fun side act who will boost the top guys but rarely escape his lane to realize his immense potential.
Crown Jewel showed it well enough. With the Universal Championship vacant after Reigns' departure, Strowman got whipped with a few finishers from Lesnar and flattened without any offense of his own before WWE slapped the belt back on a part-timer.
Not only was it a sloppy match aimed at protecting Strowman while actually making him look soft, but it was also a stunning admission from WWE that Strowman isn't the guy and that the company would rather run off and dump millions more into the Lesnar train.
The stars had seemed to align with the title available, unfortunate circumstances aside. Strowman was doing nothing. The Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins angle writes itself and doesn't need the top belt. With Roman out of the picture, it was the perfect opportunity to start setting up for the future. Strowman can easily shift to a bad-guy role again and help groom a new top star, whether it's Drew McIntyre or somebody else.
Instead, the decision-makers behind the scenes got the Roman news and immediately hightailed it to Lesnar's rural hideout and threw another contract at him.
It almost seems as if WWE is content with having Strowman float in the carnival-act purgatory. He's big and can be mean, but the promotion will also throw him in comedic spots that make no sense for a guy his size. Forget the comic book-esque car flips and other stunts—remember his run with the tag-team titles?
It isn't hard to see the future at this trajectory. He'll be on Big Show island, confusing viewers because every other month he's switching between face and heel roles.
Or even worse, he will assume a Wyatt role.
Wyatt could be booked like the most dangerous person in WWE. He has been in the past. But he's also had nonsensical losses to jobbers and has been the butt of jokes. From where he started, Wyatt has gone from a maniacal, dangerous, from-the-swamps terror to a disgruntled hillbilly who speaks in grandiose terms before living up to his Eater of Pins nickname.
No doubt Wyatt is a strong locker-room leader and one of the best workers in the business. You can tell by the way WWE uses him.
Which is what makes Wyatt's situation so irritating—and what will make where Strowman is heading equally so.
Everybody knows Strowman is talented. Look at what Kevin Owens told Inside the Ropes recently (h/t Ross Kelly of Wrestling Inc): "For a guy who's been doing this for three years and had maybe five matches before he showed up at SummerSlam [in 2015] making his debut, and for a guy that big, he's pretty incredible. His progression has been unbelievable."
Look at recent events. Strowman became the Monster in the Bank and was embarrassed multiple times while serving as nothing more than a crowd-control set piece for Reigns and Lesnar. He then inexplicably turned into a bad guy again so The Shield had someone to feud with, further getting lost in silly side beefs and neutering all of the momentum he had established with fans while acting like a good guy.
There's no going back with Strowman now. He's been whipped by Lesnar multiple times regardless of the excuses about unfair developments that people want to bring up. This isn't some Daniel Bryan chase to WrestleMania wherein Strowman is a believable underdog against Lesnar. He's just a guy who has repeatedly come up short.
Booking Strowman as a champ would take some finesse, but it would be an incredible way to build up the rest of the roster. And a chase, no matter how big or small the Superstar, is only fun for so long before it gets spoiled by a lack of a payoff. We're already at that point with Strowman.
He deserves praise for not becoming something like the next Great Khali and just as much praise for what he could have been given the circumstances. But he can't help that those in charge are, as always, stubbornly set in their ways.
Granted, we could give WWE a pass. Having Strowman's major title win happen at Crown Jewel and forever be associated with Saudi Arabia wouldn't have been the best decision. But that's probably giving WWE too much credit, as the promotion failed to properly pull the trigger on Roman over Lesnar on several occasions and has failed a few times to give Strowman a proper coronation.
Perhaps most frustrating about it all? Strowman can do what someone as huge as Big Show does but even faster. He's a next-generation Superstar unlike anything WWE has seen before in terms of size and athleticism. It could also mean his knees are a ticking time bomb, but WWE should feel content to ride the lightning while it's available.
What's unfortunate is what WWE should be learning from the Reigns situation is that it shouldn't lean everything it has on one top guy. Shooting Strowman to the top when the vacancy opened up could have been the first step to solidifying him and a few others as equals. Instead, the strap is back on a part-time talent, and Strowman, like Wyatt, can't seem to escape the lane WWE has envisioned for him all along.
A Lesnar stand-in aimed at helping build up Reigns, Strowman outperformed his role but isn't being rewarded for it. Make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with a big man who is already 35 following a Big Show-type career trajectory. Wyatt is carving out a nice career for himself as well. But with Strowman, it's unfortunate because he shouldn't be in the same conversation as them.
None of this means Strowman won't have fun moments down the road. But it does mean he might be past the point of no return, just like someone like Wyatt, who at one point seemed to be headed down an Undertaker-esque path. For Strowman, he may be set to become the new Big Show as opposed to something fresh and memorable.