WWE's Stomping Grounds main event between Seth Rollins and Baron Corbin for the Universal title was one of the oddest mixes of good and bad the company has put out in a while.
But there is one thing everyone can probably agree on—the lack of Brock Lesnar was strange.
Lesnar has been a mainstay on WWE programming ever since winning the Money in the Bank briefcase, which lent some weight to the idea he would be around more often. Not only have ratings been taking a hit lately, he had another retirement from MMA. He and Rollins have traded violent exchanges and Lesnar lost the most recent one, so it would have only made sense if he struck during Stomping Grounds.
And it's not that it was all bad. Corbin had a heelish stroke of genius by announcing Lacey Evans as the special guest referee (even though the crowd was audibly chanting "this is stupid"). She's been embroiled in a feud with Becky Lynch who—by the way, if the announcers didn't shove it down viewer's throats enough—is dating Rollins in real life.
It was fun from there, though painfully predictable.
Make no mistake—the match itself was meh territory. Maybe it wouldn't be if it wasn't yet another rehash of a match found on regular programming, from pay-per-views to cable broadcasts. Rollins got the upper hand after taking a beating, some shenanigans swung it back the other way.
But the fun stuff in between was enjoyable enough. Evans kept changing the rules of the match as Corbin was in danger of getting counted out or disqualified. She also pretended to injure her arm on the way to slamming the mat for a three count in favor of Rollins, which was a stellar callback to earlier in the night when she tapped out via submission to Lynch on that very same arm.
Those fun bits had to give way to groan-worthy predictability, though. Evans slapped Rollins twice, then hit him with a low blow. That finally summoned Lynch to the ring, resulting in a beatdown of Evans, a Rollins reversal and a retained title.
Which is odd, given the tradeoffs the two have had lately. Lesnar capitalizing on Evans the referee and a match without rules would have been the perfect time to strike. Even after the match after the beating Rollins took in a brutally unfair match would have made sense.
So in the end, the swerve surrounding the mystery referee was it served as a way to further loop in Rollins and Lynch's real-life relationship into television storylines and the admission that maybe Lesnar won't be around for the foreseeable future.
Which again, is strange. WWE just had a pay-per-view in Saudi Arabia that didn't exactly go over well with fans and no titles changed hands. Going into Sunday night, it was reasonable to expect at a pay-per-view like Stomping Grounds that no titles would change hands again. It would make sense, then, to reinforce the idea that anything can happen at any major event by having Lesnar show up, right?
For the record, this isn't saying the Rollins-Lynch relationship shouldn't be used here and there. WWE has never shied away from using real-life pairings for storyline purposes. Some have been terrible, some have been just fine. This one so far has been great, as they're simply portrayed as friends who take care of business. As long as it doesn't spiral out of control from there, great.
But whether this can serve as a fill-in for an absent Lesnar is tough to predict. And where WWE would go from here as far as opponents for Rollins is hard to say, too, as there aren't a ton of credible other challengers right now. Sunday felt about as creative as it's going to get for any Corbin involvement.
Barring something unexpected, the main-event scene could end up suffering if the threat of Lesnar isn't serious in the coming days and weeks. From a character standpoint, it doesn't make sense that he didn't see the opportunity and stacked deck Rollins had to face in the first place.
Maybe WWE didn't envision Stomping Grounds as the final destination when throwing the briefcase at Lesnar. But him not even threatening and merely becoming an afterthought throughout the night was odd, too, and hints at a potentially mediocre direction for the company's top title.