For the first time since his July 22, 2007 Great American Bash match with then-WWE champion John Cena, it feels like Bobby Lashley is about to win the most prestigious prize in sports entertainment.
And the timing could not be any better—at least for Vince McMahon's pro wrestling empire and its flagship show.
WWE Raw has struggled to create new stars over the last year, leaving lead babyface Drew McIntyre to battle both retreads and competitors just outside the main event scene, all while trying to establish himself as the face of the red brand. The Scot even faced—and defeated—Lashley at Backlash in June.
However, The All Mighty is a different competitor now. He is driven, focused, and ferocious. He is unwavering in his quest to accomplish a goal that started 16 years ago with his on-screen debut for WWE.
That determination has helped him develop into the type of unstoppable Superstar fans can buy as a legitimate threat to McIntyre, a real world's champion and the most dominant ass-kicker on Monday nights.
It's Been A Long Journey
Lashley was a young upstart, enjoying early success as the ECW champion when The Apprentice host Donald Trump chose him to represent the reality television star in a Battle of Billionaires, against Vince McMahon's hand-selected competitor, Umaga.
In many ways, it was the real main event of WrestleMania 23 and an enormously important spot for a young star with less than two years of televised pro wrestling under his belt.
Lashley accomplished what he set out to do, winning the match and joining Trump and special referee "Stone Cold" Steve Austin for a public shaving of Mr. McMahon's head that would, ultimately, give way to a lengthy feud with The Chairman of the Board.
Then came a WWE Championship match against Cena at the Bash pay-per-view that appeared to be Lashley's coronation as the latest top babyface alongside his opponent. The company had, after all, spent all that time building, pushing and promoting him as the top young star in the industry.
Except, Cena won. Decisively. And within a few weeks, Lashley was gone from the company.
There was a short-lived trip to TNA Wrestling, a stop in Bellator for a 15-2 MMA record, and a return to TNA (now Impact Wrestling).
It was in Impact that we started to see a more polished performer. He was faster, stronger, more agile and more confident in his work. It was obvious in matches with Kurt Angle, Bobby Roode, Moose, MVP and McIntyre.
That run is what brought Lashley back to WWE, ultimately. For the second time in his wrestling career, he was a hot commodity and one McMahon saw dollar signs in. Except, once he returned to the company, it was obvious the writing team did not know exactly how to utilize his talent.
There was inconsistent booking, a heel turn, that time he was overshadowed by his own mouthpiece (the great Lio Rush), and the whole Lana-Rusev disaster-piece.
By WrestleMania 36, Lashley was just some guy lucky to have gotten onto the card to put over Aleister Black.
It was in the wake of that show that Lashley teamed with MVP to form The Hurt Business before the later arrivals of Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander.
Along with a dominant United States Championship run and some protective booking from WWE Creative, it helped this dynamic and explosive heavyweight with freakish athleticism return to form and get back to the level of competition he should have been at from the start.
Every Hurt Lock, every Dominator and every victory helped Lashley build momentum to the point that people believed in him in a way they hadn't for well over a decade.
WWE finally pulled the trigger Sunday at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, when he dropped the U.S. title in a manner that did not hurt him and then entered the WWE Championship picture by obliterating Drew McIntyre and setting him up for The Miz to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase.
A win over Braun Strowman in the main event of Monday's Raw and the image of Lashley hoisting the WWE belt overhead after spearing The Miz, amounted to a declaration to the wrestling world that he is back and a serious contender for the first WWE Championship reign of his career.
McIntyre had no readily available, logical opponent for WrestleMania 37 on April 10-11.
That is more of an indictment on the creative team than anyone else for its inability to get a heel ready for that position, but then along came Lashley.
The Hurt Business CEO wasn't shoved down the audience's throat or overexposed. There was no red arrow over his head to signal he was next in line for a title shot. No, he simply mastered his character, kicked ass and is now in a position to be rewarded for it.
As much as the opportunity means to Lashley and his legacy as a performer in WWE, it means equally as much to a Raw brand that needed the spark he brings to the table.
The WWE flagship has lacked a heel outside of Randy Orton who could believably oppose McIntyre. Lashley was not ready the first time he was in this position. He needed The Hurt Business, the string of badass beatdowns and that underrated U.S. title reign to really prop him up.
While he was doing that, WWE Creative continued to milk the Orton feud and threw AJ Styles in there for a month. It booked a Sheamus heel turn it never really had any intention of following up and ruined Keith Lee's momentum right out of the gate—all while looking for that next great opponent for its lead babyface.
What did Lashley do? He consistently impressed as a world-beating midcard heel who finally built enough momentum and credibility to be considered a legit foe for McIntyre.
Sure, The All Mighty still has to get through The Miz on Monday's Raw, but that is more of a formality at this point. The A-Lister cashed in and won the WWE title. It was a nice pat on the back for years of stellar work in WWE.
But this is Lashley's story. He will be wearing that title come WrestleMania in April. He will defend it against McIntyre. While there is no guarantee he leaves with the gold around his waist, it will be the coronation of a former amateur wrestler and Army Ranger-turned-pro wrestling badass.
It's a coronation that looked likely some 14 years ago but is far better timed for right now.
The only question after his journey to WrestleMania 37: How long until he wins it again?