It’s WrestleMania week, with the ‘Show of Shows’ set to take place on Sunday night. Every day between now and the big event, Tom Beasley takes a look at a different element of the build-up. Today, it’s time to examine Braun Strowman’s path to the big night and how he caused a headache for the booking team…
The immensely significant rise of the immensely imposing Braun Strowman was one of the biggest stories in WWE throughout 2017. After debuting out of nowhere in August 2015 as a member of The Wyatt Family, by virtue of his size and his beard, Strowman has risen gradually to the top. In his early days, he was as green as freshly cut grass in the ring and often looked like the biggest kid in the playground, deliberately restraining himself so as not to hurt those who are smaller than him.
That has not been the case since he was drafted to the Raw brand in 2016, gaining a new look and a new character, which saw him punish and defeat numerous jobbers. He continued to be a physically imposing and unstoppable beast until the beginning of 2017, when he embarked upon a feud with Roman Reigns. His matches with Reigns were brutal and unforgettable, with Strowman frequently performing remarkable feats of strength, including tipping over an ambulance with his opponent inside. The unpopularity of Reigns meant that, by the end of this feud, Strowman was essentially a babyface.
The second half of last year saw Strowman repeatedly challenge for the WWE Universal Championship, colliding with Brock Lesnar on several occasions. As 2017 gave way to 2018, the questions began to be raised. What would Strowman be doing at WrestleMania? Strowman is one of the most prominent figures on the Raw brand but, given the fact Reigns vs. Lesnar was already set in stone, there didn’t seem to be an obvious big match spot for him.
Strowman’s remarkable ability to get himself over in the last 12 months has made it very difficult for WWE. They could not just toss Strowman into the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal and the other premiere option – a match with The Undertaker – was already earmarked for John Cena. At one stage, it seemed as if WWE was going to set Strowman up to join the Universal Championship match, particularly after his dominant performance in the Elimination Chamber – pinning everyone in the bout, until he was bested by Reigns.
The solution that WWE has ultimately chosen is a strange one. On the March 12 episode of Raw, Strowman injected himself into a battle royal, in which the winner would go on to challenge Sheamus and Cesaro for the Raw Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania. Despite being only one man in a ring full of duos, Strowman won the bout, punching his ticket to the Show of Shows.
Subsequent weeks have set up the mystery of who his partner will be but, actually, it doesn’t matter. Braun Strowman has turned himself into that most elusive of wrestling characters – an attraction. The mere appearance of Strowman, and the chorus of his trademark roar, is enough to pop even the most drowsy of wrestling crowds. He’s almost certainly the most over performer on Raw and, therefore, a tag team division run seems like a waste of his talents. Six months of toiling away as a tag team champion doesn’t suit Strowman, who is best when he has the opportunity to construct moments.
WWE has fumbled the Monster Among Men in the last few weeks. It betrays the fact that, when he’s not feuding with either Roman Reigns or the current Universal Champion, the company doesn’t seem to have a clue what to do with him. As a result, he has been thrown into a tough position at WrestleMania and one that is almost certainly going to result in a disposable segment that will be anything but memorable. We all probably ought to get ready to hear Big Show’s music. At this stage, it seems inevitable.
Tomorrow: It’s WrestleMania day! Are sky-high expectations going to scupper the WWE Championship match between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura?
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.