By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
But then last week happened, and any semblance of familiarity with these things was thrown out the window as yet another round of cuts went down. The names this time ranged from expected (it never quite felt like WWE knew what to do with Murphy, even though it also felt like WWE tried its damndest to know what to do with Murphy), to stunning (I would have bet the house that Naomi and Lana would be women’s tag champs within the next six to eight weeks somehow, but with Lana gone, that’s clearly off the table — pun intended).
As I said before, it’s never good when people lose jobs. And anyone out there who thinks these firings should be couched by celebrity or money needs to super-glue their lips together because that’s nonsense. The uncertainty of unemployment is real, no matter if you are working on top of the card or you are ushering people to seats.
Now, with all that said, there was one name on the list of cuts that I think stands above the rest, figuratively and literally.
His is as curious a case as any in professional wrestling today. I’ll never forget when I attended a Raw taping in Pittsburgh a handful of years ago and Strowman had only recently broken away from the Wyatt Family. WWE was positioning him as a monster and, for the first time in what felt like forever, the art of the squash match returned. He came out. Pulverized a local guy. Got his win. Marched to the back.
I was in awe. I was also excited. WWE long ago stopped regularly using squash matches on television to build someone from the ground up. It’s an old wrestling trope that I actually love. Yokozuna was bigger than life by the time he met Bret Hart or Hulk Hogan and that’s partly because I’d see him on “Superstars” every week, Bonsai Dropping the hell out of dudes. The approach has always been simple but effective in my mind. And yet it’s one we rarely see anymore.
That changed with Strowman. So much so, in fact, that by the time he took a step or two up the card, it felt like he had real momentum. These were the days of Brock Lesnar, don’t forget (yes, doesn’t it seem like decades ago?), and Lesnar has been the monster of monsters in WWE, especially after his successful UFC run. To see someone be a viable challenger to Lesnar felt impossible.
Yet here Strowman came, removed from the Wyatt Family gimmick and in full badass mode. He looked menacing, he brought back the value of a powerslam and, by all accounts from anyone who’s ever been around him, this was the prototype for what Vince McMahon loves. It felt like Strowman was beyond poised for success.
But then …
NOT HIS TIME
Well, then, it didn’t happen.
Or, at least it didn’t happen the way anyone thought it would happen. It was SummerSlam in 2017 when, as part of a fatal four-way for the Universal Title, Strowman beat the living hell out of Lesnar. It was amazing. No, really. That’s the only word. Amazing. Strowman put Lesnar through some tables, Lesnar sold it like a million bucks, and this was Strowman’s coming out party. It had to be, right?
I guess not, because Roman Reigns took the pin that night from Lesnar, who retained his title. All was not lost the next month, though, when Strowman received his one-on-one title match with Lesnar. But, wait. Whoops. Nope. Lesnar got Strowman up for an F-5 and all the momentum and good will that Strowman accrued through the previous months felt like it dissipated almost immediately.
From there, it was like purgatory, which is never a good place to be in WWE. There were things that felt like starts and things that felt like stops. He had the most eliminations ever in an Elimination Chamber match … but he also lost that match to Roman Reigns. He finally won a title … but that title was alongside a 13-year-old named Nicholas, and naturally, they had to forfeit the tag titles the next night. He won the first Greatest Royal Rumble match and the Money In The Bank contract … but he was never able to cash it in successfully — perhaps an apt metaphor for his WWE run.
A guy who was so can’t miss … well, I guess he became maybe-miss? It’s a testament to WWE, really, and the inconsistent, sporadic, mostly unfair way that company goes about things. On some level, it felt like Strowman was being protected — but not all the time. They didn’t want to give up on him, but they also weren’t willing to pull the trigger on him in any tip-top meaningful way. Remember: This is the guy the company trusted with celebrities like Colin Jost, Michael Che, and Tyson Fury. And yet they couldn’t even allow him to successfully cash in a Money In The Bank contract.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. And Roman Reigns decided to stay home for a little while. And a legend with a title was looking to lose it.
A PANDEMIC REIGN
WrestleMania 36 was the stage and it was the weirdest stage of them all. Working in an empty gym with a gigantic fan, Goldberg needed an opponent to face what with Roman Reigns staying home due to family and health concerns. Enter Strowman, who didn’t have much else going on. Yet after that fateful night in Orlando, Strowman finally got the belt he deserved to hold four years prior. The problem? This was a pandemic. And all forms of entertainment, in so many ways, were flipped on their respective heads.
And so we got a swamp fight and a falls count anywhere match that ultimately led to him dropping the belt to his former stablemate, Bray Wyatt, after holding it for 141 days. That happened at 2020’s SummerSlam and then at Payback, Strowman took the pin from a returning Reigns, who has held the belt ever since.
So, then what? He showed up on Raw Underground, whatever that was. He was in the final mix at this year’s Royal Rumble, and then, of all things, he was the one to draw the straw that saw him working with Shane McMahon at this year’s WrestleMania — which, from what I understand, is one of the more politically favorable spots to be in because you’re working with a McMahon and it’s at WrestleMania. And in this case, he was even the one showcasing the anti-bullying message that WWE likes to tout every now and then.
Oh, and from there, at WrestleMania Backlash, less than one month ago, he was in a match for the WWE Championship. And that, of course, leads us to one simple, yet very important question …
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
What the hell?
No, but really.
What the hell?
Brown Strowman’s professional wrestling career has been one of the more fascinating ones since he first started training in 2013. Let us not forget the clip of him being a Rosebud in Adam Rose’s clan some seven years ago. This came after he competed professionally in strongman competitions, and from what I understand, was a hell of a softball player. He’s big, but athletic, unique but defined.
Actually, maybe it’s that last combination that proved to be too much for the North Carolinian. While Strowman had intangibles that you can’t teach — height being the most prominent of them — he also very much always felt like a WWE product. And to be fair, that’s probably because he was, well, a WWE product — someone who fit nicely into something, someone who lacked the edge of a guy who worked the indies for ten years, gaining three fans one high school gym at a time, and eventually made it to the big leagues after hard work and perseverance led him there.
That’s not to say Strowman never worked hard. Have a look at his episode of WWE Chronicle, and there’s a definite sympathy he warrants when he’s allowed to open up. If memory serves, that episode outlined how he’s had his share of struggles with mental health in the past, and the story about how he drove to his WrestleMania title win is one that proves without a shadow of a doubt that this guy cares about his craft.
Which then leads to the speculation about why it never really worked. Or, again, to correct myself, worked in the way anyone thought it would work. Could he be a better promo? Yes. Did it feel like he connected with fans 100 percent of the time in 100 percent of the ways wrestlers are asked to connect with fans? No. Was he the victim of shady booking? I think there’s some of that involved.
But at the end of the day, the only real conclusion I find myself drawing is that Braun Strowman deserved better from WWE. You can give me all the budget cut excuses you want, and you’re probably right. But thinking back on that 2017 SummerSlam moment when he absolutely obliterated Brock Lesnar in the first part of that fatal four-way … I mean, wow. Really. Just, wow.
And so what if they would have pulled the trigger on him then? Would that have established him as a household name that could withstand the starts and stops WWE gave him through the years? Would that have been enough to get him over for good in Vince’s eyes to where he becomes untouchable to the creative team and even when the company was looking to save some money, Strowman would have been off limits to cut?
These are questions to which we will never know the answers. And that, friends, is a shame.
So, now what? Well, as it’s been infamously discussed in the last week, Strowman made that ill-advised comment not all that long ago that he would never work for another wrestling company. If that stands remains to be seen. On one hand, I could actually see him sitting it out until WWE comes calling again. On the other … I mean, doesn’t he want to work?
If he does, his options are somewhat limited. Outside of Lance Archer, AEW doesn’t really have huge guys on their roster who are wrestling anymore (Paul Wight and Mark Henry are coaching and commentating — or so they say). The question of if Strowman would be a natural fit there is an intriguing one, indeed. New Japan might make him an even bigger monster than WWE did four years ago, but does he want to go Japan? Then there’s Impact Wrestling, where maybe he could work with W Morrissey – the former Big Cass. Or, perhaps, maybe I’m putting too much emphasis on big guys all together and he could re-brand himself in some way that doesn’t limit the people with whom he can work in the ring.
Either way, Strowman will be 38 years old in September, and while more and more wrestlers are wrestling at a high level later and later in life, 38 is a long way from 28. Plus, for someone who was born and bred in WWE, there might be somewhat of a learning curve if Strowman wants to set out and be part of what’s become a sort of Wild West among other promotions as companies exchange wrestlers on a daily basis anymore.
As for me, I can’t even say that I’m that big of a fan of the guy. That’s no knock on him or anything. Unless he was involved in something particularly interesting, I largely shrugged my shoulders at what I saw (outside of the Nicholas thing — I have a soft spot for that, for some reason, and yes, sue me). Though when it comes to his career and how all of this has gone down since Wednesday, color me intrigued about what happens next for the real life Adam Scherr.
Why? Because, if we are to believe WWE is what WWE has grown to be — and that entails a lot — then things shouldn’t have ended this way for Braun Strowman. Only time can tell if wrestling will be little more than a jumping off point for something else in his life, but if it isn’t, and pro wrestling is swimming through his blood something fierce, his future could very well be one of the most can’t-miss ones this business will see in the coming years.
Or, well, as long as he stays out of swamp fights, that is.