In a year that many of us would prefer to forget, WWE have been determined to soldier on through shows at the empty Performance Center, and more recently, the WWE ThunderDome. For the Red brand of Monday Night RAW, the main event picture has been painted easily.
From the moment Drew McIntyre defeated Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania to become WWE Champion, the goal was simple: make McIntyre a legit main event star. Just queue up creditable names, and have him knock them down. Whist building a revitalised Randy Orton to challenge the Scottish superstar has inevitably led to their current feud.
In contrast, the Blue brand of SmackDown and its WWE Universal title has had a rough year. ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt reigned as champion until he was quickly defeated by WWE Hall of Famer Goldberg at Super ShowDown in Saudi Arabia.
On paper, Goldberg vs Roman Reigns was a WrestleMania worthy match but the latter would pull out due to COVID-19 concerns. Braun Strowman was inserted at short notice and would defeat Goldberg in a forgettable match.
Strowman’s 141-day reign wasn’t plain sailing. His feud with Wyatt took some unusual twists, leaving fans confused and disinterested. By the end of their feud at last month’s SummerSlam, the face dynamic of Strowman and Wyatt’s heel character had swapped over. A returning Reigns would ideally have helped the babyface side of SmackDown’s main event scene but the new Universal Champion has now aligned with Paul Heyman, being presented in a more serious, edgy way.
Clearly, WWE have booked themselves into a corner. While the new direction of Reigns is welcomed, the lack of worthy challengers is a cause for concern. As SmackDown heads into the autumn and with a heel Roman Reigns as champion, who is worthy of challenging him? Let’s examine the potential contenders.
‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt
If the piped-in cheers are anything to go by, then ‘The Fiend’ is meant to be in our good books now. Yet his characteristics don’t exactly call for him to be adorned by the WWE universe. Sure he might push good merchandise numbers, because these things matter right, Vince? But he’s still a twisted, untrustworthy and evil character.
While Firefly Funhouse Bray didn’t come across as all too concerned about losing the title at last week’s SmackDown. He’s more excited about a new friend (could that be Alexa Bliss?) joining him this Friday. It seems we won’t see Wyatt challenging Reigns soon.
For years, fans have been calling out for Big E to return to regular singles action. With his fellow New Day brothers, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods, out of action, the former Intercontinental Champion is going out alone. With a charismatic personality and as an in-ring powerhouse, Big E has the potential to step up to taking on Reigns, but is it early?
Reigns has only just become Champion, and defeating E at this stage would damage him in the longterm. His current feud with Sheamus is a good fit for Big E for the time being. It allows him to (re-)establish himself as a singles competitor by taking on someone with plenty of credentials in the Irishman.
The four-time WWE Champion is an easy fit to take on Reigns. He’s got the main event experience to match and would be a perfect contrast to Reigns’ stern demeanour. However, we haven’t seen him since June. Understandably, the ongoing pandemic and becoming a father for the second time has meant Bryan hasn’t been on our screens.
Although Reigns vs Bryan would main-event any card, it’s surely fitting for a Survivor Series or Royal Rumble. In short, Bryan is the perfect person to fill the babyface void, but just not yet.
So who saw this coming? A tag team specialist, Jey Uso unexpectedly found himself in a number one contender Fatal 4-way this past Friday and won. With brother Jimmy on the injury list, we’ve hardly seen Jey in recent months so to suddenly see him taking on his cousin for the Universal title at Clash of Champions later this month was a surprise to many.
It’s undoubtedly early days and it’ll be interesting how they shape Jey as a credible challenge for Reigns. Unfortunately for him, he’s being set up to be someone Roman can beat to get over his selfish heel ways. And what better way than beating your close-knit cousin mercilessly. Sometimes winning gold is more important than family.
The enigmatic enigma Jeff Hardy is a WWE veteran with both singles and tag titles to his name. A bonafide fan favourite for his daredevil attitude, Hardy would be a worthy competitor for Reigns. Another run as a World Champion would solidify his road to redemption.
However, having only just become Intercontinental Champion for the fifth time, it’s clear Hardy’s focus is elsewhere. The potential of a Triple Threat with AJ Styles and Sami Zayn could prove to be very entertaining.
‘The Monster’ has only just turned heel; angrier and with a newly shaven head, yet knowing how WWE’s creative can be, it’s not out the question for Braun to turn up as a good guy once again.
Whether or not he’s good or bad, it’s unlikely fans will want to see Braun in the main event picture again so soon. Sure, he has a lengthy reign as Universal Champion to his name but a break from TV would be good for both Braun and fans.
One of SmackDown’s fastest rising stars, Matt Riddle, has quickly made an impact since arriving on the blue brand this past summer, defeat names such as AJ Styles, Sheamus and King Corbin. The flip-flop wearing bro might have a charismatic and carefree attitude outside of the ring, but once he’s in the squared circle, he becomes a superior technical wrestling wizard with devastating strikes.
Admittedly, the main-event spot might be a little too early for Riddle. A possible encounter with Reigns has potential while promo battles with Paul Heyman would also make for great entertainment. Nevertheless, the bro might quite not be ready to run the show.
A WWE RAW or NXT Superstar?
At the time of writing, I’m unsure if a WWE Draft will take place, but if the rumours are true, then we can see the dynamic of Monday Night RAW, Friday Night SmackDown and NXT being shaken up in the coming months.
The prospect of a RAW or NXT superstar stepping up to Reigns gives us plenty of options. From the Red brand, names such as Rey Mysterio and Kevin Owens quickly come to mind. Keith Lee is said to be highly thought of too.
As for WWE’s third brand, the main-event picture is suffering from a similar issue to SmackDown with Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole (and the injured Karrion Kross) being main-event heels while Finn Bálor and Tommaso Ciampa have been toeing the line of good and bad. However, a move to one of the “main brands” could allow any four of them to change direction.
WWE’s “Clash of Champions” takes place on Sunday 27th September 2020 – Photos and video courtesy of WWE.