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By David Dodgson @DodgeeWriter
As I look back on this week in WWE, there is one standout figure who wrought destruction of a completely unprecedented nature, sending shockwaves through the wrestling world. No, I’m not talking about Kevin Owens beating up Vince McMahon (which, as any fans brought up on the Attitude Era will tell you, is hardly unprecedented).
But even with all the fallout from Tuesday night, it was RAW the night before that stuck in my mind. We witnessed the Monster Among Men Braun Strowman leave Brock Lesnar and John Cena laid out on the mat on the same night. Think about it – when has that ever happened? Brock Lesnar AND John Cena both left helpless at the hands of one man spaced little over an hour apart.
Hard to believe that this is the same Braun Strowman who debuted just over two years ago as the fourth member of The Wyatt Family. Summerslam 2015 was my re-entry point into WWE having not watched regularly for several years. It wasn’t the greatest show but it was enough to draw me back to the following night’s RAW. This was my first time seeing Bray Wyatt in action and when the lights went down and a foreboding figure in a black sheep mask appeared, I thought I was looking at the most powerful stable in current WWE.
Of course, that wasn’t the case. Bray Wyatt and his henchmen have been famously poorly booked throughout their time with the company (that would be an entire series of articles in itself) but with Strowman it was soon clear that he was not ready to hang with the big boys in the squared circle. He was heavily protected in his early run, mainly appearing in tag matches or as a dangerous presence on the outside of the ring.
Much like the group he was a part of, he lacked a decisive edge to make him a threat fans could take seriously. So how did he get from Wyatt Family spare part to main eventing No Mercy? Here are five key factors in the rise of Braun Strowman:
1. The Brand Split
Has anyone benefitted more from the revival of the brand split than Braun Strowman? Separating him from the Wyatt Family was a great move. Bray Wyatt, win or (mostly) lose, is generally positioned in rivalries with upper mid-card guys and Strowman was initially struggling at that level. Keeping him on RAW and sending the rest of the Wyatts to Smackdown gave him a chance to build his own character and identity. It has worked so well that memories of his time as a follower of Sister Abigail are fading fast.
2. The Slow Build
Braun Strowman striking out on his own ushered in a return of jobbers to WWE programming. Infamously, his first match post-brand split was against James Ellsworth (more on him later) and week by week, we saw Strowman wreak havoc against hopelessly mismatched talent, even taking on two or three guys at the same time. For once, WWE made the right moves here. They kept the squash matches going over several months, building the anticipation for his first big programme. By the time he took on Sami Zayn, he was more than ready to start climbing up the card.
3. “I want more competition!”
Strowman’s backstage interactions with Mick Foley went a long way to building up his no nonsense persona. He would repeat the above line week after week with Foley making it clear he had to earn his spot. The first Survivor Series of the new brand split proved to be a major turning point as Strowman earned his spot on the RAW team and proved his worth in the build and the match itself. At Survivor Series, Strowman decisively closed two chapters of his early WWE career as he came face to face with Bray Wyatt and James Ellsworth once again. First of all, he resisted his former master’s attempts at mind control, teasing that he would turn on his own team before smashing Wyatt with a clothesline. After Ellsworth played a role in his count-out elimination, he brutally tossed him from the stage. The whole evening announced Strowman as a potential main eventer.
4. The Big Show and The Big Dog
It was through two rivalries that Strowman would cement himself as a main event level talent. At first, having him in matches against The Big Show may have made fans groan. I certainly expected dull, slow matches as two big guys duked it out (just think back to the recent Big Show-Big Cass matches as an example of this kind of match-up done badly). However, all of their matches have been great to watch. Strowman really upped his game, busting out more agile moves when he was not able to rely on pure power. They, of course, had an epic ring collapse spot and capped it all off with a brutal steel cage match. Much like Strowman’s build, this series of matches was not rushed. They were spaced out enough to be anticipated spectacles in their own right – no weekly showdowns or PPV matches followed by rematches the next night on RAW. Just big matches that had a big fight feel and put Strowman over in a major way.
It was his rivalry with Reigns, however, that really got Strowman over. Starting with his brutal attack costing Reigns the Universal Title at the Royal Rumble and continuing through to their recent ambulance match, this feud was one of the most memorable of recent years. First of all, everyone loved to see the much-derided Reigns getting dominated so brutally. The rivalry also provided some exceptional moments – who will forget Strowman flipping an ambulance with Reigns inside it? Or smashing the door off another? Tossing a prone Roman and his stretcher off a platform? All standout moment of WWE in 2017 that truly established Strowman as a monster.
5. The Wrecking Ball Attitude
This is what the fans really love about Braun. Whenever he turns up, chaos and destruction follow. No-one is safe and he does not care about reputation or stature (only backing down when face-to-face with a legend like The Undertaker just prior to Wrestlemania). He beats up on guys like Reigns and Cena, who are usually protected more than most. He gets to put Brock Lesnar through tables and no-sell a trip to Suplex City. He will take a DQ loss just to inflict pain on his opponent (as he did to Cena last week). Even in defeat, like when he bizarrely lost a dumpster match to Kalisto on RAW a few months ago, he will leave his mark and finish as the one standing tall. He reminds me in this sense of Kane in the late 90s, showing up when he pleases and leaving bodies strewn all over the place.
Strowman has been the break-out star of the last 12 months and fully deserves his spot at No Mercy. He may ultimately fall short of capturing the title this time but you can be sure that whatever the outcome, Brock Lesnar will be on the receiving end of a lot of punishment next Sunday. Strowman will be booked strongly and if he does lose, the whole RAW roster should be quaking in their laced-up boots at the potential backlash.