Braun Strowman and WrestleMania: The Monster and Wasted Potential

WWE's Monster Among Men should be a major player, yet Braun Strowman always ends up slumming it at WrestleMania.

WWE Superstar Braun Strowman at WrestleMania

Roman Reigns main-evented WrestleMania four years in a row. While frustrating to watch, it’s still rather impressive considering he was someone the bulk of fans didn’t want in that spot and WWE acted very gun-shy about him on a regular basis. That, and the latter three matches are contenders for worst WrestleMania main event of all time.

But what if there was a wrestler on the roster with star written all over him? Someone who was bigger and more physically impressive than Roman with twice the charisma? Someone who was everything Vince McMahon looks for in a top name while also being beloved by the audience itself? You would think that the company would truly get behind such a wrestler and make him the ace of the company, propelling him with world title reigns and high-profile WrestleMania matches.

Instead, Braun Strowman’s WrestleMania career is…questionable at best.

John Cena and the Rock vs. Braun Strowman at WrestleMania 32

PART I: WRESTLEMANIA 32

Even though he was being built from the ground-up and had no experience on the indie scene, Braun Strowman was a non-factor in NXT. He wrestled a few dark matches and did a couple appearances as one of Adam Rose’s Rosebuds. He was the one who made people think Eugene was back in the company.

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He joined the main roster towards the end of 2015 as the newest member of The Wyatt Family and was made to look impressive as hell in his debut by beating down Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose at the same time. From there, the company definitely had an idea to keep him protected and treat him as a big deal who could be a way bigger deal in the future.

As “The Apocalypse” of The Wyatt Family, he got to stand in the background and play to his strengths. He could crush opponents in the short-term and cut cool promos with his deep, growly voice, but he’d keep his in-ring time limited and never be the one to eat the pin. It was a great idea as long as they kept him away from top names.

So of course, they stuck him with some top names. First came a feud between The Wyatt Family and The Brothers of Destruction to celebrate The Undertaker’s 25-year anniversary at Survivor Series 2015. It was already a nonsense storyline, but having Undertaker and Kane steamroll through four men didn’t do the Wyatts any favors and should have killed Braun then and there.

The Wyatt Family was then meant to feud with Brock Lesnar and battled him at the 2016 Royal Rumble. Still being protected, Strowman wasn’t meant to bump around for Lesnar’s offense and apparently Lesnar didn’t get the memo because he seemed genuinely cheesed off about it and laid into him before eliminating him. Due to Bray Wyatt getting injured, the feud ended before it could go anywhere and Lesnar instead went on to battle Dean Ambrose at WrestleMania.

WrestleMania 32 was the first of the modern-day, drastically long WrestleManias. Braun and his ilk were not announced for any matches ahead of time, including the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Instead, late in the show, The Rock appeared and turned things into a fever dream by walking out and wielding a flamethrower. He did his usual spiel otherwise and The Wyatt Family appeared to confront him. Due to injury, Luke Harper was out of action and they were down to a trio.

Braun hung back as Bray Wyatt spoke for the team and Erick Rowan represented them in an impromptu singles match against The Rock. A match that Rock won in mere seconds. The trio decided to crush Rock regardless, only for John Cena to run out and help his former rival. Braun’s only role in this segment was to get punched back and forth by the two legends until eating a Rock Bottom and vanishing completely.

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The aftermath wasn’t so great, either. The Wyatt Family suddenly turned antihero against heel stable The League of Nations and things looked extremely promising, especially with a badass moment with Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt working as a unit. Then, unfortunately, Bray got injured a few days later. Braun and Rowan worked as a face tag team on the house show circuit, but with The League of Nations imploding and there being no heel stables to feud with, The Wyatt Family returned to being aimless heels when their leader was healthy.

There were a lot of misfires in these opening months for Braun Strowman, but one night brought us a prophetic moment. The Wyatt Family had a brief feud with the likes of Big Show, Kane, and Ryback and one episode of Raw had a main event of Big Show vs. Braun. It was absolutely terrible, as expected, and ended with a disqualification finish. Moments after Raw went off the air, Big Show took part in a live podcast interview with Steve Austin. Early on, Austin asked Big Show of his opinion of Braun.

“[He] has a long way to go, but you know, if he keeps his head right, he’s going to be a player. He gets a little better every day, he doesn’t make the same mistake twice.”

Braun Strowman - WWE WRESTLEMANIA 33

PART II: WRESTLEMANIA 33

The return of the brand split was a godsend for Braun, turning him from an overgrown henchman to The Monster Among Men. He had a new look, a new theme song, and a new catchphrase where he’d yell, “BRAAAAAUNNN!!” like a colossal Pokemon. For months, he would squash jobbers until moving on to work against Sami Zayn in a feud mostly based on The Simpsons gag, “Stop! He’s already dead!”

Braun’s new status quo was that he was this horrifying hoss with no known limit. At Survivor Series, during the Raw vs. SmackDown elimination tag match, he was an X-factor and only lost because of being put through a table and being cheated into a count-out by having a non-participant grab his leg and anchor him. They did a bang-up job building him up, leading to the events of Royal Rumble 2017.

Now, in the Rumble match itself, Braun kicked a lot of ass early on and it took a massive team-up to eliminate him. It’s more about earlier in the night, where he helped Universal Champion Kevin Owens destroy challenger Roman Reigns in return for a future title shot. The eventual Owens vs. Braun match was a stalemate that ended in shenanigans, but it was surprisingly the only match from Owens’ reign that made him look genuinely strong.

This feud was all mainly a plot device to keep Roman away from the title picture for a bit, but even for the next few months, Braun was not the most important thing on Roman’s plate. The end of that Royal Rumble match had Roman show up and eliminate The Undertaker, making it apparent that we were getting Roman vs. Undertaker at WrestleMania.

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So…where did that leave Braun? After all that build-up, he was just a transitional feud to distract us from Roman’s actual big match?

At Fastlane, Roman delivered Braun his first singles loss. In the weeks that followed, Braun was a third wheel in the Roman vs. Undertaker build and it didn’t do him any favors. One rumor is that at one point WWE wanted to have Undertaker vs. Braun, but Undertaker outright refused it.

So Braun did what any wrestler who had nothing to do did. He entered The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. He could have probably saved face by winning it and storywise, he was one of three who really should have won it (the other two being Luke Harper and Sami Zayn). Instead, Braun lasted about two minutes.

They built up how epic a Braun vs. Big Show showdown would be and by the time Braun eliminated his veteran rival, everyone ganged up on Braun and threw him out. This was all so the battle royal could end with Mojo Rawley defeating Jinder Mahal thanks to the help of Rob Gronkowski. For the record, this in absolutely no way helped Mojo’s career.

Around this time, Braun did have a trio of matches against Big Show, the first of which was nearly a year to the day after their disastrous first bout and promising podcast discussion that I mentioned earlier. Braun seemed to have picked up a lot over the year and the two proceeded to have seriously great chemistry that made Braun look like a million bucks.

But in the end, it was really Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker that helped put Braun over the top.

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Braun Strowman - WWE WRESTLEMANIA 34

PART III: WRESTLEMANIA 34

Roman Reigns had defeated The Undertaker and, at the time, seemingly retired him. That made him the most hated man in the company, even if WWE refused to lean into this and still hyped him up as their #1 face. That meant that when Braun reignited their feud by attacking Roman mid-sitdown interview and beating him up over and over again in more ridiculous ways while screaming, “I’M NOT FINISHED WITH YOU!!” the crowd completely embraced him.

The man flipped over an ambulance with his bare hands to injure a man who “retired” a legend. It was Braun’s Austin 3:16 moment.

As their eternal feud continued, Braun appeared to get the better of Roman more often than not, albeit with a few months off thanks to being sidelined with an injury. It wasn’t apparent at the time, but Roman’s increased moments of weakness were part of their longterm plan to get him over. This all led to a SummerSlam main event of Brock Lesnar defending his Universal Championship against Roman, Braun, and Samoa Joe. Even though Braun looked like a killer in this fight and tore through everyone, it ended with Brock retaining via pinning Roman.

It was at this moment that Braun Strowman solidified his purpose in WWE, and not in a good way. If they had any sense, then they would have continued with his momentum and focused on making him their top face. At the very least, they would give him a run with the top title. Not only was he the big muscle golem that Vince McMahon seemingly wants in a wrestler, but the fans seemed to be massively behind him as well. Some say that he could have been the new Hogan and mainstream representative, especially with Cena almost out of the picture.

Instead, it became apparent that WWE wants Braun to be painted as a top guy without actually making him the top guy. They’ll build him up and protect him until it truly matters.

For instance, in September, they did a No Mercy PPV with two matches that not only were WrestleMania worthy, but they were the two of the biggest possible matches in WWE’s repertoire at the time: Roman Reigns vs. John Cena and Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman for the Universal Championship. Why was this on one of the lesser PPVs? Because it was just a stepping stone for a WrestleMania main event of Roman vs. Brock for the title. Again. They seriously wanted to try this plan over again.

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Brock vs. Braun was a bit of a dud because while Brock was able to endure Braun’s offense, it only took one F5 to take Braun out. The idea was to spend the year with Roman barely in the title picture and Brock constantly taking out opponents with a single F5 so that in their climactic battle, Roman could get the crowd pumped by kicking out of multiple F5s. It…didn’t work.

Despite taking a hit to the mystique, Braun continued winning the hearts of the world with his larger-than-life antics. They continued to build him up, such as how he and Triple H won the big elimination tag match at Survivor Series, only for Braun to righteously crush Triple H afterwards. There was zero follow-up. He got another shot at Brock, but it was a triple threat match with Kane and Brock retained via pinning Kane. Finally, they did an Elimination Chamber with seven people and Brock broke the record for most eliminations by taking out every opponent but the eventual winner, Roman. Then he beat him up afterwards to send the fans home happy.

So if Braun wasn’t going to be running to the top of the mountain at WrestleMania, what was he going to be doing? The good news was that for once they weren’t making him look bad at the Granddaddy of Them All, but the bad news was that the tag division was going to be buried hard.

With The Bar as the tag champs, a battle royal was put together to figure out a pair of challengers. Braun entered himself for the hell of it and outlasted everyone. With no partner, he spent weeks torturing his future opponents, both physically and psychologically by withholding his plans for who he was going to have at his side.

People wondered who it could be and when the time came, Braun simply walked into the crowd and hand-picked a nine-year-old boy to be in his corner. Braun and Nicholas (in reality, the son of a referee) proceeded to defeat The Bar and win the Raw Tag Team Championship belts. Then they had to vacate them a day later because Nicholas had school. Cute, but at the cost of the roster’s credibility.

The same WrestleMania had Roman lose cleanly to Brock in the main event. Perhaps the company was finally ready to go in on Braun after all?

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Welp. Perhaps not.

Braun Strowman - WWE WRESTLEMANIA 35

PART IV: WRESTLEMANIA 35

Post-WrestleMania 34, Braun was on fire. He won The Greatest Royal Rumble…even if it was unimportant in the big picture and didn’t lead to any major rewards. He won Money in the Bank in a very dominant fashion, followed by a very one-sided feud against Kevin Owens that allowed him to retain the briefcase.

Then at the end of SummerSlam, it all came crashing down. See, with WrestleMania 34 and Greatest Royal Rumble, the matches between Roman and Brock were driven by the negative crowd reactions. Brock continued to retain because they didn’t want Roman to finally get his long-awaited win with the backdrop of a booing crowd. So how to get them pumped up? Promise a Braun cash-in, that’s how!

Braun appeared before the main event to claim that he was going to cash in against the winner. Near the end of the match, Brock attacked Braun and threw the briefcase to the top of the ramp, taking that aspect off the table. Then Brock walked into a spear and Roman won the title. Gotcha!

That’s fine. Braun announced that he’d cash in against Roman in a Hell in a Cell match. Then Braun went heel again for the sake of getting Roman over as a face some more. Their match was unbelievably stupid, ending with the two being knocked out for about ten minutes so their allies could brawl and do the actual death-defying spots. This culminated with Brock returning, tearing the door off the cell, and beating up Roman and Braun to the point of the match ending in a no contest. Good God…

This was a setup for a triple threat between the three, only tragedy struck with Roman announcing to the world that he had leukemia. Instead, Brock and Braun would face off for the vacant title at Crown Jewel. The match was a bit of a farce as Braun was attacked by Baron Corbin just prior to the start and the match was just Brock landing several F5s until Braun stayed down for good.

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Again, Braun’s shown as tough enough to endure a bunch of F5s, but isn’t allowed to actually win. One would think, okay, that was just a step towards a real, climactic Brock vs. Braun match. That also didn’t happen. Sure, they built towards it a bunch with Survivor Series and other PPVs, but between Braun having an elbow injury and/or the realization that Braun had to lose and shouldn’t have to endure further damage to his character, Braun vs. Brock at Royal Rumble 2019 was done away with.

Instead, Braun got second place in the Royal Rumble match. Absolutely fitting.

Braun’s revenge against Baron Corbin came up fairly empty as well, mainly due to WWE wanting to build up the trio of Corbin, Bobby Lashley, and Drew McIntyre to feed to The Shield. Braun wasn’t even booked for Fastlane.

Braun would go on to win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 35. It was a match built around a feud between Braun and the Weekend Update guys at SNL, Michael Che and Colin Jost. Braun’s pre-show victory meant very little, especially considering the rest of the night was based on the big face title wins for Seth Rollins, Kofi Kingston, and Becky Lynch.

The Monster Among Men felt lost in WWE’s roster in the year that followed. Due to constant roster shufflings, Braun lacked any major programs. The most he had going for him was a feud with the team of Sami Zayn, Cesaro, and Shinsuke Nakamura over the Intercontinental Championship. Once he lost to the three in a handicap match, Braun seemingly fell off the face of the Earth with WrestleMania 36 right around the corner.

But for once, it looks like his near-the-top limbo status is going to pay off. In the lead-up to WrestleMania, the company betrayed their long term planning for unstoppable villain The Fiend by having him lose the title to over-the-hill Bill Goldberg in a random Saudi Arabia PPV match. This was so they could do the potentially money-making dream match of Goldberg vs. Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship.

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Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. Not only did it turn WrestleMania into a two-day, pre-taped event with no live audience, but Roman Reigns decided to back out last minute. Not that I blame the guy, considering he’s in remission from leukemia. Word on the street is that Braun will be taking his place against Goldberg and we MIGHT finally get that big title win he’s been needing for quite a while.

Maybe.

It’s depressing to see WWE’s lack of care in what could have been their big ace. Braun Strowman reminds me of the likes of Ahmed Johnson and Vader, who could have been major players, but due to various situations, ended up as sad shells of themselves who never quite reached the top.

Perhaps Strowmania will never be running wild.