WWE Universal Championship

From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

WWE Universal Championship

Top:
The SmackDown version of the Universal Championship belt introduced in 2019.
Bottom:
The Undisputed WWE Universal Championship belt used by current champion Roman Reigns, which represents both the Universal Championship and WWE Championship (2023–present).
Details
PromotionWWE
BrandSmackDown
Date establishedJuly 25, 2016
Current champion(s)Roman Reigns
Date wonAugust 30, 2020
Other name(s)
  • WWE Universal Championship
    (2016–present)
  • Undisputed WWE Universal Championship
    (2022–present)[a]
Statistics
First champion(s)Finn Bálor
Most reignsBrock Lesnar
(3 reigns)
Longest reignRoman Reigns
(2nd reign, 1,272+ days)
Shortest reignFinn Bálor
(22 hours)
Oldest championGoldberg
(53 years, 62 days)
Youngest championKevin Owens
(32 years, 114 days)
Heaviest championBraun Strowman
(385 lb (175 kg))
Lightest championFinn Bálor
(190 lb (86 kg))

The WWE Universal Championship is a men's professional wrestling world heavyweight championship created and promoted by the American promotion WWE, defended on the SmackDown brand division. Since April 2022, the title has been jointly held and defended with the WWE Championship as the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship, but both titles have maintained their individual lineages. It is one of three world titles in WWE, alongside its companion WWE Championship on SmackDown, and the World Heavyweight Championship on Raw. The current champion is Roman Reigns, who is in his second reign, which is the longest reign in the title's history. He won the title by defeating previous champion "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman, who Reigns pinned, in a No Holds Barred triple threat match at Payback on August 30, 2020.

Named in honor of WWE's fanbase, referred to as the WWE Universe, the championship was established on July 25, 2016, to be the top title of the Raw brand at the time. Its creation came as a result of the reintroduction of the brand split and subsequent draft on July 19, 2016, in which the WWE Championship, the promotion's original world title, became exclusive to SmackDown. The inaugural Universal Champion was Finn Bálor. Since its inception, matches for the championship have headlined several pay-per-view and livestreaming events, including seven consecutive SummerSlams from 2017 to 2023, as well as four WrestleManias (34, 37 Night 2, 38 Night 2, and 39 Night 2), both being two of WWE's "big five" pay-per-views, the latter of which is WWE's flagship event. Following the events of the 2019 Crown Jewel, the title moved to SmackDown.

History

The inaugural WWE Universal Champion Finn Bálor at WrestleMania 34.

In mid-2016, the professional wrestling promotion WWE reintroduced the brand extension in which the promotion split its main roster between the Raw and SmackDown brands, where wrestlers would exclusively perform on each brands' respective weekly television program (the original brand split ended in August 2011).[1][2] On July 19, 2016, to coincide with SmackDown shifting to a live broadcast format, the 2016 WWE Draft took place. During the draft, Dean Ambrose, who held the promotion's original world championship, the WWE Championship, was drafted to SmackDown.[3] At Battleground on July 24, Ambrose retained the title in a triple threat match against Raw draftees Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns,[4] thus leaving Raw without a world title.[5] On the following episode of Raw, the brand's Commissioner Stephanie McMahon and General Manager Mick Foley established the WWE Universal Championship to serve as the brand's top championship. The title was named in honor of the WWE Universe, the name the promotion uses to refer to its fan base.[6]

The inaugural champion was crowned at SummerSlam on August 21 in a pinfall and submission-only singles match. Rollins was automatically set for that match as he was Raw's number one draft pick and was not pinned in the WWE Championship match at Battleground. His opponent was determined by two fatal four-way matches on Raw, with the winners wrestling each other in a singles match.[6] Finn Bálor won the first fatal four-way by defeating Cesaro, Kevin Owens, and Rusev, while Reigns won the second by defeating Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn, and Sheamus.[6] Bálor then defeated Reigns and was added to the title match.[7] At SummerSlam, Bálor, wrestling under his "Demon" persona, defeated Rollins to become the inaugural champion. Bálor was the first WWE wrestler to win a world title in his pay-per-view debut as well as winning his first world title in less than a month of his debut on WWE's main roster.[8][9] During the championship match, however, Bálor suffered a legitimate shoulder injury and was forced to vacate the title the following day.[10][11]

At Crown Jewel on October 31, 2019, SmackDown wrestler "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt won the Universal title by defeating Seth Rollins in a Falls Count Anywhere match that could not be stopped for any reason, thus transferring the Universal Championship to SmackDown.[12] The WWE Championship was subsequently transferred to Raw after reigning champion Brock Lesnar quit SmackDown the following day, taking the title to Raw.[13]

At WrestleMania 38 Night 2 on April 3, 2022, reigning Universal Champion Roman Reigns defeated Raw's WWE Champion Brock Lesnar in a Winner Takes All match to claim both championships and become recognized as the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion. WWE had billed the match as a championship unification match; however, both titles have remained independently active with Reigns being a double champion, defending both titles together across both brands as the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship.[14] On the April 24, 2023, episode of Raw, WWE Chief Content Officer Triple H announced that regardless of what brand Reigns was drafted to in the 2023 WWE Draft, he and his undisputed championship would become exclusive to that brand. Triple H subsequently unveiled a new World Heavyweight Championship for the opposing brand, which was won by Seth "Freakin" Rollins at Night of Champions.[15][16] As Reigns was drafted to SmackDown, the World Heavyweight Championship became exclusive to Raw.[17] On the June 2, 2023, episode of SmackDown, Triple H presented Reigns with a new singular championship belt to represent the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship.[18] Amidst confusion of the lineages, Fightful reported that WWE confirmed to them that the two championships are still in fact separate lineages despite Reigns holding only one belt, and that once Reigns loses, the Universal Championship will be dropped in favor of the WWE Championship.[19]

Brand designation

The following is a list of dates indicating the transitions of the WWE Universal Championship between the Raw and SmackDown brands.

Date of transition Brand Notes
July 25, 2016 Raw The championship was established for Raw after WWE Champion Dean Ambrose was drafted to SmackDown in the 2016 WWE Draft. Finn Bálor subsequently became the inaugural Universal Champion at SummerSlam on August 21.
October 31, 2019 SmackDown The Universal Championship moved to SmackDown after "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt, a member of the SmackDown brand, defeated Seth Rollins in a Falls Count Anywhere match that could not be stopped for any reason to win the Universal Championship at Crown Jewel.

Championship belt designs

2016–2019

Two-time champion Roman Reigns in his first reign with the original Raw version of the championship belt used from 2016 to 2019

The standard Universal Championship belt is based on the "Network Logo" design of the WWE Championship belt introduced in 2014, with a few notable differences. Like the WWE Championship belt, the center plate is a large cut out of the WWE logo with diamonds sitting inside an irregular heptagonal plate, but with the capital words "Universal Champion" in small print sitting underneath the logo. Just the same, there are gold divider bars that separate the center plate from its two side plates. Each side plate features the same default removable center section as the WWE Championship (the WWE logo over a red globe), which can be customized with the champion's logo.[20] The most prominent difference is the belt's strap, the color of which indicates the brand it is exclusive to. When the belt was first unveiled at SummerSlam 2016, the strap was red to symbolize its exclusivity to the Raw brand and the underline of the WWE logo on the center plate was black to make it visible (essentially the reverse of the WWE Championship belt).[20] After the title became exclusive to SmackDown in late 2019, Bray Wyatt introduced a blue strap variation and the underline of the WWE logo was changed from black to red.[21][22]

Custom designs (2019–present)

Two-time champion Bray Wyatt, shown here as "The Fiend", whose custom version of the Universal Championship belt was based on his mask

In addition to the SmackDown version of the belt, Bray Wyatt also introduced a custom version of the championship for his "Fiend" character on the November 29 episode of SmackDown.[23] The custom belt featured The Fiend's face in the place of the center plate. The character's phrases "Hurt" and "Heal" were written in red on black leather strips in the place of side plates while the strap of the belt itself was red and black worn leather with red stitching holding it together. The character's phrase "Let Me In" was also included. Wyatt used both the standard and custom versions of the championship during his first reign (2019–2020); his cheery Firefly Fun House character held the standard blue belt, while his sinister Fiend character held the custom belt.[24][25]

After Roman Reigns became the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion at WrestleMania 38 in April 2022, both the standard versions of the Universal Championship and WWE Championship belts were used in tandem to represent the undisputed title, although both titles retained their individual lineages. On the June 2, 2023, episode of SmackDown, in celebration of Reigns reaching 1,000 days as Universal Champion, he was presented with a special custom belt, which features the same "Network Logo" design on a black strap, but with the WWE logo encrusted with black diamonds, a gold nugget-textured background behind the logo, text at the bottom of the plate that says "Undisputed Champion", and custom side plates.[18] Despite this, his manager Paul Heyman had continued to carry around the standard WWE and Universal Championship belts until the end of July.[26] On WWE's website, pictures of the separate title belts are still used for the individual title histories of each championship.

Reception

The Universal Championship design was heavily criticized.[27] Jason Powell of Pro Wrestling Dot Net referred to it as "a title belt that no one likes".[28] Adam Silverstein of CBS Sports described it as "ugly"[29] while the live SummerSlam audience in Brooklyn, New York gave derisive chants, including "This belt sucks",[30] an assessment with which New England Sports Network reporters agreed.[31] That site's Ricky Doyle wrote that the crowd response turned what should have been a "landmark moment for the company" into an "awkward experience".[32] Mike Johnson of Pro Wrestling Insider felt the title looked like a "xerox" of the WWE Championship and did not blame the audience for reacting negatively.[33] The design was also unpopular with online wrestling fans.[30]

WWE employees responded in the aftermath of the title's debut. Seth Rollins chastised the SummerSlam crowd's reaction, writing on Twitter: "More important than a title's appearance is what it represents for the men fighting over it. You really let me down tonight, Brooklyn."[32] While acknowledging that he himself might have chosen a different belt design, Mick Foley echoed Rollins's response in a lengthy Facebook post. He recalled being presented with the WWF Hardcore Championship, a title belt made of broken metal pieces held together by duct tape, which challengers "made ... mean something by busting [their] asses".[34] In a kayfabe promo on the following episode of Raw, the then-villainous Rollins called the championship belt "beautiful".[28]

Later in 2016, Jim Vorel of Paste ranked the title as the worst of nine then contested in WWE, noting its "obnoxious" design.[27] On the other hand, Nick Schwartz of Fox Sports wrote: "It's really not as bad as fans made it seem at SummerSlam. It's fine."[35]

Reigns

Two-time and current champion Roman Reigns with the SmackDown version of the championship belt; his second reign at 1,272+ days is the longest reign of any WWE championship since 1988.[36][37]

As of February 23, 2024, there have been fourteen reigns between eight champions and two vacancies. Finn Bálor was the inaugural champion. Brock Lesnar holds the record for most reigns at three. Roman Reigns' ongoing second reign is the longest singular reign at 1,272+ days, while Bálor has the shortest reign at 22 hours as he was forced to vacate the title due to suffering a legitimate injury in winning it. Reigns also holds the record for longest combined reign at 1,336+ days. Kevin Owens is the youngest champion when he won it at 32 years, 114 days old, while Goldberg is the oldest when he won the title for a second time at 53.

Roman Reigns is the current champion in his second reign. He won the title by defeating previous champion "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman, who Reigns pinned, in a No Holds Barred triple threat match at Payback on August 30, 2020, in Orlando, Florida. After winning the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 38 on April 3, 2022, Reigns is recognized as the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion.

Key
No. Overall reign number
Reign Reign number for the specific champion
Days Number of days held
Days recog. Number of days held recognized by the promotion
<1 Reign lasted less than a day
+ Current reign is changing daily
No. Champion Championship change Reign statistics Notes Ref.
Date Event Location Reign Days Days recog.
WWE: Raw
1 Finn Bálor August 21, 2016 SummerSlam Brooklyn, NY 1 1 <1 The title was established for Raw after the WWE Championship became exclusive to SmackDown following the 2016 WWE Draft. Bálor defeated Seth Rollins in a pinfall and submission-only match to become the inaugural champion. [38]
Vacated August 22, 2016 Raw Brooklyn, NY Vacated due to Finn Bálor suffering a legit shoulder injury during his match at SummerSlam. [10][11]
2 Kevin Owens August 29, 2016 Raw Houston, TX 1 188 188 This was a fatal four-way elimination match for the vacant title also involving Big Cass, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins, who Owens last eliminated to win. [39]
3 Goldberg March 5, 2017 Fastlane Milwaukee, WI 1 28 27 [40]
4 Brock Lesnar April 2, 2017 WrestleMania 33 Orlando, FL 1 504 503 [41]
5 Roman Reigns August 19, 2018 SummerSlam Brooklyn, NY 1 64 63 [42]
Vacated October 22, 2018 Raw Providence, RI Vacated after Roman Reigns announced that he had a legitimate re-diagnosis of leukemia. [43][44]
6 Brock Lesnar November 2, 2018 Crown Jewel Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 2 156 156 Originally scheduled as a triple threat match in which Roman Reigns was to defend the title against Lesnar and Braun Strowman.[45] After Reigns relinquished the championship, the match became a singles match between Lesnar and Strowman for the vacant title.[44] [46]
7 Seth Rollins April 7, 2019 WrestleMania 35 East Rutherford, NJ 1 98 98 [47]
8 Brock Lesnar July 14, 2019 Extreme Rules Philadelphia, PA 3 28 27 This was Lesnar's Money in the Bank cash-in match. [48]
9 Seth Rollins August 11, 2019 SummerSlam Toronto, ON, Canada 2 81 80 [49]
10 "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt October 31, 2019 Crown Jewel Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 1 119 118 This was a Falls Count Anywhere match that could not be stopped for any reason.
The title became exclusive to the SmackDown brand due to Wyatt's status as a SmackDown wrestler.
[50]
WWE: SmackDown
11 Goldberg February 27, 2020 Super ShowDown Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 2 27 or 28 37 WWE recognizes this reign as ending on April 4, 2020, when the following match aired on tape delay. [51]
12 Braun Strowman March 25 or 26, 2020 WrestleMania 36
Part 1
Orlando, FL 1 150 or 151 141 WrestleMania was taped on March 25 and 26, but it is currently unknown which day this match was taped. WWE recognizes this reign as beginning on April 4, 2020, when the match aired on tape delay.[52] [53]
13 "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt August 23, 2020 SummerSlam Orlando, FL 2 7 6 This was a Falls Count Anywhere match. [54]
14 Roman Reigns August 30, 2020 Payback Orlando, FL 2 1,272+ 1,272+ This was a No Holds Barred triple threat match also involving Braun Strowman, who Reigns pinned.
At WrestleMania 38 on April 3, 2022, Reigns defeated Raw's WWE Champion Brock Lesnar in a Winner Takes All match and became recognized as the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion of both brands. Despite the match being billed as a unification match, both titles remain independently active.
In April 2023, after Reigns was drafted to SmackDown in the 2023 WWE Draft, a new World Heavyweight Championship was established for Raw as the counterpart to Reigns' Undisputed Championship.
[55][14]

Combined reigns

Record three-time champion Brock Lesnar, shown here in his first reign with the Raw version of the championship belt

As of February 23, 2024.

Indicates the current champion
¤ The exact length of at least one title reign is uncertain, so the shortest length is considered.
Rank Wrestler No. of
reigns
Combined
days
Combined days
rec. by WWE
1 Roman Reigns 2 1,336+ 1,335+
2 Brock Lesnar 3 688 686
3 Kevin Owens 1 188
4 Seth Rollins 2 179 178
5 Braun Strowman 1 ¤150 141
6 "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt 2 126 124
7 Goldberg 2 ¤55 64
8 Finn Bálor 1 1 <1

See also

Notes

  1. ^ In tandem with the WWE Championship.

References

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External links