When WWE brought back the brand split in 2016, the WWE Championship was moved exclusively to Smackdown. The flagship Monday night program, Raw, needed a top title. On the first post-draft edition of Raw, Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley announced the Universal Championship. It officially debuted at SummerSlam 2016 and has had quite the history, despite not being around for long.
The first reveal of the belt was met with a negative response, as fans questioned the red strap and overall look of the title. That has subsided since, but controversy has followed the Universal Championship. It has been plagued by injuries, title reigns by stars past their prime, and champions who aren't around on a consistent basis. There has also been plenty of good, so we're looking at both. Here are the five best and five worst Universal Title matches ever.
10 Best: Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg - WrestleMania 33
The decision to put the Universal Title on Goldberg was a questionable one. He was popular in the late 90s but hadn't wrestled consistently in over a decade. Still, he came in and won with relative ease. In appearances at Survivor Series and Royal Rumble, Goldberg dominated Brock Lesnar in embarrassing fashion.
A frustrated Lesnar earned a title shot at WrestleMania and these two finally had the great match fans had been hoping for. They only wrestled for about five minutes, but they packed a ton of action into that time. Brock leaping clean over Goldberg's Spear was a sight to behold. Lesnar won back the title to start a record-setting reign. This was an explosive contest that made up for the debacle at WrestleMania XX.
9 Worst: Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns - Roadblock: End Of The Line 2016
These are two of the best guys on WWE's roster and it has been that way for a few years. However, they didn't click on this night. Kevin Owens entered as champion but had spent the previous few months looking like he wasn't in the same league as Roman Reigns.
This match had the misfortune of going on right after a 35 minute battle between Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair. The crowd was worn out and sat on their hands for this. It lacked drama and everyone knew Owens' buddy Chris Jericho would interfere, so they were just waiting for it. Jericho hit Owens to give him a cheap disqualification win, ending a lackluster match in lackluster fashion.
8 Best: Finn Balor vs. Roman Reigns - Raw 8/20/18
During Brock Lesnar's 500+ day reign as Universal Champion, most viewers complained that they barely saw the title. Lesnar was only a part-time wrestler, meaning a lot of shows didn't feature the title. When he finally lost to Roman Reigns at SummerSlam 2018, that had the opportunity to change.
Less than 24 hours after winning the title, Roman Reigns defended it against the first Universal Champion in history, Finn Balor. Since Balor never officially lost the title and since he beat Reigns in their prior one-on-one meeting, this made sense. Reigns and Balor put on a show and had one of the best TV matches in years.
7 Worst: Baron Corbin vs. Seth Rollins - Stomping Grounds 2019
Seth Rollins and Baron Corbin had a pretty lengthy feud that a lot of fans didn't care for. Lacey Evans was selected by Corbin as the special referee for this one, because of her rivalry with Seth's girlfriend Becky Lynch and because Rollins had been beating up all other candidates.
Unfortunately, Evans looked way uncomfortable as a referee. She had no clue what to do and came across as a deer in the headlights. Stipulations were changed as the match progressed to stack the deck against Rollins but it never added drama. It was just a case of overbooking.
6 Best: Brock Lesnar vs. Finn Balor - Royal Rumble 2019
Brock Lesnar is usually at his best when he's going up against a smaller opponent. It brings out the best in him to play the role of the bruising bully. You often see Brock come out in dominating fashion, but it was Finn Balor who came out firing.
When Brock aggravated his diverticulitis injury, it made it so he could never fully dominate Balor. That gave this a fresh feeling that other Lesnar matches have lacked. Everything Balor did had a little something extra behind it. Still, he got caught in a Kimura and had to tap out, but this was one of the best matches to ever last less than ten minutes.
5 Worst: Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns - WrestleMania 34
The war between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns was fantastic when it first happened at WrestleMania 31. The rematch was three years in the making and we were a year into Lesnar's reign. Nobody could stop him, but Roman Reigns seemed like the best bet. It had a lot to live up to and it missed the mark by a wide margin.
Though it started hot, the match never seemed to get going. The crowd was apathetic and didn't care, especially since the show had been going on for over five hours by that point. The later stages went into overkill mode as Reigns kicked out of five F5s before finally losing to a sixth. It ended a good WrestleMania on a sour note.
4 Best: A.J. Styles vs. Seth Rollins - Money in the Bank 2019
As great as A.J. Styles is, some of his "dream matches" have underwhelmed. So, when this bout was announced, there was doubt. There was no need to worry, though, because Seth Rollins and A.J. Styles produced one of the best matches of 2019.
Styles and Rollins started slowly, building to something great. Each move they did mattered in the grand scheme of things as they struggled to gain control. Once they hit second gear, it reached a new level of intensity and never let up.
3 Worst: Goldberg vs. Kevin Owens - Fastlane 2017
Kevin Owens' run as Universal Champion was far from perfect, but at least it gave fans a consistent champion who was always around. The idea that he would defend against Goldberg, who wasn't a regular roster member, rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way. But then the match actually happened and people were even more upset.
Before the bell rang, Kevin Owens spent some time stalling and avoiding the ring. When he got ready to compete, the music of his rival Chris Jericho played. That distraction allowed Goldberg to hit a few moves and win the title in an unceremoniously quick 21 seconds.
2 Best: Braun Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe - SummerSlam 2017
Sometimes, a match gets announced and you know exactly what you want from it. In the case of this Universal Title match, fans just wanted to see these four brutes beat the heck out of each other. They delivered in spades.
Braun Strowman was the star, launching a chair at Reigns and putting Lesnar through multiple tables, causing the champion to be taken out on a stretcher. Though the action never slowed, Lesnar did return in time to secure the win by planting Reigns with an F5. It was a spectacle of a match that is the high point in the Universal Title's short history.
1 Worst: Braun Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar - Crown Jewel 2018
Brock Lesnar's battle with Braun Strowman in Saudi Arabia for the vacant Universal Title was on a whole different level of rough. Strowman had spent the majority of 2017 and 2018 being billed as a monster who was unstoppable.
However, once the bell rang for this encounter, Lesnar demolished him. With the help of an attack by Baron Corbin, Lesnar reeled off four F5s and won back the title in easy fashion. It could have been a crowning achievement for Strowman, but was instead just another case of Lesnar doing the bare minimum and coming out on top.