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After Finn Balor suffered a shoulder injured during the Universal title match at Summer Slam and was forced to vacate the championship less than 24 hours later, WWE management scrambled to book a scenario to determine a new champion.

Last week, there were four matches to determine the contenders for the title match this week on Raw, which is a smart move because it built anticipation for the angle. Big Cass, Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins were set for the main event to declare the new titleholder. Some thought that maybe Cass would get the surprise win, but, he’s a “puppy with big paws” so to speak, and realistically, he would have to continue to develop as an overall talent before it could really be determined if he has main event potential. In my opinion, while Cass is an agile big man, he wouldn’t be nearly as over without Enzo, at least at this point, and since the tag team is a perfect combination, there’s no reason to book him on his own yet. Most assumed that Seth Rollins would resume his spot as the top guy since he was probably scheduled to continue to feud with Balor for the championship.

Just as the potential scenario was unfolding, Triple H made a return to WWE programming to eliminate Roman from the match and then in a surprising swerve that many probably didn’t expect, Triple H helped Kevin Owens win the title. First it should be noted that Kevin Owens, who worked for years as one of the most popular stars on the independent scene, has all the skills to be a main event star for the WWE. Does Owens have abs? No, but he’s a unique athlete, and he knows how to get over regardless of the audience, which is the key to working the main event picture. He has the in ring ability, mic skills, and charisma to be a legitimate star for the WWE.

The finish was surprising and that’s exactly what the title picture should be on Raw, too often the audience knew exactly what was going to happen during the Roman Reigns mega push, creating a stale product in the process. Plus, when you consider that Seth as the heel champion has already been done and the crowd reaction he received on Raw the past few weeks, it makes sense to turn him baby face to freshen things up. The angle almost writes itself in many aspects, the Authority chose Rollins as their champion and he couldn’t get the job done against Balor so they dropped him from their stable. This is where the WWE 24 production that highlighted Rollins’ grueling recovery from injury can be used to establish him as an immediate top baby face on the show. The narrative can be that Rollins spent months training to recover in an attempt to win back the championship and when he had the chance, Triple H cost him the opportunity. Granted, the timeline is a little shaky because of Reigns/Rollins/Ambrose angle, but a few video packages and promos would easily be enough to cast Seth as the sympathetic figure that battled to return to the ring because of his passion for the sport, only to have management tilt the odds against him. Another storyline based around management might seem repetitive at this point, but considering that they had to call an audible after Balor was injured, it’s at least understandable that something had to be done to give the new direction of the Universal title some steam going forward.

A question that remains is, what does this new direction mean for Roman Reigns?

It took over two years, but management might’ve figured out that Roman isn’t over and his super man type push isn’t going to automatically make him the next John Cena. As I’ve said before, how Reigns was booked didn’t help the situation and it was somewhat unfair that the heat toward the writing team was directed at him. The possible upside of a heel turn for Reigns was previously discussed so there’s no reason to mention it again here, but with Owens seemingly penciled in for the top heel spot, would a heel turn for Roman be effective at this point? The problem in this situation is that the WWE continuously pushed him so could he really start working the mid-card without the perception that he flopped as a main event competitor? In many ways, Reigns in is a lame duck type situation and it might be a wise move for him to take some time off to provide somewhat of a clean slate. While the writing team did him no favors, the wellness policy violation seemed to be the deciding factor in the Roman Reigns experiment, which he has nobody to blame but himself. That being said, everyone makes mistakes and despite all the hostility toward him, there’s still an upside for Reigns’ career.

One of Kevin Owens’ biggest and loudest critics is legendary manager, Jim Cornette, who worked for Ring of Honor when Owens was known as Kevin Steen. Cornette actually complimented some of Steen’s ability while downgrading everything else about his career, and when the former leader of the Midnight Express quit ROH, he often criticized Steen as well as others that had success in the WWE a few years later. Cornette once remarked that Steen, ” could work for 400 people at a rec center.” Since that time, Steen was signed by the WWE, worked in front of a crowd of 85,000 fans at Wrestlemania, and he won the WWE Universal title on Raw. Don’t get me wrong, I respect everything that Jim Cornette has accomplished in his career and there are times that he makes valid points about the industry. But, as I wrote before, Jim Cornette seems to criticize almost everything that’s not from the 70s or 80s and you have to wonder, is there ANY company would be Cornette approved? Jim Cornette is one of the best minds and best talkers in wrestling history so he’s undoubtedly more knowledgeable than me about the industry. That being said, in my opinion, he was completely wrong about Kevin Owens. Since the title win, Cornette posted on social media that he doesn’t care what happens on a show that he doesn’t watch, and he probably doesn’t watch WWE programming, but that doesn’t stop him from criticizing almost everything about the product on his podcast.

Kevin Owens made the jump to the main event scene and while this angle still has to progress on TV, it’s a storyline that can provide some intriguing possibilities within the next few weeks. The prize fighter character that Owens used during his initial push in NXT is very similar to the real life Kevin Steen, who has a family and his success in the wrestling business actually does help provide for them. I met Steen in 2013 at an ROH show and he was very polite and seemed to appreciate the support of the fans. Kevin Owens worked hard to improve to earn a WWE deal in 2014, and he without question has a passion for the business so it’s great to see a performer that earned it achieve the success.

Until next week

-Jim LaMotta

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