WWE Universal Championship

Last Modified Apr 8, 2024 18:57 GMT

Universal Championship


"FULL SEGMENT: Cody Rhodes talks after finishing his story: WrestleMania XL  Saturday Press Conference"
Image - WWE.Com


The Universal Championship is one of the top prizes a male competitor can win. Established in 2016, the title serves as the World Championship for the SmackDown brand. At WrestleMania 38, the title was unified with the WWE Championship and the two are collectively known as the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship.


Current WWE Universal Champion


"Cody Rhodes repeats that Solo Sikoa is not ready: SmackDown, Mar. 24, 2023"
Image - WWE.Com


Cody Rhodes is the current Undisputed WWE Universal Champion in his first reign with the title. He defeated Roman Reigns in the main event of WrestleMania XL Night Two. Rhodes had won the 2023 Men's Royal Rumble and failed to win the title against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 39. A year later, he again won the 2024 Men's Royal Rumble and then went on to headline the night two of WrestleMania. This time, he did not just repeat the story, he finished it.


Universal Championship Trivia


Current Universal ChampionCody Rhodes
First ChampionFinn Balor
Youngest ChampionKevin Owens (32 Years 114 Days)
Oldest ChampionGoldberg (53 Years)
Most Reigns with the Universal ChampionshipBrock Lesnar (3 Time)
Longest Single ReignRoman Reigns (1316 Days)
Longest Combined ReignRoman Reigns (1380 Days)
Shortest ReignFinn Balor (Less than a Day)
Money in the Bank Cash Ins2 times (Braun Strowman failed; Brock Lesnar succeded in defeating Seth Rollins)
WrestleMania Main Events6 WrestleMania Main Events (WrestleMania 34, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40)


Universal Championship History


The Brand Split


Following a TLC match between the then World Heavyweight Champion John Cena and the then WWE Champion Randy Orton at the 2013 edition of Tables, Ladders and Chairs event, the World Heavyweight Championship and WWE Championship were unified into a single world title, known as the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Now known as the WWE Championship, this title continued to be the sole main event Championship in WWE till 2016, when the wrestling behemoth announced that SmackDown would be going Live and the Draft would be returning. SmackDown Commissioner Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan were able to draft the then WWE Champion Dean Ambrose to SmackDown. With The Lunatic Fringe retaining his title against former SHIELD stablemates Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns at WWE's Battleground event, it was sure that the WWE Championship was going to be exclusive to SmackDown, with WWE's Flagship Show RAW lacking a main-event championship.


Finn Balor wins the New Title


The following edition of RAW saw Commissioner Stephanie McMahon and General Manager Mick Foley announcing the creation of a new championship for RAW to rectify this issue. This title was named the Universal Championship after the WWE Universe, a term used by WWE to refer to the fans. A tournament was set to determine the superstar who would be challenging Seth Rollins, the #1 draft pick for RAW, to crown the inaugural champion at the 2016 edition of the SummerSlam event. Finn Bàlor, who was called up from NXT as part of the 2016 draft, won the tournament by winning both a Fatal Four Way match and a singles bout against Roman Reigns on the same night. The Demon King further went on to defeat The Architect Seth Rollins to become the inaugural Universal Champion at the Biggest Party of the Summer, much to the delight of the fans. However, a shoulder injury meant that the inaugural Universal Champion had to relinquish his title.





Kevin Owens wins the vacant title


The title, which was revealed just before the match to crown the inaugural champion, had a design identical to the existing WWE Championship. However, the red color of the belt along with a black line below the WWE logo (in contrast to the original red line below the logo) was a key differentiator between the WWE and Universal Championships. Following Finn Bàlor's unfortunate departure, a Fatal 4 way match saw Kevin Owens coming out on top to become the new Universal Champion. It was during this time that Kevin Owens had ‘The Kevin Owens Show’ gimmick going and was paired with Chris Jericho, with both men carrying the red brand on their shoulders. Owens' run didn't last long though, with WWE Hall of Famer Goldberg defeating the Prizefighter to win his first World title in more than a decade. WrestleMania 33 witnessed the final encounter between Goldberg and his arch-nemesis Brock Lesnar, with The Beast Incarnate coming out on top, winning his first Universal Championship in the process. Lesnar then went on to have one of the longest Reigns of the modern era, holding the Universal Championship for 503 days.


The Brock Lesnar Domination and the Rise of The Big Dog


While Brock Lesnar was part of many explosive rivalries against main-event stars like Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman, his part-time status did more harm to the title than good. The Beast Incarnate's reign came to an end at the 2018 edition of the SummerSlam Premium Live Event. The event saw Roman Reigns finally being able to dethrone Brock Lesnar to win the Universal Championship, something he wasn't successful in when the two men previously collided in the main event of WrestleMania 34. The Big Dog’s previous reigns with the company’s top prize were pretty short and the Vince McMahon led promotion was hoping to give their poster boy a lengthy run with the top prize of their flagship brand. However, WWE's hopes of giving The Big Dog a lengthy run with a World Championship had to wait, as Roman Reigns had to unfortunately vacate the Universal Championship due to his returning Leukemia. After 2 relinquishments and a lengthy run that did very little to add to the title's prestige, the belief of the Universal Championship being 'cursed' started gaining popularity among the fans, with many clamoring for the wrestling behemoth to scrap the title entirely. Many fans even clamored for old titles like the WCW Big Gold to make their return, with WWE retiring the Universal Championship for good.


Seth Rollins slays The Beast


With Roman Reigns out of the title picture, WWE turned towards his SHIELD stablemate Seth Rollins to carry the company on his back, much to the delight of the fans. During Lesnar's absence as the Universal Champion, it was Rollins and his reign with the Intercontinental Championship that made RAW a must-see show and it seemed that WWE was now rewarding The Kingslayer for his hard work. With Brock Lesnar regaining the Universal Championship at the 2018 Crown Jewel event and Seth Rollins winning the 2019 edition of the Royal Rumble, the Universal Championship match for the Grandest Stage of them all was set in stone. The match, which opened WrestleMania 35, saw Rollins getting the win over Lesnar to win his first Universal title. The championship then traded hands between these two men over the course of Summer, with Mr. Money in the Bank 2019 Brock Lesnar cashing in on Rollins to win his 3rd Universal Championship and The Visionary being able to regain the title from The Beast at the 2019 edition of SummerSlam. What made Seth Rollins' win over Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2019 even bigger was the fact that it was one of the rare occurrences where The Beast Incarnate was defeated without any shenanigans.


The Fiend takes Universal Championship to SmackDown


After a short feud with Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins found himself facing-off against The Fiend, Bray Wyatt’s new gimmick which was insanely over with the fans. A smoky finish to their Hell in a Cell match was highly criticized, leading to WWE making The Fiend go over Seth Rollins in their encounter at the 2019 Crown Jewel PPV. With The Fiend having recently been drafted to SmackDown, the Universal Championship became exclusive to SmackDown, with RAW again being without a World Championship. However, the then-WWE Champion Brock Lesnar’s issues with RAW Superstar Rey Mysterio led to The Beast Incarnate moving over to RAW, making the WWE Championship exclusive to the Red brand. The following weeks saw Bray Wyatt unveil the new design of the Universal Championship. The title was still identical in design to the WWE Championship. However, the title was now Blue in color, going in line with the brand colors of SmackDown.





Goldberg stuns Fiend before losing to Braun Strowman


Following a decent run with the Universal Championship, The Fiend Bray Wyatt’s reign came to an end during the WrestleMania season in 2020, when WWE Hall of Famer Goldberg defeated the former Eater of the Worlds to win his second Universal Championship. The fans were pretty baffled with this decision, given how strongly Wyatt’s Fiend alter-ego was booked and how it did not make much sense to have him lose clean to a part-time superstar. This was also a rare occurrence of a Hall of Famer winning WWE’s top prize. WWE decided to re-introduce Roman Reigns, who was able to return after his Leukemia went into remission, in order to challenge The WCW Icon for SmackDown’s World Title. However, with the onset of COVID, Roman Reigns had to take a leave of absence, due to his immunity being compromised due to the severe ailment he was fighting with a year back. This led to Braun Strowman stepping in for Roman Reigns to challenge Goldberg for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 36. In what came across as a pleasant surprise to the WWE Universe, Braun Strowman was able to defeat Goldberg to win his first World Championship. While the Monster Among Men found himself among a vast variety of challengers, right from the entertaining pairing of John Morrison and The Miz to the red hot Money in the Bank winner Otis of Heavy Machinery, Strowman’s biggest challenge came in the form of his ex-mentor and former Universal Champion Bray Wyatt.


The Fiend wins and Roman Reigns returns


The two men had a trilogy of matches, which included a singles match at 2020’s Money in the Bank PLE, a cinematic Swamp Match at the Horrow Show at Extreme Rules 2020 event and the final and concluding match at that year’s SummerSlam event. This rivalry also brought into limelight the ‘3 Faces of Wyatt’, them being The Firefly FunHouse host, The Cult Leader and The Fiend. The Fiend Bray Wyatt was able to defeat Braun Strowman to regain the Universal Championship. But his run was short-lived, as Roman Reigns returned to wreak havoc on both the current and former champion. A triple threat championship match was made official for the Payback event taking place just a week later, which saw Roman Reigns winning his second Universal Championship.


The Run of Tribal Chief





This marked the beginning of Reigns’ ‘Tribal Chief’ gimmick, and along with the reunion and expansion of The Bloodline, a faction consisting of Roman’s cousins, The Head of the Table held his title for a record 1316 days, making him the longest reigning champion of the 21st century. Amazing rivalries against the likes of Jey Uso, Daniel Bryan, Edge, John Cena and Brock Lesnar allowed Roman Reigns to not only establish his new persona, but also build prestige for the Universal Championship. Having defeated the then-WWE Champion Brock Lesnar in the main event of WrestleMania 38, Roman Reigns was able to unify the WWE and Universal Championships, which have since then been collectively known as the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship.


The New Era


In the main event WrestleMania XL Night Two, Roman Reigns defended his title against 2024 Men's Royal Rumble winner Cody Rhodes in Bloodline Rules. There, Rhodes managed to defeat Reigns, bringing an end to his record reign and marking a new era in WWE.


List of Universal Champions



Reign No.Superstar who won the Universal ChampionshipDetails of Event where the Title change happened
DateShowLocation
1Finn BálorAugust 21, 2016SummerSlamBrooklyn, NY
2Kevin Owens
(after Finn Bálor had to vacate the championship)
August 29, 2016RawHouston, TX
3GoldbergMarch 5, 2017FastlaneMilwaukee, WI
4Brock LesnarApril 2, 2017WrestleMania 33Orlando, FL
5Roman ReignsAugust 19, 2018SummerSlamBrooklyn, NY
6Brock Lesnar
(after Roman Reigns relinquished the title)
November 2, 2018Crown JewelRiyadh, Saudi Arabia
7Seth RollinsApril 7, 2019WrestleMania 35East Rutherford, NJ
8Brock LesnarJuly 14, 2019Extreme RulesPhiladelphia, PA
9Seth RollinsAugust 11, 2019SummerSlamToronto, ON, Canada
10"The Fiend" Bray WyattOctober 31, 2019Crown JewelRiyadh, Saudi Arabia
11GoldbergFebruary 27, 2020Super ShowDownRiyadh, Saudi Arabia
12Braun StrowmanMarch 25 or 26, 2020WrestleMania 36 Part 1Orlando, FL
13"The Fiend" Bray WyattAugust 23, 2020SummerSlamOrlando, FL
14Roman ReignsAugust 30, 2020PaybackOrlando, FL
15Cody RhodesApril 7, 2024WrestleMania XLPhiladelphia, PA


FAQs

A: The current Universal Champion is Cody Rhodes, who is currently in his 1st reign as the Universal Champion. Also simultaneously holding the WWE Championship, Cody Rhodes is recognised as the WWE Undisputed Universal Champion.

A: The first Universal Champion was Finn Bálor, who was able to win the Universal Championship by defeating Seth Rollins in a one-on-one match at the 2016 edition of SummerSlam Premium Live Event, which also served as the finals of the tournament to crown the inaugural Universal Champion.
A: Following then-SmackDown superstar Bray Wyatt’s Universal Title win in 2019, the Universal Championship became exclusive to SmackDown. However, with Roman Reigns holding both the Universal and the WWE Championships, this title has been featured on RAW as well.
A: With a reign of 900+ days, Roman Reigns is not only the longest reigning Universal Champion, but also the longest reigning champion of the 21st century in WWE.

A: The Universal Championship has had a total of 4 designs: 1. The Red strap with black underline of WWE logo design- revealed at SummerSlam 2016 2. The Blue strap with the original WWE logo - revealed by Bray Wyatt post his victory over Seth Rollins at Crown Jewel 2019 3. A customized Universal Championship used by ‘The Fiend’ alter-ego of Bray Wyatt during his first reign as the Universal Champion. Lastly, a new title was revealed after Roman Reigns unified Universal Championship with the WWE Championship. 

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