WWE pulled off an electric finish to SummerSlam 2018. Yes, Brock Lesnar finally lost the Universal Championship and yes, Roman Reigns finally beat him—each of which was largely predictable. The addition of Braun Strowman, however, and particularly his thwarted attempt at cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase added some much-needed intrigue, uncertainty, and downright chaos to the proceedings. Lesnar was projected to come back one day, a monster who’d been distracted when he lost his title. Strowman and his briefcase remained in play. And Reigns? It seemed that we were off and running with the long-term title reign many have predicted for him for over two years.
Monday Night Raw the very next night threatened to shake things up further when Reigns opened the show by announcing he’d defend the title against Finn Balor that very night. Few expected Balor to actually beat him for the title, but the false finishes that suggested he might bring the fans in live attendance to their feet in Brooklyn.
So what if WWE had made the biggest swerve of all, and sent The Demon King home with the Universal Championship? This article takes a look at five implications and potential outcomes if that were to have gone down.
5. Reigns edges toward a heel turn
Throughout the match between Roman Reigns and Finn Balor, the commentary team repeatedly brought up the talking point of speculating what it would do to Reigns psychologically if he lost his coveted just title twenty-four hours after winning it. While they were probably merely trying to create intrigue, the choice also could have alluded to bigger changes for Reigns’s character.
If beating Lesnar, and then doing the right thing by becoming the fighting champion Lesnar never had back fired, we could have been looking at a fascinating look at a Superstar in shambles. The Big Dog would have no one but himself to blame for taking on a title match so abruptly, but might he lash out at fellow face Balor? At the entire roster? A Reigns heel turn—disappointed and thirsty for revenge—could have been a fascinating result of Balor taking the gold off of him at Raw.
4. A glimpse of how 2016 was supposed to be
One of the great hypothetical questions in recent WWE history comes down to, what if Finn Balor hadn’t gotten injured at SummerSlam 2016?
The Demon King had benefited from the push of a lifetime, booked to start his tour of the main roster undefeated, pinning Roman Reigns, and then beating Seth Rollins to be crowned the first Universal Champion. Had Balor not gotten hurt and held onto the title, maybe he would have wound up feuding with Kevin Owens, and we’d get back on more or less our current timeline.
It’s also possible we would have ultimately gotten Balor vs. Brock Lesnar, though, or, if Balor’s reign were a major success, maybe WWE wouldn’t have sent the title to part-time stars, and we’d have seen Balor working with the likes of Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, Chris Jericho and others over the months or even years to follow, as they traded the championship.
3. The crowd in Brooklyn explodes
When WWE books a face vs. face match, there are often questions about whom the crowd will side with, and whether it’s worth jeopardizing someone’s popularity by demanding a direct comparison to another well-liked star. In the case of Roman Reigns vs. Finn Balor, however, WWE seemed fully aware of what it was doing. Yes, Reigns and Balor are each ostensibly good guys, and popular with kids. However, a huge chunk of the hardcore fanbase loathes The Big Dog and is all too eager to get behind Balor.
We can tell from the false finishes late in Balor vs. Reigns that the live crowd in New York was very excited about the prospect of Balor winning. Had he pulled off the upset, there’s little question they would have exploded into one of the biggest pops in Raw history. To be fair, though, WWE did ultimately do all right for itself with the fake out Money in the Bank cash-in, followed by the Shield reunion.
2. Seth Rollins moves into the title picture
Seth Rollins has been on a tear throughout 2018. Yes, he’s remained a featured star from the WWE roster, but all the more so he has become the go-to talent to consistently produce great matches opposite a wide variety of talent. One of his most noteworthy rivals from the first half of the year was Finn Balor, as the two chased The Miz’s Intercontinental Championship, and then Balor continued to pursue Rollins after he first won the title.
Between their most recent even booking over the Intercontinental Championship, and their more historical background feuding over the Universal Championship, Rollins would make instant sense as a contender for Balor’s Universal Championship. Moreover, placing both Balor and Rollins in this title picture would cement WWE’s commitment to it being a more traditional worker’s world championship, putting Brock Lesnar’s part-time champ era firmly in WWE’s past. As it stands, Rollins probably will work his way back to the top of the card sooner than later, but as long as he and Reigns are allied again in The Shield, he’s not the most likely candidate to be gunning for the title.
1. The Balor-Corbin program carries on in a different way
Finn Balor has spent much of the summer feuding with Constable Baron Corbin. While the pairing makes superficial sense for each men’s place in the upper mid-card sector of Raw, the general sense among hardcore fans was that putting these two together squandered Balor’s talents. While Corbin has size and some impressive moves, he hasn’t exactly won over the Internet crowd with his straightforward, traditional style and less than a stunning presence on the mic.
If Balor were to have won the Universal Championship, he wouldn’t necessarily be defending it directly against Corbin. However, with his increased power on Raw, after Kurt Angle was asked to leave, Corbin may have been positioned something like a poor man’s Vince McMahon against Balor as an anti-authority reimagining of Stone Cold Steve Austin. We may still get a dynamic like that between Corbin as Stephanie McMahon’s representative and Reigns as the face champion. Corbin targeting Balor as the champ, though, would have been a natural story to tell, and added a new twist to their existing dynamic.