Last year’s incredible run was supposed to be the ascension of Drew McIntyre in the main event picture, and incredible run with the belt, but COVID-19 put a damper on the entire process. The pandemic really has taken its toll on every facet of our lives, and professional wrestling storylines were not unsusceptible to this shrapnel. Even though the win over Brock Lesnar was taped inside the Performance Center, without an audience, it still felt special, even if the payoff wasn’t exactly what we’d hoped it’d be. Even though McIntyre was incredibly grateful and humble about the experience, you could feel the disappointment for him that this magic moment had been taken out from underneath him by no fault of anyone.
McIntyre was, and still is, the champion we needed through the pandemic. He's the fighter, the unstoppable force, the one we got behind collectively and pushed to the moon. McIntyre became a beacon of hope and light in dark times for us as wrestling fans, and his performances have been second to none. It'd be unfair to judge his run against the backdrop of all other champions before him, because there's never been a championship reign like this before. No one has ever defended his title week after week with no crowd reaction, no in person excitement, no pulsing energy from adoring fans.
I took my sons to what became one of the last live shows prior to the world shutting down, and I can tell you from first hand experience that the electricity for Drew was white hot. The crowd wanted this, the WWE Universe wanted this ascension. He took his hand in stride, made some solid chicken salad, and kept it moving. I'm forever hopeful history will look kindly on his championship reign and, put into the proper context, will be held as one of the best, if not at least the most unique.
As the months wore on, it became muddy on who would face Drew McIntyre at WrestleMania 37. It feels unusual, and almost unsettling, to not have a chase of any kind heading into the biggest show of the year. Edge and Roman Reigns squaring off seemed like the sure bet after the Rumble, and the storyline seems to be working overall. The slow build and arc towards this payoff has quite the potential, and Roman’s escalating feuds with Kevin Owens and Daniel Bryan had been among the best content WWE has produced throughout the entire pandemic.
There seemed to be no clear opponent for McIntyre heading into Mania. Randy Orton’s feud had run its course, there didn’t seem to be too many avenues to create a meaningful feud with Sheamus, and the cold war with Keith Lee seemed to die in its tracks without any conclusion or payoff. There was one logical choice, but how to get there was the question.
This past week, a destiny was fulfilled when Bobby Lashley squashed The Miz on Monday Night Raw to win the WWE Championship. After a huge spot with Mr. McMahon and a game show host at WrestleMania 23, Lashley appeared to have it going for him, but for whatever reason, never got the next step presented. A former ECW and TNA world champion, Lashley was relegated to the midcard, complete with ridiculous gimmicks, and a rather regrettable angle with Rusev and Lana. That all changed on Monday night.
Not only does this make Lashley the third African-American champion in WWE history, behind The Rock and Kofi Kingston, it also coronates a man who had one of the most incredible and dominant runs in the last half of 2020. With the guidance of a returned MVP, and flanked by Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander, The Hurt Business has been a destructive force inside the WWE roster. The tag team titles on Benjamin and Alexander made perfect sense, but the strap on Lashley was inevitable.
After the unceremonious loss handed to Drew McIntyre at Elimination Chamber, the stage seemed set for a quick and swift squashing of The Miz at the hands of The Almighty. Miz plays a brilliant chicken shit heel, and you could feel the terror as reality set in for him, having nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. After Shane McMahon instituted the lumberjack stipulation, where the ring is surrounded by wrestlers to ensure no funny business inside or out, it was Miz and Lashley. Destiny's calling, line one.
Watching Miz take two Hurt Locks and be completely decimated further established Lashley as brutal, oppressive, and ultimately unstoppable by anyone. It was incredibly smart booking on the part of WWE, appearing to have been done to protect McIntyre and Lashley. Keeping them both dominant while not having one go over on the other just yet.
Okay, but now what, dude? Lashley’s got the title, and that’s great, but who’s his opponent at Mania? No way he drops it at Fastlane or any time before that.
Real talk, your guess is as good as mine. It's hard to take a good look at the photograph while it’s still developing, but I do have a few ideas. Let’s game it out and see who could possibly step to the plate against Bobby Lashley at WrestleMania 37.
I. Brock Lesnar
Sheesh, talk about big meaty men slapping meat. These two titans would destroy the very fabric of time and space just by standing next to each other. Punches that could create audible booms into the nosebleeds. Seriously, this match would rock so hard.
Brock Lesnar remains the most feared and aggressive opponents in the squared circle, and we haven’t seen him in a year. Lesnar is a once in a generation kind of talent, and no matter how many times you hear someone say something negative about the way he went over on Kingston at the first SmackDown on Fox, or whether he’s too pushed, or any of that other shit you hear, Lesnar is good business. Go back and watch the Rumble from 2020 – Lesnar did more for the talents in the ring to put them over than any other performer on the card could have. Ricochet, Keith Lee, the entire New Day – they all got the Brock rub that night. No one more so than Drew McIntyre, and that Claymore Kick to eliminate Brock paved the way for their Mania showdown.
Lashley’s looking for his rub, and he’s been vocal about his want to face Lesnar. Lashley commented in a recent interview with Fox Sports:
“Before, it was one of those things where everybody said they wanted to see that match, and that match was probably not ever gonna come. Didn’t have anything that he wanted. But I do now. So it’s different. We’ll see. We’ll see if ‘The Beast’ comes back out to play."
Lesnar’s been inactive since WM 36, and there’s been virtually no signs of life since his loss to McIntyre. It’s a safe bet to say that this showdown would be extremely unlikely, but one I’d pay big money to see, whenever it actually has the chance to happen.
Goober Rating Factor of Likelihood: 2/5 – I’d like to see it, but unless a miracle happens, don’t hold your breath.
II. Keith Lee
Now, here’s a dark horse I’d throw money down to bet on. Keith Lee – dominant, forceful, intense. Lee perhaps hasn’t had the run we may have hoped since being called up from NXT post-Rumble, but it’s obvious he remains a very likely challenger to the throne in the very near future. His match with McIntyre on Raw prior to Goldberg… I mean, Uncle Bill… challenging for the strap was absolute magic, and reinforced that Lee is a main event player in waiting.
He’s been absent in recent weeks after he was pulled from the US Championship picture with Lashley and Matt Riddle ::ugh::, and no one’s sure when he’s going to reappear. Pitting him against Lashley as his first real challenge in the main event would be an impressive beginning. It would allow Lashley to continue to cement his vengeful dominance, while allowing Lee to shine as a formidable foe, hell bent on snatching the crown with Lashley’s head still attached to it.
Goober Rating Factor of Likelihood: 3.5/5 – Honestly, it could go either way. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lee get this push opposite Lashley, but it seems more likely to happen post-Mania than on the grand stage.
III. Damian Priest
Damian Priest literally came out of nowhere and has become one of the most prominent stars on Raw programming. Currently assisting Bad Bunny on the Road to WrestleMania, Priest has already exhibited raw power and the look to propel him quickly to the top of the roster. His recent move to the Raw brand following the Rumble showed he’s ready for his close up.
Priest seems comfortable building the storyline with Bad Bunny and perhaps allowing this time in the spotlight to grow as a performer inside the WWE. Being attached to a music megastar during his push is never a bad thing, and there’s no reason to really rock the boat, but his intimidating stature and presence can be built as the same type of Keith Lee, brick shit house foe to Lashley’s equally impressive march. Especially with all the Bunny buzz coming into the WWE right now, it would make business sense to book them together while the iron's hot.
Goober Rating Factor of Likelihood: 2/5 – Eventually, I see Priest in the main event picture, and his feuds will be spectacular with anyone, but I don’t see it happening this soon out of the gate.
IV. "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt
Okay, before you get wild, hear me out. I’m perpetually fascinated by the idea of characters who seem to have nothing in common or no parallel storyline becoming involved in a feud, and I think the only character capable of something like this would be "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt.
The Fiend is the best and most psychologically impressive character on WWE programming, arguably ever. There's been a few who've come close, but no one does it like Bray Wyatt. They say everyone who steps in the ring with The Fiend leaves a different person and, with the exception of Uncle Bill, I’d agree with that statement 100%. Each person who’ve had the misfortune to step in the path of Fiend’s horror has gone back to the people for the love they once had (Daniel Bryan), come back to the dark side (Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, The Miz, Braun Strowman), or has taken the dark path to becoming the ultimate heel (John Cena). The Fiend plays on his opponent's fears, their weaknesses, their drives, and no one comes out unscathed.
How easy it would be to prey on Lashley's fear of rejection by his stable mates, the company, or even himself, and Wyatt could set the stage to rip his entire world apart over the course of a few short weeks. Imagine the mind games he’d play with the Hurt Business. MVP looking over his shoulder every moment on air, the attacks on Alexander and Benjamin, the almost full undoing of the stable at the hands of a maniacal monster.
The slow burn to the payoff with Randy Orton makes The Fiend the absolute last choice and most improbable of this list, but it sure is fun to think about the incredible psychological and physical program these two could pull given the latitude they deserve. Fingers crossed!
Goober Rating Factor of Likelihood: 0/5 – Not gonna happen. Plus, I’m fully invested in watching the Orton storyline pay off. I need to know how this ends!
V. Drew McIntyre
This seems to be the clearest and most obvious choice for Mania’s main event. The stage was set during Chamber when The Miz appeared to bribe MVP for Hurt Business services after Lashley's pinless loss of the United States Championship earlier in the night. The table was set neatly for this role reversal rematch, and this runaway train seems headed for a collision course on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
I'd be hard pressed to believe we get these two in the ring, one on one, prior to WM37. We still have Fastlane to get through, which is scheduled a short three weeks before Mania, and seems mindboggling when you think about the extraordinary lengths they need to go through to pull these events off. It feels short sighted, even a missed opportunity, to give Lashley the belt just to take it off of him so quick. They're building a story, so perhaps there's more than meets the eye with this approach, but it just seems like it would be a big build for nothing.
Raymond James Stadium will allow attendees to WM37, which seems all the more likely that McIntyre gets his Mania pop redo going over on Lashley in the title match. It’s still a little over a month out, and the build to Lesnar/McIntyre started prior to Royal Rumble 2020 in early January. It seems somewhat far fetched that a build of Lesnar proportions could be manifested and booted up to that level of heat in such a short period of time, but Lashley’s domination and destruction seemed to happen at the same break neck pace. I'm always shocked at the efficiency of how quickly WWE can make magic happen, and I'm confident they can pull this second show down off in an effective and compelling way, even with four weeks of air time ahead of them.
Goober Rating Factor of Likelihood: 5/5 - I’d bet all my money, if I had any, on this being the outcome. Monstrous and consequential showdown, either player winning is the right outcome.
Lashley seems positioned to be an incredibly destructive force on the Raw roster, and taking the championship off of him in short order may stumble the long term build. However, just because McIntyre missed his Mania pop doesn’t mean he’s destined for a Mulligan at the first in person show since last March. Time will tell where we go from here, but one thing appears certain – Bobby Lashley has fully hit his stride, and business is indeed booming.
I’m still holding out for Keith Lee, though, that shit is going to be incredible when it finally happens. Guess I should be glad I didn't add Christian on this list, though...
Adam Barnard is a staff writer for Kulture Popped, spends a ton of time at his day job daydreaming about what characters The Fiend could do big business with (looking directly at you, Sting), and, as much as he loves Drew McIntyre, is incredibly excited to see Bobby Lashley as WWE Champion. Check out the rest of his work at ThisisGoober.com.