In the world of professional wrestling, the championship title represents the pinnacle of achievement. For WWE, the richest prize for their elite Raw roster to pursue is the Universal Championship. As the top title on the red brand, it carries immense prestige. Since its controversial origins in 2016, the Universal Championship’s eventful history has cemented its status as WWE’s cornerstone for intense rivalries, high stakes matches, and legendary champions.
The path to creating the Universal title was born from crisis. In mid-2016, top WWE superstar Roman Reigns violated the company’s wellness policy and was suspended. This left WWE’s flagship Monday Night Raw program without a world champion right before their marquee Battleground pay-per-view. Scrambling for a solution, WWE introduced the Universal Championship, awarded based on a singles match at Battleground between Seth Rollins and Finn Balor. While rushed, this surprise move established Raw’s equivalent to SmackDown’s WWE Championship.
The inaugural champion Finn Balor’s reign was devastatingly cut short by injury. But he passed the torch to Kevin Owens, who ushered in the title’s first iconic feud against Chris Jericho. Their friendship-turned-rivalry built Raw’s reputation as the home of serial betrayals and shifting alliances centered around the Universal Championship’s power.
At WrestleMania 33, Goldberg defeated Kevin Owens to capture the Universal title in his comeback run, only to lose it to Brock Lesnar in a marquee champion vs. champion match. Lesnar’s dominant 500+ days reign drew criticism for his rare title defenses. But it propelled the Universal Championship as a prize worth chasing based on Lesnar’s endboss reputation.
Ironically, the controversial absence of the top title drove the rise of the Intercontinental Championship as Raw’s workhorse belt. But moments like Rollins’ breakthrough win over Lesnar at WrestleMania 35 reinforced the Universal title’s symbolism as WWE’s pinnacle. Roman Reigns later gained redemption in a passing of the torch by defeating Lesnar for the belt at SummerSlam 2018.
As the “Big Dog”, Reigns regularly headlined pay-per-views in epic Universal Championship clashes against Dean Ambrose, Brock Lesnar, and Braun Strowman. Unfortunately, Reigns’ leukemia diagnosis forced him to relinquish the title and leave WWE to focus on treatment. An inspirational Reigns would eventually return and reclaim his rightful place at the top.
In 2019, Seth Rollins rode his popularity as “The Beastslayer” and connection with the audience to a Universal title victory over Lesnar at WrestleMania. The Architect then put his athleticism on display in must-see matches against AJ Styles. But an ill-advised Twitter scandal damaged his goodwill, and he dropped the championship surprisingly fast to “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt.
After a rocky start, Wyatt’s unique and horror-tinged persona made him a compelling champion. Epic mindgames against foes like Daniel Bryan enhanced his mystique. But constant title changes during the no-crowds pandemic era failed to build strong title reigns.
Roman Reigns’ current record run has brought dominance back to the Universal title. As the smash hit “Head of the Table”, Reigns’ character evolution has aligned perfectly with establishing his championship as Raw’s crown jewel. Electric matches against Edge and Brock Lesnar only further cemented Reigns and the title’s place at the top of WWE.
In just six years, the Universal Championship has crafted an eventful legacy that connects WWE’s biggest stars across eras. Despite its rushed debut, the title overcame early growing pains to become the centerpiece of Raw’s flagship storylines and WWE’s overall hierarchy. As the company’s contemporary version of their rich world championship history, the future remains bright for the Universal title’s long reign at the mountaintop of pro wrestling.