When Big E cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase to beat Bobby Lashley for the WWE Championship back in September, many fans were happy to see the New Day member finally ascend to the top of the card after roughly a dozen years of refining his craft.
The win seemed to signal that WWE had created a new lead babyface to carry the promotion at the top of the card (at least, on Raw). Plus, seeing WWE making this big push with a Black man made those fans all the more optimistic.
Boy, WWE made those notions look foolish in hindsight.
At WWE Day 1, Big E lost the WWE title to Brock Lesnar in a Fatal 5 Way match before he really picked up momentum as champion.
Instead of booking E as a WWE Champion who was on par with his SmackDown counterpart, Universal Champion Roman Reigns, WWE presented him as another guy on the roster who just happened to be the world champion. Here are some of the missteps the company made with E as champion:
- Comes up short in his first two matches on Raw as WWE Champion on Sept. 20 (granted, he didn’t get pinned in either match, but he certainly didn’t come across as the central focus)
- Placed in a weird “Can they co-exist?” program with Drew McIntyre
- Waiting until the last SmackDown before the 2021 Survivor Series to build to his match with Roman Reigns (if anything, it felt like WWE was building to Reigns/Xavier Woods than it did Reigns/E)
- Losing to Reigns clean as a sheet at Survivor Series (for comparison, Drew McIntyre lost to Reigns at Survivor Series the previous year, but WWE went out of its way to protect the then-WWE Champion in defeat and show that McIntyre could’ve beaten Reigns had Jey Uso not interfered)
- Taking a backseat to Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens’ bickering over how honest Owens is, even after Owens turned on E
- Retaining his championship against Austin Theory, but only because Theory got too distracted by Owens and Rollins arguing at ringside
- Losing a non-title match to Bobby Lashley, which turned the triple threat match with Owens and Rollins into a Fatal-4-Way with Lashley included
To be fair, WWE didn’t give E the complete 2006 Rey Mysterio treatment, but as that list shows, it didn’t put much effort into presenting him as a leading attraction, either. And if none of that convinced you, having him not come out last during the introductions for the Fatal-5-Way at Day 1 and losing his title to Brock Lesnar with little resistance.
With one F-5, WWE sent the same message that it did for most of the previous 109 days: Thanks for your help, but it’s time for the REAL stars to step in.
WWE sending similar messages when it booked E’s New Day stablemate Kofi Kingston to get squashed in 2019 by the very same Lesnar for the WWE Title or when it called an audible and scripted Bianca Belair to lose the SmackDown Women’s Championship in 26 seconds at SummerSlam 2021 makes it feel all the more insidious, even if WWE merely saw it as coincidental.
What makes E’s tepid run all the more frustrating — aside from E excelling at whatever WWE gave him to work with — is that the company clearly knows how to make a world champion come across as such, and you needn’t look any further than the SmackDown roster for evidence.
During that same rough timeline listed above, Roman Reigns wrestled in nine matches — two coming on in those aforementioned Raw matches on Sept. 20 — and his only loss came via a lazy disqualification (and even that ended with him standing tall at the end of the show). And for most of those matches (which are generally scarce), WWE took the time to treat them like a major happening, as it should be for any champion.
While Reigns’ run as champion has been far from perfect (some stingier opponents would help there) but there’s no denying that WWE has succeeded in pushing him as a star. It could’ve done the same thing for E, but instead, it went through the motions before having him drop the belt on a whim. It’s disappointing, and not indicative of how good he was in the role.
Hopefully, this isn’t the last time Big E holds a world title in WWE. If he does get another chance, let’s also hope that WWE’s efforts to make that reign feel special match up with the effort we all know he will put in.