Reigns earned his fourth shot at the Universal championship, his fifth career shot at Lesnar with a world title on the line and fourth one-on-one match against Lesnar by defeating Bobby Lashley in the main event of Monday Night Raw. For the second time in 10 days, Reigns and Lashley had, quite frankly, a tremendous battle of wills and physicality that was certainly main-event-worthy.
A Cincinnati crowd that was otherwise well-engaged throughout the night, ignited in excitement from the opening moments of the show when Stephanie McMahon, Triple H and Vince McMahon announce the all-women's pay-per-view event "Evolution", stood mostly apathetic in the face of a strong performance. So how did we get to this point?
In March 2015, Roman Reigns was seemingly on his way to a coronation as the new WWE champion at WrestleMania 31. After Seth Rollins triggered the breakup of The Shield in June 2014, Reigns spent the better part of the next year positioning himself as the breakout singles star of the popular trio.
The first sign that something was seriously awry with live crowds came at the 2015 Royal Rumble, when the Philadelphia crowd cheered anyone and everyone positioned to defeat Reigns including eventual runner-up Rusev. When Reigns won the Royal Rumble match, and The Rock came out to raise his arm as the next "guy," the fans still booed despite the presence of one of the most popular personalities in WWE history.
By the night of WrestleMania 31, plans changed. Rollins cashed in Money in the Bank in one of the most iconic moments of the last decade to steal away into the night as WWE champion. Reigns eventually won the WWE championship late in 2015, though Sheamus would cut his first world title reign down before it even began by cashing in his Money in the Bank contract.
Reigns' second world title run lasted just over a month, and when he was forced to defend his WWE championship in the 2016 Royal Rumble match in Orlando, he wasn't even in the final two as Triple H defeated Reigns' Shield brother Dean Ambrose to take the title. At WrestleMania 32, Reigns finally got his win in the main event of the biggest show of the year and took the title back. He'd lose again a few months later in a Shield triple threat, and for more than two years, Reigns has not held a world title.
It may not feel this way to a lot of fans, but it might shock you to learn Reigns has spent less than 120 days of his WWE career holding a world title. He's been in and out of the picture at various points over the last two years, and it felt as though it was finally his time to step back up as the top guy on Raw in early 2018.
Reigns positioned himself with a chance to gain revenge on Lesnar three years after his initial shot at "The Beast" went awry. Crowd reactions were ignored and after a year of the most intense negative crowd noise he's had to date, Reigns was the clear choice to end an absentee Universal championship reign from Lesnar that had long since outlived its most energetic and effective period. WrestleMania 34 was once again supposed to be Reigns' hour of coronation and redemption, but as apathy, boos and unrelenting chants were mixed with beach balls and "the wave" during the main event inside of the Superdome, a funny thing happened.
It was the same thing that had happened several times over in Reigns' career -- he was denied the win that he was seemingly destined for in the brightest of spotlights. When a rematch inside of a steel cage was scheduled for Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia a few weeks later, it was one final chance for Reigns to fulfill his inevitable destiny. He failed again, though the controversial ending left the door open for yet another match.
Over the next few months, Lesnar completely disappeared from WWE. Reigns had highs and lows along the way, and despite having lost to Lashley at Extreme Rules, Reigns was given one final shot to earn his way back to Lesnar at SummerSlam. After defeating Drew McIntyre and Finn Balor last week, Reigns faced off with Lashley again on Monday night, kicked out of a spear and ultimately hit one of his own to seal the victory and Lesnar-Reigns IV at SummerSlam. At SummerSlam, Lesnar will have been Universal Champion for 504 days, the longest WWE world title reign of the last 30 years and the sixth-longest in WWE history.
There will be plenty to write about this Universal championship main event in the month to come, but the first real test comes next week. For the first time since April, Lesnar will appear on WWE TV at Raw, in Miami. Let the games begin.
Hits and misses
Evolution, the first-ever WWE all-women's pay-per-view, is an exciting concept. It will take place in October, and both Stephanie McMahon and Triple H talked to ESPN about their initial thoughts about the announcement and the event itself. With at least three title matches, the finals of the Mae Young Classic and all of the top talent from four different brands, it already looks poised to be a tremendous show.
It was a busy night beyond Reigns clinching his shot at Lesnar. Kevin Owens, by virtue of his win over Braun Strowman at Extreme Rules (via getting thrown off the top of the cage), will get a shot at Strowman's Money in the Bank briefcase at SummerSlam. Owens had one of his best promos in recent memory when he talked about pain, letting his kids down and revenge. Even if he loses at SummerSlam, there could be something more to Owens' promise to haunt Strowman.
After a promising Balor vs. McIntyre match was cut short by Dolph Ziggler's interference, and impromptu tag team match broke out with Balor and Rollins taking on Ziggler and McIntyre. Rollins ultimately earned the pinfall on Ziggler after an entertaining match, and the result was an Intercontinental championship rematch between Ziggler and Rollins for SummerSlam.
The B-Team continued their unlikely run of luck and success by defending their Raw tag team championships against Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy. After spending most of the match fighting from behind, a scramble late in the match led to a roll-up. Hardy and Wyatt teased a friendly congratulations after the match, only to lay out Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel afterwards. Hardy and Wyatt needed a turn back towards the dark side in order to regain a bit more of their serious edge moving forward after this slapstick rivalry.
Bayley and Sasha Banks' newly regained love fest got back on track as they defeated a pair of enhancement talents in a tag team match. Any direction is better than un-defendable therapy sessions, so we'll see where this latest wrinkle goes. At the very least, it gave Corey Graves to channel his inner Bobby Heenan when he said, "I'm sure Sasha Banks is excited to be a part of Evolution -- that's 49 other backs she could potentially stab."
Elias attempted to promote his new album on iTunes and Spotify throughout the night, only to get cut off time and time again. As of Tuesday morning, the "Walk with Elias" EP had risen to No. 6 on the iTunes album charts -- ahead of Taylor Swift, Post Malone, Panic! At the Disco, Imagine Dragons and Cardi B, among many others. The world wants to walk with Elias.
Natalya and Mickie James, whose WWE main roster debuts date back to 2008 and 2005, respectively, channeled a lot of the energy in the building and had a very solid outing in a one-on-one match Monday night. There was a big superplex, an Electric Chair drop and a crazy bump where Natalya fell out of the ring headfirst between the bottom and middle ropes. An Alexa Bliss distraction allowed James to pick up the victory with a whip-quick Mick Kick.
Ember Moon beat Liv Morgan for the third time inside of a month, with Sarah Logan banned from ringside. Again, it was an interesting match, but with Logan being the one who beat Moon, this rematch was a bit of a head-scratcher.