WWE Universal Championship
The WWE Universal Championship is a world heavyweight championship[b] created and promoted by the American professional wrestling promotion WWE, currently defended on their SmackDown brand. It is one of three world titles in WWE, alongside the WWE Championship on Raw and the NXT Championship on NXT. The current champion is "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt, who is in his first reign.
|WWE Universal Championship|
Top: The current standard Universal Championship belt with default side plates
Bottom: "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt's custom championship belt (2019–present)
Wyatt uses both belts simultaneously for his two different characters
|Date established||July 25, 2016|
|Current champion(s)||"The Fiend" Bray Wyatt|
|Date won||October 31, 2019|
Named in honor of the WWE Universe, the championship was established on July 25, 2016 to be the top title of the Raw brand. Its creation came as a result of the re-introduction of the brand split and subsequent draft on July 19, 2016 in which the WWE Championship, the promotion's original world title, became exclusive to SmackDown. The inaugural Universal Champion was Finn Bálor. Since its inception, matches for the championship have headlined several pay-per-view events, including SummerSlam in 2017, 2018, 2019, and WrestleMania 34, both being two of WWE's "big four" pay-per-views, the latter of which is WWE's flagship event. The title was one of two world titles in the promotion until the NXT Championship's recognition in 2017 as well as NXT becoming a main brand in 2019. Following the events of Crown Jewel 2019, the Universal and WWE Championships switched brands.
In mid-2016, the WWE reintroduced the brand extension, where the promotion split its main roster between their Raw and SmackDown brands, represented by the shows of the same name (the previous brand extension ended in 2011). On July 19, 2016, SmackDown began broadcasting live and on that premiere of SmackDown Live, the 2016 WWE Draft took place and reigning WWE Champion Dean Ambrose was drafted to SmackDown. At Battleground on July 24, Ambrose retained the title in a triple threat match against Raw draftees Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, leaving Raw without a world championship. On the following episode of Monday Night Raw, the brand's Commissioner Stephanie McMahon and General Manager Mick Foley created the WWE Universal Championship to serve as the brand's top championship. The title was named in honor of the WWE Universe, the name the promotion uses to refer to its fan base.
The inaugural champion was crowned at SummerSlam on August 21 in a pinfall and submission-only singles match. Seth Rollins was automatically set for that match as he was Raw's number one draft pick and was not pinned in the WWE Championship match at Battleground. His opponent was determined by two fatal four-way matches on Raw, with the winners wrestling each other in a singles match. Finn Bálor won the first fatal four-way by defeating Cesaro, Kevin Owens, and Rusev while Roman Reigns won the second by defeating Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn, and Sheamus. Bálor then defeated Reigns and was added to the title match. At SummerSlam, Bálor defeated Rollins to become the inaugural champion. Bálor was the first WWE wrestler to win a world title in his pay-per-view debut as well as winning his first world title in less than a month of his debut on WWE's main roster. During the championship match, however, Bálor suffered a legitimate shoulder injury and was forced to vacate the title the following day.
In 2017, the NXT Championship was recognized as a world title, thus having three world championships in the WWE, though the NXT brand itself did not become the promotion's third major brand until September 2019 when it was moved to the USA Network; the brand was formerly a developmental territory for WWE. At Crown Jewel on October 31, 2019, SmackDown wrestler "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt won the Universal title by defeating Seth Rollins in a Falls Count Anywhere match that could not be stopped for any reason, thus transferring the Universal Championship to SmackDown. The WWE Championship was subsequently transferred to Raw after reigning champion Brock Lesnar quit SmackDown the following day, taking the title to Raw.
The following is a list of dates indicating the transitions of the WWE Universal Championship between the Raw and SmackDown brands.
|Date of transition||Brand||Notes|
|July 25, 2016||Raw||The championship was established for Raw after WWE Champion Dean Ambrose was drafted to SmackDown in the 2016 WWE Draft. Finn Bálor subsequently became the inaugural Universal Champion at SummerSlam on August 21.|
|October 31, 2019||SmackDown||The Universal Championship moved to SmackDown after "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt, a member of the SmackDown brand, defeated Seth Rollins in a Falls Count Anywhere match that could not be stopped for any reason to win the Universal Championship.|
Championship belt design
The Universal Championship belt is similar in appearance to the WWE Championship belt (introduced in 2014), with a few notable differences. Like the WWE Championship belt, the center plate is a large cut out of the WWE logo with diamonds sitting inside an irregular heptagonal plate, with the capital words "Universal Champion" in small print sitting underneath the logo. Like the WWE Championship belt, gold divider bars separate the center plate from its two side plates. Each side plate features the same default removable center section as the WWE Championship (the WWE logo over a red globe), which can be customized with the champion's logo. Another notable difference is the belt's strap, the color of which indicates the brand it is exclusive to. When the belt was first unveiled at SummerSlam 2016, the strap was red to symbolize its exclusivity to the Raw brand, and the underline of the WWE logo on the center plate was black to make it visible (essentially the reverse of the WWE Championship belt). After the title became exclusive to SmackDown in late 2019, Bray Wyatt introduced a blue strap variation and the underline of the WWE logo was changed from black to red.
In addition to the SmackDown version of the belt, Bray Wyatt also introduced a custom version of the championship for his "Fiend" character on the November 29 episode of SmackDown. The custom belt features The Fiend's face in the place of the center plate. There are no side plates, but above and below where the side plates would be are black leather strips, with the top strip on each side saying "Hurt" and the bottom strips saying "Heal"; both words are written in red. The belt's strap is red and black worn leather and red stitching holds the leather together. On the far left side of the strap, "LET" is largely written in red, while on the opposing end "IN" is largely written, also in red (for the character's phrase, "Let Me In"; "Me" represented by The Fiend's face). Wyatt uses both the standard and custom versions of the championship; his friendly Firefly Fun House character holds the standard blue belt, while his sinister Fiend character holds the custom belt.
The Universal Championship design was heavily criticized. Jason Powell of Pro Wrestling Dot Net referred to it as "a title belt that no one likes". Adam Silverstein of CBS Sports described it as "ugly" while the live SummerSlam audience in Brooklyn, New York gave derisive chants, including "This belt sucks", an assessment with which New England Sports Network reporters agreed. That site's Ricky Doyle wrote that the crowd response turned what should have been a "landmark moment for the company" into an "awkward experience". Mike Johnson of Pro Wrestling Insider felt the title looked like a "xerox" of the WWE Championship and did not blame the audience for reacting negatively. The design was also unpopular with online wrestling fans.
WWE employees responded in the aftermath of the title's debut. Seth Rollins chastised the SummerSlam crowd's reaction, writing on Twitter: "More important than a title's appearance is what it represents for the men fighting over it. You really let me down tonight, Brooklyn". While acknowledging that he himself might have chosen a different belt design, Mick Foley echoed Rollins's response in a lengthy Facebook post. He recalled being presented with the WWF Hardcore Championship, a title belt made of broken metal pieces held together by duct tape, which challengers "made [...] mean something by busting [their] asses". In a kayfabe promo on the following episode of Raw, the then-villainous Rollins called the championship belt "beautiful".
Later in 2016, Jim Vorel of Paste ranked the title as the worst of nine then contested in WWE, noting its "obnoxious" design. On the other hand, Nick Schwartz of Fox Sports wrote: "It's really not as bad as fans made it seem at SummerSlam. It's fine".
As of December 12, 2019, there have been ten reigns between seven champions and two vacancies. Finn Bálor was the inaugural champion. Brock Lesnar holds three records with the championship: he has the most reigns at three, his first reign is the longest reign at 504 days (beginning on April 2, 2017 and ending on August 19, 2018), and he has the longest combined reign at 688 days (WWE recognizes 503 days and 686 days, respectively). Bálor has the shortest reign at 22 hours as he was forced to vacate the title due to suffering a legitimate injury in winning it. Kevin Owens is the youngest champion when he won it at 32 years, 114 days old, while Goldberg is the oldest when he won it at 50.
"The Fiend" Bray Wyatt is the current champion in his first reign. He won the title by defeating Seth Rollins in a Falls count anywhere match that could not be stopped for any reason on October 31, 2019 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia at Crown Jewel. The Fiend won the title as a member of the SmackDown brand, thus transferring the title to SmackDown.
|No.||Overall reign number|
|Reign||Reign number for the specific champion|
|Days||Number of days held|
|Days recog.||Number of days held recognized by the promotion|
|+||Current reign is changing daily|
|No.||Champion||Championship change||Reign statistics||Notes||Ref.|
|1||Finn Bálor||August 21, 2016||SummerSlam||Brooklyn, NY||1||<1||<1||The title was established for Raw after the WWE Championship became exclusive to SmackDown following the 2016 WWE Draft. Bálor defeated Seth Rollins in a pinfall and submission-only match to become the inaugural champion.|||
|—||Vacated||August 22, 2016||Raw||Brooklyn, NY||—||—||—||Vacated due to Finn Bálor suffering a legitimate shoulder injury during his match at SummerSlam.|||
|2||Kevin Owens||August 29, 2016||Raw||Houston, TX||1||188||188||This was a fatal four-way elimination match for the vacant title also involving Big Cass, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins.|||
|3||Goldberg||March 5, 2017||Fastlane||Milwaukee, WI||1||28||27|||
|4||Brock Lesnar||April 2, 2017||WrestleMania 33||Orlando, FL||1||504||503|||
|5||Roman Reigns||August 19, 2018||SummerSlam||Brooklyn, NY||1||64||63|||
|—||Vacated||October 22, 2018||Raw||Providence, RI||—||—||—||Vacated after Roman Reigns announced a legitimate diagnosis of leukemia.|||
|6||Brock Lesnar||November 2, 2018||Crown Jewel||Riyadh, Saudi Arabia||2||156||156||This match was originally scheduled as a triple threat match in which Roman Reigns was to defend the title against Lesnar and Braun Strowman. After Reigns relinquished the championship, the match became a singles match between Lesnar and Strowman for the vacant title.|||
|7||Seth Rollins||April 7, 2019||WrestleMania 35||East Rutherford, NJ||1||98||98|||
|8||Brock Lesnar||July 14, 2019||Extreme Rules||Philadelphia, PA||3||28||27||Cashed in his Money in the Bank contract.|||
|9||Seth Rollins||August 11, 2019||SummerSlam||Toronto, Canada||2||81||80|||
|10||"The Fiend" Bray Wyatt||October 31, 2019||Crown Jewel||Riyadh, Saudi Arabia||1||42+||42+||This was a Falls Count Anywhere match that could not be stopped for any reason.
The title became exclusive to the SmackDown brand due to Wyatt's status as a SmackDown wrestler.
As of December 12, 2019.
|†||Indicates the current champion|
rec. by WWE
|5||"The Fiend" Bray Wyatt †||1||42+|
- Despite initially recognizing this number, the WWE recognize the reign as having lasted 503 days.
- WWE has referred to the Universal Championship as a "world title", both on its programming and in print. This designation has been corroborated by reliable sources such as Pro Wrestling Dot Net, Pro Wrestling Torch, ESPN, Fox Sports, Sky Sports, and Slam! Sports.
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Finn Bálor becomes the first Superstar to ever win a world title in his debut match on a pay-per-view.
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The most recent WWE world title, exclusive to Raw, has had a lot of shit thrown at it.
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