When Braun Strowman was drafted to Raw and split apart from all the other Wyatt members, it was a clear “here we go again” moment for long-time WWE viewers. The big guy with no storyline and little experience was getting a solo career and a big push along with it, simply because of his look. Terrible promos and quick squash matches were obviously on the way, as a green Strowman would struggle to justify his push in the ring.. Anybody familiar with Vince McMahon’s way of thinking could see it coming.
Well, we got the squash matches, although Strowman was remarkably quiet for the first months, especially for someone whose theme announces him with a huge roar. Those squashes were pretty much what we expected, with Strowman quickly dispatching his overmatched opponents like it was an episode of WWF Challenge in 1989. It was predictable, and if the segments weren’t so short, it would’ve been tedious, as well.
Something happened along the way, though. When the plot kicked in and Strowman graduated out of squashing jobbers, there was suddenly legitimate intrigue in his first significant feud. Sami Zayn was the first notable star to challenge the monster who destroyed so many smaller men. Strowman was now one-half of a David and Goliath story, one where he had to do more than hit three moves and look mean. He had to speak, stating his frustration with the easy fodder he had been having matches with, and wanting to fight someone who would give him a challenge. He had to act like facing Sami Zayn was not just being handed another match lacking in challenge, but was practically an insult.
Most importantly, Strowman now had to wrestle. After Zayn went ten minutes with Strowman, we began to see what was working both behind the scenes and within kayfabe. Strowman’s wrestling improved tenfold from what we’d seen before due to working with someone smaller and more agile than himself. Strowman couldn’t just live off the power moves he used against prelim talent like James Ellsworth when facing Zayn. Yeah, power is still the bulk of his game, but he had to be more aggressive, wilier, and faster in the ring. Several times now we’ve seen Strowman’s own surprising speed for a big man as he crashed into ring posts, kept up with Zayn’s intermittent offense, or even just got into position for whatever came next during the match. Working with Zayn has clearly helped Strowman’s overall skillset.
With Strowman facing off with Seth Rollins on Raw this week, we got to see how that time with Zayn has honed his abilities, both in and out of kayfabe. Whereas some of Zayn’s high-flying offence had caught Strowman unawares, this time he was ready for Rollins’s arsenal of moves, and caught him on most of them, preventing Rollins from getting any sort of aerial benefit. Once you cut away the smaller man’s height advantage off the ropes, they can’t risk getting close or locking up, so they’re at a disadvantage, with only their speed left to give them a chance to topple someone like Strowman. It’s not all cat-and-mouse kicks, but they certainly need to adjust their style in order to deal with the new and improved Braun Strowman.
When Strowman first appeared, he had maybe two answers to pretty much every maneuver. Now, he’s building up an arsenal of his own, and knows how to effectively deflect and defend against smaller, faster opponents, which is making him a much more interesting wrestler to watch. Not only that, but seeing Zayn and Rollins’s usual offence scuppered makes both them and wrestling feel realer. They’re more capable of being beaten, and have to find new strategies of their own, which can lead to great storytelling and character building. For someone I rolled my eyes at when he started his singles run, Braun Strowman is giving me a lot of reasons to keep watching.
Steph Maxwell-Kavanagh is a wrestling writer from the UK. She owns and writes for Rasslin Rehash, where she presents recaps, articles, and satirical pieces, with a feminist viewpoint.