There's been no shortage of commentary about Braun Strowman's (real name: Adam Scherr) unlikely two-year liftoff from fledgling fourth man in Bray Wyatt's cultish family to Raw's must-see main attraction. The Monster Among Men's upcoming Universal Championship challenge against Brock Lesnar at No Mercy on September 24th is a potentially crowning moment for the rural North Carolina native. The former champion power lifter's straight-ahead style as both physical battering ram and no-nonsense self-advocate make him a compelling foil for Lesnar's man-of-few-words-and-many-holds approach.
Still, the nagging question remains: How did a guy with scant developmental experience and visibly unpolished ring awareness overcome the odds – and competition – to headline a signature WWE pay-per-view and woo cynical fans without radical reinvention? For answers, we consulted Strowman himself, as well as NXT head trainer Matt Bloom (a.k.a. Tensai, a.k.a. Albert) and Miami Herald wrestling scribe Scott Fishman, and deduced the following five keys to Braun's big-time success.
1. Man at Work
Strowman, while a relative wrestling novice, is no kid. Having just turned 34, the nearly 400-pound strongman veteran had been cultivating constructive habits for years, which helped expedite his path from NXT to primetime TV. "The transition wasn't smooth when he first came here," Matt Bloom, his first trainer within WWE, tells Rolling Stone. "But he would continually train and push himself to get even the basic fundamentals. A basic somersault was tough for him to do, but he kept progressing. Yeah, it was athleticism, but he was determined to get better at the things he was not good at to fulfill his potential."
Strowman, unsurprisingly, also credits his work ethic with breaking past initial – and subsequent – barriers, adding, "I go out night after night and give this crowd 100 percent. I put my body on the line night after night, and if that isn't a testament to where I am in my career, I don't know what is. Everything I've ever gotten my entire life, I've worked my hide for."
2. Monsters Among Mentors
Apart from hands-on mentors like Bloom, Strowman has been a sponge in the locker room, looking up (literally or otherwise) to elders like Big Show, whom he memorably superplexed through the ring this past April. "There's someone that's always bigger, better, faster stronger," Strowman says. "Whatever sport I'm involved in, I want to be around the best guys. You don't get better training with someone worse than you, and there's always an opportunity to learn. I'm a believer in shutting your mouth and opening your ears. You learn from experienced guys. You're not gonna learn trying to figure it out on your own."
Miami Herald's Fishman concurs, and in his observation, Strowman has evidently been "listening to instructions. When I interviewed him, he was talking about how he's so hands-on with Vince McMahon. He has an open mind. He's taking instruction and all the knowledge from guys he's been working with like Big Show."
That said, Bloom still points to what a growth experience it was for Strowman to stand tall against Show that fateful Raw. "The story they told was amazing," he says. "Show pushed him, and he pushed Show. Coming out of that match, I thought, 'Braun really kicked the door open.'"
3. Trust in Process
Much as fans have their own opinions about pushes and retools and rubs, those who've been watching Strowman closely see a performer exemplary of the McMahon superstar-making mold at its best. "They've been consistent with his character," Fishman says. "When he loses, he doesn't lose the strength of the character. It's been very methodical and planned out. This is someone they started with and can turn into this machine they want to turn him into."
Strowman himself admits that, upon being called up to join the Wyatts so swiftly, "I had a little bit of nerves," but his faith was implicit. "I knew with what they were doing with me, who they paired me up with, I was gonna be alright," he explains. "They put me out there with guys who have done it. I had an unbelievable time running with the Wyatt Family. I learned so much about honing Braun and turning into the Monster Among Men."
None of that surprises Bloom, who cycled through several personas over his career and had no doubts Strowman was in good hands. "Vince McMahon and Triple H and that whole team know what they're doing," he says, definitively. "They know how to make superstars, and that's what separates us from every other group out there. I never second-guessed what they were doing. You have to slow-roll someone like a Braun Strowman, because if that doesn't work out, that's a hard thing to forget who he is. They did it just right."
4. Timing on His Side
With all the moving parts on WWE's roster – not to mention unforeseeable injuries and other incidents – it's nearly impossible to contrive even the most primed wrestler's peak. In Strowman's case, everything synced up for him and the ever-polarizing Roman Reigns to stage a sensational rivalry earlier this year, one that not only gave Strowman a dynamic opponent to work with but someone with enough heat to help him get over. "Yeah, the stars aligned," Bloom says. "You've got someone like Roman Reigns, where they're trying to get his story and brand going to where they need it to go, and what better person to pair him up against than the Monster Among Men?"
And as Fishman notes, only by that point – after graduating from the Wyatts, squashing jobbers and decimating more diminutive competition – was he in a position to exploit he and Reigns' chemistry. "He was creating viral moments with him and Kalisto and the ring breaking [with Big Show]," Fishman says. "All these moments have drawn attention to Braun and made him [known] even outside the WWE."
5. Room to Grow
The Monster who might soon conquer the Beast has, we assume, hit his ceiling as far as literal stature, but all signs point to Strowman's adaptability, which is the only way a larger wrestler can ensure longevity (not to mention an emotional and financial investment from the fans). "Look at what happened with Big Show and all the different roles WWE experimented with," Fishman says. "I see WWE doing the same with Braun Strowman as time goes on. He says he's this throwback to the giants of yesteryear. I think that's true, and I think a lot of fans are liking that. There's a ton of potential of having a long-term guy they can depend on."
Strowman, for his part, hesitates to peer into any crystal ball, claiming he's "more of a moment-to-moment person" who "doesn't get all worked up with the hype of what's gonna happen in six months." Although his one-time trainer Bloom contends that perhaps Braun's "being coy," adding: "Anyone who has the desire to be successful always has that person in front of them who they're aiming to be. Braun Strowman is very goal-oriented, and if his goal isn't to knock off Brock Lesnar, he's not being honest."