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Braun Strowman was not scheduled to work this year’s WrestleMania.

Instead, he walked away with the Universal Championship.

With COVID-19 wreaking havoc in late March, and no immediate taping obligations at the Performance Center in Orlando, Strowman packed up his Yukon Denali for a brief sojourn to visit family in Wisconsin. He was 20 hours into a 21-hour drive when he received a call that he was needed, immediately, back at the PC.

“I was told, ‘There’s been a change, we need you,’” said Strowman, who is the 36-year-old Adam Scherr, a former powerlifter who has found his home in WWE. “I said, ‘Well, I’m in Wisconsin. How am I getting there?’ Almost before I finished saying that, I was told there was a jet in the air that was landing in a few hours for me.”

With Roman Reigns unavailable to work WrestleMania, there was a giant-sized opening on the card—so why not fill it with a giant? There had been multiple occasions where Strowman was on the cusp of winning one of WWE’s premiere championships, but with such incredible size, standing 6’8” and weighing over 370 pounds, he was a draw without a title. Still, almost every performer in WWE wants the chance to represent the company as one of its top champs. And suddenly, Strowman was about to get his chance.

WWE’s initial plan for WrestleMania was to have Reigns defeat Bill Goldberg for the Universal Championship. Goldberg was back to help draw a massive crowd for the show at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, but that was no longer the case after Mania was forced to move to the Performance Center. And with Reigns, a two-time leukemia survivor, who also had newborn twins at home, no longer on the card, the honor was now being bestowed to Strowman, his longtime on-screen rival.

Braun Strowman wrestlemania

Time was limited before the plane was set to arrive, yet there were still a couple hours to spare. Since he had already planned on doing so, Strowman followed through on plans to visit family—and stay for dinner.

“My uncle had just put beer butt chickens on the smoker,” said Strowman. “I had just enough time to wolf down some food.”

The dinner menu was filled with the type of mouth-watering, savory cooking he envisioned during his long trek to Wisconsin. Similar to Popeye and his spinach, Strowman used a home-cooked meal to fuel up for WrestleMania.

“I ate an entire chicken and half of a farmer’s field of corn,” said Strowman. “And I had a couple Spotted Cows, and the only place you can get those is in Wisconsin. Then I headed to Florida to whip Bill Goldberg’s ass.”

Despite the fact he still had room for dessert, Strowman waved farewell and arrived just in time for his flight at the Waukesha County Airport.

“That jet was a pack of gum with wings and a motor,” said a laughing Strowman, whose sense of humor is nearly as big as his physique. “It was a four-seater jet, and I filled up all four seats.

“I was in bed by midnight in Orlando, then at nine the next morning I was at work being told that I was facing Goldberg at WrestleMania for the Universal Championship. All I could think was, ‘Let’s go.’”

The match, full of an onslaught of power moves, clocked in at a tidy 70 seconds.

“Powerslam, powerslam, powerslam, one-two-three, new Universal champion,” said Strowman, who expressed gratitude for the chance to represent WWE as its Universal Champion. “Goldberg’s a legend and an icon, so it was a surreal thing to work with him. But it’s also a business, so unfortunately for Bill, he was just another victim in the list of people that got these hands.”

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Throughout his Universal Championship reign, Strowman’s main opposition has been Bray Wyatt. They wrestled in a singles match for the title at the Money in the Bank pay per view in May, and since then, Wyatt has never drifted too far from Strowman.

The story has tapped into the on-screen history between the two men, as Strowman made his WWE debut in 2015 as part of the Wyatt Family.

“I grew up in the tiny little town of Sherrills Ford, N.C., and we don’t have a whole lot going on there, so that whole run with the Wyatt Family, it was like living in a dream,” said Strowman. “I had something like seven wrestling matches when I debuted on television, so I was terrified. But that was my shot, and the learning process was so much fun.”

Braun Strowman WrestleMania win

Strowman continues to look back on that stretch as the foundation for his current run as champion. He credits Wyatt, Luke Harper (now working in AEW as Brodie Lee), and Erick Rowan (Joseph Rudd) as three of his strongest influences during his formative years in WWE, all major reasons why he became such a massive success.

“You learn how to do so much of this behind the scenes,” said Strowman. “You learn on those long car rides after shows. There were so many nights I screwed up, and we’d talk about that. Then there were other nights, when the notes landed right, like a 'Freebird' solo, and we’d talk about that feeling of accomplishment and excitement.

“Bray, Rowan, Harper, I learned so much from them. And every masterpiece has its star, and that was Bray, but he needed us to play a supporting role around him. I can’t praise Luke and Rowan enough for what they did for me. Those memories are very special to me.”

The current story is Wyatt seeking to reclaim Strowman and take his monster back. Wyatt has done some tremendous character work over the past year, making his sadistic character seem believable, and he now wants to unleash the monster inside of Strowman.

“It’s the old story of the two wolves inside your body, where one wants to do evil and the other wants to do good,” said Strowman. “It’s all about which one you feed.”

Past iterations of the Bray Wyatt character have reappeared during this program, which connects to the roots of this story, as Wyatt introduced Strowman to the WWE audience. That leads to the “Wyatt Swamp Fight” at Sunday night's The Horror Show: Extreme Rules pay per view, pitting Strowman against Wyatt in a cinematic match that has the potential to take this program to an entirely new realm.

“There’s a level of trust and confidence and respect you need between yourself and your opponent to go out there and make magic,” said Strowman. “We have that.”

Strowman’s size makes it difficult to establish him as an underdog. But Wyatt has the size to be a credible opponent.

“There aren’t many guys my size in this industry,” said Strowman. “Right now, I’m legitimately 373 pounds, with abs, I’ll add. So most guys can’t hurt me. Name one other person on this planet that can take a right hand from Brock Lesnar like I did in the Royal Rumble a couple years ago, and then wrestle for 20 more minutes after it. There ain’t anybody else.

“That’s why Bray is perfect. If I had to guess, Bray is every bit of 320 to 330 pounds, and he is legitimately one of the toughest dudes on the roster. He’s big and agile. That’s a guy who could hurt you.”

The empty-arena era of wrestling has provided room for more creativity in these cinematic matches, and the “Swamp Fight” is a unique way to advance the story between Strowman and Wyatt.

This will not be a traditional in-ring WWE match, but Strowman is confident that the unrelenting physicality and punishment will carry the action.

“It’s going to be a hoss fight, a slobberknocker,” said Strowman. “We both love to give punishment, and we both can take it. Once people see it, they’ll be talking all about this ‘Swamp Fight.’ We beat the ever-living hell out of each other.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.