Wednesday 9 May 2012

The Hit List

The May 7th edition of Monday Night RAW featured the surprise (and very welcome) return of Paul Heyman. Acting as a representative of Brock Lesnar Heyman informed the "WWE Universe" that Lesnar had quit the organisation, citing lack of appreciation from the fans and a breach of contract on the part of WWE (see the pre-Extreme Rules RAW) as his reasons.
Needless to say this is pure storyline.
Lesnar remains under contract to WWE. This is a way for WWE to excuse 'The Pain' from service for a few weeks because his limited dates deal means he does not have to appear on TV each week. WWE are smartly saving his appearances in order to get as much publicity and cash out of them as possible.
With Triple H (who suffered a storyline broken arm at the hands of Lesnar on the April 30th RAW) announced for next week's show we're unlikely to see Brock again until the May 21st show at the earliest. It's possible Paul Heyman will appear in the interim or return alongside Lesnar at some point, but it's not definite. He is not under contract to the sports entertainment outfit but may make future appearances if and when needed.

The reason he appeared in the first place is because his friendship (which grew from their time together as a unit when Lesnar was promoted to the main WWE roster in 2002) with the former 'Next Big Thing' is common knowledge. Having him appear as Lesnar's confederate on RAW was plausible (playing on the sense of credibility Lesnar has brought with him to WWE) and got people talking. That’s exactly what WWE wanted.

Who will Brock Lesnar have his sights set on when he returns to WWE television?
Personally I think Heyman will appear for WWE again before Brock's deal ends. He is a great promo man, which Lesnar is not, and understands how the former UFC champion should be portrayed in the predetermined world of pro wrestling. To paraphrase the man himself his presence allows for Lesnar's weaknesses to be hidden and his positives to be accentuated.
Back to the point: it’s clear that WWE are laying the groundwork for a match between ‘The Game’ and ‘The Pain’. I'm surprised the two have interacted this early into Lesnar's run with the company but I'm not surprised a match between the two is being teased. It's one of several big money bouts that prompted WWE to re-sign Lesnar after he became a free agent earlier this year.
Whenever Lesnar returns from his current sabbatical there are a number of potentially lucrative bouts waiting for him, which will presumably take place between now and WrestleMania XXIX. I’ve given my thoughts on how WWE could go about approaching each of them below.
John Cena

Cena v Lesnar may have already happened but there’s plenty of time for WWE to book a rematch. In an ideal world that would happen in order to give Lesnar a pin over ‘The Champ’. Their match at Extreme Rules was unlike anything WWE has booked before. A rematch booked in the same fashion would be less impactful but would allow for a different approach that could be just as noteworthy: have Lesnar completely obliterate Cena and end via stoppage.

That would be different enough to WWE’s normal approach to have a similar effect to their Extreme Rules clash without being a rehash of it. It would also keep Lesnar looking dominant. That should be a priority to WWE right up until WrestleMania next year.

Cena has his win. It’s Lesnar’s turn to go over so that he can tick ‘The Leader of the CeNation’ off his list.
Triple H
I mentioned above that ‘The Cerebral Assassin’ is being prepared for a match with Lesnar. Ten years ago that would have been a great draw. In 2012 I suspect it won’t have quite the same appeal. Ten years ago Triple H was one of the greatest wrestlers in the world and WWE was adhering to the Brand Extension. HHH and ‘the Pain’ were both the leading figures on their respective shows and only ever met once in a WWE ring (at a house show held at Madison Square Garden). Had WWE televised a feud between its top in-ring performer and the monster who was destroying everyone it could have done huge business.

Nowadays Triple H is a semi-regular TV character playing a corporate decision maker. The prospect of him getting into the ring with a beast like Brock Lesnar is still intriguing but it’s not as tantalising a prospect as it was during Lesnar’s first run.

The current rumour is that the two men will wrestle at SummerSlam. I think WWE would do better to book this match on a B level PPV and pit one of their active roster members against Lesnar at ‘The Summer Spectacular’. That’s unlikely though. At least if Triple H v Brock Lesnar does happen at SummerSlam some of the event’s flagging prestige may be restored.

Mick Foley
He may be broken down, out of shape, a decade past his best, and failed to have done anything noteworthy since his return to WWE late last year but I still think if booked correctly Mick Foley could work an enjoyable match with Lesnar.
Emphasise his 'Hardcore Legend' moniker and the fact that he has an incredibly high pain threshold. Have Lesnar talk about his desire to bring the company down from the inside and have Foley come out to defend it. An admission that he's at a disadvantage against 'The Pain' would help build sympathy and could also lead to Foley saying that while he's never faced anyone like Lesnar before it's also true to say Lesnar has never faced anyone like him. Stick them in a hardcore rules match (or something that allows them to work that style without the anti-PG name) on a B-level pay-per-view and I think a lot of people would want to see the result.
'Stone Cold' Steve Austin
Whenever 'The Rattlesnake' is asked about having "one last match" in interviews his reaction is always the same: it would depend on WWE wanting to do something, proposing the right scenario, feeling that he'd be able to deliver and the correct opponent being selected. When he talks about that correct opponent he invariably says that were it his decision alone he would wrestle CM Punk.
A Punk v Austin match would certainly be interesting, considering the very different views on alcohol both men have. If promoted correctly Austin v Punk could bring in a lot of money but I'm not convinced it could draw more than Austin v Lesnar.

Simply put 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin is the biggest wrestling star ever. He's bigger than Hogan, bigger than Rock, bigger than Flair, bigger than ‘HBK’, and bigger than anyone else you care to name. He spearheaded the wrestling boom period that was the Attitude Era and was its biggest star. Whoever he faces it will draw money. But there's no hook for a showdown with Punk beyond 'The Second City Saint' being a great wrestler and the promos they'd have leading up to the event.
A Lesnar v Austin match, on the other hand, could be massive. It would be a faceoff between the biggest WWE star ever and the man who took UFC by storm. It would be utterly unique. The match could be further enhanced by WWE putting together a video package (one of the promotion's specialities) covering Austin walking out in 2002 when he was asked to lose to 'The Next Big Thing' on an episode of RAW.
A match of this magnitude would need to take place at WrestleMania or, at a push, one of the secondary shows like SummerSlam or Survivor Series. WWE would need to ensure a hot crowd by holding the show in one of their strongest cities: New York, Chicago, Toronto or Philadelphia. Their current PPV calendar leaves only WrestleMania in New Jersey as a viable option. I think WWE should either wait and build a 2013 or 2014 show around this match (assuming Lesnar signs up for a second year) or not do it at all. This is a rare example of a match that just shouldn't take place on a B show: it needs the aura of one of WWE's Big Four events.
CM Punk

Punk is in an odd position. He’s one of WWE’s biggest stars but isn’t established enough to feel right being listed alongside the likes of Austin, Triple H and Foley. He’s a star and a great worker no doubt, but he hasn’t garnered that mainstream popularity or had that legendary career that other names on this list have.

Despite that I still think there’s potential in a Punk v Lesnar clash. The Chicago native’s Muay Thai influences would make for an intriguing match with Lesnar’s very real MMA abilities and amateur wrestling background. More care would need to be taken than with the Cena v Lesnar clash that successfully mixed pro wrestling with MMA because Punk is noticeably slighter than Lesnar and doesn’t have the muscle to look like a bruiser who can absorb a beating.

More emphasis would need to be placed on pre-match promos and head games than was the case with Lesnar v Cena, but that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. For starters it could lead to some potentially scintillating microphone showdowns between Punk and Paul Heyman. The match itself could feature Punk attempting a hit and run strategy, trying to wear the larger man down and weaken him with kicks to the neck (thankfully one of Punker’s signature moves) in preparation for the Anaconda Vice.

Care would need to be taken to protect Punk but I believe if set up and executed correctly Punk v Lesnar could be an intriguing diversion. Sadly if this match were to take place WWE would not go to the lengths it would need to to protect Punk. They did it for Cena yes, but he’s in a league of his own when it comes to protection from the booking squad.

Randy Orton

'The Viper' is in a similar situation to CM Punk in that he has a slight build by WWE headliner standards. That said he is incredibly over and his two finishing moves, the RKO and the punt kick, have been built up as lethal by WWE. He may not have the Muay Thai kicks that Punk does, but a match built around him trying to connect with the RKO and the announcers selling it as Orton's best chance of getting a win over Lesnar would be very effective. In turn that could lead to a great spot in which Lesnar attempted the F5 only for Orton to reverse into an RKO in mid-air.
Had Lesnar stuck around in 2004 instead of pursuing a NFL career he and Orton would likely have become frequent foes. They started on the main roster around the same time having toiled together in then WWE developmental unit Ohio Valley Wrestling. They are, in a sense, contemporaries.
With Orton being one of WWE's few bankable stars I’d be very surprised if this match didn't happen at some point. It would be big enough to be a featured bout on one of WWE's Big Four events but wouldn't feel out of place on a B show either. If it were up to me I'd use Lesnar v Orton to boost the buy rate of a lesser show and keep the Big Four for Attitide Era stars.

The Undertaker
Lesnar may have clashed with 'The Dead Man' before but not since the autumn of 2003 and, more significantly, never at WrestleMania.
Since Lesnar's last WWE run a large part of The Undertaker's ever-evolving gimmick has been his WrestleMania undefeated streak. It's been built up to the point that there are very few men who can credibly challenge him at the event. The former UFC champ has the credibility to pose a believable threat though. They famously had a staredown at UFC 121, with rumours at the time being that it was arranged (most likely between WWE management, Lesnar's management, and the two men themselves without the knowledge of anyone in UFC's hierarchy) to spark interest in a Lesnar v Undertaker match at the following year's WrestleMania XXVII.
This is the match I believe WWE should set their sights on. If Brock were given wins over everybody else on this list over the next year then a storyline could be concocted in which WWE management call on The Undertaker as the last resort, the only man who can truly end 'The Pain's' reign. That's not to say Lesnar should go undefeated or that his loss at Extreme Rules has scuppered this plan, just give him at least one convincing win over every name talent on the roster and have any losses he suffers booked in such a way as to keep him looking strong (such as at Extreme Rules).
The Rock

'The Great One' is the other leading candidate to be Lesnar's 'Mania foe. Rock's declaration that he wants to be WWE champion again could be foreshadowing a Rock v Lesnar title match at WrestleMania. It's all too easy to imagine a scenario where Rock wins the Royal Rumble and goes on to challenge Lesnar at WrestleMania XXIX in New Jersey.
The trouble here is that we've seen them wrestle before (most notably at SummerSlam 2002, where Lesnar beat Rock to capture his first of three WWE titles). That may have been a decade ago but I fail to see what could be done differently this time around that makes the match worth booking. I've presumed throughout writing this that Lesnar's matches will continue to be booked as worked shoots. That's fine for guys  that work well in that environment, like Triple H, Undertaker, and Foley, and guys who can be given time off after the match to rest up, such as Cena and Orton, but can you imagine a Hollywood leading man getting into that sort of situation? I can't, regardless of any wrestling background they may have. Simply put Rock does not want to take any unnecessary risks that could scupper his film career. Nor should he. But that does mean wrestling 'The Pain' isn't the best thing for him to do.
Nevertheless there's a very good chance of this match headlining next year’s WrestleMania. The lure of promoting a match between a former UFC champion and a Hollywood A-lister may be too much for WWE to resist.

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