Sunday 20 July 2014

The Booking of 'The Beast'

Brock Lesnar’s going to be wrestling for the WWE championship at SummerSlam. Unless something spectacularly surprising happens at Battleground tonight he’ll be challenging John Cena. This is a match WWE have been forced into promoting. Their original plan of having Daniel Bryan defend against Lesnar had to be dropped when company bigwigs were told D-Bry would not be sufficiently recovered from neck injury to participate in the match. Cena, as the only other babyface on the roster over enough to function both as a champion and as an opponent for Lesnar, was the only logical choice for replacement.

Maybe Heyman and Lesnar will recreate this shot when Lesnar's fourth reign kicks off.
I don’t blame WWE for going with Cena v Lesnar as the SummerSlam main event. They are two of the biggest names in the company, arguably the two biggest, which makes a match between them a fitting headline attraction to what is traditionally one of WWE’s more important shows. Lesnar versus Cena for the title is a bout that should sell tickets, pay-per-view buys, and Network subscriptions (and for the record I think Bryan versus Lesnar would have performed pretty well too). Ultimately that’s all that matters in WWE, and, indeed, wrestling as a whole.

But overall WWE’s booking of Lesnar has been less than ideal. I’ve refrained from criticising WWE for their use of the man before now because his schedule makes it a tricky proposition. He’s so rarely been on television that it’s taken him over two years to accrue a decent number of appearances to look back at and comment on.

When he returned to WWE on April 2 2012 RAW Lesnar was immediately placed into a conflict with John Cena. They faced off at Extreme Rules in, fittingly, an Extreme Rules match. Lesnar lost.

It’s not fair to knock WWE for rushing ‘The Pain’ into a bout with their top star. At the time it made sense, for all the reasons noted above regarding their SummerSlam collision. Looking at what Lesnar’s done since it seems safe to assume that there was no intention that Lesnar and Cena would ever clash again. It was a big, impactful match to reintroduce Lesnar as a force and a concept to the WWE landscape.

The match result, on the other hand, was a mistake. Had Cena won that match only to lose a rematch and perhaps a third, feud-deciding bout the loss would have made sense. But as Cena and Lesnar’s conflict ended immediately after Extreme Rules it only served to establish that Lesnar, just like everyone else in WWE, was inferior to John Cena. For a man who was always going to be presented as a special attraction that was a problem and a mistake.

Lesnar followed the Cena match with a programme opposite Triple H. That started off with a win for ‘The Beast’, this time in a no DQ battle at SummerSlam. He was written off TV for the remainder of the year the night after, claiming that his victory over ‘The Game’ meant he’d accomplished everything in WWE. That was far from true, as we learnt at WrestleMania XXX.

Lesnar returned to WWE in January 2013 and continued his feud with Tripper. For four months. Four long months. Lesnar fell to ‘The King of Kings’ at WrestleMania XXIX before winning the feud in a cage match at Extreme Rules. The loss Lesnar suffered at ‘Mania was easier to accept than his loss to Cena. He’d already proven he could defeat Triple H and it was designed to set up their third and decisive contest. That that third and final collision was unnecessary and unwanted is irrelevant: the loss served a purpose.

The summer saw Lesnar deployed against CM Punk in a conflict based around their respective relationships with mutual associate Paul Heyman. Their one and only match went on second from last at SummerSlam. I was unimpressed by it, feeling it never really developed the intensity or level of spectacle it should have. The right man won though: Lesnar went over with an F5 onto a chair.

Since that victory Lesnar has had two matches. The first was at the 2014 Royal Rumble opposite Big Show. It was a short match intended to rehabilitate Lesnar as an unstoppable monster and did its job well. But as good as it was it would have been wholly unnecessary had WWE taken the precaution of planning out what they wanted to do with Lesnar when he first returned. They only needed to feed him the physical anomaly that is Big Show because they’d failed to safeguard ‘The Beast’s’ built-in main event aura.

The other match Lesnar’s wrestled this year was against The Undertaker. At WrestleMania XXX. You may have heard that Lesnar won.
Brock Lesnar. Not unbeatable.
This isn’t about The Streak. As much as I disliked and disagreed (and still do) with WWE’s decision to have ‘The Dead Man’s’ WrestleMania record end Lesnar was a solid choice to award the feat to. He has the necessary star power and air of legitimacy. But it would have been far easier to accept him breaking one of the most impressive records in company if he had been on a tear since returning in 2012. Imagine how much more the Lesnar v ‘Taker match would have meant had Lesnar spent the previous two years obliterating everyone put in front of him. Such booking would, in hindsight, have been clear preparation for Lesnar conquering The Streak. That no such Lesnar record exists shows that there was no long term plan in place when WWE rehired the former UFC champ.

The same principle stands for Lesnar’s upcoming SummerSlam title challenge. Beating Lesnar would look like an impossible feat even for Cena if Lesnar had not suffered a WWE loss since his return and was coming off the crushing of The Streak. Once again, that was squandered by having him lose matches he didn’t need to, as much as some of the losses may have made sense at the time.

If Lesnar was currently “undefeated since 2004” he’d be one of the greatest star-making tools in wrestling, especially with his status as the Streak-ender and his assumed WWE championship victory at SummerSlam. The first person to beat him would be winning the WWE championship, beating the man who ended one of wrestling’s greatest winning streaks, and handing a loss to someone who had only tasted victory since 2012. It would be a massive status enhancer.

Lesnar’s reign is likely to end at the hands of Roman Reigns or Daniel Bryan. Probably at WrestleMania XXXI. That win will be a significant moment in either man’s career (should it be someone else entirely it’ll be a significant moment for them too). But with just a bit of planning it could have been more. Had WWE had the foresight to turn Lesnar into an unstoppable, unbeatable force they’d have a hot story, a hot act, and a way of making a new hot act on their hands now. Once again I find myself commenting that the long term planning in WWE needs looking at.


  1. Everyone and their Gran pointed this out to WWE at the time - why can't they book?!

    1. I thought complaints at the time were unfair. Nobody knew where WWE were going with Lesnar. But it's turned out they weren't going anywhere, so the entire thing was a waste of everyone's time.