Thursday 28 August 2014

The Reign of 'The Beast'

So Brock Lesnar's WWE championship reign has begun. I think most of us saw it coming. With Daniel Bryan leaving WrestleMania XXX with the belts and Lesnar ending Undertaker's Streak a showdown between the two seemed natural. Then D-Bry got injured, forcing WWE to shift their focus over to the ever reliable Jonn Felix Anthony Cena. That produced an enjoyable one-sided trouncing that also served as a sequel to their collision at Extreme Rules 2012.

But what's next for 'The Pain'? Who on the current roster is in a position to challenge him for the title and not look out of place? Or out of their depth?

The obvious answer is Cena. Which is what's happening, of course. The pair will have a rematch at Night of Champions. I can't think of a reason for Lesnar not to win that. It likely won't be as dominant a performance as we saw at SummerSlam but switching the title again would serve no purpose. WWE have worked to build Lesnar up as an unstoppable monster, for the purpose of establishing a new star.

Cena is not a new star. He doesn't need to beat Lesnar. He doesn't need to be champion. Their NOC bout will serve as a nice, unplanned, third encounter between the two. Having Lesnar take the deciding match will reinforce his status. Taking the title off him after a month would do more harm than good.

At first I didn't think there was much for Lesnar to do after that. After Cena the list of established names at the top of WWE appears anorexically thin. But there are three other established names Lesnar could work a fresh match with. That’s comforting for anyone expectign his reign to be packed with rematches.

First there’s Randy Orton. Yeah, they’re both technically heels but I’m confident that if the match happened Brock would get cheers even if Randy had been turned face. Getting an audience reaction wouldn’t be a problem. If Orton was having an on night and felt motivated to actually try having a good match I think they could do something compelling together (I’ve mentioned before, several times, that the F5 being reversed into an RKO would be a great spot). Sadly, Orton’s dedication to effort is notoriously spotty.

The match is unlikely to happen anyway. They’re both heels in the minds of the WWE creative department. Plus Orton always comes across as being a bit, well, precious. I can’t imagine him taking well to being placed in a match against the uber-physical Lesnar, or WWE wanting to risk him getting injured.

Next there’s Batista. Lesnar versus Batista would be awful. I know that. You know that. People at the top of WWE know that. But I think the match is likelier than Orton v Lesnar. If ‘The Animal’ returns to WWE before the end of 2014, which he well might, what will there be for him to do besides challenge Lesnar? He could be used to elevate some new names but that goes against the current WWE operating system. They aren’t interested in using people of Batista’s standing to help others get to the top.

A movie star challenging a former MMA champ for WWE's top prize?
Vince McMahon would mark for that.
A Lesnar v Batista match would be a perfectly adequate main event for a WWE pay-per-view, although there would need to be some good, solid wrestling underneath to stop fans reacting badly to it (or more badly than they would anyway). It’s the sort of match WWE likes: two guys who have reached the top of their company and have also achieved things elsewhere. The former UFC champ versus Drax the Destroyer is the kind of thing WWE is all about, whether it should be or not.

There’s Daniel Bryan too, of course. The man who would have faced Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam had he not had to have neck surgery. In a way this has worked out better for WWE. D-Bry’s injury allowed them to do an impromptu three match series with Cena (one that started in 2012 admittedly), although I suspect they’ll ruin it and do a fourth match between the pair at Hell in a Cell. Bryan being on the sidelines means WWE is guaranteed a hot match in Bryan v Lesnar whenever Bryan’s medically cleared to return.

With or without the title that match would be excellent and a fitting PPV topper. But in truth it’s a match that really deserves to be for the championship. There’s a natural story to it. Bryan, the people’s chosen champion and the man who never lost the title, returning to regain the gold from the man who’s dominated the company in his absence and who terminated The Streak. I could imagine some spirited promos from Heyman begging Bryan not to pursue Lesnar for the good of his health. It’s a match I think should happen at the 2015 Royal Rumble. A big return and a big title match for the second biggest WWE card of the year.

I naturally tend to rule out non-former Intercontinental champions because, well, I always like a guy to have held the once prestigious mid-card name-maker before progressing to the world title. But that's not the 2014 WWE model. And when I keep that in mind the options open up considerably.

First of all there's Cesaro. Had ‘The King of Swing’ stayed linked to Paul Heyman a Cesato v Lesnar bout would have made far more sense. It could have come about with Cesaro telling Heyman he wants to challenge Brock and Heyman, as his advisor and friend, trying to talk Cesaro out of it before flat out telling him he wouldn’t stand a chance with the champ. Maybe Cesaro could have interrupted a Lesnar and Heyman promo to set things up: the unruly undercard guy refusing to accept “his place” and insisting on challenging the unbeatable machine.

They could still do this. Even though Cesaro and Heyman were split out of the blue and with no on-screen explanation it’s been established that they’re still pals. It just would have made more sense to have two guys with the same manager (advocate, whatever) facing one another. It’s easy to imagine Cesaro v Lesnar being great, filled with suplexes and uppercuts. With the right story it could enhance Cesaro even in defeat.

An argument could be made for Chris Jericho too. To be honest I’d be perfectly happy if he only came back for one more run culminating in a Hall of Fame induction and a retirement match but most people feel differently. ‘Y2J’ gets very strong reactions and can work a competent match. He botches a lot, but that wouldn’t really be an issue in a Lesnar match: I can’t imagine ‘The Highlight of the Night’ having much offence to botch and if he messed up taking a move Lesnar would soon follow up with something that left no doubt Jericho was in pain.

I think the most interesting rising star Lesnar could face is Bray Wyatt. The crowd reactions alone would be marvellous. The pre-match promos could be great too. Heyman could get Wyatt over as a challenger with minimal effort. For his part Wyatt could revert to his pre-Money in the Bank model and refer to the WWE championship being a talisman of power. As a character he’s expressed an interest in the title before and it would be interesting to see him operating opposite a man who wouldn’t sell intimidation of his mind games shtick.

The match itself is easy to write off as something that wouldn’t be good. I think there are ways Lesnar v Wyatt could work. Involving Luke Harper and Erick Rowan would make the match unlike any Lesnar has wrestled since his return, simply because he hasn’t had to deal with outside interference. Having ‘The Eater of Worlds’ go back to singing mid-match would be something different for Lesnar too. Getting both men to play to their strengths and ignoring who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy could make Lesnar v Wyatt excellent. But, again, this is a match we probably won’t see happen.

The one most people are expecting is Brock Lesnar versus Roman Reigns. It’s a natural collision. Lesnar can hang on to the belt for a while and continue looking like an unstoppable mound of muscle. Reigns can burgeon into the great new babyface WWE are clearly desperate for him to be. Then they can face off at WrestleMania 31, Reigns being the man to finally end Lesnar’s reign with either a Superman punch or a spear… before losing the title to a cashing-in Seth Rollins.

Can his Superman punch defeat Lesnar?
Reigns v Lesnar could probably work now. But doing it this early would be a counterproductive waste. Reigns isn’t ready and fans haven’t been conditioned to want to see him as champion with a tale of adversity and struggle. Holding off gives WWE a solid WrestleMania main event and gives Reigns a much ballyhooed ‘Mania Moment™.

Speaking of next year, it will be interesting to see whether Lesnar makes the now traditional defence of his prize in an Elimination Chamber come February. Anyone on this list could help to put on a compelling Chamber collision with Lesnar as champion, but it’s possible WWE won’t want to burn through Lesnar appearance dates in the run-up to the more important card the following month.

With Lesnar unlikely to work every pay-per-view between now and WM31 (which is when I’m convinced he’ll be losing the title) there are more than enough challengers for WWE to pit against him. I suspect that after Cena the likeliest foe for him is Cesaro. That’s no bad thing. Nor is the prospect of Lesnar facing anybody else on this list. Expect Jericho, obviously.

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