Brock Lesnar: Sweet Sixteen
August 21, 2014
By: Daniel R. Browne
On August 17th 2014, Brock Lesnar became WWE World Heavyweight Champion in one of the more lopsided tussles you’ll likely witness for a good while. Fully justifying his pre-match billing, Lesnar was booked to dismantle John Cena via a methodical, relentless assault; designed to emphasise Lesnar’s standing as all-conquering slayer of legends, records and champions. As always, it will be interesting to view the final numbers on the bottom line, but from a creative standpoint, the match accomplished the story it endeavoured to tell.
The pre-match tone telegraphed a Lesnar victory as the only possible outcome. It was a badly kept secret that John Cena was chosen to headline Summerslam as a result of Daniel Bryan’s unfortunate neck injury. Quite what direction the mooted Lesnar/Bryan encounter would’ve taken is a matter for conjecture just now. In lieu of Daniel Bryan, the decision was taken to feed Cena to the ‘Conqueror of the Streak’. The build-up to the contest focused on Lesnar’s powers of domination, and all but informed us that Cena – a mere wrestling champion – had no chance against a physiological freak of nature, and so it proved. Though boosted by brief flurries in the match itself, Cena was – in an amusing reversal of fortunes for ‘Mr. No-Sell’ – crushed like a scooter in a metal press by Brock.
Using Cena was an obvious but sensible choice for WWE. Given the scarcity of Lesnar’s television presence, a match involving him needs to be of a certain stature, and worthy of investment. In the absence of Bryan, Cena was thrust into proceedings without requiring significant justification. He is always on top, and is a proven box office attraction. Fans of all ages are used to his neon-clad omnipresence, and whether paying to watch the man be venerated or annihilated, they will generally pay either way. WWE utilised the fans’ acceptance of Cena to lend gravitas to Brock’s monstrous persona. WWE fans are programmed to accept Cena’s ability to prevail in otherwise impossible scenarios. That a man as indestructible as Cena was smashed so convincingly by Lesnar, only served to italicise the strength of the investment.
Cena is a known object of derision amongst most wrestling fans over the age of twelve. Many of these fans thus smiled heartily, as Cena’s crappy haircut bounced off the canvas sixteen times. Alas, such unbridled happiness soon gave way to trademark churlishness, and the question was asked: Why put the belt on a part-timer? The answer is the same reason WWE put the title on Duane ‘The Rock’ Johnson in his feud with Cena: to add fuel to a burning fire. Like it or not, the modern world championship is not an inviolate sporting entity. It is a contextual prop: a means to either enhance, create or disprove a star. As such, its being in temporary limbo will deal no appreciable damage to WWE.
The current Intercontinental champion is a good example of the latter context. Rightly or wrongly, Dolph Ziggler was given a world title run and failed. That is the WWE assessment. In their eyes, the championship served to highlight Ziggler’s innate failings as a performer. Ironically, the belt that Ziggler presently holds used to serve that exact purpose. Once upon a time, the world title was sacrosanct. The era of the dual world titles erased that state of affairs; a matter Paul Levesque was only too keen to address in short order once he possessed the means to do so. The unification of the two world titles has helped, but the public still views the championship as subservient to the champion. It is an accessory to accomplishment and stardom, not essential to the cause.
This is the mindset WWE has adopted with Brock Lesnar. A star of Lesnar’s standing, with real world verisimilitude and peerless box office clout, neither needs (nor requires) any title or trophy. In Lesnar’s case, it is simply garnish: a MacGuffin for the next feud and potentially, a boon for the next champion. That’s precisely the point though. By placing the premier title on the unbeatable conqueror of men, several purposes are served. A Brock Lesnar UFC main event was wealthier than any Wrestlemania equivalent in history. Simply by wearing the strap, Lesnar adds intrinsic value to it. As such, the man who somehow succeeds in toppling Lesnar for the belt gains a major championship, held by a bonafide star, and becomes even more of a star himself in victory. If applied correctly, Lesnar’s first post-Undertaker defeat will aggressively enhance an existing star, or launch a new one into the stratosphere.
The WWE World Championship is no longer sufficient within its own merits to serve consistent financial requirements. It needs additional credibility, and with Lesnar it will receive this in droves. The belt gives further incentive to any man looking to lead the company at the expense of its implacable, resident gatekeeper. If this was the plan all along, then justification is found – at least as far as WWE is concerned – for terminating the Streak. Brock Lesnar is now perceived as untouchable. The very might and pure history of the Undertaker’s Wrestlemania legacy fell before him. If even the supernatural cannot quell the beast, what might we make of the man who succeeds in its stead? Simply by beating Lesnar, the impossible will be achieved, and a true star may very well be born.
This all sounds purposeful and designed, yet it is folly in the extreme to trust WWE in matters so critical. The landscape of the last decade is littered with the broken dreams of many pretenders to superstardom; all laid waste by the impatience of the WWE machine. No one wrestler has been more responsible for this erosion of opportunity than John Cena: the anodyne, slogan-pushing, WWE-endorsed automaton. Cena has made war against suspension of disbelief with his insufferable toadying and psychology-free matches. His unending babyface persona is an affront to the rules of character development, and should’ve been modified years ago. The litmus test for every new character for the last decade has been robustness in the wake of Cena’s carcinogenic association. Most have failed this test, and suffered immense, often irreparable damage as a consequence. It would thus be stupidity of biblical proportions were Cena to triumph against Lesnar in their just-announced rematch. Stupid, and utterly pointless.
The championship rematch clause notwithstanding, it is absurd that Cena has been granted an immediate crack at revenging himself against Brock Lesnar. More to the point, and logically speaking, it’s daft he’d even want to. It would’ve been quite something if Cena had backed away from another match at this time. Such a decision would’ve leant aura to Brock’s character, and granted nuance to Cena’s robotic persona. Ric Flair made a career out of knowing when to show vulnerability (and thus garner sympathy). Such an approach – if delivered properly and credibly – might even succeed in making the most unloved character in wrestling appear sympathetic. It may even induce support for him beyond the pre-teen ranks, possibly as a difference maker. This is anathema to Cena and WWE though; it doesn’t merit discussion of any sort. To wit: without even uttering a word, cardboard Cena is once again at the front of the (already anaemic) headline queue.
The only possible outcome of this rematch must be more of the same. Lesnar should move beyond destruction and towards humiliation. Anything less is pointless. If John Cena is playing the role of stubborn fool then he deserves credit, because right now it’s working. If however he marches out on Raw, fit as a fiddle and bellowing his customary drivel, we will be staring down the barrel of irrelevancy. At this point, a Cena victory would be catastrophic. Brock Lesnar is the ultimate prize, to be claimed by someone with a chance of making a real difference to all creative and financial facets of WWE. That man is not, under any circumstances, John Cena. Perhaps it is Daniel Bryan: the returning conqueror of conquerors, ready to take his undisputed place as the people’s hero. How about Roman Reigns? A beast to conquer the biggest beast of all. Hell, even CM Punk! Just not John bloody Cena.
As Patrick Bateman might say: Just say no.