Last month, Brock Lesnar committed acts of violence rarely witnessed on contemporary WWE programming.
Not only that, but he perpetrated those acts against then-WWE Champion and “face of the company” John Cena.
This was exactly what should have happened.
As has been the case for some time now, WWE gets more right than it does wrong, and it got this exactly right. Cena endured 16 belly-to-back suplexes over the course of an excruciating 20 minutes. Merely calling them “belly-to-back suplexes” doesn’t do justice to the brutality with which they were delivered. Being German suplexed is one thing. Being German suplexed by Brock Lesnar is another.
This Sunday, the two square off again in Cena’s contractual rematch for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions. Rather than give a long-winded analysis of each match, as I did for Summerslam, I want to focus exclusively on the main event (and try to keep this piece under 2,000 words for once).
My booking for the match would be pretty simple.
Lesnar annihilated Cena and beat him in 20 minutes last time.
This time, Lesnar beats him in 10.
The WWE is in what appears to be a “slow burn” mode, and that’s a good thing for a number of reasons. Long-term plans usually make for better stories, with the caveat that the nature of the business creates injuries that can derail those plans (see Bryan, Daniel).
The “plan” at the moment is to build Brock Lesnar into a seemingly unstoppable monster heel champion. The fact that Brock isn’t at RAW every week is problematic, but having a mouthpiece as gifted as Paul Heyman to use as a proxy is a more-than-satisfactory workaround.
In order for this plan to “work,” however, Lesnar must be fed a succession of top faces before one of them finally defeats the monster. Roman Reigns and maybe Daniel Bryan are the most likely candidates to fill that role down the road. A high-profile, lopsided win over Cena was impressive. Two lopsided wins over the Super One? Now, you’ve got yourself an unstoppable monster.
There’s an obvious problem with that strategy. No, it isn’t what to do with Cena after he’s destroyed by Brock twice. That’s an easy one: Cena gets a little bit of time off, the audience “recharges” on the character, and, when Cena is ready to return, he comes back as a formerly-formidable competitor who’s a little unsure of himself.
In other words, basically the second act of Rocky III.
The big problem, rather, is that if Cena gets his butt kicked by this guy twice in a row, how can you sell PPVs with Brock as your champion? If Cena can’t beat him, who’s going to believe that Big Show, for example, is a viable contender?
Like Brock’s absences, this, too, has a workaround. Several of them, actually.
1. Give Brock PPV squash matches: This would be a daring strategy, but consider that we’re in a new era—the WWE Network Era. Selling a PPV per se isn’t quite the focus it was in the past. So, maybe that gives WWE the freedom to try something unconventional to continue Brock’s build.
There are several guys on the roster who could be theoretical opponents for Lesnar in a main event title match. The requirements would be size, former championship experience, and being a face. That means Big Show, Sheamus, Mark Henry (although maybe not after he loses to Rusev on Sunday), perhaps Ryback after a face turn, or maybe Big E or Jack Swagger after a push rehabilitation.
Whichever of these guys is chosen, the point would be that they get squashed—squashed—at the PPV. I’m talking about the kind of matches you never see on a pay-per-view. Five-to-seven-minute beat-downs.
Of course, fans will start to catch on to this after only one or two shows. But that’s ok. Build Lesnar so that his opponent getting any significant offense will pop the crowd. And what do you do with the extra time created by Lesnar’s short matches? Why, let Paul Heyman cut a promo to close the show, of course!
A build like the one I just described makes the guy who eventually beats Lesnar look that much better when he vanquishes Brock at WrestleMania. If you want to make that new champion the next WWE standard-bearer, this would be the way to do it.
2. Bring in one-night-only-type opponents for Brock: Ok, so, you think the first idea stinks. Cena is the top guy on the roster. Logically, if Brock destroys him repeatedly, nobody else on the roster will make for a believable opponent under any circumstances. What do you do?
Bring in ringers!
Call Goldberg. Call Randy Couture. Hell, call The Undertaker and see if he’s up for a rematch. After Kurt Angle comes back in a couple of months to be the first to hang a loss on Rusev, have Angle main event the Royal Rumble against Brock.
The point is, if you can’t find someone believable inside the company as currently constituted, go find a big name. This has the added benefit of raising “mainstream” awareness, especially if it’s someone like Couture. These matches can also be short without fear of destroying the heat or push of a full-time performer.
3. Go the crazy route. John Cena has a lot of strengths, but he’s a very conventional opponent for Brock. The guys I listed in #1 above are as well. As I said, once Cena gets dispatched, it becomes hard for the audience to believe someone in this mold could stand a chance against Lesnar.
Ah, but what about someone unconventional?
Think Mankind vs. Undertaker. Mick Foley didn’t fit the classic blueprint for a WWE main-eventer. However, a character that made him seem deranged suddenly turned him into a threat. If the goal is to convince people Brock actually might lose, you need threats.
The ringers could do that, but that’s an expensive route with minimal long-term payoff. On the other hand, conventional guys don’t work for the reason I just stated. That leaves the possibly-psychotic folks as an option.
Who could fit that bill? There are several clear-cut candidates. First, there’s Bray Wyatt. He’s already been a tweener for months, as the WWE seems unsure about whether to tamp down all of his face tendencies or not. You could let him go all-out in that direction, as a charismatic (but also frightening) cult leader. That would present a nice contrast to Brock’s totally legitimate, shoot-fighting character.
Then there’s Dean Ambrose. He’s already been pushed as a total wild card, even being referred to as the Shield’s “lunatic fringe” dozens of times over recent months. Not only that, but his primary foe, Seth Rollins, has moved on to another feud.
Purely physically, no one would believe Ambrose has a chance. But, factoring in the psychological element, Ambrose suddenly seems like a possible contender. Plus, there would also be the wrinkle of Rollins lying in wait to use his MITB briefcase. That might create plausibility in some fans’ minds.
If WWE doesn’t like either of those options, there’s always one other mysterious, almost mystical opponent the company could spring on Lesnar. But that’s very probably a bad fit.
No matter which way the WWE decides to go, I love the way they’re building Lesnar. And kudos to Cena for making sacrifices to help with that build. As everyone knows, I’m a big Cena fan, but I’m an even bigger fan of good storytelling. If Brock Lesnar scores another shockingly one-sided win over Cena this weekend—and I think he will—we’ll know that the WWE is committed to this story for the long haul.