Friday, August 22, 2014

Enough of the MMA Bullshit, We Need Lesnar Circa 2004

Lesnar's finest hour.
Photo Credit: 

First of all, despite the euphoria surrounding SummerSlam, Brock Lesnar’s best match is still his title defense at No Way Out 2004.  To this day I watch that bout just as wide eyed as ever. Let us go over that moment in time shall we, for a couple of reasons: the prime one being that I love Latino Heat. To put things in perspective, I like Daniel Bryan. I like Brock Lesnar. I like Kurt Angle. I like CM Punk. I like Chris Jericho. I like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. But I love Eddie Guerrero, Viva La Raza!! 

A Quick Recap

Eddie Guerrero had gone through a lengthy US title reign and been the semi-main eventer for the Smackdown exclusive pay-per-views of 2003 and was steadily gaining crowd support throughout the year. My memory is a little foggy but from what I remember he made Big Show tolerable, so it must have been a pretty good run. He traded wins and losses with Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, Angle, and Edge among others. By the time 2004 rolled around, it was being drilled into our psyche that Guerrero was the wily veteran, the much more athletic and feisty version of Ric Flair. On the other hand, Brock Lesnar was having a dominant run as the WWE Champion on Smackdown which included crushing the likes of Kurt Angle (30 minute Iron Man Match on free TV), Hardcore Holly (yeah, really, see Royal Rumble 2004), Biker Taker (No Mercy 2003), Zach Gowen (random Smackdown), and every other warm body on Smackdown. He was the monster heel except for the fact that he was just as quick and agile as your hi-flyers. Benoit won the Royal Rumble and challenged Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship and thereby transitioned to RAW, leaving Smackdown without a number one Contender. One "Battle royale, PLAYAH!" from Teddy Long later, and Guerrero was only one step away from, as he put it, “redeeming himself” by winning the Championship and finally after years of effort, heartbreak, and stints in rehab to getting to the top of the mountain.

The Buildup

They only had between two and three weeks to promote the PPV main event. Again my memory is foggy, but the relevant segments included a delightful heel version of Lesnar where he actually cut a promo on his own instead of letting Paul Heyman yell "REPEAT!" while he sat around. Surprise, surprise, considering everything, he did pretty well. Take the memorable “mariachi band” segment. It started off with Lesnar acting the condescending heel who knew that his opponent was the underdog. It also included making fun of Guerrero’s Latino heritage. While saying “Guerrero”, instead of blurting it out, Lesnar rolled his rs. The little things.

Then Guerrero came in like a house of fire, infuriating the bully. Lesnar raked up the past by calling Eddie an addict and a loser. Instead of going on some stupid babyface spiel JACK, Guerrero tied his past with his present motivations. Family was everything to him and he did it for them. He let them down and the only way he could repent and say sorry was to take that title belt and prove the naysayers wrong. He was an addict who can only get his fix by winning the title, and an addict is a desperate person who will do anything to get his fix. The crowd was all behind him and really fired up. This is what a babyface should be like. Don’t ignore the past. Accept the reality that the heel talks about. I hope John Cena can go back and take notes – but wait – Cena doesn’t even have a painful past to work into his promos because he has been the domineering bully all his life (Remember AJ Lee? Dolph Ziggler and the poop factory? Eve Torres? Zack Ryder? Mysterio pulling double duty? Photoshop? Bray Wyatt? Oh, I hate you Cena. Screw you.)    

The Match

The match was mostly an extended beatdown by Lesnar on Guerrero. Lesnar didn't give Eddie an inch and kept him grounded to the mat for the most part. The first glimmer of hope for Latino Heat came when he slammed Lesnar’s left knee on the ring post. By this point, Guerrero has taken a bevy of belly to belly, gut wrench, and German suplexes, leaving him in bad shape. Lesnar focused his attack on the mid-section. Guerrero fought back into it by going for a variety of submission maneuvers including the STF and the figure four. They told a great story in the ring, were on their toes, and not wasted too much time on rest holds or exchanging fake right hands, the two of my least favourite things in a wrestling match. The pace was enthralling even though it mostly assumed the form of an extended glorified squash.

Guerrero finally got some offensive slams in with his signature Three Amigos and went for the frogsplash which he missed. From here, we hit the endgame. Shenanigans via a ref bump and a Goldberg run-in were afoot. Yes, it was inadvisable to build to a Lesnar/Goldberg match at the cost of jeopardizing Latino Heat’s legitimacy, but the thing about Guerrero was that by this time he was bulletproof. Title or no title, win or lose, you couldn’t destroy his heat. Anyways Goldberg speared Brock, and Guerrero tried to cheat with the title belt and missed. Lesnar went for a second F-5, but got DDT’ed onto the belt. One frogsplash later, Guerrero won the WWE Championship for the first time. My 12 year old self has just lost it and is sobbing like a baby. All the feels. Today, all I can say is that there is a little dust in my eye after watching this.


The reason I recapitulated those heady days of early 2004 when my fandom was fewer than two years old was not only to recapture a fond childhood memory, but also to point out that the SummerSlam main event was great and all, because Cena got shoot killed and everything and everybody was waiting for this for the past decade, When you really get down to it though, the whole thing has stunk up the joint. It is basically this Ultimate Fighting Championship, mixed-martial arts guy coming in and hitting his opponent with closed fists and doing takedowns. What is the point of watching Ziggler, Cesaro, Rusev, Bryan etc when we know that this Beast Incarnate will come in and start punching you and doing these scary martial arts things? Do you really want to see Brazilian jiu-jitsu or muay Thai or whatever? If so, switch over to UFC, but keep my pro rasslin’ out of it. I don’t want no part of this.

What I want for Lesnar is to be a pro rassler again – just like he was in that match with Guerrero. There too he was dominant and scary, but he was playing by the unwritten, uncodified rules of pro rasslin – no closed fists and takedowns – just logical pro rasslin at its finest. Using his weight advantage to keep Guerrero in a submission for most of the match, using skill to evade his flying tackles and locking on the F-5 when his opponent made a mistake. That’s a pro rasslin version of Lesnar that can be conceivably beaten. Where do we go from here? If a UFC guy can come into a wrestling ring and do MMA things then what the hell am I watching WWE for?

Even if Lesnar gets beaten by somebody, it won’t look believable, and will get the victor X-Pac heat. Yes, I am talking about the Rock and Roman Reigns. No one is buying either of those beating Lesnar and at this point even if they are allowed to beat him, nobody will suspend their disbelief. It will be the usual cynical acceptance that we have become used to with Cena. “The Rock had a movie to promote and Brock is leaving so this had to happen” or “they want Roman to be the next Cena so he has to go over.” Trust me WWE, cynical acceptance of a result does not translate to fan interest and enthusiasm.

As for the undercard, it will be hard to wipe off the taint of Lesnar’s dominant win over Cena. If I am a kid and want to like someone on the undercard I can’t because the spectre of Lesnar haunts me. In the past I knew that Chris Jericho, Edge, and Guerrero would get beat up a lot if they face the heavyweight main eventers like Undertaker and Triple H, but I knew that on their best day they could win and come out on top and overcome the size and weight advantage. Right now, it becomes tough to like any pro rassler or get behind them when you know that whatever they do, they don’t have a chance in hell against Lesnar. When I get behind somebody, I do it not only because of his gimmick but also because he is competent in the ring and I feel that he can win against the top guy on his day. Let Fandango dance as much as possible, I am not interested because he has been portrayed as an incompetent goof in the ring.

Conversely I can get behind Dean Ambrose, not only because of his personality and promos but he can walk the talk. Put into the ring with what used to be the top guy, John Cena, I would always give him a chance to win, and root for him. Right now if anyone wins against Lesnar, not only would it be a miracle, more importantly, it would look like a fluke. In short, I ain’t buying it.

WWE just dug themselves into a gigantic hole. The only thing they can do is to bring back the 2003-2004 Lesnar who did pro rasslin things, was interested in more than just “victimizing” his opponents, like the mariachi band segment. I want the real deal and not just this stranger who appears by proxy. Sorry, I guess, but I prefer Lesnar’s first run to this overhyped Reality Era run. In my mind the only thing they can do is to follow the Guerrero match format with Cena for Night of Champions. That would give back Cena some of his legitimacy while still keeping Lesnar strong. Cena doesn’t need to win – he needs to look like he can do something in the ring against Lesnar that does not include using a Thuganomics metal chain to win.