Aftermath Lesnar's Health Might Be Greater Concern Than You Realize
Ever since the spectacle of seeing Brock Lesnar back in a WWE ring and the uniqueness of the match that he and John Cena gave us two nights ago wore off, I have been puzzled by the decision to have Cena get the victory. Fluke or no, dominated beforehand or not, Cena won the match. There was a lot to love about Extreme Rules, particularly the main-event. Yet, make no bones about it, Cena winning was a mistake.
There’s a part of me that gets it. Cena lost to Rock at Wrestlemania and needed his heat back. Lesnar dominated the entire match against Cena despite losing, so it’s not like Brock looks weak or anything.
Here’s the deal, though – pro-wrestling is a genre predicated on someone good invariably winning in the end over someone evil. Lesnar is the perfect brand of evil for today’s version of sports entertainment. Cena tried to paint The Rock, in the build-up to Wrestlemania, as a traitor who quit on the WWE. That wasn’t true. Rock was in the WWE for the better part of seven years, headlined/main-evented five Wrestlemanias, and helping the business to unprecedented heights and did it all by starting at the bottom and working his way up to the top. The person that Cena tried to portray as the real Rock is actually the real Brock. Lesnar was given the moon, whined and complained, and threw a temper tantrum on his way out because the WWE fans that he was leaving rightfully told him to shove it for wasting their time and not becoming everything he could’ve been in pro-wrestling. He’s a truly dislikable guy; an asshole of the highest order. Low and behold, he is the foil to John Cena.
The babyface chasing the heel to ultimately get that elusive victory and put an end to the Dark Side was a classic story that classically garners the babyface a ton of sympathy as long as the heel is as classically evil as Brock. That was a story waiting to be told, but now it cannot be told. Sure, Cena now has some people throwing “Yes” his way instead of “Boo,” but that would have been magnified had he lost to Lesnar, come back, and eventually gotten the win down the road. Cena winning was counterproductive for business. If Superman beat Doomsday in the first fight, even if he got his tail kicked in the process, then the rematches would still be interesting, but they’d never be what they could’ve been. There’s no relevant counter argument to that. The triumphant come back sells. It’s just an undeniable fact of life. The bottom line is that Lesnar winning after dominating gives Cena a real story and fans a real reason to cheer him. He lost to Rock and he’s sympathetic to a degree; if he’d have lost to Brock he would’ve actually become sympathetic because he lost to the real villain.
My opinion of the outcome really isn’t my point, though. The previous graphs were a lead-in to a question:
Is the WWE fully confident that Brock Lesnar can make it a full year?
I’m unsure that they are…
Brock Lesnar is not a well man. Take it from me, diverticulitis is no common nor ordinary condition. To make a long story short, his body has been breaking down for years and he’s starting to show the effects of his Wrestlemania XIX Shooting Star Botch. Yes, clinically speaking, I’m quite confident that they’re connected. He walked away, but only in the short-term was he unscathed. Christopher Reeve represents an example of the damage that can be done by head and neck trauma, not just to the head and neck (which is obvious), but to the internal function of the body. Reeve had a horrific accident that immediately shut down his lungs, digestive system, and genitor-urinary system. The reason was because a part of his body known as the brainstem had been severely compromised. The brainstem, basically, governs the function of each and every organ, muscle, and tissue in the body. Since it rests in the area where the neck and head join, trauma to that area can cause rapid breakdown, both structurally and internally, as was seen with Reeve. Brock represents the next most significant group of head/neck trauma victims. Reeve’s effects were pronounced and immediate. The effect on Brock took a few years to set in. Unfortunately, he was likely never alerted to this because American healthcare is tragically flawed and is lacking in logical reasoning of the cause and effect relationship. It’s likely just a matter of time before his next episode. Has someone alerted the WWE to this point? You can pass a physical without issue if you’re asymptomatic. That doesn’t mean the inflammatory breakdown process that caused his problem isn’t still there.
Cases like his are all too familiar to me, mainly because I was once in his shoes and now see patients in similar conditions. I fell into the category a few notches below Lesnar. My health tanked by the time I was 23 from a comparable injury from childhood and, among other things, my digestive system became a mess. Luckily, I got things turned around before I started down a more difficult path similar to Brock’s. That being said, it pretty much sucks to be young and unhealthy; and it’s not exactly sunshine and roses to go about living your life not knowing what’s going on. So, I wonder about Lesnar’s psyche. Mine was terrible. I was a volatile, irresponsible, poor decision maker in large part due to my poor health. Brock has just reentered a world that didn’t suit him when he was younger, healthier, and had more patience. From just a basic knowledge of the wrestling business, I don’t think it would be unfair to call it grueling and often frustrating. Such an environment is not what the doctor would order for a guy with a condition that is usually exacerbated or symptomatically reactivated by stress. Being a sick young man is like being a ticking time bomb.
While I’m skeptical, as usual, about the reports of Lesnar losing his cool backstage, I’m completely unsurprised. Couple that he’s an unhealthy guy supposed to be in the prime of his life without health problems with the fact that he’s a raging egomaniac and I’m not buying anything that Brock does as a “work.” That guy is about as real as it will ever get in wrestling. One thing of note about his UFC career is that we got to see the Lesnar ego unleashed in public. It was fascinating to watch, but it showcased how destructive he can be to both himself and the company he works for. It did him no favors, for instance, to lash out at the beer company after beating Frank Mir at UFC 100. Was it entertaining? Absolutely! Yet, was it also a stupid business decision for a young man trying to build a brand of himself? Definitely. It also confirmed what most of the detractors of ultimate fighting had likely been thinking for years – that MMA is nothing but a bunch of Neanderthals without professionalism or tact masquerading as a legitimate, mainstream sport. Lesnar throwing a fit backstage may have or may not have happened, but would it shock anyone if it did? And if it happen, wouldn’t that be proof positive of why the WWE would be reluctant to get behind him.
I get the feeling, now, that the WWE doesn’t plan to go “all in” with Brock. They will set him up for some marquee matches against guys like Punk, Orton, Sheamus, Triple H, and probably the Undertaker down the road if they can, but in the immediacy they basically made the call to make sure that before something happened to cause Lesnar to leave for good that he put over the Golden Boy. The WWE’s biggest star beat the UFC’s. Score one for Vince McMahon, right?
Review The Extreme Rules Report
Match 1: Randy Orton defeated Kane in a 17-minute Falls Count Anywhere Match (Doc rating - ***1/2) (Doc note – This was the correct choice for the opener and they gave it a good amount of time to play out. Recent matches of this variety seem to always stop long before they get interesting enough to reach their potential, but this was an exception. The brawl to the back was fine, but the work done once they returned to the ringside area was very good. As mentioned in the preview a few days ago, Orton and Kane have good chemistry. They work quite well together, so giving them 17-minutes on a PPV was bound to produce something of high quality. The near falls were handled well and the finish fit with the idea of Orton moving on to face Lesnar in the near future)
Match 2: Brodus Clay defeated Dolph Ziggler in 4-minutes (Doc rating - *) (Doc note – It doesn’t give me any joy to type that Ziggler lost in 4-minutes to a comedy act, but he was great, as usual, with his bumping for that comedic relief. It was the best that Clay has looked in his young career, in-ring wise. The Funk is on a roll, as the WWE needs to start building up some new big men. The nice thing about Brock Lesnar being around is that I can see Brodus having an attention grabbing match with him, at some point. It’ll be thanks to matches like this one that makes a match like that one possible)
Match 3: Cody Rhodes defeated Big Show in a 4-minute Tables Match (Doc rating - *1/2) (Doc note – I liked this match. I was kind of hoping that, given the main-event situation on SD and Raw, Cody might win back the IC title now that Show got his Mania moment. The way that it worked out was fine. Cody ended up looking luckily clever and Show dominant)
Match 4: Sheamus defeated Daniel Bryan in a 23-minute 2/3 Falls Match (Doc rating - ****) (Doc note – Well, there’s your excellent World title match that people were hoping for earlier in the month. Give a ton of credit to both of these guys for what they did last night, as they told a story capable of making Sheamus get some crowd support despite the usual smarky crowd. The first 15-minute were exactly what I was hoping for. The 18-second match at Mania actually added drama to those first 15-minutes because it kept me on the edge of my seat for every false finish. I badly wanted them to get plenty of time to let this play out. Bryan’s focus on the arm showcased to a major PPV audience for the first time just what he’s capable of doing in a match of this length and magnitude. His submission acumen had largely been nothing more than verbally mentioned, but this was one of our first chances to see it reach its potential. It was a good call to have Sheamus pass out – catch phrase for Bryan, by the way, “Tap Out or Pass Out” – but also a ruthless move by Bryan to get himself disqualified to throw in as many stiff shots as possible. That had to have been very satisfying for anyone that has wanted to see Bryan vs. Sheamus at the last two Wrestlemanias)
Match 5: Ryback squashes some jobbers (Doc rating – ½ *) (Doc note – There was a time in my fandom when I would’ve allowed something like this on PPV to really bug me, but I think this actually worked for me. One of the friends that I watched this with at the bar had recently said that he missed guys that were huge like Lesnar and Batista; guys that could just go out there and maul someone with brute strength. Ryback is that kind of talent and I’m pretty damn impressed with him in how dominant he looks in these squashes)
Match 6: CM Punk retained the WWE Championship in a 25-minute Street Fight against Chris Jericho (Doc rating - ****1/2) (Doc note – I thought this was a tremendous match. In terms of the type of main-event that you expect to see for the title, I think that was match of the night and will likely end up in the top 5 of the year. They battled back and forth and there were numerous twists and turns leading up to the climactic final few minutes. Having Punk’s sister in the crowd added to the story that they were telling and they incorporated her well. In general, the match perfectly fit the story over the last 4 weeks. The way it was scripted, you found yourself really rooting for Punk to kick Jericho’s ass. To see Punk connect with that elbow drop through the announce table was quite a sight. I always get nervous for guys like that when I see them perform moves of that variety for the first time that I can recall. Punk showed some impressive athleticism to pull that off, reminding me of HBK. He really is an incredible performer and, if this was the last of the PPV matches between Punk and Y2J, then I think we’re all the better for having gotten the chance to see it. There were two false finishes at the end that sealed the deal on this being the best match of the evening. The first was when Jericho escaped from the Anaconda Vice and the second was when Punk kicked out of the chair-assisted Codebreaker. Excellent match)
Match 7: Divas Champ Bella lost the title to Layla (Doc rating – n/a) (Doc note – I didn’t rate it because I didn’t care. I’m not a Bella twins fan. They do nothing for me, aesthetically or otherwise. Layla looked great, though. She appears to have been working hard during her recovery and if she can connect with some of the offense she displayed with consistency and safety, then I’ll be a fan of hers)
Match 8: John Cena shocked the world and defeated Brock Lesnar in an 18-minute Extreme Rules match (Doc rating - ****) (Doc note – What an incredibly fascinating piece of work this was. Lesnar has such a presence. He’s not ripped like he used to be, but he’s still such a massive guy that looks like he could legitimately rip your head off. I don’t think I realized how excited I was for this match until Cena and Lesnar were standing across the ring staring at each other. Right from the outset – as soon as Lesnar legit nailed Cena with his elbow twice and busted him open – I knew this was unlike any wrestling match that I may have ever seen in my 25 years as a fan. It felt so real and in a way that Ken Shamrock could never duplicate. Lesnar has an aura about him and he appeared to be trying to beat the hell out of Cena. It was almost embarrassing to watch, in Cena’s regard. He could completely owned for the first 17-minutes of that match. It made the result appear to be a fluke and I wholeheartedly disagree with the Figure Four report that suggested that the WWE should have waited to have Lesnar lose. You can’t take anything away from a guy who utterly decimated the top guy in the company. If you walked away from that match thinking that Lesnar wasn’t Cena’s superior, then I’m not sure what you watched. The fact that he found a way to win is just a testament to Cena’s wherewithal. It does not diminish what Lesnar did to him, though. Cena was brutally beaten, bloodied, and embarrassed – he was even hogtied using his own chain. Lesnar came away from that match looking like a destroyer who, once the rust wears off, is going to be able to beat anyone in the WWE. Cena vs. Brock shattered expectations, as far as I’m concerned. That was utterly incredible to watch)
Overall Impression of the event
It’s honestly not applicable to use my old system of rating PPVs right now. The WWE is bucking conventional trends and making it difficult for their new system to be properly evaluated using the old scale. Frankly, Extreme Rules was an absolutely awesome show. Three four-star matches, one of which was unforgettable (Cena-Lesnar), plus a really strong opener is about as much as I can ask for as a fan. The filler stuff usually would be TV segments, but the WWE has decided to put stuff like that on PPV, as of late. It obviously drags down the event star-rating quite a bit, but I don’t want to underrate the show with a number of stars when I thought it was awesome.
Preview Pre-PPV Thoughts Leading up to Extreme Rules
Extreme Rules this Sunday is something that I’m very excited to see. Wrestlemania is an event that I get so invested in every year and most years the Mania haze lingers for a while, but this year has been different. The moment that Brock Lesnar came back, I was locked in and shifting my focus away from the moments of the grandest stage. By and large, this PPV feels like a must-see event not quite on par with Mania, but certainly on the level of any other event in wrestling from the past couple of years. Last year’s second “Summer of Punk” made for two PPVs that I didn’t feel like I could miss, but not in the same way that has Lesnar’s comeback, flanked by Jericho-Punk 2 and our first real opportunity to see what Sheamus and Daniel Bryan can do. The fact that this all takes place in Chicago ups my enthusiasm, as the Second City is the best wrestling town in America right now.
My interest begins with Lesnar vs. Cena. It’s hard to deny the surface intrigue in just seeing the guy that was once brought in to be “The Man” vs. the guy that organically ascended to the spot of “The Man.” I’ve enjoyed the way that they’ve portrayed Lesnar, as this outsider that the WWE needs to legitimize the business. His interview segment was excellent, highlighting him in just the right aura to set him apart from everyone else. He’s different and should be featured as such. The WWE have done a good job, thus far, in putting him in situations that allow him to be himself. Lesnar is an asshole. Everything that he said during that contract signing seemed to fit his persona. It wasn’t polished like you’d see from a Cena, Punk, or other superstar that is used to having a live mic in front of 15,000 people. Rather, he came across like he did in that UFC 100 event where he cursed the beer company for not paying him anything. In other words, it seemed less like a pro-wrestling promo and more like he was just talking.
Cena’s character continues to be fascinating to me. Here’s this guy that we’ve watched be the alpha male for the last six years despite the WWE trying ever so hard to make him appear vulnerable. All they had to do all along was bring back Brock and – BAM! – Super Cena is exposed to kryptonite. There were times when Cena looked like the underdog against The Rock in the months leading to Wrestlemania, but once that hard push toward April 1st started in late February, Cena looked like Rock’s equal all the way. This Lesnar feud is different. The truth hurts, or so they say, and a lot of what Lesnar has been saying has, as my wife stated, “a little bit of truth to it.” As mentioned in my previous column on Brock being back, there is a chance that Cena would not have risen to quite the heights that he has if Lesnar had stuck around; no question he’d still be a huge star, but would he be the fourth biggest WWE superstar of all-time? That’s a legitimate query.
One thing I’m very curious to see with Brock vs. Cena is how the match is scripted. This is setting up to be the classic case of Cena shocking the world and I think this time around it really would shock the world. Brock has gotten the upper hand every step of the way, yet I think most of us still expect that he’ll win because he’s an egomaniac that they’re paying a ton of money to be around for a year – how could he lose, right? What sense would it make for him to lose? Nevertheless, when you combine Cena’s attitude with his loss to The Rock at Wrestlemania to the promo from Edge that lit a fire under my ass (so surely it lit a fire under Cena’s character’s ass), you can make an argument that Cena is destined to squeak out a victory in a manner similar to his win over Umaga at New Year’s Revolution ’07 – gets dominated the entire time and then wins with a “fluke” roll up. My prediction will still be that Lesnar wins, but I’ll be keeping my eye on how they book Cena. Will he get dominated, for the most part? That would seem to be the way to go, as by doing so, the WWE will have finally created a scenario in which it’ll be easier for more fans to rally behind Cena in his quest to put an end to Lesnar.
(Doc’s Note – I’m unsure of what to write about the Edge promo, except to state that it was a great piece of television that ultimately increased my interest in the Cena-Brock match because it made it feel like Cena has to win)
The final piece of the Lesnar-Cena puzzle will be the match quality. Can Brock have an epic match in return bout that’s roughly six years in the making (he wrestled in Japan in 2006)? Cena is the right guy to put him against to ensure that the match will have its greatest chance at critical success, but I don’t get the same vibe that I got from Rock vs. Cena. In other words, I pretty much knew from the start that Cena-Rock would be epic and it was epic – looking back, it may have been more epic than any of us gave it credit for nearly a month ago. I don’t get the sense that Lesnar vs. Cena is going to be epic. There’s something about this match that is keeping my expectations low and it isn’t Brock – he was a prodigy in that ring, accounting for two classic matches in two of his first three major PPV bouts against top opponents. It’s something else…I can’t put my finger on it, yet…
A match that I do expect to be epic, though, is Chris Jericho once again challenging CM Punk for the WWE Championship. The build to their match has been compelling, culminating with their segment from Raw last Monday where Punk goaded everyone into thinking he might be drunk. Many of us saw through it, but it was nonetheless a dramatic spot that saw him flip things around on Jericho and get his hands on him. What was interesting, though, was that the babyface got the upper hand right before the PPV, making it seem like there’s a chance that Jericho might actually win the title. I don’t think he will, but that was a nice added touch to make fans like myself that over think things a little more doubtful of the outcome. The match they had at Wrestlemania was a borderline classic that may improve over time with subsequent viewings, but I don’t think that there’s much doubt that this match at Extreme Rules will be a MOTY contender. The gloves are off, the crowd will add something to it, and the story is there. Those elements usually make for a great match if the wrestlers are up to it and I can only assume that Jericho and Punk will have “classic” on their minds.
What I’m most curious to see is whether or not this goes on last. There’s no question that Cena vs. Brock is the biggest match, but will the WWE position it in the main-event slot? The WWE is walking a fine line of making Punk – the champion – look far less important than John Cena and whomever they bring back to face him every month. I think they’d be wise to put Jericho-Punk on last and let the crowd go bananas over Brock vs. Cena mid-way through the second hour. You don’t lose anything by putting Jericho vs. Punk in the main-event position ahead of Cena-Brock, while also gaining a sense of Punk’s importance and stature for any unique viewer that may have purchased the event to see Lesnar. Punk is not the type of top guy most casual fans of yesteryear are familiar with, so why not allow him to show them what he can do and maybe make a few new fans of his in the process. It’s a win-win for Punk-Jericho to close the show.
Perhaps the match that I’m most looking forward to is the 2/3 Falls match for the World title. It is a big deal for both Bryan and Sheamus. People talked all about how awful Wrestlemania was for Bryan, losing the title in just 18 seconds, but Sheamus didn’t exactly get much steam rolling for his babyface run as the champ to have won that way. Bryan isn’t your Alberto Del Rio type heel, but a CM Punk variety internet darling. No matter what he does to try and make people boo him, there will always be a vocal part of the audience that applauds his every move. The WWE took a calculated risk to do what they did at Wrestlemania and, for their purposes, the only good it did was help sell a new t-shirt. Now, they go into a very pro-IWC crowd in Chicago where Sheamus is going to have a hard time looking like the babyface. I’ve said from the moment this match was booked that the best thing he can to help win over that important audience is to have the match of his life with Bryan; one that makes both of them look great, no matter who wins. I don’t think Sheamus has done much in the last few months, despite the Royal Rumble win and the Wrestlemania title victory. He’s not delivering on the mic like he’s capable of. I hold the Celtic Warrior to a higher standard. I saw the guy do excellent work as one of the lead heels on Raw two years ago and I want to see him turn around and do the same thing as the lead babyface of Smackdown.
I just want to see those two guys get a chance to show what they can do. Wrestlemania I could gloss over because there were three classic matches to make the 18-second World title match seem like a distant memory, but the critic hat is back on, to a degree, and it’s go-time for both of them. If the WWE doesn’t give them time to work a potential show-stealing match, then I’ll be much more vocal. I’m really rooting for them to be able to have an outstanding match that elevates Extreme Rules much the same way that Jericho vs. Punk helped elevated Wrestlemania. Y2J-Punk was what I referred to in the weeks leading up to Mania as the barometer for how well received that show would be viewed in the historical context. On a much smaller scale, given it’s a B-PPV, I feel that Bryan vs. Sheamus is the barometer for this show. Deliver us a 20-minute 2/3 falls match (no 2/3 falls match should ever go less than twenty) and, if Jericho-Punk and Lesnar-Cena back up their hype as they should, then Extreme Rules 2012 becomes one of those quiet classics cut from the same mold as Vengeance 2005 and Money in the Bank 2011 as a non-Big 4 show that people will talk about for years to come.
Admittedly, I also have some interest in Orton vs. Kane and Cody vs. Show. I thought Orton-Kane was an underrated performance at Mania and they have similarly understated chemistry. I expect their match will deliver and help boost this event’s profile. Cody needs a strong performance and I’m not sure how they’ll accomplish that with another loss to Big Show. I think we’re only a few short months away from go-time on Cody’s main-event push to the World title. I see him as the guy that unseats Sheamus down the road. We’ll see what happens.