There can be very little argument that most wrestling fans are already looking past the John Cena/Brock Lesnar main event at this year's SummerSlam. The reason for that very noteworthy event is mostly due to the fact that World Wrestling Entertainment's booking of former Shield member Roman Reigns has led to rampant speculation that he will be the recipient of the next big face push by the company, culminating in a theoretical (but certainly possible) title shot at next year's signature WrestleMania event. A secondary but no less mitigating factor was the reported news this past week that fan favorite Daniel Bryan will most likely not see action until January 2015, with even that prospective date being guesswork at this stage as he mulls other medical procedure. Due to the overwhelming popularity of Reigns coming out of the Shield angle, coupled with him most certainly having the look the WWE brass has been known to covet, the idea of presenting him as the next fearsome warrior to defend the honor of the WWE makes sense. The fact that Lesnar, a gruesome beast who is perhaps equally well known outside of the wrestling industry, is available to present a very compelling challenge to the young usurper puts the timing of this event over the top. But it may not be the most compelling way to tell this tale.
There is no doubt that Lesnar took some significant steps forward during last night's Monday Night Raw. I have no earthly idea how WWE constructed his albatross of a contract, but having Brock comment during prepackaged, pretaped segments makes complete and utter sense on a level that is unbelievably simple. Lesnar has never been solid on the microphone in my view, and he generally doesn't have to be. Actions tend to speak far louder than words, as the saying goes, but in wrestling both nouns carry an equally important role. For Lesnar, though, presenting him as human would be a costly error in judgment that's already negatively affected his booking since his return. He is able to occupy that much-maligned and therefore very lucrative space in which he can be equally reviled for hopping back into an industry he's presumably only partially interested in (if you remember the buzz words like "lack of passion" and "part time," that's because they were trotted out for The Rock as well) and for his nefarious and violent tactics in the ring. He also has the distinct advantage of a fairly solid body of work overall in the WWE, and the intelligent and highly effective coupling of this monster with the best mouthpiece in the business, Paul Heyman.
That's what made this week a pleasant surprise. Heyman (though there in spirit, as his inspired work last week translated to the phenomenal video package) was nowhere to be seen, and instead we got a trip through the mind of the beast himself, Lesnar. His take on the situation was fascinating, bombastic and full of piss and vinegar, harkening back to the press conferences that accompany the best UFC and boxing matches. He straight out told us that he doesn't care about anything but doing what he wants to do, and that's hurt people. The fact that the person is John Cena and the stakes are the WWE's signature belt are less than relevant. His final comment regarding leaving John Cena short on bodily fluids and long on hurt, was the kind of disquieting bon mot that won't soon see a hashtag or a T-shirt. That's one of the critical things that's been missing on the WWE's stage of late, and I for one am glad to see them getting back into it. One can be highly disturbed and entertained at the same time, and that's what really good pro wrestling does. An abundance of blood and profanity is not necessarily required, but some intensity and mature content is a must to make it real to us.
That's an important step for Brock, who doesn't really have to prove his credentials as someone who's able to dish out a beating but has a long way to go to convince fans that he's not merely a transition to the next face champ. Last night didn't firm that up completely, but he's well on his way. I totally bought his point of view, and that's utterly critical heading into a match that's had mostly 3rd party build. WWE's decision to feature the Extreme Rules match between these same two foes directly after Raw on the Network was solid in that it certainly gave folks a reason to tune in and tied it into the current product, but does show that they've got a tough act to follow. Lesnar decimated Cena in that match in a way that was beyond uncomfortable to say the least, and it's excellent. You can tell he wasn't going to be able to have a tremendous match physically yet, but the way it was booked prevented him from needing to. Lesnar literally tore into Cena using many of the techniques he had honed outside of the WWE, and the sight of Cena bloody and broken in front of a couple little kids decked out in Cena gear reminded me of Mick Foley taking chair shot after chair shot from The Rock in front of his family many moons ago. It's the kind of scary story that WWE seems far too fearful to write in general, especially now.
The fact that Cena overcame even those odds and won said match is nothing new to wrestling fans. He's always had a double-edged sword when it comes to his character, a do-gooder and overachiever at heart who salutes the camera, trots down in his latest WWE Shop merch, and endures unholy torment before scoring the win. He has without question put forth some of the best matches the WWE has in the last decade, but he's also been booked to a ridiculous degree to ignore any attempts at grounding him in anything approaching reality. That's nothing new for Titan Tower, of course, as they've always had a penchant for the indomitable and indestructible good guy, but it's a bit more out of place in the current day and age. Having your champion be able to go into Super Mario "invincible" mode is ridiculous even by wrestling standards anymore. Presenting Lesnar as the guy who crippled and quashed another of those heroes in The Undertaker allows for us all to look at this match with Cena as a potential underdog. One can't say that very often.
As I said at the start, though, this match suffers from the fact that the aftermath is more compelling than the match itself. It's almost an expectation that John Cena will taste defeat, in order to pave the way for the next hero to step up and save the day. Should that selected wrestler be Roman Reigns, that's fine and dandy. I can imagine that Brock can hang around in enough appearances between now and the end of his deal to keep the championship visible and roll over any opposition until the inevitable occurs. The fact that we can tell how that story will end before it does doesn't necessarily make it any less a compelling tale to tell. I don't know that it's the best way to do it, however. Having Lesnar focused on ending John Cena accomplishes a very simple side issue: what to do with the main face of the company as you pave the way for his eventual replacement. That's a touchy subject, naturally, due to the fact that the WWE is unlikely to turn Cena heel anytime soon, if ever. He must be kept high profile enough to satisfy his fans, but he's got to be out of the picture enough for someone else to head the card. Being locked in a death feud with Lesnar does this.
As to where that leaves the title, fortunately there's a briefcase in play. WWE's goal right now should be to elevate as many of their future stars as possible. They have had varying degrees of success with this, and much of that is due to their attempts to position the Network as a must-have for all wrestling fans by latching onto names of the past both in and out of the ring. Bray Wyatt has been smartly booked against veterans that have allowed him to secure his share of wins while landing more and more converted believers, but Seth Rollins has been surprisingly rudderless since his critical turn on his mates and landing of the MITB briefcase containing a title shot. His feud with Dean Ambrose has been emotional and impactful, no doubt, but thus far it's been Ambrose who's been elevated as a result of it. Rollins, to be sure, is playing his chickenshit heel role in style, but it's time to add some meat to the bones. The fact that the briefcase is an afterthought for this event already is proof positive to me of how excellent a time it would be to switch things up in a major way.
Look at it this way: Triple H and Paul Heyman have never been presented as comrades in arms, yet suddenly his "Plan C" becomes the marching orders in order to get the belt off Cena. "Plan B" still outranks C, however, and with the mastermind convinced that his client is getting exactly what he wants the way he scripted it, both men take their eyes off the ball. Cena and Lesnar have another fight for the ages, and Cena is pushed to near destruction before going the usual route and somehow pulling off a win. If you're really upset about that, never fear: the old disqualification method is fine with me, with Heyman unable to prevent his charge from obliterating the hero of the day. For myself, though, I love the good old-fashioned "Holy shit" moment (amazingly overdone these days, alas) and that would be Cena tasting near defeat only to pin Lesnar. You might lose the rub from pinning Taker, but let's face it, WWE has booked Brock to lose enough times prior to that that I'm not overly concerned. Incensed with the loss, Lesnar goes on the attack, brutalizing Cena further. That's of course the cue for Rollins to swoop in, cash in the contract, and become WWE Champion. In one picturesque shocking moment, the fans go from "of course" to "oh crap" in the blink of an eye.
Timing would be critical here, of course, as it can't go on too long or with too much time left in the PPV without fans knowing something's coming. (That, incidentally, was a critical misfire on last night's show. The time left with the contract signing still to come made it clear when the Rollins match would end. Love the choice of Heath Slater, however.) Rollins enables The Authority to outsmart Heyman and the Universe in one fell swoop, landing their guy in the power slot of the company. More importantly, though, it allows for a program with Roman Reigns and plenty of past history to begin almost immediately. Lesnar, naturally, continues to feud with Cena, perhaps evening the score in September. Ambrose can continue to chase Rollins for a bit, or begin a sequence with Orton or Kane or whoever the Authority deems appropriate. And Rollins can continue to be protected as a perceived "weak" champion while giving himself some serious street cred for what comes later.
That's important, as Rollins is one of those guys who could be equally at home going up against a returning Daniel Bryan and his "Yes!" movement, or trying to fend off the power attacks and past history with Reigns. In my view, we'll know going into WM whether Reigns is going to win the belt at that point or not. He's already a sure thing in some respects, for his physical abilities and his moveset being most decidedly over with the crowd. This swerve puts Rollins into a premier position as well, equally important for the company moving forward. I also thinks it gives the WWE far more options with booking than having a compelling, though infrequently appearing, champion. To me, Rollins is exactly the kind of heel champion fans would go crazy for. He gets the psychology, he tells an excellent story, he can take a drubbing, and he can go. If that sounds Shawn Michaels or CM Punk-esque, well, that's because it is. He's certainly not close to that level yet on the microphone, but Lesnar and Reigns haven't set any records there either, and there's plenty of time to work on those issues.
What the WWE does with Brock Lesnar during the rest of his time back in wrestling is important, but not nearly as huge as establishing those next guys who will be stewards of the ring when he is gone. The current supposed plan of having Reigns unseat him certainly makes Reigns a big deal, but having another guy factor into this story makes both of them big. The other nice piece of this is the nebulousness of Daniel Bryan making his return. How does he slot into the story? I'm not sure Lesnar vs. Bryan is a story the WWE is ready to tell for a litany of reasons, but Bryan/Rollins writes itself. Should the WWE plan on just sliding him back somewhere else upon his return, well that's an elephant that won't fit into the room tonight. Plans need to be made with an eye to all possible outcomes in order to avoid poor on-the-fly booking. It's an issue the WWE has had previously.
At the end of the day, there's no better time to experiment than when a sure thing is assumed. There's only so much room at the top in any wrestling promotion, and at the very least the WWE has done a reasonable job with their gradual Cena/Lesnar build. That said, part of the sins of the past has been reliance on one or two big names to carry the load while other very talented wrestlers languish until seeking better environs. Anyone with the talent to manage should get a shot to carry the company, even if it's a temporary one. There is absolutely no reason to wait when you're in a time when everyone wonders what's next before what's in front of them is even finished. The worst that can happen is that you shed predictability and hand a golden opportunity to a talent that's not quite ready for it. Isn't that the plan for WrestleMania anyway? World Wrestling Entertainment has (perhaps unwittingly) given themselves the blueprints to tell an even better story than the one you signed up for. Whether they use them to erect a masterpiece is yet to be determined.