Brock in the Bank
I don’t enjoy the current WWE main roster product. I know, as a consumer of pro wrasslin’ punditry, that this is not a very original position to take at this point. But, it is hard to settle anywhere else, even when I find myself enjoying something that I see in front of me.
Case in point was this past weekend and the Money in the Bank event, a show that I was really enjoying right until the final moment when Brock Lesnar appeared and won a match he wasn’t scheduled to be in. The Money in the Bank concept is up there with the Royal Rumble as far as an effective WWE plot device. It always makes for a sensational match featuring an exciting group of smaller talents taking brutal bumps and one or two bigger talents catching them as they fall off of ladders. This year’s crop of performers, Ricochet, Andrade, Ali, Finn Balor, Baron Corbin, Drew McIntyre, and Randy Orton put on a heart-stopping contest. Balor, in particular, took some of the most brutal looking bumps this side of an unprotected chair shot. Although my money had been on Drew “The Scottish Psychopath” McIntyre, it was a match without a clear favourite that was building to a surprise finish with bodies and ladders broken as far as the eye can see.
Then out came Brock Lesnar to work roughly two minutes of the match, take no bumps, and win the case leaving the commentators struggling to explain what was happening.
Is there a more tone-deaf response to the WWE’s recent ratings woes? Okay, yes, and they are putting Roman on both shows so they thought of that, too. But, that aside, I would have to say no. No, there is not. Brock’s act is so stale, you could crumble him up and feed his pieces to ducks at your local pond. He enters. He bounces around. Heyman does his intro. Brock smirks and bounces. Heyman cuts a quality promo that is pretty much the same promo he has been cutting about Brock for the past ten plus years. Brock smirks and bounces. Music plays. They leave. Weeks pass. Repeat. And that doesn’t even speak to the three or four matches he works a year, which also follow a tried and true formula with predictable results. We’ve all been to Suplex City, bought the shirt, seen the sights, and are ready to go somewhere else.
When Brock debuted in 2000, billed as the next big thing, he was an athletic monster the likes of which we had never seen. He was huge, he was fast, the F5 looked like murder, and there was a video making the rounds of him hitting a shooting star press! Without a doubt, Brock had the look and feel of a WWE superstar. Nearly 20 years later, Lesnar still looks the part. He has even added the “real” combat sports credentials of a former UFC champion to his resumé. However, as far as new material in the overall presentation of the Beast Incarnate, that is about it. Yes, he still looks and feels like a legitimate fighter that could snap and kill someone in the ring at any time. What is more apparent to me as a wrestling fan is that he is only here for big paydays and a light schedule. Good for him. I am always in favour of wrestlers getting money and staying away from injury. However, that is my whole problem with him winning that match last Sunday, smirking and bouncing his way back to the top of the card: the other guys in that match took huge risks out there for our entertainment. They bounced off ladders, crashed into tables, and put their bodies on the line to tell the story of how important winning the Money in the Bank briefcase would be to their careers.
I know that wrestling is a work, but that effort means something to me. I cringe when I see Ali go crashing over the top rope onto the ground below with a thud. I held my breath waiting to see if Finn Balor was going to get up after that flip bomb onto the ladder from Andrade. I even got excited seeing Baron Corbin deliver a chokeslam, and I hate Baron Corbin. But, all of that was for nothing. Just a collection of minutes in these performers’ lives to fuel the big swerve of Brock’s appearance. And I think that sucks.
In fairness to Brock, he is the last of a dying breed. The last of the true “WWE Superstars” before Superstar became a synonym for wrestler. It’s a word that doesn’t mean anything anymore because of how it is used. If both The Undertaker and Fandango are “Superstars” then there has to be another word for real attractions like Lesnar. But, in the current WWE language, there isn’t. What there is instead is a set of interchangeable pieces, differentiated only by look and character, but not by magnitude. Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Hulk Hogan. These men were giants of the industry. They sold tickets and put eyes on screens. They didn’t have to be called Superstars because they were superstars. Brock Lesnar is cut from this same cloth. He is an in-house star, built up in the WWE system to be larger than life. He is a true attraction, the guy that broke the streak, but he is also a character that has not evolved one bit over the past two decades.
Even Hogan changed his tights.
It’s telling that Vince’s solution to his current concerns is more Brock. Lesnar is a Vince guy from top to bottom. He’s a “made in the WWE” success story that offers McMahon a piece of that mainstream acceptance he has always craved so deeply. But, the industry is changing. The land of the giants has become the playground of the super-athletes. Yes, WWE has an official cruiserweight purgatory, sorry, “division,” that focuses on guys under that 225-pound sweet spot. But, look around the card and tell me that half the main roster couldn’t also carry that hideous purple belt around. The future isn’t in beasts, demons or giants. It’s high flyers and technical specialists. It’s Adam Coles and Johnny Garganos. It’s fast paced, hard hitting action that takes style and substance over size. I’m not saying there is no place for Brock in the world of sports entertainment, I’m just saying that the place isn’t at the top of a card when there are so many fresh talents that could be elevated to that position.
It remains to be seen if the overall plan is to put a belt back on Brock Lesnar. The past two Money in the Bank winners did not have successful cash-ins, so it would be a strange choice to have Brock, with all his equity, be the third in a row. Brock is a giant among men and a truly larger than life character in the world of wrestling. He’s just a character I’ve seen enough of.
Randy Orton: a level of No F**ks we can all aspire to
In the current WWE system, no talent has figured out how to play the game like Randy Orton. He shows up, works safe, can be placed into any angle, match, storyline or feud, and the RKO is the most over finish in the business. He knows that he can keep working and making a pay cheque by avoiding injury, staying in his lane, and keeping those RKO’s popping off. His appearance in the Money in the Bank match was a master class in playing it safe while being in a match full of risk and danger. His one move, the RKO, has more equity than every brutal bump the other talents took put together. It reminds me of one of my favourite Scott Hall stories:
Back in the WCW days, two luchadors tore down the house in a flips and flops match. When they got backstage, everyone was clapping, including Hall. When all the applause died down, Hall finished his clap slow, looked at the two workers and said, “That was some match. Now, watch me go get more heat with a headlock.”
You know who else loves to grab a headlock? Randy Orton.
The social media championship
The last thing I want to give a quick nod to is the debut of the WWE 24/7 championship. Right out of the bat, I do need to say the belt is comically ugly. The on-the-nose plate on the front looks like something you would find on the side of a diner somewhere. That said, the belt itself is a fun idea. Yes, it is a shame to see so many quality talents reduced to a thirsty, child-like scramble for this new belt rather than quality feuds for more prestigious titles, but there is potential for something really enjoyable to happen here.
With the WWE’s social media game being what it is, I am sure we can expect the 24/7 title to take on a life of its own, being won and lost on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. It’s a chance for talents to get themselves seen, to convey some character and maybe garner some attention from fans. We have seen in the rise of Kofi Kingston and Becky Lynch that the WWE can be dragged kicking and screaming towards elevating a Superstar if the fans make enough noise. Maybe passing this belt around will help get a talent that has been stuck get the traction they need to rise above the bottom end of the card.
Or it will just be a thing where No Way José gets pinned by someone in the Conga line and Hornswoggle makes a comeback.
Til they find a way to get the hellfire without the brimstone, I’ll see you marks around the loop.