SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
MMATorch editor Jamie Penick alerted me to a great feature on Brock Lesnar’s career-defining fight against Cain Velasquez at the UFC 121 PPV five years ago today, available on MMATorch.com.
Then, it donned on me. Wait a second, wasn’t that the PPV where Lesnar and The Undertaker had the post-fight verbal exchange during Taker’s cageside interview with Ariel Helwani?
And then everyone was more excited about the possibility of Taker and Lesnar facing off in a WWE ring instead of the next night’s WWE PPV?
Yeah, that happened five years ago today.
Now, Taker and Lesnar are two days away from the final match in their WWE Trilogy. And, WWE has found a way to make it un-compelling. (Is that a word? I’m using it regardless.)
Remember back to five years ago. People called into the Livecast begging to see that match happen in WWE. It was talked about for weeks. What if Brock returned to WWE and fought Taker?
So, what happened?
WWE Booking happened, that felt like a spontaneous, “non-wrestling” moment in history, and WWE missed the window of opportunity.
The Confrontation took place in October 2010. Lesnar returned to WWE in April 2012 to face John Cena. Lesnar then went through the Triple H program and the C.M. Punk program and the Big Show program before finally arriving at WrestleMania 30 in April 2014.
Remember that leading up to WM30, WWE went through a period of underplaying Brock Lesnar as a special attraction. He lost matches and he wasn’t treated like a huge mega-star. WWE tried to get that back at the 2014 Royal Rumble when he dismantled Big Show. But, fans were not buying it.
So, when it came time for Lesnar and Taker to fight, The Confrontation was a distant memory. The match-up wasn’t as special; it wasn’t epic. Plus, there was no sense of Lesnar even having a chance to break The Streak against Undertaker. There was no threat; the intrigue had been minimized.
Instead of being an epic clash of titans, it was about Taker marching toward history of eventually retiring undefeated at WrestleMania.
The match was a disappointment – the build-up was a contributor, Taker’s mid-match concussion hurt, and they seemed to lack chemistry in the ring.
And, WWE broke The Streak. Mixed with poor match quality, the whole scene created a bad taste for fans.
Fast-forward to 2015 and Taker resurfaced to confront Lesnar, turning into the Grumpy Old Taker sitting on his porch mad about Lesnar bragging that he broke The Streak.
Grumpy, kinda-heelish Taker against The Guy Who Broke The Streak was not a good mix. Instead of being excited to see either (a) Taker avenge his WM30 loss or (b) a much-improved second match in the series, fans were left with a conflicted feeling. “I don’t want to boo Taker; he’s Taker. I don’t want to dislike Brock; he’s Brock.”
So, WWE went forward with a screwy finish in Match #2 at Summerslam. Taker was reinforced as a heel and Brock turned into a bit of whiner. Well, Paul Heyman did the whining, and Lesnar tried to create happy feelings by destroying poor souls.
Now, Match #3. When should it take place? Should WWE allow time to heal the wounds of how the first two matches were booked? Or, just cut losses and get this feud over with? Option #2 was selected, prompting the blow-up match at Hell in a Cell, which is appropriate for Taker’s character. But, as far as timing goes, it feels like WWE just wants to end this trilogy and move on.
The hype leading into Match #3 has been … curious. WWE really glossed over this match during the middle portion of the PPV build-up. They aired a few video packages, but viewers have learned to tune this out in the Three-Hour Raw Era where WWE depends heavily on videos to fill the show.
It’s a tough spot – you can’t have Taker and Lesnar on TV every week in this Raw environment, otherwise they don’t feel special. But, if you don’t at least come up with special features or have the roster talk about them, then the match doesn’t feel special. It’s a Catch 22 that WWE brought upon themselves moving to three hours and allowing Creative to slip into a black hole.
Brock and Taker then returned to TV on Monday’s Raw to provide a final visual. But, it was more of the same fan conflict. Taker heelishly won Match #2, but there was no sense of Heel Taker in his opening remarks. Then, Brock backed down from the chance to fight.
Remember, just a few months ago, these two had a barn-burner pull-a-part brawl that went all over the arena and involved the entire locker room. “I’m gonna kill you!” “You’re going to have to!” Now, Brock doesn’t want to fight Taker on TV?
It’s a mess. And, like most things that have been dropped in the Three-Hour Raw Era, the feud has lost steam, substance, and marketability.
There just isn’t that much buzz about Taker-Brock III at Sunday’s PPV. At least, there isn’t as much as there should be considering where this issue started five years ago today.
The match has a chance to be good, perhaps not great. It’s in the Cell, creating a sense of danger and excitement, but how much value is there in the Cell these days? It’s not a violent match anymore and the structure has been compromised numerous times. Just go back to last year when WWE booked a HIAC main event ending with Bray Wyatt and his hologram making it inside the Cell.
So, looking back to five years ago, it feels like this should be more. It’s Taker, it’s Brock. Maybe they redeem this feud with an above-expectations thriller. And, make WWE look not as bad for turning what should have been epic into un-compelling.