THE RAW REVIEW
It’s rare to witness the sublime.
But last night, when Brock Lesnar single-handedly dismantled Monday Night Raw, we witnessed the sublime. We witnessed a transformative, transcendent moment, the realization of a character that's been gestating for a full year.
The WWE has some very important decisions to make in the coming weeks, decisions that will determine the course of their company, professional wrestling, and, potentially, our entire popular culture.
The company can go down the well-trod path of saving Brock Lesnar for significant pay-per-view appearances while Kane, Big Show, Randy Orton, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins carry Monday Night Raw through a series of back-stage-plotting segments and six man tag matches, or the WWE can capitalize on the organic ascent of The Beast Incarnate and the organic ascent of the best worker in the company, Seth Rollins, and launch into the most exciting and lucrative era in professional wrestling history.
That’s the power the Brock Lesnar character possesses.
That’s how important the next few months are.
That’s how important the terms of Brock’s contract are.
If Brock’s contract dictates that he be completely off television for the next month or, even worse, months, then I appeal to the WWE to appeal to Brock Lesnar, to convince Lesnar that there’s a chance for him to become one of the biggest superstars in human history. For not only does his presence on television affect his rise to truly iconic levels of fame and whether or not there is a renewed public interest in the WWE, his presence will help determine how successful our new, truly deserving WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Seth Rollins, will be.
Seth's victory at WrestleMania was another sublime moment where one man's dream came to fruition, and the WWE set themselves on a positive booking-path that embraces the present and the future, a path that embraces reality. In Seth, pro-wrestling fans have a reliable, incredibly talented worker whose athleticism in the ring and increasingly excellent ability on the mic can help define a much-needed transformation for the company. But the Seth Rollins character needs a worthy adversary. Seth Rollins, the performer, deserves better than the scraps of a generation well-past its prime. Seth Rollins deserves better than tag matches with Ryback, Randy Orton, Kane, and Big Show.
The ramifications of an absent Brock Lesnar loom large, affecting every aspect of the business, possibly determining the careers of others, for a top heel cannot thrive without a top babyface. Rollins is that top heel. Lesnar is that top babyface.
Imagine, dear reader, a WWE defined by Seth Rollins & Brock Lesnar, with other unquestionably talented members of The Reality Era rounding out the rest of the card, able to fill in any main event gaps should the need arise; Bray Wyatt, Rusev, Cesaro, Dean Ambrose, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Luke Harper, Paige, AJ Lee, Nikki Bella, Brie Bella, Natalya, as well as almost anyone from NXT.
That is a truly talented roster, a WWE tapped into the modern public consciousness, a WWE with a direct line into the hearts and minds of generations past, present, and future.
But it rests on the shoulders of Brock Lesnar, and what the WWE does with Lesnar in the next few weeks. Will he completely vanish, negating this rising energy, or will they make efforts to establish him as a force to be reckoned with through sit-down interviews and vignettes that detail his life while away on suspension?
I appeal to the WWE to beg, if necessary, to grovel before Brock Lesnar and plead for just fifteen minutes of his time each month, so that he can show up, deliver an F5, and leave.
That is all he needs to do.
He is just a few, consistent, well-booked F5s away from ascending to heights unlike any the WWE has ever seen.
Unexpected, Authority-defying F5s, occasional run-ins, occasional parking-lot attacks, vignettes, interviews, and Paul Heyman promos will create a new era in professional wrestling, a true Reality Era that bridges the gap between sport-performance and legitimate-sport.
Last night I watched two-hours-worth of television that almost any human being of any age, creed, color, religion, affiliation, or orientation would absolutely love.
From the stellar opening match between Dolph Ziggler & Daniel Bryan for The Intercontinental Championship to the excellent Divas Tag Match to the positively historic, transformative exchanges between Paul Heyman, Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins, and Stephanie McMahon, the WWE offered a television broadcast that could surpass anything they have ever created, a television broadcast the defines the popular sport/entertainment cultural landscape instead of self-consciously limping through it. Almost every era of the WWE, even the beloved Attitude Era, was inconsistent in terms of its quality and presentation, erratically fluctuating between pornography, Saturday morning cartoon, and athletic spectacle. Today, there's a chance to offer a consistent television show of quality, grounded in psychological depth and athletic realism.
The first two hours of Monday Night Raw were orgasmic; a self-assured, unapologetic, thoroughly entertaining work of brilliance that knew exactly what it was and exactly what it needed to do.
And while the audience certainly contributed to the significance of the evening and the energy in the arena, it was Brock Lesnar’s stellar performance that capitalized on that energy.
Brock’s size and athleticism, in combination with Paul Heyman’s ever-reliable oratory genius, seduce the audience into not fully appreciating just how good a performer Brock Lesnar really is in his own right. Brock Lesnar possesses some of the most expressive eyes in professional wrestling - cold and lifeless as they are.
Brock’s base, deceptively stoic gaze lulls you into the belief that he’s nothing more than a cold, empty monster. This makes his explosions of genuine emotion that much more incredible. Brock’s rage has meaning, Brock’s happiness has meaning. When Brock grins, especially when he’s in the midst of torturing an enemy, he transforms into a deeply unsettling, fascinating human being. He clearly understands his character, his strengths, his weaknesses, and he knows exactly what he’s supposed to do and when he’s supposed to do it.
And he proved at WrestleMania that he can call a brilliant match - his kind of match.
We have witnessed, over the course of several years, a truly gifted performer settle into himself.
The unwavering confidence in his every move and expression, as well as his ability to connect with fans through domination, resulting in trend-setting chants like, “Suplex City!” are the signs of a proven, ready, and capable talent.
Wish-fulfillment always defines the success of top pro-wrestling superstars (as well as any massive celebrity).
Hulk Hogan and John Cena are the wish-fulfillment of the child.
The Rock is the wish-fulfillment of the adolescent boy.
Stone Cold Steve Austin is the wish-fulfillment of the blue-collar-worker.
Brock Lesnar can be the wish-fulfillment of the modern WWE fan, the WWE fan who is relentlessly dissatisfied with the booking decisions of the WWE, the WWE fan who relentlessly complains about The Authority stable being boring, the WWE fan who relentlessly bitches about commentary being terrible.
Brock Lesnar can tear down, brick by brick, person by person, trope by trope, a WWE that no longer fits in 2015, a WWE that doesn’t even want to be a cartoon any longer, a WWE that has been plagued by out of touch booking woes and inauthentic presentation.
Brock Lesnar dismantling the commentators desk and F5ing Michael Cole perfectly symbolizes the transformation I’m describing, and the kind of wish-fulfillment the WWE needs to capitalize on. Brock Lesnar can be the beacon of hope for not just the complacent IWC, but fans of sport as well, fans of competition, fans…of wrestling. There is a large population of sports fans out there who live vicariously simply through impressive displays of athleticism.
And so Brock's appeal is virtually boundless.
The Authority, representing that old guard, that tired PG-Era-wrestling that fans have hated so much for so long, has found a natural adversary in Brock Lesnar, and Brock, in ripping The Authority to pieces until they give him what he wants, would embody a babyface for a new era, a transcendent star who’s bringing to life the rage-filled hopes and dreams of all those in attendance without ever needing to say he loves the fans, without ever needing to change who Brock Lesnar is nor what Brock Lesnar represents.
After Brock destroyed commentary and prior to Bryon Saxton showing up, the tone of the show shifted into entirely new pro-wresting territory for the WWE. A sense of desperation permeated the experience. A realistic, almost frightening energy radiated off the television screen. Viewers watched replays of Brock’s wrath without commentary accompaniment. I cannot emphasize how welcome this deviation from the norm was.
In deviation rests inspiration, insight, revelation. In deviation the WWE can achieve greatness.
Stephanie McMahon stormed through the bowels of the arena after "suspending Brock", screaming at Renee that she owned “that son of bitch”. And it felt real. Stephanie seemed shaken and determined, Renee Young seemed like an actual reporter trying to do her job in hostile territory.
It was the best RAW has been…perhaps ever.
Yes…that’s right…ever...for those twenty or so minutes.
The forth wall was broken in a truly unique way - it was as though Brock Lesnar had decided to forever change Monday Night Raw. It was as though The Authority character of Stephanie McMahon vanished and the real Stephanie emerged.
That’s what Brock can do - his authenticity in performance inspires a level of seriousness and intensity in those around him.
The palpable tension between Rollins and Brock when they were introduced prior to their rematch is a perfect example of that authentic energy. That scene, where Seth teased the match, only to complain about his foot hurting from giving Brock a Curb Stomp the night before, and then Brock attacking Seth over and over, represented the best pro-wrestling has to offer in terms of character development. Seth, a true heel, manipulates and cajoles the crowd into a frenzied rage, and then Brock delivers the cathartic, triumphant pop. In this intersection of the old, reliable ways of the medium, and the new, impressive talents, exists a pro-wrestling the world deserves to see.
The kind of pro-wrestling show that Brock would define, this realistic tone, could produce a quality of television that far exceeds the schizophrenic presentation of previous eras.
A consistent RAW, emanating from a real-sport perspective that defines all levels of the card is the RAW people today want to see, and it’s a RAW that will create an entirely new viewer in addition to bringing back those who departed during the limp Ruthless Aggression Era.
I’m almost glad that the third hour of RAW was dull and poorly booked. The main event was so blatantly flaccid and tired that it becomes that much clearer how important Brock Lesnar is to the company and how important a realistic tone and a realistic style of presentation is to the company.
A RAW that followed through on the promise of those first two hours would have seen Vince McMahon himself, accompanied by Triple H, come down to the commentary desk and apologize profusely, genuinely, to the WWE audience for Brock Lesnar’s actions.
And then Vince and Triple H would have called matches together, ignoring their roles as heel-Authority characters, and instead, talking like two human beings who are making the best of a bad situation.
A RAW that followed through on the promise of those first two hours would have ended with Brock Lesnar storming out of the audience (mid-boring-tag-match) and decimate every single human being in that ring.
That’s the ending this episode of Monday Night Raw deserved.
That’s the kind of story the WWE needs to tell at this incredibly precious time.
And the fans who chanted, “Same old shit!” and did the wave in defiance of your terribly booked main event let you know, loud and abundantly clear, what you need to do in the coming weeks, WWE.
The past fifteen years of World Wrestling Entertainment have been defined by a contentious spirit. The WWE has created superstars that the WWE fans have rejected, and the WWE fans have created superstars that the WWE has rejected.
There have been concession-top-guys who could and should have been iconic-top-guys.
There have been top-guys who’ve been billed as iconic when, in reality, they’ve not come close to the status of a Steve Austin or a Dwayne Johnson.
In Brock Lesnar, the WWE and the WWE Universe have finally found common ground.
And it’s time to take up root in that incredibly fertile ground and forge ahead, confidently, into The Era of The Beast.
Thanks for reading. Check out my OPEN LETTER to the WWE about the importance of Brock Lesnar.
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