Monday, April 4, 2011

Smarkass Reviews: Brock Lesnar: Here Comes the Pain

I can't remember exactly when I stopped watching wrestling. Sometime in 2000/2001, I think. Nothing specific made me stop, just a general feeling that it was the same old shit over and over again, and I wasn't going to waste my time with that. I never stopped liking wrestling, but I had no interest in it either, if that makes sense. I'd sometimes check it out and enjoy it only to forget about it the next day. I could enjoy watching it when I watched it, I didn't have the desire to watch it. I didn't get back into it until late 2007. So, there's a nice gap there where I missed out on a few things: Evolution, the rise of John Cena, the Invasion storyline, the Smackdown Six, and Brock Lesnar. I have a pretty strong fascination with these things that I missed out on and that led me to getting a copy of the only Brock Lesnar DVD the WWE put out: Here Comes the Pain. It's still a little insane to me that I could miss out on someone like Lesnar, but he was only in the WWE a short time. Everything else I missed, I still had some reference points from either before or after my period of not watching wrestling. I saw the Smackdown Six before they turned that show into a weekly wrestling clinic. I knew Triple H and Ric Flair, and came to know Randy Orton and Batista. I missed the rise of John Cena, but have watched him on top for over three years now. For Lesnar, there's nothing like that. He came and left when I wasn't watching. His matches haven't shown up on many of the DVDs I've purchased (besides this one and the WrestleManias I have, I think he only shows up on The Best of Smackdown (and not wrestling) and The History of the WWE Championship). He's pretty much a mystery to me beyond stories I've heard or things I've read.

This DVD was released at the same time as a VHS version that contained only the hour-long documentary feature. Thankfully, the DVD contains some matches. But, this also only covers up until its release in 2003, so it's not exactly a great overview. For my purposes, it did its job and gave me a good glimpse of the Next Big Thing. I watched the matches first since I knew Michelle would want to want the documentary feature and she wasn't able to until the evening.

Match #1: #1 Contender for the WWE Undisputed Championship Match - Brock Lesnar vs. "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan (Smackdown, 08.08.02)
Not so much a match as a slaughter and a way to make Brock Lesnar seem unstoppable. Put him up against one of the biggest icons in the business and just kill him. Not that Hogan didn't get some shots in, hitting some boots to the face and a leg drop that Lesnar got to kick out of, but any offence by Hogan was there for the purpose of Lesnar overcoming it and, then, killing Hogan. There was also the story of Lesnar hurting himself with his overconfidence, his playing to the crowd, and taking too much time to gloat. It's a theme that crops up a little bit in the other matches. Given that he's only debuted five months previously, he was still a newcomer and that overconfidence after such dominance made sense. The finish of the F5 and, then, the Brock Lock bear hug was the capper. He could have won with the F5 but wanted to utterly destroy Hogan. He even want back and nailed him with a chair after the match. Like I said, not a technical masterpiece, but it does the job of making Lesnar look like an unstoppable monster.
Winner: Brock Lesnar [**]

Match #2: WWE Undisputed Championship Match - The Rock (C) vs Brock Lesnar (SummerSlam, 08.24.02
I watched this match a few months ago on The History of the WWE Championship DVD set, but rewatched it here with Michelle since she hadn't seen it, and I thought it would be a good intro to Lesnar -- and she's been digging the Rock lately because of his involvement with the WWE, so that's an added bonus. Like her, I love the beginning with the Rock laying the belt down, doing a little jogging on the spot to mimic Lesnar in the ring, and then sprinting to kick the crap out of this young punk. Some good storytelling here with the involvement of Paul Heyman. Lesnar was the monster heel that doesn't need to cheat to win... but does anyway. I love the dominant heel, because that gets better heat than the regular chickenshit variety. There's satisfcation in seeing a chickenshit coward heel get his comeuppance, but that pales in comparison to a face finally besting a heel that is legitimately better than everyone else. You hate that sort of heel not just because he's a heel, but because he's right when he says he's the best and you can't deny it. Heyman helping Lesnar isn't necessary for Lesnar to win, it gets him over even more. Here, the Rock kept coming back from whatever Lesnar gave him, even controlling a big part of the match. He made sure that Lesnar didn't just steamroll over him, Lesnar earned the win here by kicking out of a Rock Bottom, delivering his own (B)Rock Bottom, and an F5 to put the Rock away. Lesnar looked decent here, but the Rock carried this a bit for me. His mannerisms and selling made Lesnar look so much better. This is how a first-time WWE Champion should look when he wins.
Winner and NEW WWE Undisputed Champion: Brock Lesnar [***1/2]

Match #3: Hell in a Cell Match for the WWE Championship - Brock Lesnar (C) vs. the Undertaker (No Mercy, 10.20.02)
There were some problems with this match like the on-and-off psychology surrounding the Undertaker's supposedly broken right hand. It came into play quite a bit, but was conveniently forgotten any time the Undertaker had to, you know, use his hands. Still, this match had a lot going for it and I couldn't help but get swept up in the spectacle and emotion of it. Lesnar getting nervous quickly about being trapped was a great touch to play on his inexperience and that panic a rookie might feel in the same situation, WWE Champion or not. Paul Heyman's involvement really helped here with his constant comments and shouting, the spot with the Undertaker ramming him into the cage by pulling his tie through an opening, and, then, him holding the belt that Lesnar tied around the Undertaker's hand while Lesnar hit it with a chair. Heyman added that extra flavour as a cheerleader. Between Lesnar and the Undertaker, they managed to craft a good match by playing into the psychology of the veteran/rookie confrontation. Any time Lesnar got the upperhand, he would make some stupid mistake like gloating too much and the Undertaker would take advantage. Still, Lesnar was quicker and stronger and wouldn't stay down. The blood was just... nasty. The Undertaker was gushing blood. I told Michelle she would have hated it since she's not a blood fan and seeing the Undertaker so covered is shocking. Honestly, this match is a good argument for the use of blood since it came at the right time (Lesnar split open early on but not too bad) to ramp the match up that extra bit. I'd never seen the Undertaker this bloody, this seemingly broken down, and that made Lesnar look that much better. He did that to the Undertaker and that's almost better than winning the match. Plenty of people have beat the Undertaker -- how many made him such a mess? How many left his face covered with blood? This match made Lesnar for me.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar [****]

Match #4: WWE Championship Match - Kurt Angle (C) vs. Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania XIX, 03.30.03
This match suffers from the finish. That's fucking brutal to watch and killed any enthusiasm/enjoyment I had until then. Up until the finish, this was the strongest wrestling match on the DVD so far. Angle and Lesnar trading amateur wrestling holds at first until Lesnar couldn't quite keep up and went to a more power-based game, something Angle couldn't best him at. That put over both men: no one can touch Kurt Angle on the mat, but even Angle can't stop the monster than is Brock fucking Lesnar. Angle used every fucking hold he could think of and Lesnar always got out, and planted Angle on the mat. Very good story that showcased both men excellently. The finish with Lesnar hitting a second F5 and victory just a pinfall away only for him to attempt a Shooting Star Press with Angle 2/3s of the way across the ring is awful to watch. Lesnar doesn't even come close to making it after his legs buckle a little bit. It was a stupid thing to try with Angle so far away. I'm not sure what the finish was meant to be (probably him winning after hitting that) and the announcers tried to play it off as Angle rolling out of the way. Anyway, Lesnar wound up winning and looked so fucking out of it. He and Angle shaking hands to end the show was a nice moment, not one that could overcome the Next Big Thing falling flat on his face, though.
Winner and NEW WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar [****]

Match #5: Stretcher Match for the WWE Championship - Brock Lesnar (C) vs. the Big Show (Judgment Day, 05.18.03)
The first modern Stretcher Match apparently. I've only ever really liked one Stretcher Match and that was Batista/Shawn Michaels at Extreme Rules 2008. Chris Jericho's involvement helped make that match damned entertaining with Batista killing Michaels and Jericho not letting the Animal actually win until Michaels ate far more punishment. This one had the interesting story of the Big Show being too big for a stretcher. The spot with Lesnar using a lighting/tv cable to choke the Big Show out and, then, it preventing him from getting the Big Show across the line on the stretcher was good. The finish with the forklift was just ridiculous. Stupid and entertaining at the same time. This was more a fun/throwaway match than a good one.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar [**1/2]

Match #6: WWE Championship Match - Brock Lesnar (C) vs. the Big Show (Smackdown, 06.12.03)
Included for the finishing spot of Lesnar Superplexing the Big Show off the top rope and the ring collapsing. That's pretty awesome to see no matter how many times you do. Everything before that was pretty average and forgettable.
Result: No contest [**]

The documentary provided some background on his life pre-WWE and, then, basically went into little rundowns of his big feuds/matches with some commentary from the likes of Paul Heyman, Michael Hayes, Kurt Angle, Big Show, Gerald Brisco, and others thrown in. It was kind of funny to watch since they kept shifting between discussing things in reality and kayfabe. It was a weird blending of the two. The matches they chose definitely complemented what we saw here, though I wish they'd given us the Lesnar/Cena match from Backlash. I would say that if I'd rated the matches above after watching this documentary stuff, I would have rated them all a little higher, that's how well they talked things up. Entertaining. What it really missed was Lesnar. After his pre-WWE time was covered, he didn't add anything, and that's a shame. I always like hearing what guys have to say about their matches.

We get, basically, the first year of Lesnar's career here and he shows a lot of skill and potential to be great. I don't know how much further he developed in his remaining time with the WWE, but he definitely could have progressed to be one of the greats. He had speed and strength, some solid mat-wrestling foundation, and a fantastic look. I hope the WWE eventually does a set that covers his entire career with them, because I'd like to see more of his work.