By Will Pruett
At No Mercy on Sunday night, we saw WWE do a very WWE thing. They took a red hot top star they created in the last year and fed them to a star they created over a decade ago. WWE decided against the new young prospect fans were excited about and went with the status quo. While some people will call Roman Reigns’ assumed WrestleMania victory over Brock Lesnar the problem here, I believe the problem is Brock Lesnar himself. Brock Lesnar allows WWE to indulge in their worst habits and is bad for storytelling, WWE, and pro wrestling in general.
Like most other wrestling fans, I was on board the Brock train when Lesnar returned in 2012. After his UFC career (seemed to have) ended, Lesnar returning to wrestling was delightful. His first match, where he and John Cena had one of the best main events of the era, was amazing. Lesnar has never performed like he did on that first night back and he’s never lived up to that standard. It was exciting, but since Extreme Rules 2012, I’ve been left wanting.
Brock Lesnar plays into WWE’s strange hunger for mainstream appeal. We are talking about a performer who can get mentioned on Sportscenter (and not just featured awkwardly talking to WWE stooge and media criticism dullard “The Coach”). Lesnar crossed over multiple sports and, as much of a cultural zeitgeist exists outside of politics, Lesnar belongs in it. Brock is a star, of sorts.
What does it say in WWE when a star gets to take months off between matches even when they’re the most important champion in the company? What does it say when said star won’t have a match over 15 minutes without the chance to take a breather in the back before re-entering? What does it say when since April of 2014, the most notable thing about Brock Lesnar was how he lost in 90 seconds to Goldberg in Goldberg’s first match since 2004?
WWE’s bad habits are in full effect here. We are seeing the stars they can actually tell compelling stories with today systematically fed to 2002’s Next Big Thing. Samoa Joe was in the brightest spotlight of his career and doing great work. He lost to one F-5. Braun Strowman was the best homegrown WWE talent since The Shield (and still is) and he lost in less than ten minutes.
It’d be different is Brock Lesnar was making a notable difference in WWE’s business. Shows with Brock Lesnar on them don’t sell out. WWE Network numbers don’t jump up for Brock Lesnar appearances. Brock Lesnar doesn’t even seem to be helping WWE’s ratings when he is on television. What exactly is the point of him? I won’t even get into the absurd amount he gets paid to bounce behind Paul Heyman and occasionally turn purple.
So, what’s the endgame? Am I supposed to be excited about another Lesnar vs. Reigns WrestleMania main event. The first match was delightful, but the build to it was the worst in the modern history of WrestleMania. Remember this?
Can you really believe that an undefeated Braun Strowman going in WrestleMania against Roman Reigns isn’t more compelling than another Brock and Roman affair? What about Samoa Joe, the destroyer, heading into the show of shows?
WWE’s insistence on putting Brock Lesnar, a star of yesterday, ahead of the stars of today is awful. It’s counterproductive. It’s exactly what landed WWE in the awkward position they’ve been in for a decade where they overemphasized Attitude Era has beens on major shows and ended up with a generation of midcarders.
Last week’s essential viewing:
What matches/segments/moments do you need to see from the last week of wrestles?
Roman Reigns vs. John Cena (September 24, 2017 – WWE No Mercy) – A match worthy of the pseudo-WrestleMania vibe WWE attempted to give it. Reigns and Cena broke out all of the formulaic and delightful tricks to give us a great main event quality matchup. The overall story of the Reigns having his fifth torch passed to him was odd, but Cena and Reigns delivered.
Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose vs. Cesaro and Sheamus (September 24, 2017 – WWE No Mercy) – This was a great tag match from four absolutely great professional wrestlers. Rollins and Ambrose have ignited the Raw tag division since joining. Cesaro and Sheamus are always delightful. Add in Cesaro’s absolutely brutal injury in this match and it’s definitely worth watching.
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn promo (September 26, 2017 – WWE Smackdown Live) – As I discuss below, Sami showed some amazing fire here and Owens continues to do great work. I wish everyone in wrestling had characters as well defined as Sami’s was here.
What I absolutely positively love in wrestling this week:
Sami Zayn’s babyface fire – A pet peeve of mine in wrestling is when a babyface doesn’t acknowledge actions as right or wrong. In a modern morality play, which is what wrestling is, it is exceptionally weird to have a “good guy” cheating without cause. I felt this about Roman Reigns roofie-ing Stephanie McMahon and about a ton of moments where John Cena hit first. Sami Zayn is a wrestler with a true moral compass. On Smackdown, he talking about doing things the right way and how his time would come. I couldn’t help but be inspired. Remember, his NXT Championship victory over Neville at the end of 2014 was built around Sami doing it the right way. Sami Zayn’s fire and moral compass remind me of what I love in wrestling.
If you enjoy getting a little bit of what I love in wresting each week, check out my new YouTube series called “What I Love About Professional Wrestling!”
What I absolutely positively love in the world this week:
“Walk Into a Storm” by The Lone Bellow – The song is the highlight of the album of the same name. The Lone Bellow’s sound is more country than not, but has some amazing soaring gospel inspired moments that take me by to my charismatic Christian upbringing in the best way. Everything they write is a little haunting and absolutely sincere. Listen to this song, then dig back into their prior albums. You won’t regret it for a second.
It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders – You’re getting two picks I’m listening to this week since I spent last weekend driving up the California coast for a family vacation. Sam Sanders was a grounding presence on NPR’s delightful Politics podcast. His spin-off show has a little bit of politics, a little bit of pop culture, a little bit of general life discussion, and an amazing final few minutes every week. Listen to the end to hear listeners call in with their best moments of the week and try to keep from crying. I can’t.
Got something to say/react to in today’s piece? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wilpruett. Just let me know whether you’d like your name attached to your statement or not. Alternately, there’s a comment section just below this article, so comment away!
Alright, this week, I’m going to generously quote a very long and very bad email I got from a human named Steven. His original email is very long, so I’m going to run it in clipped form…
“First off, I just wanted to say that I think you’re a thoughtful and talented writer.”
So far, so good.
“Here’s the thing, though: I don’t want to see more women’s wrestling in the W.W.E.”
And then you had to go and ruin it…
“However, before I elaborate on my point, I just want to say a few things in my defense. I am very much in favor of equal rights for women in society. I fully support women’s reproductive rights, and I’m outspoken against income inequality between the sexes. I’m all for women holding positions of power in the workplace. My mother and sister are outspoken feminists, and I agree with them on many issues.”
Your mom and your sister being feminists does not lend you credibility here. In fact, having to specifically list them as feminists and thus leaving yourself out of the feminist category does hurt you.
“I’m just not as interested in female wrestling as I am in male wrestling… If there were five male matches and five female matches, I’d find it tedious, and I’d especially find it tedious if there was a female-wrestler ‘Mania main event. What’s more, I think that there’s a lot of male fans out there who’d agree with me…though, in today’s politically correct society, I doubt many of them would dare to voice such an opinion.”
I always enjoy when political correctness gets brought up. Your bad opinion doesn’t make you some sort of brave culture warrior, it makes you an ass. Please, go on…
“I’ve been watching wrestling, and the W.W.E., for thirty years… One thing that I’ve noticed, at every show that I’ve ever been to, is that the audience skews more male to female. Wrestling is a boy’s club…and sometimes we boys need our clubs. It’s not to say that we want to be exclusionary of female fans…”
Alright dude, you want a boys club, but you don’t want to exclude women? What the f*ck do you think the actual purpose of a boy’s club is? Wrestling has been primarily marketed towards men for decades, what the hell do you expect the audience to look like? Of course it’s mostly over-the-hill men like you; you’re all they’ve aimed themselves towards.
“I tune in primarily to see the male wrestlers…female wrestling just seems like more of a gimmick to me. I don’t want to see equality in wrestling, and again, I think a sizeable amount of the W.W.E. audience…which, again, skews male…would agree with me, even if they’d be reluctant to admit it in a public forum.”
Sometimes, the majority is wrong, especially the majority of an audience that has catered to one group of people for a very long time. If I told you the audience for superhero movies was majority male, you’d think we should never have female superheroes. Wonder Woman was the highest grossing movie of the Summer this year. Wrestling has always been done one way on the national scale. Every WWE PPV since 1985, aside from one, has been main evented by men. Maybe, much like with superhero movies, wrestling is ready for something better.
Imagine if WWE’s audience was 50% female. There’s nothing that says it can’t be. WWE boosted its female audience since it stopped deriding them with the term “Diva” and making them sit in pie for entertainment. WWE would gain even more female fans by presenting women as more than 3-10% of the show and giving the slightly over 50% of the world’s population some equal representation.
“You might have stopped reading a while ago, and I very much doubt you’re going to respond to this e-mail directly on the website.”
SSMGOTW (Superfluous Shane McMahon Gif of the Week):
We’re Done Here:
We don’t even have to wait until Sunday to see some good ol’ Packers football this week! Heck you don’t need to have cable, either! What a wonderful time to be alive.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video series “What I Love About Professional Wrestling” subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at email@example.com.
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell and guest Mister Saint Laurent, who offers passionate words about what MLW delivers that pro wrestling has been missing, addresses criticism of MLW's contracts, straying from the path that his family paved for him, discusses the MLW Saturday Night SuperFight pay-per-view event that will be held on November 2 in Chicago, and more (62:44)...