Brock Lesnar once again holds the WWE Championship. In other news, the sky is blue and grass is green.
I understand the frustrations that people have with the result of the WWE Championship match at Day 1. In spite of his recent face turn, Brock Lesnar still represents the status quo. Lesnar spent the majority of his 2010s holding one of the top titles in the company, often at the expense of other beloved acts that many people had invested in. This victory at Day 1 also serves as a direct reflection of another recent pain. By pinning Big E to win the WWE Championship, Lesnar has now ended the World Championship reigns of two members of the New Day.
There’s a layer of injustice to the whole thing to as none of this was the original plan. Lesnar wasn’t meant to be anywhere near this match. He was only shoehorned into the title match because Roman Reigns tested positive for COVID-19, and Brock Lesnar needed a match for the pay-per-view—excuse me, premier live event.
All of this is true. Another thing that is true is that there are only a handful of people in the WWE that can bring the kind of awe-inspiring presence that Brock Lesnar does to every match.
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It truly is a fascinating thing. Because of the somewhat oppressive booking that’s kept Lesnar so dearly protected in the company for close to a decade now, he maintains an elevated aura. He is a threat, in every sense. He’s a kayfabe threat to every wrestler on the roster because of his power and brutality, and he’s a meta threat to the fans given the WWE’s proclivity to put him over at any cost.
At the same time, Brock Lesnar is also an absolutely fantastic professional wrestler.
All these elements came into play at Day 1 as the main event far exceeded any of my expectations. The fatal-five way match between Big E, Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, Bobby Lashley, and Brock Lesnar is a textbook example of a WWE car crash main event that tells its story in a concise, explosive manner.
As soon as the bell ring, the four original participants of the match swarm Brock Lesnar. It’s the smart thing to do. Brock Lesnar is a beast of a man and eliminating him from the equation balances out the scales, giving everyone a much clearer path to victory. Structurally this also allows the match to skip straight to the action. There’s no need for a feeling out process because the urgency behind taking out Lesnar overrides everything else.
This doesn’t end well for either Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens, who had formed an alliance in the build up, as they end up taking multiple German Suplexes from Lesnar. Now maybe I’m a silly person with silly ideas about professional wrestling, but in my book, one of the better ways to start a match is by a gigantic behemoth nailing several German Suplexes. Maybe that’s just me, but I think it absolutely rocks.
Another plus to having Lesnar in a match is that the legitimately threatening aura about him forces his opponents to step up their game lest they get shown up as being unable to hold their own against him. That’s why in the opening moments, everyone’s on their very best in-ring behavior to portray themselves as being on Lesnar’s level.
Big E is probably the best example of this. Already coming in knowing he’s dropping the title—a finish that hadn’t even been possible just a few hours beforehand—looks to take his pound of flesh out of Lesnar. He rocks Lesnar with a pair of solid, meaty lariats, one knocking Lesnar all the way down to the floor. Lashley also gets a major piece of offense in, spearing Lesnar through the ringside barricade. Rollins and Owens get their own in as well, with Rollins nailing a tope suicida, while Owens nails a splash off the apron to Lesnar on the floor.
Lesnar has no issue selling all these massive pieces of offense, realistically presenting himself as vulnerable when the narrative calls for it. His selling has always been one of the most underrated aspects of his game, but it really shouldn’t be. Few big men can sell quite as well as Brock Lesnar. There’s no smug, lazy selling from Lesnar here, he’s giving his all to potentially putting over the moments when he’s vulnerable.
From there, Owens and Rollins begin a brief control segment where they work together as a unit to debilitate the other competitors. They’re sneaky and opportunistic, using the numbers game to their advantage. They even return to Lesnar multiple times to ensure that the big man stays down.
It’s at this point that Lesnar yet again demonstrates the breadth of his ability in a single spot. Rollins charges in for a Curb Stomp on Big E only for Lesnar to rise up from the dead, scoop him up onto his shoulders, and nail an F5. It’s a single, fluid motion that creates an instant spike in the pace and intensity of what’s already been a fast and furious match. From there, Lesnar’s a pure force of nature, dishing out F5s to everyone in the match—except Bobby Lashley.
And here, we find another quality of this match. Despite on the surface being a chaotic spotfest, there’s actually a keen sense of detail when one breaks down the action. There’s a concerted effort in this match to demonstrate that Lashley has Lesnar’s number—he’s the one to spear Lesnar through the barricade, he hits the spear that cuts off Lesnar’s flurry of F5s, he even locks in the Hurt Lock on Lesnar which Lesnar is unable to break under his own power.
The match only goes eight minutes before Lesnar gets the pinfall victory, but it’s eight minutes of concentrated action that tells a cohesive and detailed story complemented by all the flashy big gimmick spots one could want from a WWE multiman main event.
Monday Night Raw
And if one wants a clear picture of just how much Lesnar added to the proceedings here, one need only look at the main event of the January 3rd Raw. Here, the WWE essentially runs the Day 1 main event as it should have been, a fatal four-way match between Big E, Bobby Lashley, Kevin Owens, and Seth Rollins.
With the matches so close together, it’s not crazy to assume that the four men involved are utilizing some of the material they’d originally planned for Day 1. It has a similar frantic opening with Lashley again going through the ringside barricade (taking himself out this time as Owens dodges), Owens and Rollins build a heat segment around them using their numbers to control their opponents, and there’s another similar announce table spot with Rollins and Owens putting Big E down.
At the same time though, despite having more twice as much time for this match, it lacks a certain punch to it. This is true literally and figuratively. The strikes simply don’t land with the same ferocity and desperation as on New Year’s Day. Meanwhile, the panicked energy channeled towards putting away Lesnar is lacking, and things feel more loose and scattered because of it. There’s a tedious portion where the wrestlers brawl their way up into the concession stands that feels inorganic and dragging, as the time to get to the set piece stands out far more than any of the action in the area they reached.
All in all, the Raw main event—despite using similar structural and character ideas—feels like a pale, unfocused imitation of the Day 1 main event. It can’t be easy running essentially the same match on back-to-back shows while still keeping things fresh but the four wrestlers involved fail to rise to that challenge. What we get isn’t bad, but it’s clearly pale imitation of something we’d already seen.
With Lesnar involved, there at least felt like there was a clear vision running through the match. The story was told in clear, concise narrative beats that all escalated perfectly to a well-timed finish. That’s the thing about Lesnar—regardless of how one feels about him, he always becomes a guiding force for any match he’s in. This happens by pure necessity because he seemingly exists in a realm beyond the rest of the roster. Things happen differently because Brock Lesnar is involved and that makes all of his matches interesting.
So yes, the run towards yet another Reigns vs. Lesnar Mania main event is symptomatic of the WWE’s inability to invest in new stars. It’s a ride to nowhere, going round and round deeper into the creative void that is modern day WWE. But when Lesnar performs this well and has matches this great, at least the view on that doomed journey into the void can look pretty good.