Brock Lesnar continues to blur reality
At the 2015 edition of the Hell In A Cell pay-per-view special, Sunday October 25th, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker faced off in the main event. It was built up as the final showdown between the two powerhouses, the culmination of their latest feud which began at WrestleMania XXX.
The match was a brutal and bloody brawl professionally pulled off by two masters of manipulating reality and make-believe. Like any well-constructed professional wrestling match, the audience was left wondering how much of the action was scripted and improvised, what was planned and off the cuff, what was a work and what was a shoot.
Brock Lesnar has made this blurring of lines separating kayfabe and reality part of his drawing power. It has become one of the biggest reasons he is so interesting to watch, besides of course his awesome physical ability and seamless psychology.
When Lesnar left professional wrestling in 2007, he spent three years competing as a mixed martial arts fighter in UFC.
His final MMA record stands at five wins three losses. While not the most impressive record, his aggressive style, unorthodox conduct and dramatic flare left a distinct impression on the UFC during his run from 2008 to 2011.
Lesnar rejoined the ranks of WWE in 2012. The Fed immediately capitalized on his MMA fame, incorporating his status as a legitimate fighter into story-lines.
John Laurenaitis, then acting General Manager of Raw, re-introduced Brock Lesnar to WWE audience. He claimed that he signed Lesnar in order to bring “legitimacy” back to WWE. What followed was a violent program with John Cena, where the very fabric of kayfabe was challenged.
Playing off the “legitimacy” angle Laurenaitis laid, Lesnar spoke plainly and without bravado in promos, saying, “I’m not a superstar, I’m an ass-kicker”, “this will not be a wrestling match”, “there’s nothing about Brock Lesnar that’s fake”, and “this is real”. Beginning with his match with Cena at Extreme Rules, Lesnar also began incorporating shoot-style fighting into his wrestling.
Lesnar has cultivated and refined this running trend of blurring kayfabe through a combination of well-choreographed chaos and his own reckless nature.
Royal Rumble 2014, Brock Lesnar versus Big Show. An endless series of chair shots were landed by Lesnar and at one point Big Show appeared to break character, perhaps catching a chair incorrectly. He appeared in legitimate pain and microphones caught him yelling, “This is bullshit!”
June 23rd 2015, Brock Lesnar attacks Jamie Noble, throwing him into the arena barricade. In what appeared not to be a planned spot, as it was purposely not shown on camera, Noble was hurried onto a stretcher and wheeled to the back. Later, WWE would report he suffered three broken ribs.
July 7th 2015, Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury are reported to have suffered a series of injuries due to an attack by Brock Lesnar. However, these reports came from WWE alone, were not verified by any legitimate sources and appeared to be part of the show. However, in the same night, Lesnar destroyed a Cadillac parked on the entrance ramp, tore off the driver’s side door and hurled it away. The door ended up striking a fan in the stands, a spot that most definitely was not planned, as it was not covered by cameras and the fan was attended to discreetly by WWE personnel.
There are many incidents involving Brock Lesnar “injuring” superstars, from Vince McMahon’s hip replacement surgery as a result of an F-5, to Triple H’s arm “broken” from a kimura lock. These spots were works.
However, there are as many times that Lesnar appears to draw legitimate blood from the nose, head or lip as result of stiff punches or elbows: Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, John Cena, Roman Reigns.
Aside from physical battles, even Lesnar’s real life legal disputes with Vince McMahon and WWE become fodder to use and contort in kayfabe.
In 2004, Lesnar quits WWE and violates his “no-compete” clause. A lengthy legal battle follows, which is eventually settled. When Lesnar returns to WWE in 2012, Triple H denies him demands and Lesnar threatens to leave the company. Paul Heyman threatens to sue WWE for breach of contract – in kayfabe.
March 2nd 2015, Brock Lesnar and Vince McMahon get into a legitimate argument over Lesnar’s contract which results in Lesnar walking out on Monday Night Raw, on which he was scheduled to appear. This leads to added real life heat, as Lesnar attends UFC 184 against McMahon’s wishes.
Most recently, at Hell In A Cell this past Sunday, McMahon was reported to be very upset at aspects of the main event.
PWInsider received a report from a backstage source that McMahon was not so much upset by the excessive use of blood, but by Lesnar refusing to allow the ringside doctor to wipe his wound, throwing the doctor to the side instead. The spot was not planned. Lesnar apparently did it in the moment, upset at the momentum of the match being interrupted.
With so many violent, unorthodox and unexpected moments in the Lesnar-Undertaker blow off, it is doubtful the audience was able to adequately discern what was planned and what was improvised.
That is the wonder and mystery of kayfabe, and it makes sports entertainment so thrilling to watch. However, it can also make it scary.
Alfred Konuwa of Bleacher Report describes the potential negative fallout such an unplanned spot could have for the company:
“Doctors stopping matches to aid bloodied wrestlers is a new mandate designed to protect the combatants.(…) It represents a more mature product that is more attractive to sponsors and investors. (…) But all it takes is one angle that uses WWE’s safety protocol as part of the act for legitimate questions to be raised as to whether or not these measures are authentic.”
Brock Lesnar is in a unique position, being a well-recognized UFC competitor. His “real life” fighting ability coupled with his utter conviction and commitment to everything he does in the ring and on the microphone add a level of uncertainty and danger to his interactions with other superstars.
Fans are aware, for the most part, that they are watching a show. What they continue to wonder about is whether everything that Brock Lesnar does is part of that show. This makes him a champion of sports entertainment, but also a liability.