How are we all doing today?
So about a week ago WWE held it’s annual Survivor Series event, and it was alright. A solid night of wrestling. Better than Summerslam, anyway. But all week I’ve been trying to decide how I felt about the main event, pitting Goldberg against old enemy Brock Lesnar. The last time they wrestled was 12 years ago at Wrestlemania 20, which was also the last time that Goldberg officially worked a match.
And it was AWFUL.
The pace was too slow, both guys were publicly leaving the company that night so the crowd was against them, neither guys put any effort in, it was just a train wreck. Which was a shame, because on paper it was a dream match. Both guys made their start having short squash matches, they had similar looks, similar backgrounds in the industry and quick rises to the main event scene. This rematch- which was basically the most expensive video game advert ever, considering how much both guys are being used in the hype for WWE 2k17- didn’t hold much interest for me. Until Goldberg won the match in ONE MINUTE AND TWENTY FIVE SECONDS.
Seriously. The entrances lasted longer. My average morning pee takes longer than that. I suddenly felt better about my bedroom prowess, that’s how short it was.
I want to take a few minutes to put this into context: William Goldberg- a man pushing 50, who hasn’t wrestled in 12 years, with a shoulder injury that had been broadcast publicly- took down a man who has been promoted as being indestructible in less time than it takes the average Jeremy Kyle guest to brush their teeth.
Brock Lesnar is considered something of a special attraction in WWE. His time as UFC Heavyweight champion has given him an air of legitimacy in terms of being a tough guy, and since his return in 2012 has only wrestled about 20 televised matches (most full time WWE wrestlers probably have that many matches a month). In that time he has been booked to look like an unbeatable monster who doesn’t feel pain and lives to destroy people. He was even given the honour of being the only person to ever beat The Undertaker at Wrestlemania, a task that has been presented as being nigh on impossible. And all of it was wiped away before we even had time to blink.
At first I was pissed off. When I first watched it I thought it would have been comparable to Micheal Biehn beating Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first act of Terminator then spending an hour trying on different trainers. It was like Batman beating The Joker on the first page of a comic then spending the next 20 pages waxing the Batmobile.
But then I got to thinking about the function of monsters in storytelling. Monsters are there to be frightening, to present a seemingly insurmountable challenge, to provide agency, to be mysterious- but ultimately they are there to be conquered.
Mystique is a valuable part of suspending our disbelief long enough for us to accept a monster. When the monster is conquered, the mystique is gone. Or sometimes, the mystique goes and the monster HAS to be conquered.
The Terminator’s mystique comes not from being strong, emotionless and terminally determined, but from how human it looks. The aforementioned emotionless quality brings an uncanny valley quality to the character, but once his metal skeletal frame is revealed, we see the monster for what it is- a machine that can be switched off or destroyed.
The Joker’s mystique comes from being elusive and unpredictable. But once Batman is able to anticipate his plans, the mystique is gone and the monster is defeated, even before he is physically captured.
The same, therefore, must be applied to wrestling. Brock Lesnar’s current run has been somewhat of a mixed bag. He’s been booked as unbeatable since returning, but in his first 12 months he racked up a record of 2 wins and 2 losses. Not a good look for a monster. After that however, he finally became the beast he should have been all along. Hardly talking, racking up decisive victories over CM Punk and Big Show, a nearly 500 pound man that Lesnar threw around like a child.
Many have complained that the rub of breaking The Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak should have gone to a full time performer.But think about it- whoever accomplished that task would have to spend the rest of their career as a superhuman, someone with an unequaled toughness and sense of brutality. Lesnar fits that bill perfectly, being a character who turns up only occasionally, causes havoc and leaves. Could a full time performer really have kept that up every single night for the rest of their careers?
No. It would eventually get boring. This person would never be allowed to lose. They would become a monster that was constantly under the spotlight and would lose their mystique within weeks. With Lesnar being away so long between matches, he got to keep some of that. But it couldn’t last forever.
Because when you put a monster under the spotlight, it loses it’s mystique. Think about it- in Alien, we never see the xenomorph until it’s already dead. We don’t see Micheal Myers without that mask. In possession films we rarely, if ever, see the demon and if we do then never in full shot. Hell, even Darth Vader lacks any sense of human aesthetic until after he had turned his back on the dark side.
And even with the protection of his reduced schedule, Lesnar was not free from the spotlight. We could see the monster. We saw him bleed. Literally, actually, in his two return matches with The Undertaker. What few matches he did have became repetitive, basically boiling down to elbow shots and suplex city. The quick loss to Goldberg may have destroyed his mystique as a monster, but the cracks were beginning to show anyway.
Goldberg himself on the other hand was an unknown. Just by proxy of having not wrestled for so long, Goldberg had his own mystique, not as a monster, but as a hero. He looked to be in great shape, but beyond that we had no idea what condition he was in. And because his victory was so quick we never got that idea, we just saw a conquering hero slaying the beast in quick fashion. It’s a new mystery to be solved, a story that unfold in future matches.
I for one think that’s a worthy trade.
And if nothing else, it provided something that wrestling in the internet age sorely lacks- a genuine surprise that has everyone talking. Surely, that must be a good thing.
Music this week comes courtesy of The Damned Things and the greatest music video of all time.
Stay safe, look after each other and I’ll see you next time xx