Friday, August 21, 2015

Modern Rivalry Analysis: The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar

It's being called "The Rematch too big for WrestleMania": This Sunday, at SummerSlam, the Undertaker and Brock Lesnar will meet for what will be the fifth time in their careers. The Undertaker has been resorting to underhanded tactics to blindside Brock Lesnar and take him to the mat. Paul Heyman has been constantly pointing out this fact, but on the last Raw before the biggest party of the summer, he offered some insight. Some very important insight, as a matter of fact, because the truth of the matter is, the Undertaker has never beaten Brock Lesnar. That's a fact. It's fascinating because it might be the most important fact in this entire feud, and it's only now being mentioned. I took a look back this week on the history between these two freight trains. What I discovered was that this information is more than supplemental. There's an extra layer of continuity hidden under that one, simple fact, and it goes way beyond WrestleMania or The Streak.

Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker first came head-to-head in 2002, at Unforgiven. Brock Lesnar was the youngest champion ever, and Undertaker had won the right to face him. But then Lesnar and Heyman began the mind games. They began to intimidate his wife, who was pregnant, and try to guilt the Undertaker out of the match. As could probably be expected, that only made him angry. Very angry. The already volatile match ended in a no contest after referee Brian Hebner (who had already been knocked out once by each competitor and outright bullied by the champion) had no choice but to disqualify both men when they became unresponsive to his authority.

Obviously, the match didn't end the way anyone wanted, so Stephanie McMahon (who was the GM of SmackDown where this feud took place) ordered a rematch at the next month's pay-per-view, No Mercy. This time, Lesnar would outright attack Undertaker backstage and not once, but twice broke his hand. The Dead Man was not deterred, and Stephanie agreed that the match would go forward, adding the stipulation that it would be inside Hell in a Cell, a match the Undertaker helped pioneer. The Cell was brutal. Undertaker used his cast as a weapon. Brock ripped the cast off his arm. Both men, and even Paul Heyman, left bloodied that night. In fact, Undertaker's face was literally dripping and he had to constantly wipe blood out of his eyes. Maybe that's why, when the match ended, Brock Lesnar climbed to the top of the Cell and held the championship high. 

At the end of the Royal Rumble in 2003, Brock Lesnar managed to eliminate a distracted Undertaker to win another shot at the title. Afterwards, the two men had a confrontation that ended in a handshake agreement that Brock would owe Undertaker a title match. The match finally took place later that year at No Mercy, in a Biker Chain match (the chain is on a pole, first guy to grab it can use it... well, those are the rules in theory). There was some interference towards the end of the match, and Undertaker grabbed the chain unfortunately while the ref's back was turned. Vince McMahon came from behind him and pushed him off the corner, causing him to both straddle the ropes and drop the chain. Since the referee didn't see Undertaker actually in possession of the chain, Brock was able to pick it up and use it legally to knock out and pin his challenger.

They wouldn't meet again for ten years, when Brock Lesnar had an open contract to meet anybody at WrestleMania 30. Undertaker picked the fight (you might even find continuity in the fact he chose to stab Lesnar in the hand during their contract signing). There was just one big problem: Undertaker was at this point relying on the now intimidatingly high number on his winning streak. Except Brock Lesnar wasn't intimidated. He didn't wrestle a grim reaper in 2002 & 2003. He wrestled a man. A man with a family. A man who bleeds and breaks and loses his temper like the rest of us. A man who has never managed to best him in a championship match, let alone a fight. The Undertaker got lost in the spectacle, and as a result, completely failed to prepare for what was quite possibly the most important WrestleMania match of his career. Brock Lesnar shocked the world by beating The Streak, but in the end it's the only logical outcome.

That leads us to this Sunday. Undertaker showed up at Battleground, and if Brock Lesnar looked like he saw a ghost, it's because he DID. Brock Lesnar is the guy who sent the Rock packing to Hollywood. He killed Hulkamania in his spare time on his way to the Undertaker the first time. He stood toe-to-toe with Kurt Angle. He's beaten Triple H, CM Punk, and John Cena, all at SummerSlam. And he ended the Undertaker's WrestleMania winning streak. Not to mention that he's only ever lost once at SummerSlam (if you haven't seen it, Brock Lesnar v. Kurt Angle in 2003 is easily the best match I watched researching this article and definitely deserves to be seen by everyone). So why would a man with Brock Lesnar's incredible track record suddenly look afraid of a man he's left lying on the mat multiple times? Hasn't he already defeated the man and slain the demon?

The answer is yes, of course, but what he didn't count on was Undertaker somehow transforming into a different kind of beast. He's no longer the Harbinger of Death. He may be calling himself a Grim Reaper, but that's the only way he's been identified for so long, it's simply a familiar moniker. When he calls himself vengeful, he's just giving Brock Lesnar a taste of the Pandora's Box that he's opened by saying his name 300 times. He is Vengeance. He is Hatred. What he is, and what Brock Lesnar saw in front of him at BattleGround, is an angry, broken man who is somehow empowered by a supernatural force that shouldn't even exist anymore. But as long as we're asking the important questions, let's offer an answer of our own to why the Undertaker suddenly takes to the low blows against Brock Lesnar: Maybe it's because nothing else has worked. Brawling didn't work. The Cell didn't work. A sit-out piledriver onto steel steps didn't work. Brock is too quick to counter Old School, and too powerful to hold in a Hell's Gate. The Power of the Streak didn't even faze him. The Undertaker is quite simply out of ideas. He's the walking personification of destruction, and he just can't bring down Brock Lesnar. He is desperate, and that's what makes him dangerous. 

On the other hand, Brock Lesnar might just be at a disadvantage because this Undertaker is different. This Undertaker has one final task before he can Rest in Peace. He is angry and he is clearly willing to do whatever it takes to finish Brock once and for all. It's cheesy now because we've heard it so many times over the last 30 years, but what we're getting the Irresistible Force versus the Immovable Object.

We're not going to see a match on Sunday so much as we're going to see a collision. That's not a bad thing. The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar have always been the perfect foils for each other. It's Spectacle versus Raw Athleticism. Repetition versus Practice. Emotion versus Brute Force. If Paul Heyman is to be believed, it is your last chance to see the Undertaker in action. I'm not personally convinced that's the case, but the hype is strong with this one regardless. It's the match too big for WrestleMania for a reason. On Sunday, we will see if Undertaker can beat Brock Lesnar on his stage. Or we will see if history repeats itself one more time. 

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