(The one where Hunter got a heel reaction at the end)
Take a trip back into the distant past of 2012.
The Raw after Wrestlemania XXVIII was quite a spectacle. The entire show was highlighted by numerous "YES!" chants by Daniel Bryan supporters frustrated that their guy – a heel at the time, mind you! – lost in 18 seconds to curtain jerk WrestleMania the night before.
The main event of Raw was John Cena coming out to address his defeat the night before. He played with the raucous, smark-filled crowd, teasing a heel turn and even putting over Bryan's YES chants. I can't stress enough here how great Cena was in this segment. He toyed with the crowd all night, all the while wearing a little "Yes, I'm pretty great, actually" smirk. Finally, after the crowd calling for Brock Lesnar all night, the Beast made his return to his old stomping grounds.
(I've long maintained that the opening guitar riff of Lesnar's entrance music is the most popular open of any music since Steve Austin retired. The crowd went nuts for the riff. It was a pop that rivaled anyone's music since Austin was stomping mudholes and walkin' them dry. If I’m in the other room during Raw and I hear the opening guitar of Brock’s music, I literally drop everything I’m doing and sprint to the TV to see the Beast. Just a world-class intro. Anyway, back to our story…)
Lesnar came out, offered a handshake and promptly F5-ed Cena to oblivion. Needless to say, the crowd loved this. A match was quickly made between the two at Extreme Rules in Chicago.
This was a helluva show. Your intrepid columnist was in attendance, and I, along with everyone else, was treated to two great matches: Sheamus over Bryan in a two-out-of-three falls match, and CM Punk over Chris Jericho in a Chicago street fight. All four men were excellent, and both matches delivered and then some.
Then we had the main event, Lesnar vs. Cena. Lesnar was the legit shootfighter, a UFC heavyweight champion. He was a terrifying man, haven beaten the crap out of people in a "real" sport. So what did WWE have him do? They fed him to Cena in his first PPV match in nearly a decade. After Lesnar stiffed Cena all night (big props to Cena for taking those shots, by the way. I remember watching this match and spending the entire night wincing for the poor guy as he ate elbow after elbow), Cena punched him with a chain, hit a FU and pinned him.
Man alive did they screw this up. Vince McMahon had it right in front of him. Lesnar wasn't another pro wrestling monster. He was a REAL LIFE monster, a horrifying person who could maim and break bodies just because he wanted to. He should have been a promoter's fantasy. The match itself was unlike anything we'd seen before. It worked at suspending disbelief, as poor Cena didn't have to act hurt, he was actually hurt, and the monster in front of us was doing the hurting. But Clark Kent took his glasses off, ripped his shirt open and saved the world, and John Cena stood tall…again.
(Cena then cut this bizarre, possibly unscripted promo about how he was proud of the asskicking he took and he was proud of entertaining the fans. He then talked about how he's leaving for a while, and he wouldn't have wanted to go out any other way, because he was a fighter and he fought and won and lost for the fans. Of course, he was back 24 hours later for Raw.)
Guys, this isn't that hard. Have Lesnar beat Cena, causing the Cena downward spiral that WWE tried to recreate later on that had little basis in reality. Have Lesnar run roughshod through the federation until either A – you turn him face (he was already getting face pops) or B – you give him the belt and have someone – Cena? Punk? Undertaker? – try to stop him at WrestleMania.
Instead, we got a feud over…contracts.
Brock was disagreeing over the language of his contract with COO Triple H when he snapped and broke The Game's arm with a kimura. Hunter returned a few months later and challenged Brock to a match at SummerSlam on the condition that Paul Heyman, Brock's agent/legal advisor, drop the multiple lawsuits Brock filed against both Hunter and the WWE.
So we've gone from Brock busting Cena open hardway with vicious elbows to the skull to Brock suing people. Swell.
The two went back and forth until Lesnar finally agreed to fight Hunter. After the rocky start, the buildup gained some steam. Lesnar broke Shawn Michaels's arm, Heyman got slapped by Stephanie McMahon, and we had ourselves a match.Main Event Time!
The story this match tried to tell was that Lesnar would break Hunter's arm again, and they teased it a few times. Lesnar, looking bigger than he did in April, worked the arm over, but the match was full of rest holds as the larger Lesnar ran out of gas a few times. To his credit, Hunter did do a good jump selling for Lesnar.
The match turned when Lesnar missed a move on the outside and jammed his stomach into the corner of an announce table. Brock sold this huge. The announcers played it up like the bump aggravated him because of Brock's real-world stomach issues, which contributed to his retiring from the UFC. Well, they tried to mention it, but did a poor job explaining it.
The problem was that the live crowd, which had been into this match, didn't know what to make of Brock's overselling a pretty simple gut shot. Scripting the match to have a callback to Brock's diverticulitis was a good call in this match. Wrestlers have been using real-world injuries and ailments to sell pain since the beginning of time. For example, how many matches in his second act did Shawn Michaels take a shot to the back and sell the hell out of it to great success? That's because everyone in the building and at home knew Michaels has a chronically bad back which made all the backbreakers and side slams and chair shots that much more effective in selling the narrative of a match.
No one in the building at SummerSlam had any idea what Brock was doing when he oversold a fairly simple spot, so it had no impact. If Lesnar's diverticulitis was going to play into the match, then WWE should have brought it up on television. Vince and Co. had, between Raw and Smackdown, five hours a week of first-run television. They couldn't have one segment in the months leading to this match explaining how Brock has intestinal pain that gets exacerbated by gut shots?
Anyway, the match goes on, both guys kick out of each other's finishers. Hunter hits another Pedigree, but when he goes for the pin Lesnar slaps on a kimura, "breaking" Hunter's arm and causing the tapout.
Here’s where it gets fun.
After losing, the idea was that Hunter would get up, look forlornly at the crowd while holding his broken arm, and get a warm standing ovation. Whoops.
In reality, the first thing that happened was a loud "You tapped out!" chant, the sort of chant crowds direct to dastardly heels, not babyfaces like Hunter. Hunter continued looking for sympathy as the crowd slowly turned, and finally a "Triple H" chant broke out, but it was underwhelming to say the least. Hunter walked up the ramp slowly, soaking in the crowd's not-adulation. The announcers teased it could be Hunter's last match.
Nobody, not the people in the Staples Center nor the people at home, thought that this was going to be Hunter's last match. So the fact that WWE went all-out trying to sell it like it was his last match was a mess.
Guess what guys! Turns out it wasn't Hunter's last match! Who could have seen that coming?! He fought Brock at a disjointed match at WrestleMania 29 after Brock broke Vince McMahon's hip (It should be said that Vince took the F5 like a champ). The stipulation was that if Hunter lost at 'Mania, he'd have to retire. Of course, no one bought that Hunter was going to retire, so no one bought that Hunter was going to lose. Thankfully, Hunter embraced the crowd's tepid reaction and turned full-blown heel at SummerSlam 2013, but that's a story for later on in our countdown.
As for Brock? After beating Hunter at Extreme Rules 2013 in a very good cage match, he had a splendid match against CM Punk at SummerSlam 2013, then moved on to end the Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania XXX in a mediocre match that was marred by Undertaker suffering a concussion early on.
Curtain Jerker's Star Rating – 3 to 3¼ for the match itself, but the build before and after penalize it.
Up Next – This one won't help you much, but it was probably the hardest one for me to rank. I moved it up and down the list a ton before settling on this spot. Wait, I better give you a real hint. Hmmmm…this one features a guy at the peak of his abilities and a guy NOT at the peak of his abilities.Also in this series: