Paul Heyman lied to a wrestler?! Be still my beating heart...
Managers are strange things. Essentially you are basically outsourcing the promo work to somebody else because you are not confident in one of the fundamental skills of one of your workers. However, managers can not only elevate workers to new heights, but also be defined as part of that worker's legacy. The Midnight Express is always known with Jim Cornette. Paul Bearer will always be associated with both the Undertaker and Kane. And Brock Lesnar will always feel attached to one Paul Heyman.
This obviously also means you can get a red hot angle out of a manager stabbing a former client in the back. The Undertaker/Kane feud worked that much better because of Paul Bearer going against the Dead Man. However, that was a great reveal that made logical sense.
Sometimes, betrayals are just...idiotic.
In 2002, Brock Lesnar beat the Undertaker in the Cell at No Mercy in a brutal match. On the next SmackDown, the Undertaker came out and, essentially, put the Beast over by simply saying that he was beaten by a better man and telling him he had no hard feelings about how personal their feud got due to the fact that, as the Undertaker, he was guilty of doing the same thing (incidentally, is there a wrestler who has done more for another wrestler in the modern WWE than Taker has done for Brock? The only one I can think of that may come close is Foley with Triple H). Lesnar in turn showed respect to the Undertaker and thus signalled the beginning of a change where he'd go from total monster heel to more of a badass antihero.
At the same time, Big Show, who had essentially became a plus sized jobber since the WWE version of the nWo disbanded on Raw, suddenly was drafted to SmackDown and straight after that same promo (at which point Taker hit him with the great burn "I'd rather be a has-been than a giant that never was") ambushed the Undertaker when he was saluting the audience and pressed slammed Big Evil off the stage.
And thus, without a #1 Contender's Match (WWE didn't really do that in those days), the Big Show became the #1 Contender to the WWE Championship. And suddenly we seemed to have a weird version of Rocky III, with Brock as Rocky (or Brocky, I guess), Big Show as Clubber Lang and Paul Heyman as Mickey, telling Brock that Big Show was too big to suplex, or F-5, or manhandle and thus Brock could not beat him.
But the thing is...the Big Show in late 2002 was not the ripped competitor he was at the height of his powers, nor did he have the ring know how either. Sure he wasn't at his heaviest, but he wasn't the agile giant that could pull off superkicks and some other gnarly moves. To be fair part of this may have been Vince just trying to get him to squash people rather than actually wrestle them, which made things look far worse in hindsight.
However an ominous sign of the chemistry (or lack there of) between him and Lesnar could be seen during the episode of SmackDown, where Show essentially leant Lesnar into the steel post, which Brock sold hilariously (watch the clip) before hitting a...um attempted chokeslam (honestly watch the clip) and screaming to a basically unconscious Lesnar to "give me the belt!", despite the fact Lesnar doesn't have it on him.
And Heyman continued to tell Brock to be a bit smarter and not just go out there injured, until the next week on SmackDown against Eddie Guerrero, Heyman threw in the towel and simply told Brock to go out there without him, since he wouldn't listen to him.
Still, for all this, and interference from Chavo, Lesnar managed to win. However just as he was saluting the crowd on the stage - yes you guessed it - Show pressed slammed Lesnar off the stage. Which would have made a bit more impact if Lesnar had at least one week off TV with his injuries rather than coming back the next week with taped ribs. I mean, I know that it was the week before Survivor Series, and I know they were trying to call the Heyman angle, and yes, Brock did look cool beating the shit out of the Big Show, but it would have been so much better (albeit a little riskier) if Heyman told Stephanie McMahon that Brock couldn't defend the title at Survivor Series due to injuries. You then could have a segment at the end of the show where Big Show demands the title as Stephanie is wavering whether to vacate it (we'll assume Heyman is looking after it), when Brock pops up on the monitor and cuts a small promo about how that's his title and Big Show has to take it off him man to man at Survivor Series. Crowd goes wild, Brock becomes more of a face.
Of course, now we have to talk about the match...
Whenever a WWE Championship match clocks in at less than 5 minutes on Wikipedia...you know there better be a damn good reason. I'm not saying every title match has to be Cena/Punk but 5 minutes would be a minimum requirement.
The match, for the most part is a pretty basic affair until Brock manages to F-5 Show and cover him, only for Heyman to pull the referee out and knock him out. Brock, having seen what Heyman did, then tries to go after Heyman, but is ambushed by the recovered Big Show who hits him with two chair shots before pinning him with a choke slam on the same chair.
The next episode of SmackDown saw Brock Lesnar do a lot of um...pacing in order to wait for Paul Heyman and Big Show arriving in the building. Of course, Stephanie McMahon had to get involved when Eddie Guerrero started complaining that it was an unsafe work environment when Brock threw Matt Hardy through a locker room wall (apparently when Big Show throws the WWE Champion off a stage though Stephanie is happy to do nothing). And with one leap in logic provided by Stephanie, Creative seemed to decide to double down as she said that she wouldn't allow Brock to lay hands on Heyman, under the threat of suspension.
Now, I am not saying that two wrongs make a right, but if you are trying to say that a face commissioner will let one guy press slam another off the freakin' stage and then turn around to the other, after he was screwed out of the championship and say "you can't touch him or his manager", I'd be questioning the allegiance of said authority figure.
Anyway, on the same show (it's a rather packed SD episode) Heyman comes out and talks about how "the Monster stopped listening to Dr Frankenstein" and that Brock needed to be taught a lesson on how it was both his brawn and Heyman's brains which got them success. Since Brock wasn't listening anymore, Heyman found himself another client. Furthermore, Heyman informed Brock that he had altered the Survivor Series contract so that Lesnar would not get a rematch.
So the next couple of episodes of SmackDown essentially involve Brock causing mayhem and Stephanie McMahon trying to placate her former champion. But here's the thing. A top babyface on a program like WWE can't get by with just anger and rage. Jim Cornette is right - funny doesn't sell tickets...but it does allow top stars to do something different and gives their characters a bit of range. Brock had one mode - angry and it made for some...uncomfortable television.
There's not much that can be said looking back about the WWE's attitude towards women in the Ruthless Aggression Era and Stephanie was one of the worst inflicted upon of all (ironic, considering the way that she is now portrayed on TV as basically avoiding any sort of comeuppance except for maybe twice a year). However, even accepting the slut-shaming she would get from Jericho and the Rock, Brock's antics during these episodes are downright uncomfortable.
Y'see Creative obviously wanted to show Brock as the wronged man who was being screwed by an Authority Figure who was scared of Heyman suing the company. And yes, Stephanie is clearly a bit incompetent. But is she any more incompetent than Mick Foley of 2016? Or Kurt Angle of 2018? But because she's a woman, the WWE essentially invites the audience to cheer as Brock intimidates her by screaming in her face and, in another, fairly creepy segment, blocking her as she tries to leave the ring and looming over her. And that's why Strowman is a better babyface than Brock ever will be. Because as much as he is scary, he also realises the value occasionally of turning up with a big double bass and playing a song just to make the crowd happy. Because if you have the crowd baying for blood every week...occasionally it's going to get in some weird and disturbing places.
In any case, Stephanie felt she had no choice but to suspend Brock. And, just to add to those nice Survivor Series subtitles she claimed "I didn't screw Brock; Brock screwed Brock".
Ok. Any situation where Brock Lesnar is compared to the Hitman is a big bow to draw. Furthermore, the whole use of the Montreal Screwjob as a crutch for storylines is a true pain in the arse. Nor did it make Brock seem like any more of an organic face because they essentially telegraphed the fact that they were trying to get him over with tired old ideas.
So anyway, the crux of the story was the new #1 Contender Kurt Angle managed to help Brock get his suspension lifted at Armageddon so that he could...ahem...'help' Angle deal with the Big Show. Which...Heyman or no Heyman...kinda feels like a heel move rather than something a straight up-and-down face would do.
And so it came to pass at Armageddon that Angle managed to carry Show to a...ok wrestling match. There some interesting bits, like when Show dumps Angle onto Heyman and then walks over to see if Heyman is ok, allowing Kurt to sneak up from behind and dump Show out of the ring too (I believe this is the only instance where a wrestler has been distracted by their own manager) and Angle bumping like a madman to make Show seem Thanos-like (there's a particularly insane bump he takes where he essentially flips over the ropes and lands on his upper back on the apron). It almost feels like a match 10 years too late, when a rear sleeper needed no more acting than the occasional half hearted flail forward to look effective.
But in 2002? With the SmackDown six in full swing? It just looks slow and dated, with a couple of noticeable botches- including one scary one where Angle doesn't quite fly off the moonsault and Show almost totally misses him.
It all leads to a ref bump and Heyman chucking a chair to Show, only for Angle to pick it up and waffle Show with it. Of course, Show kicks out, leading to the ref taking another bump (incidentally, referee Mike Chioda deserves some plaudits during this match as the amount of positioning he has to do to set up for all these bumps means he seems to move around more than the two workers). Suddenly, when Angle has Show bang to rights in the Ankle Lock,
Tensai A-Train comes out and attacks Angle, leaving the two workers again sprawled on the mat.
It is at this stage that Show finally hits a chokeslam, and seems to have the match won, only for Brock to finally make his appearance, F-5 the Big Show and send Heyman running for the hills, allowing Angle to take advantage and get the 1,2,3.
One could easily say that this whole sorry beginning was a neccessary evil to get all the duck's in a row to do Angle vs Lesnar at WrestleMania 19. And there is no doubt that you had to keep Show strong for that feud with the Undertaker that was perculating in the background when the Dead Man returned. However, by switching Heyman from Brock to Show, WWE robbed Lesnar of one of his greatest assets and allowed him to be exposed as a mono-character, rather than the multi-faceted characters that made the best top faces.
And that's issue 82! Sorry if it's a little late. Next time we're seeing that WCW are not the only company to have a stupid fascination with bikers. See you then!
The InVasion Saga
Article One: Shane has a surprise for Daddy
Article Two: Booker T vs Buff Bagwell and the Temple of Boos
Article Three: Daddy's little Girl Gets in on the Action
Article Four: "WHY AUSTIN DAMMIT?! WHY?