Written under duress by Critical Bill (@williamrenken83)
The main event of SummerSlam 2014 was a blood soaked affair that left a load of rated PG shit in the khaki drawers of John Cena.
Well, sans the blood and the dirty shorts, this is a statement that holds water in the present re-design of the WWE Universe. The plain, simple truth is John Cena’s 15th reign as a world champion was laid to waste like the transition it was to allow Brock Lesnar to once again ascend to the throne of Undisputed World Champion for the first time in ten years and once again be a dominant, monster heel champion the company has not seen in a long time.
Ten years in between reigns…
But this is hardly the Hogan nostalgic run of 2002, and its still a far cry from the dominant rookie run Lesnar had the same year. This Lesnar isn’t the amateur wrestling machine with a freakish physique. This is a god damn monster before us that doesn’t have the crash and burn fatalistic programming of a Great Khali. This is the Jimmy Johns billboard, ham-skinned after six minutes, Patrick Ewing sweat fest, 2014 German suplex champion, Brock Lesnar.
The claps and cheers in the Staples Center are substantial. Just like the Garden in 2002. Everyone wanted the laid-waste and championship-deprived Cena “victimized” as Paul Heyman foreshadowed. But there’s also rank dissension as there was in April when Lesnar left Undertaker 21-1 at WrestleMania in the Big Easy. The cries of a “part-timer” being champion are rampant and ever juicy in disdain. We’ve become accustomed to a champion that mugs the camera at every turn. We’ve forgotten the time of the “attraction” in wrestling.
Eh, fuck it. That’s off the rails of what I’m driving at.
Yes, Lesnar won’t likely be around at every turn to defend the belt, but to keep him fresh on the road to whatever WrestleMania holds, there’s likely to be that transition feud. That fiery challenger from the mid card to first annoy but then for an instance convince us that they are viable contender to take away the title from Lesnar. Sound familiar?
Ten years ago, Lesnar was put in nearly that exact situation.
This rabbit hole comes as a result of Michael Cole listing Lesnar’s most brutal accolades before his match with Cena this past week in Los Angeles. Even his pre-match promo package highlighted the broken arms delivered to Triple H (x2), Shawn Michaels, as well as the F5 to Mark Henry on the outside floor and the chair down assault he delivered to the Big Show in January. But the other highlight Cole dropped in the midst of SummerSlam was the broken neck Lesnar delivered to “Hardcore” Bob Holly.
Dr. Keezer caught that during the broadcast. How it slipped by me, I’ll never know. I blame the Doctor’s need to keep the Sailor Jerry’s flowing; quite the forgivable defense. Nevertheless, in the landscape of the so-called “Ruthless Aggression” era, a strange little feud began on September 12, 2002. A strange little feud that saw a mid card enhancement guy rise meteorically to that spot in the mind of “maybe, just maybe.”
September 12, 2002
Premiere episode of SmackDown for the 02-03 season. Lesnar, the dominant champion in the midst of his tear of a first year that saw decimations of Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and others on the path to the Undisputed Championship. But to solidify his reign, to give further credence to the claim he is “the next big thing,” a knock down, drag out feud with the fading “American Bad Ass/Booger Red” incarnation of The Undertaker is necessary.
Just days before their bout at Unforgiven, Lesnar has a go-home match against Hardcore Holly, a guy post-Attitude Era and the hey-day of the Hardcore Championship division still floating amongst the mid-card.
We know what we’re in for. Lesnar going over strong, probably squashing Holly to lead perfectly into his battle with Undertaker. And for the most part, that’s what we get. Lesnar wrestling methodically, grappling, suplexing, wearing down Holly. But it’s not to say the man behind numerous Alabama ass kickings is cast aside without fight. There’s plenty. In fact, he damn near makes a Lesnar in 2002 look silly in the confines of a straight up brawl. But make no mistake, this is Lesnar’s match to look pretty, and Holly does his part selling the offense of the beast.
And as the match nears that six to seven mark, the perfect number for a tight television match, Lesnar sets Holly up for a powerbomb, but it stalls suddenly or appears awkward. Lesnar powers through and thrusts Holly into the canvas on his neck; a sickening sight, reminiscent of Kevin Nash dropping The Giant, obviously on a different size scale.
The crowd reacts immediately. The ref checks on Holly. Lesnar stands over him and soon enough goes for another powerbomb rather than the pin. He’s giving Holly a lot more credit to continue after one of those rather than just pin him. The second attempt, though, is thwarted by a surprisingly nimble Holly, who flips through the powebomb to his feet and connects with a dropkick, not as crisp as it normally would be, but one that gets Lesnar out of the immediate space. But it’s a temporary solution. Lesnar hits the F5 and heads into Unforgiven still looking dominant.
But what looks like another six-seven minute enhancement match has a trickle down effect that would find a way to resurface nearly a year and half later.
“I went into the locker room and lay down on the trainers’ table. Johnny Laurinaitis came in and asked if I was all right before he went in search of Brock. The trainer brought me some ice and was looking at my neck when Brock walked in. He apologized again; I could tell he felt horrible. I told him it was an accident.” – The Hardcore Truth by Bob Holly
There was a good reason why that power bomb looked as awkward as it did. The plan was supposed to have Holly sit out from the powerbomb onto his feet and complete the dropkick. From what Holly writes in his book, a combination of a mistimed jump/lift from both men and an excess of perspiration that made readjustment slippery created the botched spot.
“As soon as I landed, I knew something was wrong. Everything in my neck just crunched. My whole body went numb – it was horrifying. Brock knew something wasn’t right, so he gave me a moment to come back around as the ref asked if I was all right. I said I wasn’t sure. I figured I’d be fine as soon as I was able to move a bit, so I said we should carry on and finish.”
The repeating of the spot ended up being done in case (as SmackDown was a taped show) the first attempt botch could be edited out. Holly finished the match, but every movement down to his patented, signature dropkick looked off, yet manageable, as a result.
Not long after, the ripple effects of the botched power bomb led to a doctor’s test and the result was found to be cracked vertebrae, pinched nerves, and a ruptured disc in Holly’s neck. Surgery was immediately scheduled…
“Holly spent his life being a dick to everyone. Better him than anyone else.”
“Holly is kind of a dick himself…I wouldn’t put it past Holly to do something like that.”
“It’s a shame Brock didn’t paralyze the prick.”
“He 100% did sandbag him, couldn’t care what the piece of shit does.”
You don’t have to go far to find negative opinion when it comes to Bob Holly on the Internet. And this all came from one message thread…
The argument and debate amongst the ever self-righteous internet wrestling community lingers that Holly sandbagged Lesnar, planting his weight to make the rookie look bad.
“…Where these people get this idea, I don’t know. I think these people were happy to have seen me get hurt…Anybody who has ever learned to wrestle can look back at that footage and see that our timing was off and the whole thing was just an accident. Nothing more, nothing less.”
The footage doesn’t provide any compromised or obscured angle. It’s clearly a timing issue. And it’s hard to call sandbagging when the guy accused of sandbagging tries to jump, which is the opposite of sandbagging. There’s no real Zapruder film needed to show that.
Regardless of opinions, however unfounded they are and bred out of the minds of the faceless keyboard warriors, Holly’s neck injury was a set back that would eliminate the remainder of his 2002 and nearly all of his 2003.
Brock Lesnar’s run by the end of 2002 heading into 2003 saw him not only lose the WWE Championship but also turn face in the process, leading toward a heavily built championship program with Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 19. Lesnar would win the title for a second time despite a botched shooting star press that left the new champion with a concussion.
Lesnar once again turned heel heading into SummerSlam of 2003 and would once again trade the title with a face-turned Angle, only to best him in an Iron Man match to regain the title for a third time.
Once again, the Beast was on top.
“(The neck surgery) went fine, but I knew it was going to be a long time before I healed properly. Vince called me afterwards to check on me. So did Brock – he called a few times to apologize again. I kept telling him not to worry…At least I had a ready-made feud with Brock to come back to, providing the writers didn’t sweep it under the rug…We did a 30-second vignette where I said that Brock had taken 12 months of my life and now I was coming for him…”
Survivor Series 2003
John Cena struts around the ring in a Joe Namath jersey, dropping his usual rhyming couplets he’s known for in his gimmick of the Doctor of Thuganomics. Response from the crowd is at best ambivalence until he drops a “one night with Sable” rhyme which directly digs at the captain of the opposing Survivor Series team, Brock Lesnar.
Cena is joined in succession by Chris Benoit, Bradshaw, Hardcore Holly and Kurt Angle. Holly is built up via Michael Cole and Tazz to be a man returning for revenge after the incident with Lesnar a year ago. Lesnar’s entrance is coupled with a cut to Holly, classic hands on the hips in the ring, waiting patiently for the WWE Champion to enter…He decides not to and levels him as soon as Lesnar completes his trademark leap to the ring apron.
Holly is all over Lesnar, driving him into the steps and assaulting him with crouching, mounted right hands. The referee tries in vain to get Holly away from Lesnar to let the match begin properly. He’s promptly shoved away, leading to Holly’s elimination from the match.
January 6, 2004
Here comes the pain…at the commentary table.
Michael Cole: “What are you doing here, Brock?”
Brock Lesnar: “I wanted a front row seat to see Bob Holly get his ass whooped by the Big Show.”
Cole: “Brock you cost Hardcore Holly 13 months of his career, his money, and his marriage.”
Lesnar: “Life’s a bitch.”
The true mark of a street fight is when one or both of the participants dons jeans in lieu of their usual attire. In this case its Hardcore Holly clad in denim as he destroys a wooden stick against the massive frame of Big Show, clad in usual black singlet. The offense is quickly reversed when Show tosses Holly through the ropes to the floor.
Lesnar throughout the exchanges with Cole and Tazz repeats his statement about having a front row seat to see Holly get his ass whooped. Later he downgrades to “butt whooped” to bemuse the parents watching at home. But its not before Holly thwarts off Show and dives at the announce table to check Lesnar’s ticket stub for that front row seat, which drives the unusual gasp of “Holly beat the shit out of Lesnar!” from Cole, which is a rewindable moment just to make sure you heard what you heard. (At the end of match, possibly not knowing that his mic was on, he mentions to Tazz he didn’t realize he said “shit” and thinks it can be edited out.)
The street fight between Holly and Show is actually smart booking and Cole recovers from the “shit” drop to sell the fact that the upcoming match for the Royal Rumble pits Lesnar the wrestler versus Holly the street fighter, which Lesnar in turn sells nicely with his agitation and adamant position that he isn’t afraid of anybody.
Holly gets Show to tap out after folding a steel chair around Show’s neck and trying to force it shut on the throat, creating a unique and barbaric choke hold. Holly gets a big pop as the victor with the added effect of the event taking place in Alabama.
He leaves the ring with a chair to confront the tough guy Lesnar, who heels out nicely with a cowardly escape over the barricade. Holly is left looking strong two weeks out of the Rumble match.
Cole washes his mouth out with soap.
“Brock didn’t want to work with me…He was fine with me when the injury happened and he was fine with me afterwards, but when our first match had happened, I was just somebody to get him over. When I came back, I was still not a top guy. They were going to put me, a mid-level job guy for about a decade, in there with the company’s biggest monster? Believe me, I understood why Brock didn’t want to work with me – he thought he damn sure wasn’t going to make any money from that.”
Flashback, pre-Survivor Series 2003
Heel General Manager of SmackDown, Paul Heyman bans Hardcore Holly from the building but bargains that if he leaves immediately, he’ll get to be on Kurt Angle’s Survivor Series team against Lesnar. This coming on the heels of a pre-taped promo for Holly’s return and decree of seeking vengeance on Lesnar.
“Here I was, putting my tail between my legs and behaving myself. It didn’t make any sense to me.”
The build towards Holly-Lesnar at the Royal Rumble leading into the street fight with Big Show had Holly locked in a mini version of the classic “man against boss” conflict with Heyman building obstacles in Holly’s way to get to Lesnar. One of which was a tag match where he was forced to tag with Shannon Moore and defeat Matt Morgan and A-Train.
“It was meant to help me get over but I beat one new guy and one guy who everybody beat. That wasn’t enough to get me to Brock’s level. They figured then that they’d have me go over on the Big Show and that would be enough. But everybody beat the Big Show back then!”
Between the January 6th SmackDown and the January 25th Royal Rumble match, Hardcore Holly wouldn’t have another match to help build him as a credible in-ring threat to Lesnar.
January 25, 2004
“We had been given 15 minutes, including our entrances. There was enough time there to build up some drama and make me look like I might actually be able to beat Brock and win the title…We laid out a pretty good match – even though Brock hadn’t wanted to work with me, he was very giving in the ring and unafraid to sell for me.”
The match explodes quickly into Holly’s type of straight brawling. Lesnar fights him off and restores order with a succession of different suplexes and holds.
On commentary, Michael Cole and Tazz sell Holly going for Lesnar’s neck, to break it in return for the broken neck Holly suffered in 2002. Holly continues to go for a full nelson to try and do exactly that. Somewhere, The Warlord sheds a tear…
But suddenly at around six and a half minutes, Lesnar hits an F5 and goes over clean on Holly. He sells the neck on his way back up the ramp, but ultimately, Holly’s Count of Monte Cristo storyline, over a year in the making, ends abruptly in a six minute blow-off.
“When we got to Gorilla to warm up, we were told ‘You’ve got eight minutes now – including entrances.’ They halved the length of the biggest match of my career so that Shawn and Hunter, who were following us, could have the extra time and go long. I thought it was selfish as hell…You’re telling me they needed those extra seven minutes more than Brock and I did?…Maybe management thought I wasn’t over enough to deserve more time but I was what they made me. They treated me like an afterthought pretty much the whole way through my return and my run with Brock.”
It is appropriate that two chapters later in the book, the heading reads “Back on the Mat” because sadly that was the end of Hardcore Holly in a major program with a top star.
In terms of Lesnar, his reign as champion would end the next month at No Way Out, becoming the signature moment in the career of Eddie Guererro and set up a mega power match with Bill Goldberg at WrestleMania 20. Although it was dubbed, “where it all begins again,” it would be Brock Lesnar’s last match for the next eight years.
Holly’s own words provide a fascinating commenatry from the sideline companioned with what’s available from the time period to watch again. For Holly, it is a sad end to a curtailed run in the main event circuit. There was a great foundation to the feud; just a wonky execution paired with a time-diced pay-per-view match that ultimately makes it a forgettable main event feud in the career of Brock Lesnar, who once again is the face of the current WWE as the Undisputed Champion.
From the start, we billed Lesnar’s current stretch from this past SummerSlam to WrestleMania 31 as a return to the “special attraction” in wrestling, since its unlikely he’s going to be on television or pay-per-view as much as champions of the past. Therefore on the way to Levi Stadium, there’s room for a hot transition feud to keep Lesnar on television with the title while battling an up-and-comer who hopefully can convince the audience that they are a viable contender.
Lesnar’s feud with Holly is a cautionary tale for this run of 2014 to 2015 (if, in fact, they don’t do anything screwy with the finish of Night of Champions and the Cena rematch).
Although Holly had that Count of Monte Cristo revenge angle to give the audience a reason to pop loud for him, it didn’t really happen. Not consistantly. And it became that way honestly because of a weak build that didn’t make Holly look like the potential next WWE Champion. (The time issue is a side subject and lends to the other predominant internet wrestling negative perception of Triple H).
But as we looked at earlier, the Brock Lesnar in 2014 is a far cry from the Brock Lesnar in 2002.
Eight years ago, Lesnar was championed for his wrestling skills. Mixed martial arts and the UFC weren’t even apart of his resume yet. He would straight up out-muscle you and out-wrestle you. The matches could be brutal, but he wasn’t necessarily. Not yet.
And in terms of opponents, he destroyed nearly every top guy from Kurt Angle to The Undertaker in the span of a hot two year run that saw him burn out and leave the business.
Why this becomes a cautionary tale is that Lesnar looks so utterly dominant as the UFC version of himself in 2014, that a hot-shotted feud with a mid-carder on the way to the fantasy-booked Roman Reigns main event of WrestleMania 31 could look even weaker than the 2004 version of Lesnar that was undercut by the main event picture on the Raw brand of WWE.
It’s a tricky, slippery slope that could just as easily draw the pops from WWE fans as it could the ire. Antonio Cesaro, for example, would be a dream opponent for Lesnar, but he couldn’t look weaker as he does now coming off his association with Paul Heyman. It’s another sad rant that you could throw a stone at on the internet and find from one of the faceless keyboard warriors. Unless it’s well built (and carefully built, at that), in the end, Cesaro could end up lower on the totem pole of WWE’s mid card roulette than he is now.
Hey, Batista! What about a returning Batista, high on the crest of the Guardians of the Galaxy success, going head to head with Lesnar for a couple months?
Seven months ago, Dave Batista was booed out of the building for winning the Royal Rumble as a face and four months ago tapped out to a kayfabe injured Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania; not to mention routinely owned by The Shield before he quit (again). If WWE brought him back again, there would have to be a lot of work to give us a reason to believe he’d give Lesnar a run for his money. (And also, how much did we really enjoy the Goldberg-Lesnar feud of 2004?…Alright, they were both on the way out, so maybe it would be better than that.) Nevertheless, it’s a tough quandary.
The nomination period has begun. Step up your challenger, your flag bearer to get close but ultimately destroyed by the reigning, defending, undisputed WWE Champion. There is nothing more fun in wrestling than a guy you gets your buy-in. Austin had it, Punk had it. You put a mic in their hands, and people listened. You put Brock Lesnar in a ring and let him be brutal, people will watch. But it’s as double edged in its potential as the sword tattooed on his chest.