Start The Fire
The head of the WWE Class Of 2002 is a former NCAA champion and a two-time All-American who was described by a colleague of mine as someone who "looks like he's going to reach through the screen and eat me."
The Brock Lesnar Experiment is about to reach a critical phase. He's facing world champion Rock at SummerSlam, but you know that.
When Vince McMahon decided that the King of the Ring tournament winner would get an automatic world title shot at SummerSlam, the outcome, to me at least, seemed cut and dry: Lesnar was winning. He'd beaten everyone he'd faced up to that point, plowing through some opponents and managing to outlast others. And he did become KOTR, beating Rob Van Dam in the final with a little help from agent and mouthpiece Paul Heyman.
Van Dam took exception to that, and interrupted Lesnar's coronation ceremony the next night on Raw, which is never a good idea. He got revenge at the end of the show by powerbombing RVD through the announce table after their Intercontinental Title match.
It was during the ensuing feud with RVD that Lesnar began to get more mic time, and he adopted a 'nose-to-nose' style with his opponents that gave him the perception of being more menacing. He also got a 99.44? clean win over Ric Flair during this time, and even dropped then-champion Undertaker with the F-5 after they, as PARTNERS, won a tag team match. That match was also notable as being the first time that the move was called the F-5 during a match.
Lesnar met RVD for the Intercontinental title again at Vengeance, and the match ended in a disqualification (BOO) after Heyman interfered AGAIN. The Fed fumbled here with the DQ finish - had Lesnar won, he's Intercontinental Champion going into the main at SummerSlam, and had he lost, it would have given RVD a point of contention to demand a title shot should Lesnar win Sunday. ("You see him? Our new champ? Yeah, that guy. He, uh... he can't beat me.") They had a shot to elevate two guys with one match, but instead tried to protect them both by having neither one go over. Not a good move. Although, as it stands right now, neither man has demonstrated a clear advantage over the other, which Bischoff will certainly try to use to get RVD another shot at Lesnar down the road.
Here's where things started getting good.
The night after Vengeance, Stephanie McMahon countered Bischoff's signing of Triple H by stealing Lesnar from Raw at the end of the show. The timing of that move was meant to show the fans that Lesnar isn't all that far from the top of the food chain in the WWE, and that him switching brands was a Big Deal. (The cynical among the internet crowd figured that it was to get him onto a show where they could edit his segments and make it seem like he's over.)
Also that night, as Rock was leaving the ring after a promo, Lesnar came down for a match, and walked right past Rock without even looking at him. Then, after Rock beat Eddie Guerrero, Lesnar rushed the ring and had a staredown with Rock, then he took the title belt and threw it down at Rock's feet. The mind games had begun.
Lesnar then took a big step forward with his defeat and subsequent destruction of Hulk Hogan. He didn't show any fear when Hogan hulked up, he kicked out of the Big Leg Drop, then he choked Hogan out with a bearhug after hitting the F-5. What sealed the deal, though, was Lesnar bloodying him with a steel chair attack after the match and wiping the blood on his chest, then coming out the next week and taking credit for ending Hulkamania. (Despite the backstage issues involving Hogan that made this his last appearance for a while, this actually works out better for Lesnar, as the longer he's gone, the more heat Lesnar can get for referencing that moment.)
Why the mind games? I think Heyman realizes that Rock is at least Lesnar's physical equal, and he has to create any other weakness he can - like getting into Rock's head - to give his client an advantage. It also enabled the Fed to keep them away from any in-ring confrontations like tag matches and so forth so that the matchup is fresh when they finally get into the ring, as well as making the fans WANT to see them mix it up in the ring, like at the end of SmackDown!
On the other side of this has been the booking of Rock since his return. He's actually been made to look strong even though he hasn't defended the belt on TV. He hasn't been pinned or submitted in a singles match, and his only loss was due to Lesnar's passive interference in a tag match. Rock needed to be dominant so that if (most likely when) Lesnar beats Rock at SS, it matters - unstoppable force versus immovable object and all that. In that sense, they've done a good job, and they've even pointed out that Benoit was the only person to beat Rock in any match since he won the strap.
PREDICTIONS FOR SUMMER OF SLAM
On paper, easily the best card of the year so far. Eight matches, practically no filler, and really nobody lower than upper-midcard.
Olympic Villain Kurt Angle vs. Mr. MysteREYo
His debut hyped for a month, Rey Mysterio burst onto SmackDown! and was immediately proclaimed part of "the future" of the show. He pinned Angle (illegally) in a six-man tag match, and Angle couldn't believe that he lost to "a freakin' 12-year-old." Since then, he's talked down - literally, at times - to Rey, who's done nothing but get under his skin since then. I don't think I have to tell you about the contrast of styles.
TNM Says: Rey Mysterio (9:33 flying cross-body -> pin) Kurt Angle
What I'd Do: Put Rey over and see what happens.
What They'll Do: The outcome of this match will determine whether or not the Fed has plans for Rey beyond the cruiserweight division. I say yes, but not quite yet. Angle wins.
Big Testy vs. Hell On Wheels
The first thing the Un-Americans did when they went to Raw was a three-on-one beatdown on Undertaker, with the crushing blow coming from Test's Big Boot. He pinned Taker in an eight-man tag on Raw two weeks ago.
After UT lost the title at Vengeance, he turned face, went back to his "American Bad Ass" character, and plans to make an example out of Test to send a message to the other Un-Americans and anyone else who would take advantage of America's freedoms.
TNM Says: Test (7:31 spinebuster slam -> fast count by referee Jim Korderas, who's Canadian -> pin) Undertaker
What I'd Do: Myself, I'd put Test over.
What They'll Do: My guess is they'll have Taker win.
Eddie Guer-rudo vs. Edge
Remember this time last year and how Booker T was a heel who was consistently jealous of anyone who was more popular than he was? Well, they're pushing that same characteristic with Guerrero in regards to Edge.
TNM Says: Edge (5:51 waistlock suplex -> pin) Eddie Guerrero
What I'd Do: I figure it wouldn't hurt to have Eddie go over here.
What They'll Do: Guerrero wins, likely by cheating.
Intercontinental Title Match: Da Crip vs. The Whole Show
After RVD fended off Lesnar's challenge at Vengeance, he beat European Champion Jeff Hardy to unify the two belts, but lost the belt the next week under disputable circumstances to Benoit, who, later that week, signed back with SmackDown! (where he was originally drafted to), taking the title with him.
He also took Van Dam's contract, which had a mandatory rematch clause in it. To ensure that she kept the IC title on her show, Stephanie was going to destroy the contract and deny RVD his rematch. BUT, Stacy Keibler stole it and got it back into Bischoff's hands, ensuring Van Dam's rematch and setting up the only truly cross-brand match on the card.
What we've also got here is a situation where each GM is counting on a wrestler on the opposite side of the face/heel line to win this match. Might Eric and Steph get involved here? I hope not; I'm just throwing things out.
TNM Says: Rob Van Dam (7:47 Five Star Frog Splash -> pin) Chris Benoit
What I'd Do: Benoit retains because most of the IC-level guys are on SmackDown! now.
What They'll Do: This could go either way. Honestly. I'll say Benoit so Steph can get one back from Bischoff.
Tag Team Title Match: The Poor Man's Kurt Angle & I Thought I Knew Him vs. Sucka T & Dustin Rhodes is Finally Over
Lance Storm and Christian beat Hogan and Edge at Vengeance with an assist from Chris Jericho, and they, along with Test, jumped to Raw a week later with the titles in tow.
Goldust approached Bischoff with the idea of giving himself and Booker a title shot if Booker defeated Storm in an already-scheduled singles match. Booker won the match, but Christian got a pinfall on Goldust in a six-man tag on Monday.
TNM Says: Booker T & Goldust (4:54 Booker scissors kick -> pin Christian) Lance Storm & Christian
What I'd Do: As much as I dig Booker & Goldust, I'd have the heels retain.
What They'll Do: The opposite of whatever happens with UT/Test, which means the heels retain.
Chump Jericho vs. Ric By God Flair
Jericho followed the Un-Americans from SmackDown! to Raw and interrupted Ric Flair with a chairshot as Flair was about to make an announcement. In Greensboro. As you can imagine, this didn't go over well.
Since then, Jericho's reverted to his "King Of The World" character that he was using against Flair when he first became Undisputed Champion. He's convinced Flair can't touch his talent level or his legacy. For Flair's part, we never did find out what his announcement was, but he's put those plans on hold to deal with Jericho's insolence. He's also embarrassed Jericho several times; pulling his tights down, and dumping a trash can on his head.
TNM Says: Jericho (13:34 flying forearm -> pin) Flair
What I'd Do: Have Jericho win to continue this program somehow.
What They'll Do: Jericho wins. Call it a hunch.
Unsanctioned: HHHammer Time vs. hBk
With the nWo dismantled and contracts open to negotiation, Shawn Michaels persuaded Triple H to leave SmackDown! for Bischoff's Raw at Vengeance. Bischoff later announced that Michaels would now manage HHH, which Shawn wasn't happy with. Triple H said he had a plan to put everything right - then he Pedigreed Shawn in the middle of the ring.
He did it, he said the next week, to get it through Shawn's head that his career is done, even though his ego and pride won't let him admit it. He then spent the following week interrogating the locker room about a parking lot ambush on Shawn until it was revealed that he did it. At this point, Shawn challenged Triple H to "fight" at SummerSlam - a fight that Bischoff refused to sanction after HHH got Shawn to sign a contract absolving him of any and all legal responsibility for whatever happened at the PPV.
TNM Says: Shawn Michaels (1:09 piledriver -> pin) Triple H
What I'd Do: Have Michaels win, just because.
What They'll Do: The point of Michaels winning would be what, exactly? Triple H wins.
Undisputed, Unified Title Match: Our Champion vs. Not Goldberg
I'll admit it: there was a time when I wasn't so sure that Lesnar would go over- now I'm pretty much doubt-free as far as that goes.
There's one more thing to consider when talking about this match: If Lesnar wins, he beat The Rock, and that'll be played up. If Lesnar LOSES, it took someone of the Rock's caliber to BEAT him, and that'll need to be played up even more.
TNM Says: Rock (14:07 armbar submission) Brock Lesnar
What I'd Do: I think I'd have someone run in, cost Rock the match, and then throttle him, since he's off to make another movie after this and it'll give him something to come back to.
What They'll Do: Lesnar will drop "Next" from Big Thing after Sunday when he wins.
Will go to SmackDown!.