Cheap Heat: Lesnar vs. Undertaker: The “Put Over” Fallacy
By Jacob Fox
With Brock Lesnar‘s and Undertaker’s Wrestlemania 30 rematch coming up very soon, the internet is of course completely abuzz with not only theories about who will win and how he will win, but also with what consequences of the victory will be. The most common argument I have run into against Undertaker winning is that a victory over Lesnar will only accomplish two things: that it will not only make Lesnar look weak, but his recent invincibility will be wasted, as it should be used to put over a younger wrestler. These claims simply do not make sense, though.
First off, I do not have a horse in this race. I have never been an Undertaker fan and I am only moderately a Lesnar fan. Personally, I think the best part of a Lesnar victory would be the promos that Paul Heyman would cut afterwards would be amazing. Although I could be wrong, I also think that the build up for this match will be much better than the bout itself.
Losing to the Undertaker is very unlikely to make Lesnar look weak. Yes, the Undertaker is a 50 year old man with knocky knees. No, he cannot do even half of the moves that he was able to do only a few years ago. The difference is that even with age, the WWE has never pushed Undertaker as anything but the Undertaker. They still consider him a fearsome character and the proof of this was having him cost Lesnar the belt against Seth Rollins at Battleground. Anyone else would have been unable to stop Lesnar from getting the pinfall and would have been beaten worse than Rollins had been if they tried.
Furthermore, the Undertaker is in a much better position right now than he was at Wrestlemania 30. Seeing the Undertaker in the ring against Lesnar that time, the man was in the worst physical shape I had ever seen him in. He has since rebounded and is much more solid now. When the Undertaker was in worse physical shape only 18 months ago, there was no talk about Lesnar looking weak if he lost at Wrestlemania. Judging from the now iconic stunned silence of the crowd, the assumption most people had was that Lesnar was definitely going to lose.
In WWE’s eyes, Undertaker is still the Undertaker. He’s not an old man with injuries, he is a dominant force. If there is one man to which whom losing to does not make anyone look weak, Undertaker has always been and is still that man.
Ever since Lesnar not only broke the Wrestlemania streak, but also dominated John Cena at Summerslam 2014, there has been this idea that Lesnar was being built as an unstoppable opponent in order to eventually put some younger talent over. Roman Reigns had been the recipient of this belief, but that was quashed at Wrestlemania 31. Since then, there really has not been an obvious plan to utilize Lesnar’s momentum. So, to continually build Lesnar towards no end seems fruitless.
WWE does not have a history of building a wrestler up strongly in order to put over a younger talent in the way that has been assumed with Lesnar. One has to look no further than Lesnar to see that this is the case. When Lesnar broke the Wrestlemania streak, the main criticism that was lobbed at WWE was that the streak should have been broken by a young talent in order to put him over. Vince McMahon, however, admitted on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin‘s podcast on December 14, 2014, that this was not the way he looked at the streak. He claimed that he chose Lesnar to break it, because Undertaker wanted to give back, presumably then by making Lesnar gain heat from breaking the streak and then eventually putting over another talent, i.e. Reigns.
The reason this argument fails, however, is Occam’s razor: entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity. What sense would it make to have one wrestler break one of the most revered wrestling accomplishments in history just to eventually put another wrestler over later? Wouldn’t the younger talent in question be put over more by simply having ended the Wrestlemania streak himself? Why was there a need for a middle man?
Take Roman Reigns, for instance. Reigns had a fantastic match at Wrestlemania versus Lesnar, but he gained little from it. Yes, he held his own against Brock and even had him on the ropes for a while, but he did not win. However, if Reigns had been given the match against Undertaker and broken the streak, it would have been a moment that he would carry with him for the rest of his life. He would have always been known as the man who broke the streak. Now, though, Lesnar remains the sole beneficiary of that accomplishment.
The situation becomes more complicated when one considers the fact Lesnar may have been the most credible person to break the streak. This was also hinted at by McMahon. However, that also fails when thought of rationally. If Lesnar was the only man who believably could break the streak, then the person Lesnar eventually puts over is basically being told that he could not do it. He needed Lesnar to do it for him. So again, this eventual opponent gains nothing from the streak when he defeats Lesnar.
There seems to be this idea in wrestling fandom that every wrestler is built towards the end of putting over a younger talent. However, this is something that is simply a construct of viewers and has rarely played out in reality. Wrestling tends to rely more on established stars and more often than not, sacrifices younger talent for the sake of the older.
It seemed, for example, like Kevin Owens was being put over by John Cena. He was given a clean win over John Cena at Elimination Chamber 2015. Although not comparable to the breaking of the streak, this was a result that could have established Owens’ newfound dominance. However, by not picking up any more victories over Cena, Owens lost the feud. Now rather than reaping the benefits of being put over, he is embroiled in a feud with Cesaro who, although is one of the best wrestlers in the company, is usually at the bottom of WWE’s roster.
Another missed opportunity WWE had to put over a younger talent was with regards to CM Punk’s 434 day WWE Championship reign. Although towards the end of his title reign, Punk turned heel and into sort of a cowardly champion, he still was riding the sixth longest WWE Championship reign in history. This was an ample opportunity for WWE to have a younger talent finally end the reign and make his career. Instead, the victory was given to one of the already most over stars in history, the Rock.
Putting a younger wrestler over an invincible one can have its drawbacks as well. This was true when Hulk Hogan put over the Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania 6. Previously, Hogan was the most dominant force in wrestling. He had not been beaten cleanly in nearly a decade. The only way the man lost a championship was to Andre the Giant after not only a false three count but having an evil duplicate referee being inserted into the match. By beating Hogan cleanly for the WWF Championship, the Ultimate Warrior became exactly what his name indicated he was. He did not have one believable opponent on the WWF roster because no one could believably defeat the man who beat the most unbeatable man in wresting. Warrior drew poorly as champion and eventually lost his title in completely unconvincing fashion to Sgt Slaughter.
I honestly have no idea how the Undertaker and Lesnar rematch is going to play out. With my back against the wall, I would probably put my money on the Dead Man. It does not make sense to me to have one of the most dominant and loyal WWE wrestlers of all time come back simply to have Lesnar go 5-0 over him. What I do know is that being defeated is not going to hurt Lesnar at all. He will still be seen as the same beast that he is seen as now. Even a clean loss to the Undertaker will not erase Lesnar’s accomplishments which are so vast that anyone who beats him will still be instantly put over.
— Jacob Fox