As a wrestling fan, I thought last night's Extreme Rules main event between Brock Lesnar and John Cena was the best, most compelling match in a WWE ring since CM Punk beat Cena in the same building, Chicago's Allstate Arena, last July.
That's as a wrestling fan.
As a would-be analyst of WWE's business moves, I'm not really sure what to think — specifically about the ending, where Cena rebounded from 15 minutes of bloody punishment at Lesnar's 4XL hands to win with an Attitude Adjustment on the steel steps.
At best, it was an invigorating rebound for company ace Cena, who lost his last two matches to The Rock and Lord Tensai.
At worst, WWE just burned away a year's worth of must-see matchups by making its $5 million monster signing look a little more human.
Why Cena should have won:
However big a money-drawing attraction Brock Lesnar is, he's neither full-time nor long-term for WWE. Add in his abrupt decision to leave WWE in 2004, and it's understandable why Vince McMahon would hesitate to sacrifice his biggest draw who is full-time and long-term — Cena — to a guy who could split before his one-year contract is up. Imagine if Lesnar won, then beat all of WWE's top guys — Orton, Punk, Sheamus, etc. — only to refuse to come to New Jersey for his comeuppance? That's the kind of nightmare from which McMahon wakes in cold sweats.
Also, within the context of the match itself, Cena winning was a uniquely exciting moment. After getting his head busted open by a Lesnar elbow and nearly losing his left arm to a nasty-looking kimura, Cena gutted it out until he could muster the strength for one devastating chain-wrapped fist to Lesnar's face, followed by the AA. Cena's comeback felt so well-built and hard-earned — for once — that even the Cena-hating Chicago crowd was roaring its approval.
Why Lesnar should have won:
Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Lesnar's return to WWE as a no-nonsense destroyer of men seemed like it wrote itself: He runs through Cena and company until someone steps up and makes a name for himself by conquering the conqueror. It could be Sheamus, it could be Ryback — heck, it could even be Cena. But that epic climax, probably at WrestleMania 29, would come after a lengthy path of destruction from Lesnar. Now, that bridge isn't quite burned. Lesnar could still plow through the WWE roster until he's vanquished before his one-year contract ends. But if that's the plan, why make him lose at Extreme Rules? What does that accomplish that him beating Cena and going undefeated for a year doesn't accomplish more effectively?
It's not like Cena needed the boost. Sure, he lost his last two matches, but he's still John Cena. Consecutive losses to The Rock, Lesnar and the thus-far unstoppable Tensai won't damage his popularity after about seven years of overcoming the odds to slay monsters and win world championships. In some circles of the WWE Universe, it was actually "Super Cena" winning yet again that has emboldened his critics.
One more issue: After the match, Cena announced that he'd be taking time off from WWE, making vague, brain-scrambled references to injuries. If his sabbatical was planned, his victory looks even more foolish. Where's the intrigue in Cena leaving with a win? Him getting run out of WWE by Lesnar, staying off TV for a few months then working his way back to the top of the company could have been a more triumphant story arc — certainly more so than just winning the first encounter as decidedly as he did. There is the possibility, though, that Cena was referring to injuries sustained in the match with Lesnar — in which case no one could have known he'd need time off, and the point is moot.
Why I don't really care:
Armchair-booking pro wrestling is totally fruitless. The fact is, you don't know a quarter of the reality influencing decisions like who wins and loses — nor should you, if you're a wrestling fan who actually wants to enjoy what you watch.
There were few better times than last night to drop all those worries about what's "good for business." The match between Cena and Lesnar was just unreal to behold. Lesnar, looking imported directly from the UFC Octagon, threw horrific elbows and clotheslines at Cena, then wrenched in the kimura with a tactical malice you rarely see in WWE wrestling anymore (Cena's STF, by contrast, usually looks like the least painful submission hold in wrestling history).
The match's structure set it apart, as well. Two early stoppages to clean Cena's gushing cut broke up the action, but couldn't calm the Chicago crowd as Lesnar layed in the carnage almost without interruption. The drama kept up despite the match only containing two pin counts - which is utterly unheard of in today's WWE, where the near-fall is a common method of building suspense.
When Lesnar planted the steel steps in the center of the ring and stood atop them, goading Cena to come back for more, the match became almost animalistic, a primal survival of the fittest. There was so much to savor — Lesnar's savagery and physical charisma, Cena's determination and reslience. Wonder too much whether the right guy won, and you miss one of the best WWE matches of the last few years.