The Beast Incarnate had ascended to the top of WWE.
Lesnar was already world champ by that point. He had already trounced The Rock at SummerSlam. Beating Undertaker in the brutal manner he did, though, pushed him onto another tier altogether.
The path WWE sent this predator on that year is a blueprint of how to turn a man into a monster and use one marquee star to create a new one. The company fully committed to constructing a lore around this beast of a man. He would be no ordinary grappler; Lesnar was to be a demigod.
Before he and Undertaker collided that October night in Arkansas 13 years ago, Lesnar had rattled off a stretch of wins that included besting Ric Flair, Mark Henry, Randy Orton and John Cena. As his momentum swelled, WWE then let him overpower a triad of legends.
He earned his title shot against The Rock by not only beating Hulk Hogan on SmackDown in August but squeezing the breath from his
chest like a python.
Hulkster immobile on the mat, a Hall of Famer face down, a hero turned into a discarded hunk of flesh. That win alone is the kind that changes a career for the better. It’s the kind a wrestler brings up years down the road. “I left Hogan lying!” he could scream.
But The Beast was not done. He pounded The Rock at SummerSlam, taking away his title in an emphatic win.
At No Mercy 2002, WWE went a step further. It made sure the audience knew that Lesnar was no fluke champion, no gladiator on a lucky streak. He was instead a monster among men. He was capable of stepping into Undertaker’s own domain and beating him.
Cell bout was Undertaker’s match. The Deadman had been in five of them before facing Lesnar.
Memories of his hurtling Mankind from the top of the cell, chokeslamming Rikishi off the cage and hanging Big Boss Man by a noose were still fresh in fan’s minds. To enter the Hell in a Cell was to enter Undertaker’s lair.
Lesnar did and proceeded to overpower Undertaker. The Next Big Thing flung around Undertaker, creating as unexpected a sight as someone manhandling Godzilla.
The bout was a showcase of inhuman athletes, one Goliath devouring another. Lesnar countered a Tombstone Piledriver attempt, flipped Undertaker onto his shoulders and delivered an F-5. He pounced on Undertaker, smashing a steel chair onto The Phenom’s broken hand.
Not many men beat Undertaker. Even fewer demolished him.
For Lesnar to so soundly defeat him, to leave him blinded by his own blood, dizzied by a methodical thrashing, was an indication that The Beast stood firmly on WWE’s mountaintop.
In Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling, Jonathan Snowden called the win “a rare honor and a clear sign that the company was behind him 100 percent.”
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And so Lesnar was pegged to be the centerpiece of the company. He was SmackDown’s top star, the 2003 Royal Rumble winner and the headlining act at WrestleMania XIX opposite Kurt Angle. Defeating The Deadman springboarded him to that spot.
It was his biggest conquest in a succession of big conquests.
Fast-forward to the present, and Undertaker and Lesnar are set to meet inside The Devil’s Playground once more.
longer an emerging talent but the marquee attraction. This battle will not be about elevating a wrestler to a new tier. Both men’s legends are well-established. Hell in a Cell 2015’s main event is icon-versus-icon.
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The time for torch-passing has to come eventually, though.
Looking back at Lesnar emerging from that bloody battlefield in Arkansas makes one wonder when WWE will peg someone to take his spot. Who will play the Lesnar role when The Beast Incarnate is the one crumpled on the canvas looking up at WWE’s next alpha male?
The company has to commit to someone as it did to Lesnar in 2002. With men like Undertaker singing the final notes of their swan songs and wrestlers like Lesnar no guarantee to be around for much longer, WWE needs new legends, new megastars, new barbarians surging upward.
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