Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Braun Strowman Is Your God Now

Photo Credit: WWE.com
If I were in charge of WWE through some genie's wish or accursed monkey's paw (the latter is more likely, be real about it), what I would do right now is pencil in the main event of WrestleMania 35 as Braun Strowman vs. Sami Zayn. Everything else between now and that point two or so years from now would revolve around making that match not only happen, but be the biggest possible match in the company since The Rock vs. Steve Austin II at X-7. Everyone knows my feelings on Zayn, and honestly, his path to wrestling immortality has been sung ever since he wore a mask and pretended he knew how hablar EspaƱol. It was always Strowman whose path was more obscured when he debuted. The history of Vince McMahon's attempt at finding the next Undertaker or Andre the Giant is littered with the bodies of failed experiments from Giant Gonzalez to Heidenreich to Mason Ryan and all the other failed body guys in between.

But it almost does Strowman a disservice to talk about him in traditional narratives, against the backdrop of the other beefy adult sons WWE tried to make happen, because it's clear he's not just some tall, dark, and fearsome presence to be thrown out into a ring with no thought whatsoever to whether or not he was going to be able to walk and breathe at the same time. Traditional narratives state that the WWE's take on the arch-hoss are supposed to be spoken of in hushed tones, feared rather than enjoyed. They intimidate, not titillate.

Strowman, however, breaks the mold way more easily than he tips over emergency response vehicles. I mean, start there. Mark Henry dragged a couple of 18-wheelers, and that fucking ruled. Don't get me wrong. But it was in service of WWE's institutional braggadocio, just something McMahon and his legion of relatives and sycophants could put on a hollow "DID YOU KNOW" graphic. Strowman flipped over an ambulance in service of a monumental ass-whupping he put on Roman Reigns to advance their ongoing war. Wrestling is conflict, and the same reason why two guys can have a technically flawless match in an exhibition or tournament and not have it mean as much as two dudes having a sloppier match in an emotionally charged feud.

Not only does Strowman get that, he seems to revel in it, judging from how into every bit of on-screen time he is. The narrative called for him to do the most rote, "we have no plans for you" story ever to start, the "I WANT MORE COMPETITION" angle, and he's not only run with it, he's kept it with him as a character trait ingrained in his DNA. He made the whole thing work because his eyes flared as wide as the horizon as he towered over Mick Foley or now Kurt Angle demanding more bodies be fed to his boiler room coal chamber. He has uncanny ring awareness for someone of any size, which is why his prior encounters with the more seasoned Zayn were so goddamn good. He has panache and style; he makes being an all-consuming leviathan fun. Who was the last wrestler of his kind to do that without turning into an out-and-out comedy act?

Strowman isn't just a monster, he's a wrestler's wrestler who happens to be huge. He doesn't drag Kalisto down the hallway and throw him in a dumpster because he has to, he does it because he embraces who he is on camera as fully and completely as anyone in the company. Some wrestlers embrace themselves to the max, but don't have the immense physical gifts that Strowman has. Others have those gifts and skate. But the fact that Strowman resides at that intersection is all the reason to let him turn RAW, Smackdown, the entire WWE, whatever his own personal wasteland until someone finally comes at him.

And that time should be at WrestleMania not next year in New Orleans, but the year after. That wrestler should be Zayn, partially because of history, partially because Zayn is the arch-underdog hero. That story has probably been written a thousand times by a thousand different writers. The underdog who happens to be the really good wrestler from the indies inspires so many fans with a dream and a higher grasp of the English language. The monster rarely gets his due, because what are monsters but tasks to be dealt with, obstacles to be cleared.

But what if the monster turns out to have an interesting tale himself? What if the company can do a parallel chase as long as it can, seeing how the insatiable beast conquers his challenger this time around, with the challenges getting stiffer and more luminous than before? Roman Reigns gives way to John Cena. Cena falls to welcome Bill Goldberg, who dies gloriously before Brock Lesnar takes his crack. Lesnar's Beast is slain before The Rock comes back from Hollywood with great pomp and circumstance before even he is cracked. The long line of suitors doesn't just serve to provide the impenetrable defense and improbable felling of the dragon by Zayn, but it's a circus for those wanting to see how invincible Strowman can seem for how long. It speaks to how widely varied compelling narratives can be in wrestling, even if the Strowman led one could only conceivably be the one to carry it.

And carry it he should, because he's the link to what could be the next great era in wrestling, one where Vince McMahon and his coterie of fools and nepotists don't need to lean on stars from past eras to raise grand tentpoles in the present. Braun Strowman doesn't need to be the macguffin to raise up others like other monsters seemingly have been. He can be the main attraction, one who even after Zayn (or whoever really, because again, underdogs are easier to come by) fells him the first time, can rise up and hold court again, not because he's bigger, stronger, or even more insatiable than anyone else, but because he has so many different facets to explore. He could be wrestling's Grey Hulk, its Hercules even. Braun Strowman is that special, and his future needn't be feared, but welcomed.