UFC put on their “bicentennial” event, UFC 200, on Saturday night in Las Vegas. The marquee event for the company was headlined by two ladies who put on a brutal championship match, but a lot of eyes were on one man – Brock Lesnar.
The multiple time WWE Champion and former UFC Heavyweight Champion made his return to the Octagon, facing Mark Hunt in a heavyweight bout. Questions swarmed around whether Lesnar, who was fighting out of a short camp and not having been in the Octagon in over five years, would be successful. Turns out Brock was able to be successful on this night, and in turn it helped UFC to be successful with one of their largest reported gates ever.
Through the miracles of technology and the bar television that I was able to see in Bloomsburg, PA, I was able to see a fair amount of UFC 200, even if I could not cover it live for the site. One of the things that jumped out at me was that we got to see a commercial from WWE. Talk about a strange moment, and one I never thought we’d get!
The commercial focused on Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton, which is a marquee matchup that the company has announced and will be building to at SummerSlam. These two men haven’t faced off in a meaningful match on a big stage, so this made a lot of sense. Because of his crossing over to the UFC 200 card, Lesnar has a lot of buzz going for him right now. Now was the time to capitalize on reminding those lapsed pro wrestling fans and possibly new wrestling fans that Lesnar is also “The Beast Incarnate” in WWE.
Lesnar and Orton have a natural story, when you dive backward into their careers. They trained at Ohio Valley Wrestling together. They were each the youngest men to capture the top titles in WWE. As Orton rose to prominence, Brock walked away to work in Japan and try his hand at football, eventually landing in UFC for his first run there. Since Lesnar has made his way back to WWE, he and Orton have stayed on separate tracks.
Given the history, the video package that WWE could have used on this show writes itself. You have Orton wanting to return to form and establish himself as a top star after injury. You have Lesnar wanting to extend his dominance since his return to the company. Add in a voice-over in a serious tone along with soundbytes from the two men talking about the match, and you have the recipe to truly put a big-fight feel behind the match. This could conjure up interest among lapsed fans and possibly some UFC faithful who would want to see what this is all about.
In a moment where WWE had the attention of the fight sports world at a minimum and a lot of mainstream buzz though, they swung and missed.
WWE chose going for sizzle without enough steak, as Jim Ross might say. The video they presented was drenched in an orange sepia tone, with the two competitors dishing out trademark moves and punishment to opponents. In the background, commentary teams belted out silly nicknames and catchphrases. They went the route of hyped spectacle over substance, and trademarked phrases over what seems to me like the obvious and much more natural storytelling route that I mentioned previously.
If I were a lapsed wrestling fan that checked out of WWE before Lesnar became a star, I would not have learned more about Lesnar’s pro wrestling history by what WWE ran. Nothing about the package told those not familiar with him who Randy Orton is. Nothing made me interested in seeing them fight. It was a major tactical error by WWE on Saturday when they had the attention of (at a minimum) the fighting sports world.
Orton vs. Lesnar is a good matchup, and something that WWE could generate a lot of buzz about if they build it up properly. While I have some other misgivings about how the company will make this work based on wins and losses, this initial advertising attempt by crossing over into the MMA world exposed the issue within the creative team of WWE. They bypassed simple, compelling storytelling for attempting (and failing) to present the event as a spectacle to be witnessed.
WWE used to have a real knack to make stars that fans connected with and felt like real and serious characters. In their so-called “Reality Era,” WWE continues to struggle with this concept. Saturday’s attempt at hyping Lesnar vs. Orton in the MMA world fell flat on its face and did not get off to a good start in building to what otherwise could be a very good wrestling match at SummerSlam.