SummerSlam Retrospective: What Could WWE Have Done Differently In Brock Lesnar & The Undertaker’s 2015 Clash?

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(Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images)

The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar have a history that dates all the way back till 2002 and it remains one of the very few feuds where The Undertaker has never really gotten the last laugh or hasn’t outright dominated. Naturally, it’s a lot to say for someone like The Undertaker, who in his three-decade-long WWE career has faced many of the very greatest from many different generations.

He himself is the definition of a legendary superstar – one who established his name over the course of years and eventually became a household figure in the pro wrestling industry. He remains one of the few stars to have really taken that “larger-than-life” figure and held on to it for as many years as he has, having a global outreach beyond which can be imagined.

Despite this, in 2002, The Undertaker, like many other WWE legends, was viewed as someone who could help take Brock Lesnar take another major step in his short career. He had already defeated Hulk Hogan and The Rock prior to that. The Undertaker would soon be added to that hitlist.

After their 2002 feud, it would be another 12 years before they met again. It was for a WrestleMania rivalry and while fans did have some excitement about it, his opponents in the previous few years were simply more exciting and resulted in a lot more fun matches (For example, CM Punk at WrestleMania 29).

In a way, this match was far overlooked because everybody assumed that it would just be one of those matches where The Undertaker goes over and they both take a nice, long hiatus after that. Given the relative lack of build, it was fair to assume that. Little did people know that they would be in to see the biggest upset in WrestleMania history.

But you already know that. And you know exactly what the reaction was when it all went down and you also probably know that The Undertaker was badly concussed during the match. His battered physical condition led many to believe that he was supposed to win but didn’t kick out because he didn’t remember. It was a nice theory, backed by the fact that the referee had no idea what just happened. Referees are instructed to count the pin as a shoot.

So the referee has claimed that he never knew what the outcome would be and that all he had to do was hit his hand against the mat. When it hit 3, he probably crumbled up inside, unaware of the fact that The Undertaker was, in fact, booked to lose. He thought he made the biggest mistake of his career and probably would get fired. But that’s simply how pro wrestling can be sometimes, where the referee himself got worked.

The general consensus post-match was that The Undertaker should have retired, especially given the terrible physical condition that he was clearly in. It was only a year later where he would return, taking on Bray Wyatt in the WrestleMania 31 co-main event. His next appearance, however, would be at WWE Battleground 2015, where he returned in Brock Lesnar’s World title match and ended the match abruptly, hitting Lesnar with a low-blow before finishing him.

The low-blows would be a theme for the rivalry of that summer as The Undertaker looked to take revenge on The Beast Incarnate. It resulted in an extremely interesting rivalry where The Undertaker actually acted more of a heel. However, he wasn’t the heel because both he and Lesnar had transcended the whole “babyface/heel” dynamic at this point.

It was obviously the most featured feud of the summer, as the WWE product had taken quite a hit in the year 2015. Seth Rollins was essentially carrying RAW on his shoulders and was consistently the most entertaining part of WWE programming. But despite this, WWE needed a marquee SummerSlam main event and this was the perfect fit.

The brawl they had prior to their match on RAW certainly gave it a much more realistic and intent feel and despite not having buzz for WrestleMania, The Undertaker vs Brock Lesnar was a much-anticipated main event. In the match, The Undertaker would get a long-awaited win over Brock Lesnar, as he defeated him in a rather controversial fashion. The idea was that The Undertaker had technically tapped.

In a rather bizarre finish, the timekeeper decided to ring the bell himself after seeing The Undertaker tap (the replay showed he actually did), while the referee didn’t see it, so he decided to continue the match. The Undertaker would then make Brock Lesnar pass out in The Hell’s Gate, as The Beast Incarnate showed him the middle finger before passing out in a pool of blood.

While there was criticism over the finish, this is one of the rare cases where an overbooked finish actually made sense. WWE wanted to protect Lesnar as much as possible (still hoping and waiting for Roman Reigns‘ inevitable clash with Lesnar) while also making The Undertaker look good.

Ultimately, there wasn’t much they could have done differently to make it better. They had clear targets in mind and with that, it was hard to have a rather straightforward finish. Moreover, they did face off one final time a couple of months later at Hell In A Cell, where Lesnar won decisively in a bloody war. It was a satisfying conclusion to their rivalry and more importantly – it was the right one.

Brock Lesnar will historically go down as one superstar who has always had The Undertaker’s number, even in defeat. It would be over three and a half years before The Undertaker would have another good match.