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   Sat, September 20, 2003



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Brock rocks


'Here comes the pain' proved to be much more than a merchandising catchphrase for Brock Lesnar this week. The 295-lb. Minnesota native beat Kurt Angle to regain the WWE championship on Thursday's Smackdown but the title change plans were almost derailed by an in-ring accident.

Lesnar and Angle had been going through the standard preparations for a heavily hyped TV showdown, practising for the match at untelevised house shows throughout the U.S.

They started last Saturday in Roanoke, Va., where the duo tested the audience's reaction to their planned spots in what was described as the best house-show main event this year. Despite the relatively small crowd and the absence of TV cameras, Lesnar and Angle went a full 40 minutes, pulling out all the stops until the Olympian clamped on an ankle lock for the tap-out win.

The following night in Richmond, they worked a more relaxed match, relying a little more on rest holds but still going twice the length of a typical house show headliner. The bout ended the same way as the previous night's encounter, only this time Lesnar didn't get up after the final bell. Instead he lay on the mat clutching his leg and writhing in pain.

Most of the audience probably assumed he was just selling the finish but the more savvy fans in attendance instantly recognized something was wrong as referees and trainers rushed to the ring. After lying on the mat for about 10 minutes, Lesnar was helped to his feet and back to the locker-room.

WWE didn't make any official comment but rumours of a torn ACL began surfacing on the Internet within hours of the incident. It was Wrestling Observer scribe Dave Meltzer who finally reported Lesnar's leg had locked up as a result of floating cartilage in his knee. It's a painful injury that would send most athletes to the sidelines but with an internationally televised title match just 48 hours away, Lesnar -- as is so often the case in the wrestling business -- decided to work through the pain.

He appeared at another house show in North Carolina the next night but his match (again, with Kurt Angle) was kept short to prevent the risk of further injury. A group of mid-carders did a run-in during the opening moments, setting up a schmoz in the ring, which ended with Lesnar taking an Angle Slam and another ankle lock for the quick tap-out.

Although the bout only lasted a few minutes, it's a testament to Lesnar's dedication that he still fulfilled his commitment to appear at a poorly attended house show when he could easily have asked for a night off.

The reduced ring time must have helped because Lesnar was on fire when the cameras were finally rolling on Tuesday night (Smackdown is taped two days before it airs on TV) in Raleigh, N.C. Showing virtually no sign of injury, he and Angle went the full 60 minutes in the Iron Man match, with Lesnar eventually winning, five falls to four.

The story they told centred around Lesnar sacrificing a decision early in the game and hitting Angle with a chair for the DQ after about nine minutes. While this left Lesnar down 0-1 on the scoreboard, he had weakened Angle enough to take control of the match. Michael Cole and Tazz did an awesome job of getting this over on commentary, as Lesnar got three straight falls on the dazed Angle. The audience was rabid by the time Angle made his comeback at the 26:01 mark, scoring a pinfall on the Next Big Thing to make it 3-2.

When the final minutes rolled around, the score was 5-4 and Angle was desperately trying to hit one last fall and push the match into overtime. He didn't manage to get the duke before the clock hit zero but even though he lost in the storyline, both men left the RBC Center with their heads (and their value to the company) even higher.

It was a five-star offering, the likes of which we probably won't see on free TV for a long time.

Lesnar is expected to keep the title for a few months, starting with a string of defences against the Undertaker.