Ryder may equal ratings, but Brock equals big business.
Brock Lesnar returned this week on Monday Night Raw and fans are still recovering. It was perhaps the biggest return in WWE history next to the Rock’s arrival on Raw in 2011. Fans across the globe erupted in excitement upon seeing Lesnar, a man who found success in the UFC and whom we all thought would never return to the WWE. The importance of Brock’s return is two-fold: it promises short-term success for the WWE and long-term redefinition of what it means to be a pro-wrestler.
Brock is a tremendous athlete who was more versatile than most guys his size. Sure big guys come and go in the WWE, but Brock could move with the fluidity of a much smaller performer. Lesnar is perhaps the closest WWE has ever come to creating a genuine monster, except for Kane. Under the tutelage of Paul Heyman, Lesnar was an unstoppable machine in the early 2000s who convinced nearly every fan that he was the toughest guy in the company.
Brock will always be a cautionary tale of what happens when WWE booking moves too fast. To say Brock received a huge push might even be an understatement. Lesnar debuted in the WWE following WrestleMania X-8 on March 18, 2002 and was instantly built as “The Next Big Thing.” By June of 2002, Brock was already the winner of the King of the Ring tournament. Two months later in August 2002, Lesnar’s gimmick took new meaning when he won the Undisputed Championship at the age of 25 from The Rock at SummerSlam. Brock’s skyrocket to popularity didn’t end there. He went on to feud with the WWE’s top names such as the Undertaker and Big Show, before main eventing WrestleMania XIX in a superb match against Kurt Angle. Following WrestleMania XIX, Lesnar continued to feud with top WWE talent, including Eddie Guerrero and the newly acquired Goldberg.
It’s hard to believe that Brock Lesnar was only in the WWE from 2002-2004, not including his time in developmental. Just as quickly as he rose to prominence, Brock was gone to pursue a football career following a controversial match with Goldberg at WrestleMania XX. What seemed like a logical push at the time became toxic to the staying power of Lesnar in the WWE. Brock was exhausted and needed time off after a whirlwind two years, but ultimately chose to leave the company entirely. One might argue that Brock was overwhelmed with his immediate success in the WWE. There was a lot of pressure on Brock to become a leading force in rejuvenating the WWE, but it was all done far too quickly for any normal person to muster. In the end, not only Brock suffered from his massive push; fans were robbed of seeing this bright talent grow and prosper in the WWE.
Brock Lesnar returning to the WWE will rope in a wide spectrum of individuals. Fans who have left the WWE product, fans curious about the WWE product, and fans completely against the WWE product will all be interested to see how Lesnar holds up. UFC fans will surely tune in just to see their guy fight. Likewise, people who downright hate WWE but love MMA will obviously have their interest piqued by the prospect of seeing how the UFC influenced Brock’s style in the WWE.
Brock is not back in the WWE full-time. Hell, Brock may not even be what we might consider a “part-timer.” Some sources are reporting that Brock has signed a one-year contract with limited dates. One of those limited dates is sure to be WrestleMania, and perhaps the Raw before and/or after that pay-per-view. The greatest obstacle standing in between fans and Brock Lesnar is Brock himself, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s fairly well known that Brock doesn’t like to travel and is very introverted. I’m sure he would much rather show up for his Raw dates, go out to the ring and cause a ruckus, and then leave. As wrestling fans, we need to all accept this and understand that the man is not a primadonna. Instead, fans need to understand that this is simply Lesnar’s personality. Will we see Lesnar at SummerSlam? The Royal Rumble? I have no idea, but that’s the wonderful part. We simply have to sit back and enjoy the ride.
A recent report suggests that we’ll see Brock at least twice a month for the next year, with more dates around WrestleMania 29. Again, this is hardly official and should be treated as rumors for the time being, since neither the WWE nor Brock have commented on their contract. However, it’s safe to say that whenever Brock does appear on Raw it will be heavily hyped, not unlike they did with The Rock this past year. The more excitement that builds around a Brock appearance, the more opportunities there are for a diverse fanbase to oscillate towards the WWE and take a break from UFC or other professional sports. In the end, both fans and WWE officials come out on top.
For many fans, there’s only one demographic that stands to lose now that Brock has returned: the mid-card. Many fans feel that Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger, Kofi Kingston, and The Miz each deserved a singles bout at WrestleMania. However, given the time necessary for Rock vs. Cena and Triple H vs. Taker, these younger talents were scrapped. Ideally, WrestleMania 29 will feature singles matches that highlight the vibrant young talent by showcasing men like Ziggler, Wade Barrett, or Kingston. Unfortunately, if WWE goes the way of Rock/Cena with their booking of Lesnar at WrestleMania 29, we might have to wait a little longer to see these fantastic mid-carders shine on the grandest stage of them all.
However, the mid-card can still benefit immensely from Brock’s involvement in WWE pay-per-views and television. When business is good, everyone benefits; Brock is sure to bring in good business. The Rock’s appearance at WrestleMania 28 forced new fans to notice younger talent like Ziggler, Kingston, Swagger, and Ryder. Having Brock main event a pay-per-view will bring in a slew of viewers who will obviously arrive to see Lesnar, but leave impressed by the fresh crop of mid-carders that the WWE is feverishly cultivating. Young talent in the WWE is really, really good right now. Even if someone doesn’t like wrestling at all, witnessing a guy like Dolph Ziggler sell a move will surely leave them entertained. We should celebrate the opportunity for Brock to act as an invitation for new fans to experience previously unknown talent in the WWE.
Brock, Jericho, and The Rock returning this year proves something far greater in the larger context of WWE culture as a whole: it’s okay to come back. Guys don’t have to work themselves tirelessly and never take a vacation in fear of severing a relationship with Vince. In the long run, this mentality will hopefully lead to guys not working through injuries as often and pursuing extracurricular interests. John Cena deserves a long vacation from wrestling, as does Randy Orton. Both men have proven themselves to be consummate professionals and the epitome of superstardom in the WWE. It’s getting to a point where there will be little left to prove.
Remember how excited people were when John Cena made a surprise return at the Royal Rumble in 2008 after taking time off for an injury? Distance makes the heart grow fonder, WWE Universe. Brock Lesnar’s return to the WWE will hopefully send a message to wrestlers that it’s okay to leave the business for your own personal sanity and then return under your own terms without suffering repercussions from wrestling fans.