Even today, few wrestlers garner as much debate and discussion as Brock Lesnar. Fifteen months removed from the ring, Lesnar remains in the headlines, all without saying a word himself. That mystique is part of the appeal of course, the very real sense that we never really know what Lesnar is thinking, let alone where he’s headed. In fact, he could be officially retired and we wouldn’t really know, unless Paul Heyman makes some sort of emotional statement on his behalf I suppose.
Scratch that, who am I kidding? Such a speech would only further spark speculation about Lesnar’s inevitable return. In fairness, very few wrestlers conclude their career in a WrestleMania main event. Thus far, that’s the case for Lesnar though, losing the WWE Title to Drew McIntyre in the uncomfortably empty Performance Centre. Since then, we’ve all been waiting, quietly initially and now as fans return, increasingly loudly. With each week, that perception shifts too, earning more excitement than fear or frustration.
No doubt, the return of Brock Lesnar is a complex conversation but the talent remains cut and dry. Lesnar is historically great, an industry outlier in every way. As the talent pool’s split between stars and supporting acts leans more and more in the latter’s direction, Lesnar’s value only expands. In an 8-year stint, Lesnar avoided an era-defining trend, remaining on a tier firmly above the rest. Stars would reach his level on occasion, especially when sharing the ring with Lesnar himself but few could, or were allowed to, maintain that status.
Since turning heel last year, Roman Reigns has finally managed it, making significant strides while ironically, Lesnar silently sits the bench. In Reigns’ story, you find the root of debate about Lesnar, the reality of another return. The talent speaks for itself, as does the reputation, both as an athlete and a draw. That doesn’t tell the entire tale though, quite the opposite. The truth is that Lesnar’s usage became a crutch, the safe exit route after every gamble. If in doubt, put the belt on Brock and in doing so, remove it from the show.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy really, the perception that Lesnar’s standing as the brand’s sole star ensuring that no other stars would be made. The ongoing struggle to create stars can’t be divorced from Lesnar, the promotion’s go-to band-aid in a time so desperately requiring innovation. Lesnar became the embodiment of a seemingly never-ending holding pattern, the sense that we’re always waiting for another turning point, forced or unforced. The truth is though, Lesnar has been a constant, central in every alleged restart.
Now, after stumbling through a global pandemic, WWE returns to live crowds and yet here we are again, awaiting Lesnar’s comeback. The fan in me can only be excited for that, especially with a Bobby Lashley dream match available but it’s not as simple as that. Sure, I want the match but can I trust the direction that comes with it? I’ll willingly sign up for quarterly Brock bouts but another world title reign for the sake of one more hollow coronation? No, I think we’ve explored that route enough for a lifetime now.
In different hands, Lesnar’s presence could bring some excitement back to RAW or SmackDown when both shows need it most. Lashley is the obvious choice but even reviving the programme with Reigns, now roles reversed, feels fresh to me. The available Heyman dynamic is particularly enticing, allowing an altered presentation for Lesnar at last. Now, perhaps I’m being unfair. On multiple occasions, both Lesnar and WWE seemed to have good intentions but for many reasons, they seldom produced a fitting finale.
Reigns never truly triumphed over Lesnar and when he almost did, the reign was robbed from him so that always assumed endgame was erased. That wasn’t anyone’s fault, let alone Lesnar’s but the belt going back in his direction certainly didn’t help. To his credit though, Lesnar was inspired at SummerSlam 2019, cementing Seth Rollins in grand fashion. Unfortunately, his efforts were immediately undone by Rollins’ handling afterwards, further damaged by yet another title reign that within months, had Lesnar back as RAW’s centerpiece.
It’s a great act, but in that form, it has nothing left to offer. More than that, it doesn’t just exist in a vacuum either as when champion, Lesnar’s presence seems to actively stall their creative motivation. Even without Lesnar, WWE has struggled to make a gamechanger but necessity is the mother of invention, allowing Lashley to finally fulfil his potential during Brock’s absence. RAW is unquestionably stagnant but Lesnar isn’t the solution for anything but star-power which at some point, has to come from a different source.
Lesnar can’t always be the answer, there has to be another way. For all their efforts, Lashley and McIntyre combined may not make for the attraction that Lesnar does, but the process shouldn’t stop there. This can’t be a case of conceding defeat after the most trying era in WWE history, it should simply inspire yet another roll of the dice. There’s a place for Brock Lesnar, a prominent one at that but as the industry is forced into a fresh start, a return to the mind-numbing norm just can’t be the move.