Just when we thought he was out, they (Vince McMahon and his cheque book) pulled him back in. Finally all the speculation, conjecture and panic is over. Finally Brock Lesnar has committed his future to WWE and closed the cage door on his MMA career.
With only a few days until Brock defends the WWE World Heavyweight Title against Roman Reigns in the main event of WrestleMania 31, the announcement that Brock had signed a deal, “too good to refuse” with WWE has made headlines around the world.
From the reports I’ve heard and read, Brock is locked down with WWE for a multi-year deal, working part time dates (probably less than 35 a year) for huge full time money (anywhere between $3-$5 million a year). The deal will also give him all the same perks he had last time round – no house show appearances, the use of WWE’s private jet to fly him to and from events and very few public or media appearances.
Brock made the announcement on ESPN Sports Centre on Tuesday night, after signing the deal on Monday following RAW. As all the news coverage has shown since the news broke, Brock Lesnar is a mainstream sports star; the kind of guy who when he makes a decision about his future, the world wants to know about it.
Also, a quick note to anyone surprised that ESPN broke this story and that Rolling Stone broke a story about a recent Hall of Fame induction, like WWE missed a trick in announcing these things themselves. Dudes…seriously? Do you really think WWE didn’t set these stories up? Come on now, you think WWE didn’t use mainstream outlets to get this news out there and in turn make themselves seem more mainstream and popular? Jesus, you guys really need to learn about how the media works…
Anyway, back to Brock. As you all know he had two choices: stay with WWE and see out his career there, or make a return to the UFC and try his hand one final time at climbing back to the top of the Heavyweight division – something he did during his hugely successful 2008-2011 Championship winning run with the world’s premier fighting organisation.
Looking back on it, the decision was really a no brainer. At nearly 39 years old, with a long and gruelling athletic career behind him, and a serious illness that nearly cost him his life, the chances of Brock going back to UFC after a near four year absence and being able to once again become Heavyweight Champion were pretty damn slim; even for an athletic freak of nature like Brock Lesnar.
While Dana White would have moved heaven and earth to bring Brock back to UFC (Brock was the driving force behind UFC’s most successful years on PPV and brought millions of new fans to the sport), it appears Brock came to the realisation that his time in MMA was done.
He would certainly have made more money fighting in UFC, but MMA is a sport that waits for no man. You have to be young, hungry and ready to commit your life and soul to the sport. As Brock said himself; he trained for a return to MMA for two and half months and physically felt capable of competing, but mentally something was missing.
As anyone who follows MMA will know, being mentally committed to the sport is one of the most important keys to success. Of course physical strength and skill are important, but if you aren’t mentally able to deal with the relentless and intense training, the brutal weight cuts, and the actual act of fighting another highly skilled and motivated man, in a cage in front of tens of thousands of people, you’re going to be in trouble.
It appears from what Brock said that he realised this and after a number of sleepless nights and a lot of back and forth with his family and close advisors, he made the decision to stay with WWE. From the outside looking in, this is the right decision for Brock at this stage in his career.
It’s certainly the best decision for fans of Brock Lesnar the pro-wrestler. Of which I’m one, unashamedly so. I think he’s one of the most dynamic, legitimate, dangerous, interesting and scary individuals to grace either professional wrestling or Mixed Martial Arts.
When he left WWE, I was one of the guys who followed Brock to the UFC, although I had been a casual UFC fan for a year or two prior to Brock joining the promotion. When Brock signed I was all-in and quickly became a huge fan of MMA and its history. I bought DVDs, watched shows, read articles and generally immersed myself in that world as much as I could – very similar to what I’ve done with pro-wrestling for most of my life.
When Brock left UFC, I remained a die-hard fan of the UFC and MMA in general. Since his return I’ve struggled to get back into WWE’s product. Brock was one of the reasons I had to tune into WWE programming and given how infrequently he appeared, I found myself watching less and less.
I haven’t actually watched a full episode of RAW since last September. I keep up with results via Wrestling Observer and if Brock is on, or they report on a good segment or match, I’ll check it out. I still watch all the PPVs, but I just can’t sit down for three hours every Monday and be ‘sports entertained’ anymore.
When Brock is around though things are different. I’m able to forget the silliness of the majority of WWE’s characters and matches. I’m able to ignore how lacklustre the pushes are and how inane and counterproductive the booking is. I can even look past the utterly horrible commentary…actually, no, no I can’t do that. Even Brock Lesnar isn’t that entertaining!
I like Brock because he’s different, he seems like a real fighter and not a guy pretending. There is a threat to the man that no one else on the roster possesses. There is an unpredictability and danger that surrounds him. And of course there’s Paul Heyman – the single greatest hype man in the history of pro-wrestling. Some may argue there are others that should hold that title, but to me, no one comes close to Heyman on the mic.
His ability to present Brock as an unstoppable monster, to build storylines, to put over Brock’s opponents and to make me want to see the match he’s hyping, is second to none in my eyes. Paul Heyman has been such a huge part of what has made Brock’s appearances on RAW special, that whatever Vince is paying him, should be doubled immediately.
When Brock Lesnar wrestles, his matches are different from anyone else on the roster – they’re a fight, a brutal, beautiful fight. There’s realism to Brock’s matches that you just don’t see in WWE these days.
He doesn’t follow the usual WWE main event style. There’s a sense of danger that things could get out of control at any moment – as long as those working with him work to his strengths. If they don’t, then Brock quickly just become a big guy doing a choreographed match and not a real fighter who is working within the confines of a pro-wrestling match (ahem, looking at you HHH).
His match with John Cena at Summerslam and the three way with Cena and Seth Rollins at the Royal Rumble are hands down two of my favourite WWE matches of the last 5 years. They were booked and presented in a way that allowed Brock to work at his best – as an unstoppable monster, but also one that can take bumps and add real drama to his matches (that’s more true for the Rumble match than his utter destruction of Cena at Summerslam).
Ok, I’m not saying everything about Brock’s latest WWE run has been perfect. He lost matches to John Cena and HHH that he never should have. He ended The Undertaker’s streak – which makes sense from a logic point of view, but it still hurts the mark in me who wanted to see The Streak remain unbroken forever. His feud with Roman Reigns has been lukewarm at best. Still, even with those negatives surrounding his run, I’m still utterly ecstatic that Brock has re-signed with WWE for the next few years.
One the major problems certain fans had with Brock as WWE Champion, was how infrequently he appeared on the shows. How he only defended the Title on big shows. How he was rarely on RAW. I never had a problem with any of this.
I felt this was something WWE should do with their top stars more often. The less you see a top guy, the more special they are. If they’re a top guy, you should pay to see them wrestle – that’s why they’re a top guy and a draw. The Champion shouldn’t be on the show every week and he shouldn’t defend the Title on TV – that’s what the IC and US Titles should be for.
The constant appearances and repetitive matches of little no consequence that the rest of the WWE roster churn through on a weekly basis does little to nothing to make them seem special. They’re just dudes, on a show, having the same matches against each other, and then doing it all again on a show at the end of the month. It’s an endless cycle of same.
Maybe it’s because I’m older and remember the days of slow build feuds and the use of jobbers, but the constant cycle of the same guys, having the same matches, really dilutes the product for me. I think it does more harm than good in getting guys over and making them seem like stars.
Having special attractions like Brock Lesnar, who only shows up when the lights are at their brightest and the big money is on the line, is something so unique and special in today’s WWE, that it automatically makes Brock seem like a big deal.
Today’s wrestling fans are super demanding and need instant gratification. They’ve been conditioned to be that way because of how WWE present their show. When something is presented in a different way, there’s usually always a vocal kick back against it, at least for a while. What’s been so fun to watch is those same fans who cried and moaned about Brock’s lack of appearances, or the lack of WWE Title defences on every PPV, are now totally invested in Brock as the WWE Champion and they look forward to his matches in a way they don’t for anyone else on the roster.
Less is more really is the key to Brock and it’s why I don’t expect him to appear on many more shows than he did in the last year, because as soon as he does, he just becomes another part of the show and with the way Brock has been built and protected, the last thing he should become is ‘just another guy.’
So what does Brock re-signing with WWE mean for his match with Reigns at WrestleMania? Well, there’s a number of different ways this could go. Brock re-signing is actually the best thing that could have happened to WWE and this match, because we now have uncertainty and unpredictability about the outcome of the WrestleMania main event. That’s some of the key elements you need to get people to buy the PPV or the Network to tune in a see what’s going to happen.
There’s no doubt Brock will be a super babyface to the hardcore smarky WrestleMania crowd. They are going to boo Reigns out of the building, for sure. That reaction will be even stronger now they all know Brock’s not leaving.
Whereas some may have booed Brock because he was leaving, now he’s ‘shown his loyalty’ to WWE, the hardcore fans are going to love him even more. Plus he’s the guy who’ll be beating the hell out of Roman Reigns, and anyone who does that is going to be a hero in the eyes of the majority of that crowd.
The big question now is do WWE stick to their original plan of having Reigns beat Brock for the WWE Title and continue on as the top babyface (who is booed by half the crowd on a regular basis), or do they change tact? Do they now keep the Title on Brock? Does Paul Heyman turn on Brock and help Reigns win? What about Seth Rollins and his MITB contract?
Personally I’d go with the Heyman turn. Brock and Heyman’s dynamic has been fantastic, but all good things must come to an end. Plus Reigns need the heat Heyman can generate a lot more than Brock does at this time in their respective careers.
In the eyes of the fans Reigns is lacking in credibility as a top guy – putting him with Paul Heyman gives him instant credibility. The fans think Reigns is smug and undeserving and he can’t cut a good promo. Put him with Heyman and he can play up the smugness and has the best talker in the company there to cut his promos for him.
Then you have Brock as the ass kicking warrior, out for revenge and his WWE Title – instant babyface. He doesn’t need to talk a lot, his actions speak louder than any words. Plus I think a lot of fans don’t give Brock enough credit for his promo work. Sure, on a live mic he’s not the strongest, but in those UFC style sit-down interviews, there’s few better in that environment. Plus they can record a few of those and use them to keep Brock fresh in people’s minds on a more regular basis than they have in the past.
When Brock isn’t around, you’ve got Heyman to brag about what Reigns did to the unstoppable beast. You’ve got him to remind the fans how Reigns is the WWE Champion when all of them thought he couldn’t do it. Plus you have guys like Cena, Ziggler, Bryan and others who can work with Reigns in the build up to the rematch with Brock, which would be at Summerslam.
I’m not saying it’s a perfect idea. Hell, they could keep the Title on Brock, then have Rollins cash-in on him and he takes the Title and is then chased by Reigns. Or Brock keeps the Title and the TV and house shows are headlined by Cena with the US Title and someone like Bryan or Ziggler with the IC. Then Reigns can be built back up by taking out someone like Wyatt – or even battling The Authority and getting a big win over HHH at some point.
Like I said, tons of different options, loads of different ideas and a plethora of ways this whole thing could play out at WrestleMania and in the following months. What was once a foregone conclusion for a WrestleMania main event is now the most intriguing and interesting match on the card. What a difference Brock Lesnar makes.
As for the rest of the WrestleMania 31 card? Well, it’s not the most inspiring I’ve seen in my twenty five years of watching WrestleMania. Then again I do find myself saying that most years. It’s not a bad card, just with such lacklustre build up and the lack of The Streak being on the line, it feels a little flat.
That tug of war over the belt between Brock and Reigns didn’t exactly get me all fired up to see them battle. What a lame final image for the main event of a WrestleMania – two dudes acting like kids in the playground fighting over their favourite toy!
Anyway, as for the show itself. Sting and HHH should be a fun spectacle. It’ll be great to see Sting at WrestleMania and the crowd should eat this up with both hands and ask for more.
Cena and Rusev should be a solid match, I really enjoyed their last encounter.
Taker and Wyatt is really interesting, just to see if Taker can still go at this level. It’s a great chance for Wyatt to get some heat and interest back in his character; which has certainly died off since they split The Wyatt Family up for reasons no one has been able to explain to me.
Rollins and Orton feels pointless because Randy already killed him to death on RAW two weeks ago, so why bother having the match? I get the feeling this year will be a big one for Rollins, but I can see him losing here and the crowd not being best pleased.
The IC Title ladder match will be a great spectacle and I’m expecting a crowd pleasing win for either Ambrose, Bryan or Ziggler – with my money on Bryan.
The Andre Battle Royal is what it is – a collection of heatless mid card losers, fighting over the chance to be this year’s Cesaro: the man who Vince forgot. I expect an appearance by Sheamus in this one and he’ll probably win it. Either him or Ryback. Simply for comedic effect. God love The Big Guy, he’s such a nerd.
But for me WrestleMania isn’t really about the build-up, or the matches, or the spectacle. It’s about the fact that every year I travel across the country and spend a few days with my brother. We load up on beers, snacks and smark, sit down to mark out to everything good and bad that makes WrestleMania what it is. This annual tradition is something we both look forward to and now with the added addition of my four year old nephew Eoin – it should be even more fun.
I hope everyone reading this at least has fun watching WrestleMania and that in the weeks and months that follow WWE, Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman give us something worth the massive contract Brock has no doubt been signed too!
As always, thanks for reading and be sure to check out MFX116 – where Sir Ian Trumps, Marc Abrigo and myself preview WM31, as well as dish out the usual MFX hilarity for a few hours. It’s a really fun show and if you’ve never listened to the MFX Podcast before, this will be the perfect starting point.
Until next time…