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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Has Brock Lesnar's WWE Return Been a Success or a Failure?
By The Doc
Jul 22, 2014 - 6:57:06 PM

The Snowman is a genius

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Have you been satisfied with Brock Lesnar’s appearances since his 2012 return or had you hoped for more?

Last night, Brock Lesnar made his expected return to begin hyping the main-event at this year’s Summerslam. The WWE Championship match with John Cena will be just the 7th match in 2 ½ years for The Beast Incarnate. Enough time has passed that it is a legitimate question to ask whether or not his return has been successful. He has had ample opportunity to reacclimate to WWE, who have in turn had plenty of chances to figure out how they wish to use him. Has it worked? Does Lesnar add to the product when he is around, creatively and financially?

The WWE apologists will claim that Lesnar means something significant to the bottom line. Two years ago, that was not in doubt. Though he had no discernible ratings impact, his name added considerably to the buyrates of both Extreme Rules and Summerslam. Based on the shareholder reports at the end of the 2012 fiscal year, Brock’s presence appeared to have paid off. He, at the very least, helped them sustain their all-around economic success from previous years and, at most, was a driving force. Both PPVs at which he performed spiked tens of thousands worth of extra buyers. The argument then turns to the creative department, as it has often been said that he was not handled well in his first year back. I disagree with that, to a large extent. I don’t think he should have lost to Cena, but the lasting memory of their match was not the man who won but the complete annihilation delivered before the pinfall. Lesnar owned Cena. The victor was relevant, but not substantially so. They did the right thing with the Triple H feud that followed and, no matter how generally disappointing their match was at Summerslam ’12, Lesnar won and his mystique was still intact. We’d have to, therefore, explore deeper the reasoning behind his weakened financial impact in 2013.

It’d be easy to say, “His return was botched, so he wasn’t able to keep the momentum going from year 1 to 2.” Color me unimpressed with that thought process. The mistakes began, in my opinion, with forcing the rematch with Triple H for WrestleMania 29. You could see it coming from a mile away, but nobody wanted to see round 2. Wrestling fans don’t like being force fed anything. WWE tried very hard to make it seem like a big deal that they’d be wrestling again. It didn’t matter. As a wrestling historian, particularly for WWE’s biggest event, it would be fair to call Trips vs. Brock II one of the weakest headlining matches in recent WrestleMania memory. I was there at Met Life. The loudest sounds in the stadium during that match were from the generators above the ring. You would have thought that the Total Divas were out there. A month later, they had the final bout in their series and, at the end of the day, Hunter and Brock were able to produce nothing better than solid outings lacking in heat that were worth a single viewing. The second half of the Brock-Trips rivalry had a detrimental effect on Lesnar’s drawing power. WrestleMania makes it more difficult to evaluate monetary influence of one particular wrestler because the cards are loaded, but you could easily assume – based on 2012 – that Lesnar was a major factor in Mania topping one million buys again in 2013. However, Extreme Rules, which had been elevated to near Summerslam/third biggest PPV of the year-caliber numbers a month after Brock’s return, came crashing back to earth with a thud. And then came Summerslam…

Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk at Summerslam ’13 was one of the greatest matches in the history of the Summer Spectacular and made a case for being one of the finest matches in WWE lore, period. All the while, by the end of that match, virtually all of what had made Brock more than “just another main-eventer” was gone. When Brock faced Cena two years ago, he was booked like an unstoppable force. That was what made the match a classic. Combining the elements of the car crash mentality that had made TLC matches so fascinating with the reputation that can only be earned from making a living as a World Champion in a legitimate combat sport, Lesnar’s presentation was like nothing we had really seen before. Booking Triple H to be his near-equal was risky, but The Game had made his name on outsmarting his opponents. It barely worked for me, despite being justifiably criticized by the masses. Yet, when he struggled mightily to put down Punk, that stripped Brock of all of his remaining aura. All due respect to Punk, but my wife put it best the other day during a rare conversation that we had about wrestling. She said, “I like Punk, but I could never take him seriously beating someone up.” I asked her specifically about the Lesnar match, which she watched with me and a few friends last year. She flat out confirmed that which I had quietly felt about Punk for years despite my admiration for everything that he could do in the ring and on the microphone, stating that “It was completely unrealistic that Punk could ever in a million years beat Brock Lesnar.” Potential Summerslam buyers apparently did not view the match as “must see.” You could have chalked up the lack of drawing power for Brock-Trips at Extreme Rules to “it was the third match and the card was weak.” Summerslam suffered from no such shortage in line-up potential, but its numbers came back exactly as they had in 2011 – the year before the Brock spike from 2012.

In physical terms, Brock vs. Punk was the gazelle putting up a fight for 25-minutes against the cheetah. Suspension of disbelief allows wrestling fans to put on a glorious pair of blinders. I was as emotionally invested in Brock-Punk as I had been for any match in the last half decade, but needing interference from Paul Heyman and the assist from a steel chair completed the morphing of Lesnar from legitimately different – a mainstream athletic celebrity - into a mere WWE Superstar. In so many ways, WWE has become like a white noise with rarely any change in the sound. When Brock returned, he was a loud bang. Unfortunately, the Triple H feud began desensitizing the audience to what made him special. By time the Punk feud was over, Lesnar had faded into the white noise. The Taker feud confirmed it in early 2014. Heyman was brilliant in selling Lesnar as a threat, but there’s no better gauge for how well a feud gets over than the year’s most excited crowd. At Mania XXX, you could have heard a gnat fart in the Superdome during their match. It was Taker for God’s sake! The last time that the “Granddaddy” audience had not gone bananas for Taker’s match was so long ago that I can’t even remember it – and I wrote the book on WrestleMania.

There is an argument for Brock having regained his attraction status by surprisingly ending the Streak. As of now, though, it would be incomplete. We need to see some numbers and, frankly, it’s going to be difficult to come by those numbers. You know how much I like statistically analyzing the wrestling business. I have yet to stumble upon the magic formula for comparing the age old PPV formula to WWE Network subscriptions + PPV. It’s not yet transparent enough to accurately quantify. The bottom line, both figuratively and in the literal sense of economics, is that one of the main ways that we’ll be able to assess what being the “1” in “21-1” means for Brock is the manner in which it affects his drawing power. Presumably, we’ve got Summerslam, maybe Royal Rumble, and WrestleMania 31 to figure it out. On the creative end of the spectrum, there are just as many unknowns. Lesnar is set to re-engage Cena approximately six months before the main drag on the Road to Mania. If he wins the title, his limited dates suggest he will then drop the title soon after or put WWE in a very weird position of having a part-time champion for eight months. If he loses at any point before Mania, then gone is the best case scenario for making the most of his Streak-ender by putting over a new star – as obvious a creative direction as there has been in years. If he loses to Cena, it’s over; someone like Roman Reigns defeating him several months later cannot have the same impact and it’s just that simple. Troll the internet all you want, Triple H; if you have a hand in Lesnar losing before he puts over the next main-event player, then it won’t be the fans losing a big opportunity and the money that comes with it, brother. As Steve and I discussed on LOP Radio’s Late Shift last night, Summerslam is turning into a perfect wrestling example of “damned if you; damned if you don’t.” I’d be curious to get reader opinion on how you believe WWE can book themselves out of the situation that they’ve put themselves in.

As we prepare for Brock’s seventh match since 2012, you also have to wonder how all of the above will affect the quality of the match and the crowd’s reaction to it. The last match with Cena was an incredible spectacle. Brock’s last Summerslam match was outstanding. Yet, Brock is sitting at about 33% on delivering in the ring. A decade ago, he set a standard for himself that he hasn’t lived up to. He was as prodigious, if not more so, than Kurt Angle during the first two years of his pro wrestling career. His resume from 2002-2004 was littered with great matches against a wide variety of stylistically different stars from Rock to Taker to Angle to Eddie Guerrero. The problem with being part-time is that you don’t practice. Such is why Lesnar has injured himself and/or his opponent in almost every match. Entertaining as it has been to watch him, he accidentally (or so we assume) busted Cena open at Extreme Rules 2012 and then almost killed himself (or at least his knees) with a mistimed leap over the ropes; then got knocked silly against Trips at Mania 29; then had Big Show reportedly fuming at Royal Rumble 2014; and, the coup de grace, he concussed Taker in what may have been the Deadman’s last match (which led to a dud of an ending to not just the Streak, itself, but the “Streak within the Streak” of classic Taker Mania matches).

To definitely answer the question posed in the header today, “No,” I do not think that Brock Lesnar’s return to WWE has been successful. It has had its moments and we should all be able to agree that it has been nice to have Paul Heyman back in WWE as a by-product of Lesnar’s re-signing, but it’s been a very mixed bag. The two classic matches I loved. The increasing reduction in financial impact does not so much matter to me, personally, but should be on WWE’s radar. By and large, Brock is still a draw and an established name that nobody on the roster can replicate. So, mark it down as successful, economically. Creatively, Brock has contributed very little. As a performer, he was recklessly mesmerizing, at first, but that magic has worn off, leaving him just reckless. In regards to hype, I can honestly say that I have truly been invested in exactly half of his 2012-2014 matches, with the percentage shrinking due to the rematch with Cena that I could not care less about. I hate to say it, but I’m jumping off the Lesnar bandwagon after being a quiet supporter for his entire career.

The question now becomes, at least to me, “Can Brock Lesnar do something to redeem himself?”


5PM EST Wednesday - The Doc Says..."The Doc Says...Battleground is in the Books, Let's Focus on WWE Summerslam"

On this week's episode, The Doc gives his 5-star Review of WWE Battleground. What were the five best matches? Did the event, which looked very good on paper, live up to the hype? Also, Doc offers his Win and Fail of the week from Monday Night Raw. And, finally, the Road to Summerslam has begun. How's the card shaping up in week 1 of the official hype? Brought to you by The WrestleMania Era (Kindle Edition), "The Doc Says" answers all these questions and more!

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