QUESTION OF THE DAY: When do you think Brock should face Cena? Who do you think Brock should face at Mania next year?
This is about the time I usually go on an unspoken hiatus from the WWE. Of course, I still watch Raw and SD and I still write columns, but after Wrestlemania I usually mentally check out for awhile. It’s just such a step down to go from Wrestlemania season to a remainder of the year that doesn’t have anywhere near the hype or the history or the motivation.
However, Brock Lesnar came back to the WWE and gave John Cena the F5.
I could end the column right there. Merely prompting you to close your eyes and just recall the image of Lesnar’s face being displayed on the Tron just before his music hit for the first time in over eight years probably would’ve been enough to generate a ton of discussion about what the next year may bring. Yet, I felt the need to dive further into this topic. Perhaps, in doing so, I’ll be able to snap myself out of my post-Mania 28 funk and stay energized about the product.
I want to take you back ten years. I’d just watched the classic between Rock and Hulk Hogan that re-ignited my passion for wrestling that has carried over to this day and, the next night on Raw, this guy who is quick as a cat by strong as an ox shows up with Paul Heyman and mauls everyone. Brock Lesnar had arrived. By Summerslam’s end just a few months later, he was the WWE Champion. He just mowed through everyone and did it in impressive fashion. People say Kurt Angle was a prodigy in the ring…well, Lesnar topped him, if you ask me. His first several major matches were all borderline classics. That match he had with Rock at Summerslam was incredible considering how Lesnar had zero big match experience in the WWE. He looked right at home in that pressure packed situation. His work with Taker in the months that followed was equally as impressive, especially the Hell in a Cell match at No Mercy. I find it difficult to recall a feud that involved Brock that did not feature a match that I recall as being “very good.” The Mania match with Kurt Angle was incredible; their two return matches excellent. The title match with Eddie Guerrero at No Way Out is a timeless classic. Even his matches with Big Show were memorable.
Lesnar had a better two year run than most have in an entire career. You could put his string of matches from August ’02 to February ’04 against any 16-18 month run that anyone has ever had, quite frankly. He was that good. Personally, I was a huge fan of the Next Big Thing. I thought his skill set as a wrestler was the absolute perfect combination. If The Rock was the prototype for personality and look, then Lesnar had to be considered the prototype for in-ring skills. His match with Rock showed he could be an equal with an all-time showman, his work with Taker showed he could brawl, his work with Show displayed his affinity for grappling with bigger athletes to showcase his power, his series with Angle demonstrated his wrestling acumen, and the classic with Guerrero (along with the TV matches he had with Rey Mysterio and Chris Benoit) rounded out his ability to have successful bouts with men of all sizes.
I have no idea if Brock can still do any of that. I just know that he’s excelled at everything he has ever done in the grappling arts. I would prefer that the WWE eased him back into sports entertainment and not rush to have him face Cena. That match, by my recollection of Lesnar combined with my respect for Cena, should be a great match that gets plenty of advanced hype before the trigger is pulled. There are plenty of warm ups that Lesnar can use to knock off some of the ring rust and even develop some new weapons in his arsenal from his UFC Championship days. Kofi Kingston, Ezekiel Jackson, and Great Khali come to mind as early opponents that he could sufficiently dominate while building back up his reputation as not just an outsider, but a legitimately talented and dangerous wrestling star. The match with Cena awaits, but I’d hold off on it until Summerslam if I had the book. I cannot think of a more fitting main-event for the second biggest PPV of the year.
No matter the booking decisions, I am thrilled to see him back in the WWE. I’m not sure what rivalries that he will have in the coming year, but I’m going to sit back and enjoy it. This gives me an excuse to continue with my Mania attitude of watching as purely a fan without the critic hat.
I’m not sure I could be more excited about a non-Mania showdown than I would be for Cena vs. Lesnar, though. Part of what makes the story of Lesnar laying out Cena so intriguing is that they already have such history. Unquestionably compelling is the return of the guy that was supposed to be in John Cena’s spot. Remember, Lesnar was the guy that main-evented the first Mania that he was ever a part of on a card that also featured HBK, Y2J, Triple H, Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and The Rock. During the run he started at Summerslam ’02 and finished at Mania XX, Lesnar was 1A to Triple H’s alpha #1 position in the WWE. The WWE felt so comfortable with him as a top guy that they separated the world titles and split the PPVs. Before he decided to up and quit, he was going to be the guy that faced Triple H in the match of the era at Wrestlemania 21. If Triple H was THE MAN, then Lesnar was THE GUY. It was a two-man ship. Think of all that might’ve been had Lesnar stuck around.
Lesnar leaving changed the entire landscape of the WWE.
Randy Orton’s push was rushed because of it. They needed someone to erase the thought of Lesnar being the youngest World Champion at 25 years of age, so they made Orton the youngest at 24. Randy bombed as a face, lost three years of his career to various levels of main-event irrelevancy, and has never ascended to the heights that some predicted.
Batista became a star because of it. Orton flopped and the fans connected with Batista. The Animal made the most of it and subsequently became the second biggest star of the generation. He took Lesnar’s spot in the Mania 21 main-event and went on to have two of the other biggest matches of the last several Wrestlemanias, along with countless other main-events and World title runs. One day, Batista will be in the Hall of Fame.
Cena’s rise would have probably happened anyway. He would’ve been positioned as the next opponent to Lesnar had Brock stuck around. They’d faced each other before and foreshadowed what could’ve been a bright future. You honestly have to wonder if Cena would’ve ended up the face of the company if Lesnar stuck around. Huge star? No doubting that. Main-eventer? No denying it. But face of the company? There’s a possibility that it wouldn’t have happened because Brock had a healthy ego on him and they gave him the world before he’d ever earned a continent. He was an unreal athlete, a great wrestler, and one of my favorites of that era, but he had the attitude that could’ve made life very difficult for fellow top superstars like Cena. (Doc’s Note – after writing that last night, I woke up this morning to reports that Lesnar hates Cena…go figure).
Because of how Lesnar left and all that ensued from his decision, the WWE is a different place now than it probably would’ve been. How different is anyone’s guess, but Lesnar’s return opens the door from some huge matches in the year that he’s back. I think Orton’s story against Lesnar could be unbelievably interesting. Orton has a bone to pick. Of course, there’s the potential for rematches against Taker and even Rock. The Streak against a guy that could quite possibly plow through the rest of the roster in the next 12 months? That’s definitely got my interest. A match against Rock, putting the biggest mainstream sports figure to ever be an active member of the WWE roster against the biggest mainstream figure to ever be an active member of the WWE roster? Color me intrigued by that, too. Triple H could be an ideal Wrestlemania opponent next year, as well. There’s no denying the interest in seeing the Game face the guy that he arguably had sent to Smackdown to avoid jobbing to him.
In the meantime, it’s Cena vs. Lesnar. I don’t think that they can afford to wait a year for that; not with Lesnar on TV a lot throughout the year. This will be very difficult for the WWE writers to mess up. It writes itself. I’m be curious to see if Lesnar is up to the challenge of doing what it takes to make this rivalry into big business. It certainly CAN be and we know that Cena will do what it takes, but will Brock be motivated? Time will tell. Sit back and enjoy the ride again…