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Mr. Tito Presents... WHAT IF Brock Lesnar Did NOT Leave the WWE After Wrestlemania 20 during 2004?
By Mr. Tito
Aug 18, 2013 - 12:40:38 AM
Wrestlemania 20... It was supposed to be the biggest WWE show ever with it being the 20th anniversary show of the "Wrestlemania" event and held at the Madison Square Garden arena in New York City. It should have been a proud moment for Vince McMahon whose hard work made the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and later World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) a powerhouse in the wrestling industry. Instead, it was an end to an era with many all-time greats leaving the company at once or in the weeks to come. After Wrestlemania 20, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the Rock, Mick Foley, Bill Goldberg, and Brock Lesnar were all GONE from from the WWE. Needing to push someone new to the World Titles, Vince finally gave Chris Benoit his long awaited World Title victory... In hindsight for what happened during June 2007, a major mistake.
I could imagine that when it comes to box set or "best of" video collections, Vince McMahon is ashamed of Wrestlemania 20. Not only with Chris Benoit, but the mass exodus of wrestlers that depleted the roster and forced his hand to push new stars. Of the exiting wrestlers, none of them hurt worse than Brock Lesnar's departure. Lesnar was supposed to be the "next big thing" and the torch carrier from the Attitude Era. In fact, that was the main purpose of the SummerSlam 2002 booking. The Rock put Lesnar over 100% clean in the main event and instantly made Lesnar a star. For almost the next 2 years, Brock Lesnar was the king of the Smackdown brand and his star power, along with a great supporting cast and impressive booking by Paul Heyman, helped make the brand extension of 2002 work. In fact, Smackdown had more viewers than RAW for most of Lesnar's reign on Smackdown.
But then Lesnar left...
Reportedly, and from the actual insider sources I did have at the time, Brock Lesnar was burned out and beat up from the WWE road schedule while being disgruntled with the backstage scene. My sources told me that the arrival of former WCW wrestler Bill Goldberg upset many backstage in the WWE during 2003. Not that they had any real problems with Goldberg the person specifically, but the special treatment that the WWE gave Goldberg. While the $ amount on the contract was disliked, it was the limited dates granted per that high pay that irritated existing WWE wrestlers. Goldberg's deal specifically stated that he only had to worked televised (for one brand, Mondays) and Pay Per View events. In other words, no Houseshows or other WWE appearances. Depending on how many Mondays were in a month, Goldberg might have worked 5 times during a month while the rest of the roster, which included Main Eventers, worked televised shows, Pay Per Views, Houseshows, and had to make multiple appearances on behalf of the WWE (autograph signings, etc.). Many wrestlers were extremely envious of that contract, especially after former WWE/WCW wrestlers and NWO stable members Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash had similar deals in 2002.
Though Brock was paid well by the WWE, he had to perform at all Smackdown tapings, houseshows, make scheduled fan or company appearances, and wrestle all Pay Per Views. It was an exhausting schedule for Lesnar and the injuries might have been piling up. Just the night before Bill Goldberg arrived, Lesnar botched a Shooting Star Press at Wrestlemania 19 that resulted in Lesnar landing on his head and caused a concussion. Having to regularly wrestle an aggressive Kurt Angle and big hosses like Undertaker or Big Show probably left Lesnar sore for much of his tenure on the Smackdown roster. The tension was probably building and Lesnar probably thought in his mid-20's: "is this what I want to do in the prime of my life?". It was believed, by my sources, that Bill Goldberg's entry into the WWE with that light schedule but highly paid contract was the beginning of the end for Lesnar.
He reportedly began to complain regularly and loudly backstage about the road schedule and eventually how he was creatively used. He was clearly the STAR of Smackdown yet he was worked hard the rest of the roster. Creatively, he questioning the direction of his character and the feuds he was in. You have to remember that he was in the thick of 2003 when lead writer for Smackdown, Paul Heyman, was beginning to argue with the McMahons backstage. There was a real jealousy over Heyman by certain backstage factions for how Smackdown was successfully defeating RAW in viewership and Heyman disagreed on the wrestlers that the McMahons specifically wanted pushed. McMahons thought Albert then rebooked as the A-Train would be the next big thing (he is Tensai today, tagging up with Brodus Clay). Heyman tried to push him and it just didn't work. Heyman was blamed for Albert/A-Train's failure... There was a dislike by Heyman over Stephanie McMahon being "General Manager" of the Smackdown brand and having to deal with the Vince McMahon vs. Hulk Hogan feud shoved into the spotlight on Smackdown. Yes, the Mr. America stuff included. Heyman was removed as Smackdown head writer by early 2004.
The proposed booking for 2004's Smackdown was to (a) give Eddie Guerrero the WWE Title at No Way Out 2004 (which did happen, although Lesnar was upset that he could defend the title at Wrestlemania - reportedly), (b) have Lesnar DEFEAT the departing Bill Goldberg at Wrestlemania 20 to build him strong for his next opponent, and (c) have Lesnar feud with the newly turned "Deadman" Undertaker after Wrestlemania 20. In other words, it was very likely that the outcome of the Undertaker would not be favorable to Lesnar and it was reported at the time that he was disgruntled with that booking. Unhappy with the WWE, Brock Lesnar ended up resigning from the WWE and cited that he wanted to try other things in athletics... Such as trying out for the National Football League (NFL), which he did for the Minnesota Vikings. Ultimately, he didn't make the Vikings team, but he can say that suited up for a few Preseason games and was at least respected enough to be granted a chance to play in the NFL.
Lesnar was able to resign from the WWE but a no-complete clause signed for the release from the contract caused issue. By leaving the WWE, he had agreed no-complete clause was in effect until 2010 for no sports entertainment (other pro wrestling companies) or mixed martial arts companies. In other words, Vince didn't want his hard work of promoting Brock to become a known name to be used so easily in TNA Wrestling or Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). This clause would put Lesnar and the WWE Corporation in a court battle for the next few years as Lesnar worked with New Japan Pro Wrestling and later wanted to become a mixed martial arts fighter. The WWE and Lesnar came to a mutual settlement during April 2006 that would allow Lesnar to participate in Mixed Martial Arts. This opened the door for an eventual successful UFC career. When several serious injuries mounted for Lesnar, he retired from UFC and made his WWE return on the night after Wrestlemania 28 by attacking John Cena on Monday Night RAW. He's been enjoying about a $5 million per year, with very limited appearances, contract ever since... Funny how Lesnar got what he wanted from the WWE, but it took them 10 years...
BUT WHAT IF Brock Lesnar did NOT leave the WWE in 2004, after Wrestlemania 20?
Before you go deep into the timeline rabbit hole, you have to consider what was actually booked for Brock Lesnar at the time. First of all, Brock was in fact scheduled lose to Eddie Guerrero for the WWE Title at No Way Out 2004, which Brock Lesnar was reportedly upset by and may have helped contribute to his resignation. Lesnar wanted to head into the "Dream Match" against Bill Goldberg as WWE Champion. Eddie still wins the WWE Title in this alternative timeline. Without Brock Lesnar leaving the WWE, Brock Lesnar defeats Bill Goldberg at Wrestlemania 20. Bill Goldberg obviously loses because that was Goldberg's last contracted match in the WWE and Lesnar is now staying. When Lesnar resigned from the WWE, the WWE gave him the ultimate "slap in the face" by having Goldberg defeat Lesnar at Wrestlemania 20 instead. Doesn't happen now with Lesnar staying... Brock Lesnar defeating Bill Goldberg was to create momentum for his next feud following Wrestlemania 20...
After Wrestlemania 20, Brock Lesnar was booked to immediately feud with the Undertaker. As you'll recall from Wrestlemania 20, the Undertaker returned as the "Deadman" gimmick and the WWE wanted to push that gimmick return hard. Reportedly, the booking plans were for Lesnar to not only work a program with Undertaker, but to put the Undertaker over. Certainly, there would be some payback here because the Undertaker did put Lesnar over on the Smackdown brand, but Lesnar thought he was the star of the Smackdown brand and shouldn't be used as the put over guy. This booked feud after Wrestlemania 20 also reportedly contributed to Lesnar leaving the WWE. But if Lesnar stays, he has to follow company orders and work the program with the Undertaker. If you ever wondered why Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker stared each other down at the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event #121, it could be from the fact that Lesnar scoffed at wrestling and putting over the Undertaker after Wrestlemania 20.
As a reward for a disgruntled Brock Lesnar putting over the Undertaker, I believe that Lesnar defeats Eddie Guerrero for the WWE Title by SummerSlam 2004. As you'll recall in the real timeline, after Wrestlemania 20, Eddie Guerrero soon wrestled a program with John "Bradshaw" Layfield (JBL), the rebranded Bradshaw character. The WWE soon debuted the gimmick after Wrestlemania 20 and rushed JBL to a WWE Title program with Guerrero. It is difficult to forecast whether or not JBL would (a) exist or (b) be rushed to a WWE Title program if Brock Lesnar stays. Certainly, JBL was counted on to help fill the gap in the main event scene that Lesnar left in 2004. Kurt Angle had neck surgery in April 2004 and didn't return until June. While Brock Lesnar endures a program with the Undertaker, there could still be a need for JBL to become the J.R. Ewing based gimmick and give Eddie Guerrero a program while he awaits Lesnar. In fact, the timeline could still remain that JBL defeats Guerrero at Judgment Day 2004 to become WWE Champion but then loses the actual rematch at either Badd Blood 2004 (which neither JBL or Guerrero wrestled, oddly enough) or Great American Bash 2004. I believe that Eddie needed someone to feud with no matter what and it's Kurt Angle's injury that ends up creating JBL, not Brock Lesnar's departure specifically.
Quite possibly, the WWE could actually retain JBL vs. Undertaker at SummerSlam 2004, as it was already booked, but not for the WWE Title. Then, Brock Lesnar could get his WWE Title back from Eddie Guerrero there. And then the WWE turns its focus to the guy who was going to become the company's next big babyface: John Cena.
With or without Brock Lesnar, John Cena was destined to become a star. In fact, much of his character evolved when he was calling out Brock Lesnar. With Kurt Angle suffering from an ongoing neck injury, they had a need for midcarders to step up and challenge Brock Lesnar from time to time. John Cena had a program with Brock and that's where his finisher, now called the Attitude Adjustment in the PG Era of the WWE, came from. It used to be called the "FU Drop" to mock Brock Lesnar. What made John Cena cool during 2003 is that his character showed absolutely no fear when mocking Brock Lesnar. It really caught on with fans and I believe elevated Cena's popularity at the time. If Cena was getting over as a midcarder calling out Lesnar, think about how well it would work during a Main Event push.
I believe that if Brock Lesnar stays with the WWE after Wrestlemania 20, you can count on Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena being the Wrestlemania 21 WWE Title match for the Smackdown roster. That match will be HUGE and just as JBL did Cena the favor, Brock Lesnar will put over John Cena huge for the WWE Title. Whether it was JBL or Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 21, John Cena was destined to become WWE Champion by that event. I figure JBL becomes a strong United States champion during 2004-2005 instead and becomes a stronger heel to challenge for World Titles during 2005-2006, particularly for the Smackdown roster. JBL still exists because he was a singles wrestler through 2004 and was making his knowledge of financial markets more known outside of the WWE (he wrote a WWE sponsored book in 2003 titled Have More Money Now) to create the JBL character. It was coming...
After Wrestlemania 21, your guess is as good as mine... Reason? In the real timeline, John Cena was moved to the RAW roster during the 2005 Draft and took the WWE Title with him. Does that still happen with Brock Lesnar still around? Does Brock Lesnar join John Cena in the move to RAW? Does Batista move to the Smackdown roster with the World Heavyweight Title? Does Randy Orton also move to the Smackdown roster? I'm assuming that RAW's roster is unaltered with its roster and storyline from Wrestlemania 20 to Wrestlemania 21 (thus, the stable Evolution has broken up). Does Lesnar join Cena on the RAW roster to feud with the likes of Triple H and Shawn Michaels, in addition to John Cena, or does Lesnar stay on Smackdown to feud with Batista and Randy Orton?
I don't know... I'm leaning that he somehow stays on the Smackdown roster because the BIG MONEY feud could have been Brock Lesnar vs. Batista. Lesnar was great and Batista was entering his prime of his career. They could have drawn huge for the Smackdown roster and given many great Pay Per View matches. If they were on the same roster together, SummerSlam 2005 could have seen a huge Brock Lesnar vs. Batista match if the WWE wanted to have the feud immediately. From there, given their Ohio Valley Wrestling roots, feuds with Randy Orton could have occurred. And who knows? Maybe Lesnar is loyal to his fellow Ohio Valley Wrestling friends and assists in getting Shelton Benjamin better booking. After all, they were close and both came from University of Minnesota. Lesnar might be willing to give Benjamin a program and possibly put him over...
The bigger implications of Lesnar staying with the WWE would be his contractual status. According to the Pro Wrestling Torch, Brock Lesnar signed a contract extension during 2003 that would expire during June 30th, 2010. Hence, when Lesnar quit the WWE after Wrestlemania 20 during 2004, the WWE required him to sign a no-compete clause to not perform for any pro wrestling or mixed martial arts companies through the same contract expiration time period. Once Brock Lesnar failed in his attempt to join the Minnesota Vikings for the National Football League (NFL), he was soon attempting to circumvent his no-compete clause for various pro wrestling and mixed martial arts ventures without any thought of returning to the WWE. If he stays with the WWE after Wrestlemania 20, he's still disgruntled... Is he bold enough to challenge the WWE system?
He's stuck in a contract... But is he a big enough star to challenge for higher pay and lesser time worked? After all, he disliked the high pay but fewer dates contracts of the former WCW workers (Hogan, Nash, Hall, and Goldberg) and the irony is that from 2011-2013, he's become THAT highly paid working few dates wrestler that he loathed from 2002-2004. Can Brock Lesnar utilize any form of leverage? By 2005, maybe not... John Cena was getting over as a big star and Batista did pretty well as a main eventer. Those 2 wrestlers might have reduced the need for Brock Lesnar anyway. Certainly, having Lesnar around between 2004 to 2011 would have been nice for the WWE, but could Lesnar have risen the the drawing heights of past superstars like Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, or the Rock and later, John Cena? Lesnar could make his contractual concerns with the WWE, but the WWE could point to John Cena and Batista existing and drawing well anyway.
Lesnar is better off now than if he would have stayed with the WWE. Why? He fought for and was successful within Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) from 2008-2011. His success within UFC made him a bigger star to command the huge $5 million per year, limited dates contract in the WWE. However, if Lesnar sticks with the WWE, no Ultimate Fighting Championship or he's too banged up to do well in UFC from the WWE career. In the real timeline, between 2005 through 2007, he wrestled for New Japan Pro Wrestling, but it wasn't grueling like the WWE road schedule of TV once a week with 3-4 houseshows plus a Pay Per View and many scheduled appearances. Lesnar was well preserved by the time he fought for UFC during 2008.
What happens to UFC without Brock Lesnar if he decides to stay with the WWE? Well, UFC was growing without Brock Lesnar before 2008. Mixed Martial Arts took over the fighting market from professional boxing which died during the late 1990's. With or without Brock Lesnar, UFC would still be huge. However, Brock Lesnar may have sped up UFC's growth by inviting many pro wrestling fans and anyone who knew of Brock Lesnar to watch UFC. Additionally, I believe Lesnar's involvement with UFC validated amateur wrestling as a great means to prepare one for a mixed martial arts career. For a brief period, Lesnar gave UFC a huge superstar that transcended the sport, even if he'd flip off the crowd and embarrass sponsors. Lesnar helped push several UFC Pay Per View events above 1,000,000 buys, which is getting into Wrestlemania buyrate territory. Brock Lesnar was important to UFC's growth, but Dana White was growing the company in leaps and bounds before Lesnar arrived.
In summary, IF Brock stays with the WWE after Wrestlemania 20 during 2004... I believe he endures the program with the Undertaker, gets his WWE Title back from Eddie Guerrero by SummerSlam 2004, puts over John Cena at Wrestlemania 21 (instead of JBL, who is still successful but at a slower pace instead), and then draws huge money with Batista possibly on the Smackdown brand after the 2005 Draft. From there, who knows? He had a contract that would last until June 2010... You'd figure that a Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar and/or Shawn Michaels vs. Brock Lesnar probably happens. Hard to say how long Lesnar's body would have held up through 2010. John Cena and Randy Orton, 2 fellow 2002 Ohio Valley Wrestling "Class of 2002" wrestlers, have held up well and are still very active on the WWE roster. Brock Lesnar's first match during 2012 was in fact against John Cena at Extreme Rules 2012 and was many publication's "Match of the Year".
I'll tell you what would NOT happen if Brock Lesnar stayed in the WWE during 2004... His SummerSlam 2013 match against CM Punk. That match is sure to entertain and his recent Pay Per View drawing return probably took an abrupt 2004 exit in order to find himself with other avenues (UFC, notably) before coming full circle back to the WWE.
I'd argue with the existence of John Cena and Batista, the WWE was able to absorb the loss of Brock Lesnar and business didn't drop off all that much.
So just chill til the next episode...
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