With previous episodes covering the rise of John Cena and the importance of Evolution, it’s time for “The Next Big Thing”. Straight away, Paul Heyman sums up the significance of Brock Lesnar’s debut run was. Lasting just two years, he calls the period an “enormous contribution”.
Scouted during his college days by WWE, Lesnar would become an NCAA Heavyweight Champion in amateur wrestling. We’re quickly told about his time in Ohio Valley Wrestling with Batista commenting “there was nothing physically he [Lesnar] couldn’t do”. Lesnar’s shown as being fast and powerful yet he also knew of his qualities, ultimately becoming impatient. Having given WWE/OVW personnel an ultimatum of “move me up or I leave,” Lesnar soon worked dark matches yet was on the receiving end of poor advice from agents/producers. Heyman offers different advice which leads to Vince McMahon pairing the two together ahead of Lesnar’s on-screen debut.
His arrival the night after WrestleMania X8 has been documented plenty of times in the past. As his path of destruction starts to take momentum, former RAW head writer Brian Gewirtz explains how each year they’d pick three people to “get over” the coming year. Unsurprisingly Lesnar is the obvious first choice.
“If Not Now, When?
Throughout 2002, Lesnar had a rocket strapped to his back. First becoming King of the Ring in June, defeating Hulk Hogan with a bear hug before facing The Rock at SummerSlam. Both Gewirtz and Prichard question if Lesnar was ready to take such a big role, yet there was no one else ready to step into a role. They needed someone fresh and different. The encounter against The Rock considerably marks a turning of the tide as the crowd shifted their support towards the newcomer. Although Lesnar’s rise to becoming WWE Undisputed Heavyweight Champion was fast, in hindsight, it made perfect sense.
One theme that is introduced is that Lesnar is a private person. Kurt Angle sums it up by saying “to a certain extent, he doesn’t like people”. As the timeline moves into 2003, Lesnar’s frustrations seem to start bubbling underneath. Nevertheless, he’d soon add ‘Royal Rumble’ winner to his growing list of accomplishments, leading to a memorable match with Angle at WrestleMania XIX.
With both men seen as accomplished athletes, there were expectations that they would deliver a wrestling clinic. As we all know, the match would be remembered for something else – that shooting star press spot. Suggested by Angle in the weeks beforehand, it’s well-known Lesnar failed to execute the move. Heyman says it was an example of Lesnar being given bad advice.
Lesnar In Demand
As WWE Champion again, Lesnar’s spot as the top guy was cemented yet Lesnar’s frustrations continued to grow. Tired of the travel and the pressure placed in, along with hard-hitting house show matches with the likes of Angle, it seems he wanted a lighter workload but wouldn’t be given it. “You’ll get used to it kid,” says Prichard. To cope with the demands, Lesnar purchased his own plane. Heyman comments on how Lesnar “quickly grew to become miserable”. As Gewirtz later points out, having an unhappy worker wasn’t healthy for everyone for Lesnar to be there.
2004 begins with Lesnar deciding to quit. We’re not shown or told about him dropping the title to Eddie Guerrero. Instead, we jump straight to WrestleMania XX – a characteristic this series has a habit of doing. “The internet” is credited with why the hostile Madison Square Garden crowd was towards Lesnar and Goldberg. With both imminently leaving the company, they receive “boring” chants, and if you’ve seen the match – you can’t blame them. It’s gone down, perhaps wrongly, as one of the worst ‘Mania matches ever.
Backstage, there’s a mixed feeling of surprise and resentment towards Lesnar’s departure. “We did this all for you, and this is how you’re repaying us?,” says Gewirtz. As a fan, I have the same feeling. This was a guy who was given it all, then within two years, he quit.
Life After WWE
While other episodes have ideally finished at a suitable cutoff point, this one goes beyond the “Ruthless Aggression” era. We’re told about Lesnar seeking out new challenges; first in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings. Although he failed to make the cut beyond pre-season, JBL oddly praises Lesnar’s spell as he hadn’t played American football for a decade.
Undoubtedly, his foray into MMA is more successful. According to Angle, it’s a lifestyle that is more suitable for Lesnar. He can stay home, train and then go to one event every few months to fight. Having debuted in UFC in 2008, he’d become Heavyweight Champion the following year with UFC President Dana White stating the likelihood of successfully transitioning from WWE to UFC as “literally impossible”.
By 2012, Lesnar is back in WWE. Narrator Michael Rapaport hypes up present-day Lesnar, stating “it’s like he never left”. Sure, he’s still as dominating, but after eight years back, very little has changed. That’s probably because he’s hardly seen on our screens, but that is a gripe I’ll save for another time*.
When I saw there would be a whole episode dedicated to Lesnar, I doubted if it’d be worthwhile or we’d learn anything new. Although Lesnar’s unhappiness has been covered in the past, along with his meteoric rise, this 40-minute overview just about shows how and why his two-year run was important to WWE’s longevity.
*Read Chris White’s discussion on Lesnar’s “Underappreciated Magnicence” here.
All pics and videos courtesy of WWE