Brock Lesnar: The Part-Time Problem in WWE
With Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena looming at SummerSlam, we wonder how much good this angle does for the company.
Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena. We saw it a decade ago, we saw it in 2012, and we’re seeing it again at SummerSlam. Over the years we’ve seen plenty of feuds rekindled and the same two guys have matches against each other (Cena vs. Orton, anyone?).
I get it. Sometimes you have to go back to the well because you’re short on ideas or because it makes money to rehash rivalries. If Bret Hart were still able to wrestle, how many times do you think we would have seen Bret vs. HBK since November of ’97? But what about when the WWE brings in part-time guys for a match or two, does that really help the business overall? We’re going to try to answer that with one of the company’s part-time go-to guys: Brock Lesnar.
Bringing in someone part-time or for a one-shot isn’t anything new. Back in the days of the territories, many of the guys worked part-time across North America, but that was mostly to keep the territory fresh and to not have the same feuds over and over. Celebrities were sometimes brought in to draw fans to the shows, but we didn’t get bombarded with famous people in the business until Vince Jr. threw the first WrestleMania, where Mr. T was involved in the main event.
Bringing back guys who used to be in the business isn’t anything new, either. Shawn Michaels left and came back twice and the fans still loved him. Even Batista came back after a few years off, although not to a terribly grateful crowd (partly to do with being aligned with “The Authority”). To use celebrities or athletes who aren’t wrestlers isn’t revolutionary, but is the temporary draw really worth hurting the company like it is with a risk like Brock Lesnar?
Remember when Lesnar returned to the WWE a few years back and Triple H put him over saying Lesnar was going to bring “legitimacy” to the WWE? We know he left the WWE and eventually became the UFC Heavyweight Champion, but don’t insult your audience by saying that this guy is going to make your workers look good. That was really the first mistake the company made with Lesnar since his return. It was a big one.
Since Brock has made more of a name for himself since his first WWE run, they weren’t going to just stick him in the ring against just anyone. He had his matches with Cena and Triple H, and took a share of losses that hurt him a bit. When you have a monster, especially a guy who is a legitimate UFC champion, and you bring him in part-time for your company, you really shouldn’t have him losing matches cleanly. Otherwise, where is the draw for another match with him down the road?
In other words, if Lesnar loses to Cena, who is considered the top guy in the company, who is going to want to see Brock vs. someone who isn’t as good as Cena?
Now before anyone brings up the Rock and how he did something similar, there are important differences between the two men. First and foremost, the Rock has credibility with the WWE fans (let’s not use that awful "universe" term, okay?). Even though he left and was gone for 7 years, the WWE fans welcomed him back with open arms after acknowledging and apologizing for being away from the company for so long. Even though he promised he wouldn’t leave again and that the WWE was his home, he’s only been seen once in the last year-and-a-half, but that still hasn’t stopped the fans from caring about him. The Rock was not only one of the biggest stars to come out of sports entertainment in the last 25 years, he’s likeable, can put guys over (and it doesn’t hurt the way fans see him), and the man can still put asses in seats.
With Lesnar, you’re taking a part-timer, who is only back because of physical issues he had during his time in the UFC, who disrespected your company a decade ago, and giving him things he not only hasn’t earned, but doesn’t deserve. Brock Lesnar broke The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak, yet what did it mean in the long run? Nothing. The only person who really benefitted from it has been Paul Heyman. How much heat does Heyman get every time he reminds us he is “the one behind the 1 in 21-1”?
I can’t argue that it’s been great for Heyman as a heel manager, but what about for Brock? It really hasn’t done anything for him, especially since he’s been off TV for months. It certainly hasn't done anything for the company that built up the Undertaker's legend and kept him undefeated twenty-one times at WrestleMania. Pinning the Undertaker at WrestleMania and breaking his streak should have been the biggest push any wrestler in the company could have gotten. For example: it could have been used to catapult Bray Wyatt, who has the potential to be the closest thing to the next Undertaker, and fans wouldn’t have even been as disappointed by Taker’s loss.
Now Lesnar is back to fight John Cena for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Why should we care? We’ve seen them fight before and we know Cena can beat Brock. To make things even worse, not only are they hyping the match the way they are, but on the August 4th edition of Monday Night RAW they announced that if you tuned into the WWE Network right after the show, they were going to re-air the Extreme Rules 2012 match between Cena and Lesnar. Why would you build up a match like this and want people to pay to see it, but then show a match with the same two opponents that happened just two years ago? Has so much changed in that time, other than the WWE World Heavyweight Title being on the line now, that we should pay to see another match between them?
Let’s be totally open about this: there is a 95% chance Brock is going to beat John Cena for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam. I’m not talking about this like I just read it in a dirtsheet. Take into account the hype behind the match, how Lesnar said he came back for the title, that Lesnar lost to Cena two years ago, and Lesnar's momentum going into this match after defeating the Undertaker at WrestleMania 30. And here’s a little bonus to think about: even though Lesnar is only a part-timer, he is booked for SummerSlam, the RAW the next night, the RAW the Monday before the Night of Champions ppv, and for Night of Champions on September 21st.
Now let’s say it’s the end of September already and Brock Lesnar has come and gone. He had his run with Cena for two pay-per-views and whatever happened is over and done with. If Brock is gone, that most likely means that Cena has the title. So then what did Brock’s brief run here do for the business, Cena, and for himself?
Let’s start with Cena. John Cena is THE top guy. There’s very little you can do to hurt him in the eyes of his fans. And let’s face it, his fans spend so much on his merch and on tix to come see him that the company isn’t going to start burying him. No matter what happens with Brock at SummerSlam, Cena is still strong and still on top. So, feuding with Brock really didn’t do anything for Cena.
As for money, there is a draw for a Cena/Brock match, but is it really enough? People who aren’t already subscribed to the WWE Network most likely aren’t suddenly change their minds to spend $60 for a six month subscription to see Lesnar compete in one, maybe two, high profile matches. As for the people who are already subscribed...well that’s money already in WWE’s pockets.
What it all comes down to is building the business back up, and using part-timers like Brock or even the Rock doesn’t work. Ratings may get a slight boost, but once that main attraction is gone, so are those people who tuned in just to see it. The WWE doesn’t build its audience any more, even though they have a hard enough time holding onto the one they have. They need to stop using quick fixes to get a few thousand more people to tune in for short bursts, and just focus on entertaining the people they have. The fans will take care of the rest.