The Next Big Thing is back. That is something people have been saying for days on end, weeks even. Let's just say that the excitement for Brock Lesnar's bold return to the WWE is still running at full blast.
There are very few people in the Universe who are not at least talking about Lesnar and his quickly approaching main event-level showdown against John Cena at Extreme Rules.
However, many people are a bit skeptical of Lesnar. Can he still wrestle? Was he ever really that great of a wrestler in the first place? Is the Next Big Thing really worthy of being considered a premiere player in WWE immediately upon his return?
The answer to those questions will be mostly answered this Sunday on pay-per-view; however, don't doubt Lesnar's natural ability from his first run. Very few men can lay claim to the title of the best big man in WWE history, but Lesnar in his first run had a pretty impressive claim to it.
While he never had too much time to compete with the best of the best, he still managed phenomenal matches in his brief run. His matches with Kurt Angle, the Undertaker, Hulk Higan, the Rock and even Big Show are spectacular matches that simply need to be seen.
Lesnar's natural athleticism is unbelievable, especially with his 300-pound frame. While he is known for his botch at WrestleMania XIX, Lesnar has legitimately hit the Shooting Star Press, a move that men at 200 pounds are scared to attempt.
He can brawl. His strength is unbelievable. His impact and presence are second to almost no one in WWE. He is the complete package in the ring (even though he has been known to be a mess on the mic).
Lesnar has had many great matches, and hopefully he will have more to come in his next year with the company. However, for now, all we can do is look back on what he has done before. The following are the 10 greatest matches of Lesnar's first run with WWE (with videos of all full matches included).
Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle; Summerslam 2003: Angle and Lesnar had in-ring chemistry that most other wrestlers could only dream of. The two battled left and right in classic after classic. Summerslam saw them have a great rematch to their WrestleMania XIX encounter.
Angle played the role of master veteran and Lesnar an angry machine. It was just full of incredible back-and-forth action with great grappling, slams and amazing counters, including a perfect DDT counter of an F5. At Summerslam, there should be no doubting that they had one simply classic match, but their other two phenomenal encounters outweigh this one, making it fall from contention to be in the top 10.
Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena; Backlash 2003: This was Cena still growing, still developing into the star he know is, but don't discount the original encounter between these two in their first match. In fact, go back and watch it before Sunday so you get an idea what these two could do together. Power moves galore and brutal intensity throughout highlight the original encounter.
When watching this match, don't expect it to look anything like their fight Sunday. Sunday will be more about brutality, though, it still probably won't see blood pouring down Lesnar's face like this one had. With Cena now at just about his absolute best as a wrestler, will they top this match? Probably.
Big Show has truly never had a better opponent than Lesnar. These two were made to face off one-on-one, and they did on many occasions. Their matches are never technical masterpieces, obviously, but they are exciting and pure power bouts.
At Judgment Day, they had their greatest encounter, as they battled for 15 minutes in an exciting and hard-hitting stretcher match. While not as iconic as their ring-collapsing SmackDown contest, this is the contest to go back and watch again and again.
One thing to truly watch for in this match is the storytelling. Lesnar's battle to find a way, somehow, to get Show on a stretcher is unique and interesting to watch. His solution in the end is quite the sight.
When he starts driving a forklift down the ramp, you laugh for a second, but then Lesnar jumped off the thing, over the top rope and hits a crossbody on Show in the middle of the ring. That's when you are just held in awe.
Lesnar was the smaller man in this match, but he made the bigger splash in one of the matches that truly solidified his top-star status. Big moves, powerful imagery and sensational moments made this one most fans should watch just for the spectacle.
I will admit right off the bat that I have never and will never be a big fan of Hulk Hogan. What he has done for the WWE is enormous, and I thank him for that. However, I have trouble watching most of his matches start to finish. The formula is too much for me.
However, I cannot deny that in big-match situations, Hogan can elevate the excitement of a match like no other. This match, merely a contest on SmackDown, amazingly had that big-match feeling.
Lesnar and Hogan faced off only this one time, and they tore the roof off the arena. Even though Hogan was, as usual, not at his best wrestling-wise, barely varying his offense, the emotion in the building was enough.
Lesnar dominated proceedings amazingly, kicking out of the Hogan leg drop and taking the offense of Hogan as if it were nothing at most points in the contest. Lesnar even decided not to win off his first F5 as if he wanted to make the match last longer.
Thanks to the help of Paul Heyman and that F5, Lesnar came out with a dominant win by bear hug, causing Hogan to faint from the pain. A pure and simple clean win over Hulk Hogan, making a gigantic statement to the world.
Rey Mysterio's huge opportunity facing Lesnar for the WWE Championship in his town of San Diego on his birthday was a match that showed exactly what Lesnar could do as a complete package. Naturally, Lesnar seemed to feed off smaller opponents, with Rey Mysterio fitting that bill precisely.
In this match, Lesnar didn't simply dominate the smaller cruiserweight, but rather blended with him. The two battled back and forth, with Rey taking down Lesnar at several points, causing him to back up and regroup.
Spots varied from Lesnar chasing Mysterio around the whole ring, to Lesnar flipping himself completely over the top rope to the outside, to a litany of near falls that had many expecting a new champion. All of it was fast paced and exciting, showing off what Lesnar did best which was athletically compete.
While in the end Lesnar got the Brock Lock locked in and made Rey tap, there was never a second before that moment where it didn't seem possible the hometown birthday boy couldn't pull out the win of a lifetime.
What made this match special wasn't the result, but rather the contest itself. Before Rey ever became a World Champion, he became a true contender here. This was a turning point that would very well shape much of Rey's career moving forward. It was exciting and well executed.
This was triple-threat wrestling at its finest. The lines were clearly drawn. Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar were the wrestling competitors looking to just have a great match, while Big Show was the indomitable force in the middle of them.
When the match happened, that is exactly what came about. Show was the monster who at times could take both men at once. Somehow, even with Show dictating much of the pace, the pace was always quick and hard hitting—no dull moments.
Lesnar certainly was the glue in this match, though, as it was his strength and quickness that helped guide the confrontation. Angle fit in as well, but he mostly came into play as the man with weapons ready to win at all cost.
Together, the three told a story without a dull moment. A good share of the time all three men were fighting at the same time, keeping a steady feeling of unpredictability about the whole contest. In the end, Angle would win, but this was about the pacing and strength of the story in the match.
Not many people could put on a better triple threat match than this one, and most that could haven't.
This was the match of Lesnar's career. This was the turning point where Lesnar was passed the torch from the legendary Rock right as Rock was on his way out. Sadly, this wouldn't end up being as monumental as it should have been with Lesnar's sudden exit only a year or so later.
Still, this match should not be overlooked. Both men brought their A-game here. It was a pure brawl at its finest, the type of match that Rock thrived in his entire career.
Battling in the crowd, hard-hitting action, especially from Brock, who assaulted Rock consistently the entire match, an energetic Rock unable to launch any offense against his massive opponent. It all added up to a perfect storytelling experience of the monster and his final coming of age.
As the match continued and Lesnar pulled out more and more power, the crowd got behind the young challenger despite his cheating throughout. You could feel Lesnar stealing away the fans one move at a time.
When Lesnar kicks out of the Rock Bottom, everyone in the arena could feel the change coming, a new champion on the horizon. When Lesnar finally delivered with a thunderous F5, everyone was excited and ready for the bold change, a new man in the company.
This wasn't technical wrestling at its finest or even storytelling at its finest. It was simply pure emotion, and it delivered that in spades.
It is a travesty that this match only truly happened on SmackDown. The fact is that Chris Benoit and Lesnar had undeniable charisma on the same level that Lesnar and Angle had formed over the years. Just one match made this amazing charisma apparent.
These two went all out. Benoit went after Lesnar with a fire, brawling everywhere and anywhere he could while grappling him to the floor inside the ring. Lesnar would answer back by using his amazing strength with incredible quickness to clip and grind down the challenger.
Benoit would try to build up momentum and speed to catch Lesnar off guard only to be countered into even faster power moves, yet every time Lesnar would try to keep Benoit down, he would come back swinging. It was an emotional roller coaster of a contest.
The crowd was perfect, and the action was pretty close to perfect as well. Honestly, not many matches can beat this one, especially matches on TV rather than pay-per-view.
When Benoit turned a slam into a perfectly applied Crippler Crossface and Lesnar tapped out, the crowd went wild, only to realize that the referee was knocked out just moments before. This was coupled with a followup where Chris Benoit would kick out of a groggy referee count after an F5.
Nobody could believe it. Everyone expected the underdog Benoit might actually beat the monster Lesnar; however, the monster champion would have none of it, as he placed Benoit in a vicious submission on the leg that actually would cause Benoit to lose consciousness rather than tap.
All of this out of a Benoit who had faced Cena earlier in the night. It was clearly one of the most purely well-wrestled matches of Lesnar's career coupled with a great, pure story of the underdog being cheated and still never giving up.
It's hard to say at this point what the truly greatest match of Lesnar's career was. These final four are the elite, the pure classics that were left behind in Lesnar's first run as four of the all-time greats. Here it becomes purely subjective.
The first of the four would be one of the best Iron Man matches of all time. Not surprising when you consider Angle, the man tailored made to wrestle Iron Man matches, was in one corner in the match.
The other man, though, Lesnar, proved quite a bit on this night about exactly what he could do as a competitor in the ring. One hour these two brawled in a match that was multi-layered and exciting from beginning to end.
Seeing as Lesnar and Angle were two men tailored made to work together, this was the perfect match to prove just how far that chemistry could go. While early action in the match was more psychological than physical, as Lesnar would delay the action to try and find an opening, once these two started grappling, it was classic.
Lesnar would lose his first fall, intentionally using a steel chair and getting disqualified, but that was actually the beginning of Lesnar's dominance in the contest, gaining three straight falls off a viciously beaten and injured Angle by the 20-minute mark.
This created the great story of a destroyed Angle fighting back as the underdog, which permeated the entire contest. With sudden grappling and release shots, Angle showed everything he had with vicious intensity. Angle pulled out one of the greatest performances of his career while Lesnar perfectly complemented the champion.
Angle pulled every stop in his arsenal. If you have ever wanted to see Angle fly at his best, this is the chance. Axe handle, missile dropkick and a moonsault all purely built up the crowd late into the match. Nine total falls in the match made it captivating throughout for the hyped-up crowd. Angle somehow rallied from 5-2 at one point but still didn't quite win as Lesnar pulled out a cheap finish.
The fact that this great match, full of pure storytelling and great wrestling, was given away on television is almost mind-boggling now. Very few Iron Man matches are better than this one, and none have been free to watch like this classic.
This match right here is pure wrestling at its finest. Eddie Guerrero, the underdog, the sympathetic hero, against the beast Lesnar who would not fall. Guerrero played a perfect small man fighting against everything in his way.
Lesnar was on his way out at this point, but he managed to not only pull out a good match, but an amazing match with Guerrero where the two pulled out a great match that showed an impressive level of connectedness and cohesive ability in their actions.
You could tell right off the bat where this match was headed, as Eddie flew at Lesnar, and he caught Guerrero in his arms as if he were nothing. Lesnar kept up this pure domination throughout with powerful strength in every facet.
Every time Eddie would rally, the crowd got behind him, and the action was elevated further. At one point, as blood poured from his nose, all Lesnar yelled was "Just die!" to Eddie, who never quit.
Everything was thrown into the match from mat-based wrestling as close to college wrestling as you'll ever see from Lesnar to insane high flying and pure speed strikes from Eddie.
Only from interference from Goldberg, an absolutely perfect DDT counter of the F5 and the Frog Splash did the match finally end with Eddie able to cover Lesnar with the crowd chanting his name to a raucous ovation from the crowd.
No one could believe the outcome, with an amazing celebration from Eddie who would win his first WWE Title. The match would go down as one of the best of both men's careers.
As I said at the outset, Lesnar and Angle were the perfect opponents for one another. Their blend of fast, powerful slams and pure grappling ability were so similar and complementary that every time they wrestled, it was a treat to the fans.
The first time the two wrestled, though, was the best time. These two competed on the Grandest Stage of Them All in one simply epic contest.
From the outset as the two felt each other out to the conclusion with one thunderous F5 (the third of the matchup), everything was perfectly orchestrated. Honestly, very few matches come up to this one in WrestleMania history.
Add to all this the novel idea of this match and you had a pure classic. The fact that these two absolutely clicked on all levels throughout the contest was amazing. Even though both men took shots that could have permanently injured them or ended their careers (including Lesnar's attempted and still amazing Shooting Star Press), they still wrestled to their limits and beyond.
The amazing crowd put over every move. Lesnar pulled out his best performance of all time, and Angle complemented him well.
To say this was Lesnar's greatest match of all time wouldn't be a stretch, though, there is one match I preferred and some may or may not agree with me. One more about storytelling and the art of creating a legend rather than just pure wrestling, which this certainly was.
Honestly, four Hell in a Cell matches in history can try to match up to this one. However, in my opinion, only Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker and Triple H vs. Undertaker can match this Cell match.
This wasn't about wrestling. It was about brawling and storytelling. An injured Undertaker was ready to do anything it took to take down the monster that was Lesnar; however, no matter how much he did, and he did quite a bit, Lesnar still came out of the Cell dominantly victorious.
No one had ever or would ever manhandle Lesnar like Undertaker did on this night, and no one had ever or would ever destroy the Undertaker as viciously as Lesnar did on this night.
Lesnar was thrown around the ring and busted open by the 10-minute mark. Undertaker was on the ground with what seemed to be almost a broken hand by the 15-minute mark. It was vicious and unrelenting, the perfect definition of a Hell in a Cell match.
As blood poured onto the canvas from both men, no one knew what to expect. Undertaker called for Lesnar to give him everything, and Lesnar did. While it was unpredictable until the final moment, when Lesnar won, you knew he deserved it with an amazing reversal of the Tombstone into the F5.
Rarely if ever has there been a bloodier match in WWE history, yet you could feel the reasoning behind it. These men gave their very souls away in the unforgiving Cell.
The iconic final picture of Lesnar standing atop the Cell victorious with the WWE Championship is still one of the most enduring reminders of what Lesnar at his peak was: The indomitable force of the WWE who could even beat the Devil in his own structure.
Thank you for reading!
Comment below on Lesnar, predictions for Sunday and the order of this list.