After Brock Lesnar announced his retirement from UFC last year following his quick loss to Alistair Overeem at UFC 141, few onlookers were surprised to see Vince McMahon subsequently jump at the chance to sign to his former employee.
On paper, it was a shrewd move on the part of the WWE owner.
Since leaving WWE in 2004 and crossing over to MMA and UFC, Lesnar had taken off in a major way, winning the UFC Heavyweight Championship in his first year with the promotion and becoming one of Dana White’s biggest box office draws.
At a time when WWE buy-rates are struggling greatly (the impressive WrestleMania 28 profits being a much-welcomed reprieve), WWE brass must have been keen to get Lesnar on board, with the hopes that he could rejuvenate and revitalize their floundering pay-per-view business.
No doubt, the promotion was also aiming to bring over a large part of the UFC’s multitudinous young male fanbase, with the idea being that that these fans would flock to WWE now that mega-star Lesnar was there.
Creatively, Lesnar could also prove to be a huge asset. With his indisputable physical presence, forceful and provocative personality and tough-guy charisma, the MMA behemoth would be guaranteed to violently tear through the achingly bland and dull PG product and make WWE’s television edgy, dangerous and must-see once again, with huge ratings likely accompanying Brock’s reign of terror.
So, with all this in mind, it’s no wonder Vince signed Lesnar to an extremely lucrative one-year contract in late March/early April, a deal which includes a limited number of dates and appearances.
By the looks of it, Brock got every single demand he made (he even gets to wear sponsored clothing, a perk given to no other WWE performers), and it’s no wonder: If everything went right, the former UFC Heavyweight Champion would serve as a huge boon to McMahon’s stale and struggling company and possibly even herald in another boom period.
Alas, as we now know, things haven’t exactly worked out this way.
First of all, ever since he showed up on Raw the night after WrestleMania to F5 John Cena, WWE’s tepid ratings have remained disappointingly the same, hovering at the 3.1 mark. While Lesnar may have had considerable appeal in UFC, this has, for whatever, not crossed over to his second WWE stint.
Granted, the buy-rate for Extreme Rules—where Lesnar took on Cena in his first official wrestling match for nearly eight years—has yet to come in, and it therefore may not be fully fair to dismiss Brock as a draw.
However, while there some more-than-usual anticipation about the show, there’s no real evidence to indicate it did a huge number either. Certainly the show lacked the buzz of WrestleMania or even the Royal Rumble. And with the novelty of Lesnar’s first wrestling match now gone, it remains to be seen whether the rest of his matches over the next year—including a much-rumored bout with Triple H at SummerSlam—will garner any interest or draw strong numbers.
From a creative standpoint, Lesnar’s comeback also has to be considered a flop too.
In fairness to the star, this isn’t so much his fault as it is the fault of the booking: Fans clearly want to see the former UFC Heavyweight Champion as a take-no-prisoners ass-kicker, while WWE insist on writing him as a rich pampered prima donna who insists on bickering and quibbling about minor details of his contract in TV segments.
Yikes. No wonder fans are underwhelmed with his return.
WWE insisting on giving Brock the mic and letting him talk for 20 minutes straight as they did on the Raw before Extreme Rules—something that is definitely not the MMA star’s forte—also doesn’t seem terribly smart or astute.
On the bright side, WWE may have rectified this problem by bringing in Paul Heyman, an excellent talker, to speak for his real-life business partner while he is currently off TV in the storyline.
Granted, it’s a start, but even Heyman, who really should have been with Lesnar since the moment he returned, probably can’t turn the floundering Brock character around. He's only a supporting character, after all.
Summarily, while it may be too early to say, it looks like Vince McMahon and company are paying Brock Lesnar a ton of money to do very little for the bigger picture. He may not be a hindrance to current WWE business, but he doesn’t seem to be much of a help either. Certainly, he's no game-changer, like was initially hoped.