Since each man’s return in 2012, Chris Jericho and Brock Lesnar have made waves, both online and on television. Both have had a sporadic role in the WWE (Lesnar due to his limited contract and Jericho due to his Fozzy commitments) and each has drawn criticism and praise. Given these similarities, I pose the question: Who had a better return?
I don’t think this question can be answered in one sitting, so I took three stages to develop my analysis of each man’s return.
Read the first two stages:
Stage 3: Long-Term Impact
"Long-term impact" is the unselfish portion of the evaluation. Who did more to help the company with his return?
Chris Jericho had three major programs during his return. He finished second in the Royal Rumble, then won a 10-man Battle Royal on Raw to be deemed the No. 1 contender to CM Punk’s WWE Championship at WrestleMania 29. Following the completion of his CM Punk feud, Jericho made a stop among a Four-Way to challenge for Sheamus’s World Heavyweight Championship, got suspended for an incident overseas, and returned to feud with Dolph Ziggler.
Jericho’s return was beneficial to CM Punk, Sheamus and Dolph Ziggler. All three of these men are among the top stars of the WWE. You can argue that CM Punk and Sheamus—multiple time world champions—are already marketable, moneymaking superstars the WWE can bank on for years to come.
The same cannot be said for Dolph Ziggler. Despite being considered one of the best in-ring workers in the company and holding a Money in the Bank briefcase, Ziggler lacked a signature win that he can build on. No one laid down for Dolph Ziggler, putting him in a position to move up the card and be a top draw for the WWE in the future.
Until Chris Jericho. Thanks to Jericho, Ziggler now has his signature win. When Dolph Ziggler headlines a WrestleMania, sits among the WWE’s top merchandise sellers and is a proven ratings draw, Chris Jericho will always be the man who put him over the top.
Much like his counterpart, Brock Lesnar has been in three major programs since returning. His initial attacks on John Cena lead to their match at Extreme Rules. He was then embroiled in a storyline with John Laurinaitis and Triple H about the demands of his contract, which ultimately ended with him leaving the WWE after breaking Triple H’s arm. Upon his return, he wrestled and defeated Triple H at SummerSlam. And then he left...again.
John Cena didn’t gain anything from defeating Brock Lesnar. And his win came after Cena received the beating of a lifetime. Yes, Extreme Rules had an increased buyrate thanks to Brock Lesnar’s involvement, but John Cena is no bigger of a draw now then he was before that match.
Lesnar’s WWE contract dispute was all about one man: Brock Lesnar. And it ended in his walking out of the company. That laid a foundation for the future of no one. And his having to be goaded back by Triple H and Stephanie McMahon only enhanced his own value.
Brock Lesnar’s return hasn’t built a future for the company. In two years, we won’t look back and see a superstar that Brock built. Brock’s return has provided Lesnar and the WWE with some short term benefit, but it will have zero impact on the future success of the company. And we cannot forget that Lesnar's benefit came at a price, a reported $5 million for a very limited number of dates.
Brock Lesnar’s first WWE appearance in eight years garnered an amazing reaction and generated lot of buzz. He even helped increase the buyrate of two pay-per-view events. Chris Jericho enhanced the current and future status of three WWE superstars, one of whom is looked upon as the future of the business.
One man’s return has been about self-serving short term gains—at a very steep price. The other has been about improving the product as a whole and elevating others while developing the future. Chris Jericho’s return will provide greatest long-term impact.
The headline reads, “Chris Jericho or Brock Lesnar: Who Had the Better WWE Return?” The answer is Chris Jericho.