With Brock Lesnar having been off WWE programming since the night after SummerSlam, many were expecting The Next Big Thing to make his return at Hell in a Cell. That didn't come to fruition as his absence continued, but I believe that Lesnar's hiatus will ultimately be beneficial to him and the WWE.
Since the WWE put itself in a difficult position with the WWE Championship match between CM Punk and Ryback on Sunday, it seemed like Lesnar interfering on Punk's behalf was a decent bet. Not only did Punk need to retain, but he needed to do it through unfair means, and Lesnar's relationship with Paul Heyman made him the perfect candidate.
The writers decided to go off the board by having referee Brad Maddox screw Ryback over instead, however, so now the fans' attention has shifted away from Lesnar. Having Lesnar help Punk would have been a cool moment and it certainly would have been impactful, but the fact that so many people were expecting it would have damaged the moment a bit.
The WWE is obviously waiting for the perfect moment to bring Lesnar back into the fold, and I commend the company for that. Since Lesnar's contract limits the amount of dates he is required to work, the WWE isn't in an easy position in terms of mapping out when and how he should be used.
It isn't really possible to keep Lesnar on television throughout the year, so the WWE has had to get creative. He took a brief hiatus following his loss to John Cena at Extreme Rules as he "quit" the company only to return in order to face Triple H at SummerSlam. Lesnar "quit" once again after beating The Game, but it's only a matter of time before he comes back.
Lesnar's match with Triple H was compelling, but there wasn't much going on with Lesnar from a storyline perspective. Having him stick around wouldn't have really accomplished anything, and I believe that leaving him off WWE programming for a couple months will give him a clean slate to work with when he does return and it will likely make his character much more interesting as well.
I thought I had his return telegraphed as I was one of many who expected him to help Punk at Hell in a Cell, but I was a bit premature. With that said, Monday night would be the perfect time for Lesnar to come back as few are even expecting it at this point. The WWE likely knew that the Lesnar hype would die down if he didn't appear at Hell in a Cell, and that appears to be the case with Maddox now at the forefront.
Since both Ryback and Cena have a stake in the No. 1 contendership, I anticipate a match between them to be scheduled for RAW. Before Ryback can get to the ring, however, Lesnar would incapacitate him. This would make Cena the No. 1 contender by default, get Ryback out of the title scene and start up a feud between perhaps the two biggest physical freaks in the company.
Has Lesnar's absence from WWE programming helped or hurt him?
Since RAW's ratings have been down lately, the WWE is likely to pull out all the stops in an attempt to increase viewership. The ending to Hell in a Cell should accomplish that for tonight, and having Lesnar stand tall over Ryback to close RAW this week would generate buzz for next week as well.
The WWE is entering a huge part of its calendar with Survivor Series, Royal Rumble and WrestleMania among the next five pay-per-views. Perhaps the product hasn't been as good as it possibly could be as of late, but Lesnar's potential return is one thing that could really ramp up interest as the WWE starts to build toward the biggest shows of the year.
In a perfect world, Lesnar would be a full-time part of the roster, but he hates the rigors of the WWE schedule, so he negotiated a contract that works for him. The WWE has to honor that contract and work with what it has available to it, and I believe that it has done a nice job so far.
Lesnar's heat will have everything to do with the manner in which he is brought back, and if the WWE has him take out Ryback on RAW, then the absence should have absolutely no ill effects. Having Lesnar come back at Hell in a Cell would have worked, but with so many more people likely to be watching RAW, the WWE has a great opportunity to really make a splash.