It has been about four months since we last saw Brock Lesnar, when he announced he was leaving the WWE the night after his victory over Triple H. Fans have known all along that Lesnar would be back eventually, but if it doesn't happen by the time the Royal Rumble comes along, the WWE Universe figures to get a bit fidgety.
The WWE has been fine without him thanks to CM Punk's title reign, Ryback's ascent and The Shield's debut, among other things, but with WrestleMania approaching, Lesnar will be needed. He is a part of the WrestleMania advertising, so now it's a matter of when rather than if he will return.
There have been several times over the past few months when I expected him to come back. He could have helped Punk at Hell in a Cell or Survivor Series, but Brad Maddox and The Shield stepped in respectively. Also, it might have made sense for him to aid The Shield against Ryback and Team Hell No at TLC, but that didn't happen either.
The next logical place where Lesnar could step in would be during a WWE Championship match between Punk and Ryback. Since Punk's knee injury prevented him from defending his title at TLC, he will likely have to defend it against Ryback on Raw prior to the Royal Rumble. That could allow Lesnar to interfere, announce his intention to enter the Rumble match and ignite a feud between himself and Ryback that would culminate in a WrestleMania match.
At this point, the absolute latest that I can possibly envision Lesnar returning is as a surprise entrant in the Rumble. Usually it would be a better idea to announce him ahead of time, but since The Rock is already facing Punk at that particular pay-per-view, the buys are going to be through the roof anyway, so it doesn't really matter.
In that situation, Lesnar could dominate the Rumble until Ryback enters, at which point they would eliminate each other and brawl on the outside. If there is no intention to link Lesnar and Punk together, then that would be a perfect and simple way to reintroduce Lesnar. The key for the WWE is keeping the fans engaged until that happens.
Had I been told the night after SummerSlam that Lesnar wouldn't return until Royal Rumble, I might have been a bit concerned about the product getting stale. Based on how exciting things have gotten over the past month or so, however, I have confidence in the creative team's ability to keep Lesnar off the minds of the fans.
Currently, fans are much more concerned with The Shield's motives, Big E Langston's debut, when Dolph Ziggler will cash in his Money in the Bank contract and why A.J. turned on Cena. There are several compelling storylines that are working in lockstep right now, so Lesnar's return will be the cherry on top rather than a necessary ingredient.
Generally speaking, fans tend to get a bit impatient when it takes a long time for something to happen in professional wrestling, but I don't get that sense when it comes to Lesnar. If there was uncertainty regarding the prospect of him returning at all, it might be a different story. Lesnar will be back, though, and fans have been content to allow things to play out.
The WWE has preserved Lesnar's dates quite well to this point and I have to believe that the delay in bringing him back stems from wanting to have him appear on every Raw between Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. You can't blame the WWE for wanting Lesnar to be extremely visible during the time period, so it may ultimately be worth the wait.
In the meantime, the fans have a lot to look forward to. All of the young talent that is being promoted to the WWE roster is extremely exciting, as is the pending return of The Rock to feud with Punk ahead of the Royal Rumble. WrestleMania may be more than three months away, but it already feels like WrestleMania season.
When Lesnar finally does make his triumphant return to WWE programming, he will serve to increase the anticipation for professional wrestling's biggest event even more. Lesnar is a big star who most fans want to see back in the fold, but there is no need to rush it.