“Home’s where you go when you run out of homes.”
- John le Carré (Author), 1977
“A thousand years ago, the only way you saw a guy like [Brock Lesnar] is if they came up on your shore, and then you ran…”
- Joe Rogan, UFC 121
The post-WrestleMania 28 edition of RAW on April 2, 2012 was an eventful broadcast.
Highlights of the night included Matt Bloom’s return as Lord Tensai, The Rock revealing his vision of once again being WWE Champion and John Cena congratulating the People’s Champion on his victory the previous night at the “Showcase of the Immortals”.
And, in a spot that sent the riotous Miami crowd to the verge of frenzy, the unthinkable happened. Brock Lesnar returned to the WWE.
To understand the magnitude of this situation, one must go back to the very different pro-wrestling landscape of early 2004. The 27-year-old Lesnar, an accomplished athlete with roots in amateur and collegiate wrestling (including the 2000 NCAA heavyweight title), was a leading figure at the top of the industry. With sports-entertainment accolades including three WWE Championships, a King of the Ring crown and a number of spectacular matches with the likes of Kurt Angle and the Undertaker, Lesnar was heading into WrestleMania XX as a genuine WWE attraction.
Then, with the professional wrestling business at his feet, Brock Lesnar quit.
In the days leading up to the landmark anniversary of Vince McMahon’s beloved pay-per-view brainchild, Lesnar informed WWE officials that he was leaving the company and, as a result, the marquee bout with Bill Goldberg deteriorated into, as Geno Mrosko of Cageside Seats starkly summarised, “one of the biggest disasters in WrestleMania history.”
Following the farcical mess that was Lesnar vs. Goldberg at Madison Square Garden, the performer that was once billed as The Next Big Thing had become the latest big thing to walk out of the WWE, following in the footsteps of former standard bearers Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and (prior to his 2011 re-emergence) The Rock.
The notoriously ruthless Vince McMahon, however, masterminded an agreement that would not only protect his company but also, effectively, sabotage Lesnar’s post-wrestling career. As Lesnar himself stated in his autobiography Death Clutch, the former champion’s post-WWE prospects looked less than admirable.
“In my desperation to get out of WWE, I made the biggest mistake of my life… I signed a release that stated I couldn’t appear for any wrestling, ultimate fighting, or ‘sports-entertainment’ companies, anywhere in the world, until mid-2010. With one stroke of a pen, I royally screwed myself over.”
- Brock Lesnar, Death Clutch
The inevitably nasty lawsuit that ensued stretched over 12 months, but ultimately ended with Lesnar – out of full-time work following his short stint in the National Football League with the Minnesota Vikings – receiving the right to bypass the WWE’s restrictive clause. However, the significance was clear to see, as the lawsuit acted as the definitive act of bridge burning with the McMahon Empire. As numerous former WWE employees such as Lex Luger and Jeff Jarrett can attest, once a relationship with McMahon has soured to such a point, there is little chance for it to be mended. Indeed, for every Bret Hart, there is an abundance of Ultimate Warriors.
Free of the political shackles that had dogged his post-WWE career, Brock Lesnar turned to a sports world that he perhaps should have entered earlier than he did. Lesnar turned to Mixed Martial Arts and, after dabbling in the K-1 promotion, joined the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Between convincingly defeating seasoned fight veteran Randy Couture for the UFC Heavyweight title and his classic re-match with Frank Mir rendering the former WWE Champion as one of the biggest pay-per-view attractions in the world (Lesnar vs. Mir II at UFC 100 drew a colossal 1,600,000 buys, via MMA Payout), Lesnar seemingly conquered the MMA arena with the same considerable ease as the pro-wrestling world that he had left a mere 5 years earlier.
In late 2011, health complications stemming from a severe bout of the life-threatening Diverticulitis disorder cut his MMA career short. Entering his final fight at UFC 141 in December, Lesnar’s illness had given him, as Marcus Vanderberg of Yahoo! Sports explained, an “invisible bulls-eye on his midsection that Alistair Overeem primarily targeted”. With Overeem taking advantage to earn a TKO victory, Brock Lesnar’s UFC story came to an end.
A disappointing development, but whilst the MMA window shut, a surprising opportunity arose elsewhere.
The return to WWE television in April 2012 marked the most unlikely of reconciliations between Lesnar and the company that had made him a star. Immediately entering a top-tier programme with poster-boy John Cena, Lesnar ostensibly picked up where he had previously left off. Despite the ill-conceived loss to Cena at the Extreme Rules 2012 event, Lesnar was apparently back where he belonged – at the top of the WWE card.
Shortly after his WWE return, however, rumours were rampant of Lesnar considering a swift return to the UFC. Although ultimately dismissed by fight producer Dana White in such media platforms as MMA Junkie, the back-fence talk conjured up several key questions:
Where would the man himself rather be? Does Brock Lesnar belong in professional wrestling, or is his true calling in Mixed Martial Arts? Or should Lesnar retire from all sports completely?
In order to create an answer to these complex questions, it is apparent that one must investigate beyond Brock Lesnar the performer, and take a closer at Brock Lesnar the man.
It is well documented that Brock Lesnar is a self-confessed private man. A South Dakota farmer, Lesnar often, and somewhat admirably, shuns the media spotlight in order to protect the private lives of himself and his family (Lesnar has three children, and is married to ex-WWE Diva Rena “Sable” Lesnar). Happily, his current WWE contract respects his private life, with limited appearances granting him the opportunity to fulfil the quality of life that he desires.
“Brock wanted to come back and be involved but he didn’t want to be here full-time and travelling every day. He didn’t want to be in the ring every single day. I’ve said this many times but Brock is a simple guy. He’s a farmer, that’s what he is. I know that doesn’t look like what he is, but right now he’s probably harvesting crops somewhere on his farm. That’s the reality of who he is. He likes to go home, sit, drive a tractor and harvest crops. It just so happens he’s a badass on the weekend.”
- Paul “Triple H” Levesque, Yahoo! Sports
It is also popular knowledge, courtesy of his autobiography, how much Lesnar’s debilitating Diverticulitis re-shaped his priorities and the view on his career. With his physical well-being and protecting himself from further illness now of the utmost importance, his part-time agreement with WWE is beneficial. As the aforementioned Geno Mrosko - working for MMA Mania - mentioned, Lesnar’s infrequent appearances for WWE earns big money (a reported one year deal with a downside of $5 million, via Wrestling Inc.) for a limited schedule that “isn’t all that demanding and doesn’t require long training camps that end with his getting punched in the face.”
And then there is the upcoming showcase that is WWE’s WrestleMania 29.
With a spot at the top of the card pencilled in for him, the WWE’s annual extravaganza will be a lucrative event for Lesnar. As mentioned in Death Clutch, Lesnar (and indeed, the rest of the WWE roster) is very interested in the famously large WrestleMania pay-offs. The Rock, in a similar part-time position as Lesnar, was handsomely rewarded for his participation in the “Once in a Lifetime” bout with John Cena last April at WrestleMania XXVIII. Although his opponent is yet to be revealed, it is a foregone conclusion that a similar financial reward will be awaiting Lesnar come April 7 in New Jersey.
In short, Lesnar’s fruitful current contract with WWE is simply too good to refuse.
In 2013, it is evident that Brock Lesnar no longer needs to regularly put his health on the line in order to make money. Although he was the biggest draw in the history of the company, Lesnar no longer needs Dana White or the UFC. With a profitable year lined up, it has become clear that Lesnar now belongs in the realm of sports-entertainment, and in particular the incredibly prosperous arms of Vince McMahon’s WWE.
The Next Big Thing is back where it all started, and as Marcus Vanderberg fittingly states -
“Sometimes you can indeed go home again.”
Thank you for reading!
Comments welcome below or over on Twitter: @matthewtsquires