Time has a way of reshaping memory, of allowing heroes and villains to trade spots.
Derisive chants and fervent boos comprised the soundtrack to Brock Lesnar's 2004 WWE exit. Ahead of his WrestleMania XX showdown against Goldberg, fans had caught wind that he would be leaving the company. They responded by drowning out the match with audible vitriol.
When Lesnar re-emerged on a WWE stage in 2012 with his sledgehammer fists cocked, fans shook with excitement as they welcomed him back.
Lesnar is set to experience a similar shift in reception. He is poised to step away from WWE, and the audience will again send him on his way with a hearty "good riddance."
All signs point to Roman Reigns snatching the Universal Championship from The Beast Incarnate at WrestleMania 34 on April 8 before the South Dakota-born powerhouse returns to MMA.
Lesnar's WWE contract is set to expire after WrestleMania, according to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Wrestling Inc's Marc Middleton). WWE has booked him as an unstoppable force during his championship reign, presumably to amplify the impact of Reigns' victory. And the whispers of a potential UFC return have morphed into something louder.
Lesnar's advocate, Paul Heyman, told Phillip Martinez of Newsweek in March: "I don't think it's any secret that Brock is looking to get back into the Octagon. He is obviously eyeballing another fight in UFC."
In anticipation of his possible departure, WWE has turned criticism often aimed at him into narrative fodder.
For a number of weeks, Lesnar "no-showed" on Raw. WWE did its best to present this as real instances of truancy.
Lesnar's WrestleMania 34 challenger berated him for being an absentee champion. Reigns called him selfish and claimed he was only in the business for money. "Brock Lesnar is an entitled piece of crap who hides behind his contract," he barked.
These are the kind of arrows the audience has slung at The Beast Incarnate in the past few years. WWE is now using them to portray Reigns as a loyal workhorse and to force the black hat atop Lesnar's head.
It's a deft manipulation, a display of working the crowd in the modern era.
Lesnar is disliked by many, not for his storyline dastardly actions but for his perceived laziness. Many of his recent bouts have been brief, requiring only a short burst of effort from The Conqueror. His Survivor Series 2016 and WrestleMania 33 clashes with Goldberg only went six minutes and 13 seconds combined, per the Internet Wrestling Database.
Disappointment filled the internet after his 2017 matches with Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman. Never mind that WWE booked these bouts to go as short as they did; Lesnar took the brunt of the blame.
And it's not hard to find folks who feel Lesnar's best days are over. ProWrestling.net columnist Will Pruett, for one, knocked the universal titleholder for a lack of consistency:
WWE fans are used to seeing men like Dean Ambrose wrestle over 120 matches per year. They watch WWE champ AJ Styles appear regularly on SmackDown Live, wrestle often and go full-throttle each time out. In that environment, Lesnar's brief bouts and the fact he's competed in only 30 matches in three years doesn't compare favorably.
But The Beast Incarnate has not existed on the same tier as the standard Superstar.
He's a household name, a marquee attraction and a grappler with a championship resume in both amateur wrestling and MMA. Lesnar is the kind of pro wrestler who requires no suspension of disbelief. When WWE presents him as a monster, it's easy to buy in.
Should Lesnar look to write a better finish to his UFC career, WWE fans will get a chance to miss him.
The frustration over his schedule will fade. The distaste for his blink-of-an-eye bouts with Goldberg won't be nearly as strong. Memories of his presence and aura will emerge instead. WWE will air clips of F-5s through tables, his throttling of a handcuffed Reigns and his pull-apart brawl with Undertaker.
In time, Lesnar's myth will overtake the issues some have with the man.
If Lesnar returns in a year or two for a blockbuster match with Daniel Bryan or Lesnar steps up to a reigning Shinsuke Nakamura down the road, the reaction would be massive. A deeper appreciation of Lesnar is on the way when nostalgia adjusts the audience's point of view.
Not that the universal champ cares.
Last spring, Lesnar told SportsCenter (h/t Damon Martin of Fox Sports): "I'm not much for legacy. I guess people have their way of remembering what I did."