Brock Lesnar is a phenomenon. The man nicknamed “The Beast Incarnate” has lived up to the billing over the past two decades. Though he appears to be done with WWE and pro wrestling for the foreseeable future, he remains one of the hottest acts in the business. Over the course of this two-part series, we are going to take a look at the career of the Beast. It is a career of two halves; one of a freakishly gifted, young rookie and one of an internationally recognized MMA titan boxed into a wrestling ring. Part one took a look at the initial Brock WWE run. Part two shall be diving into Lesnar’s WWE career since his 2012 return. Let us begin by taking a look at Lesnar’s shocking return to the WWE in 2012.
Brock Lesnar Returns to the WWE
April 2, 2012. WrestleMania XXVIII was less than 24-hours removed. John Cena, the undisputed face of the WWE, had just been defeated by The Rock — in his first singles match in almost ten years. If you read part one last week, you would know that John Cena was never intended to be the face of the company. Indeed, one other man was groomed for that role: Brock Lesnar. You might recall that Lesnar left WWE in 2004, pursuing a career in the NFL. When that didn’t come to fruition, Brock left for Japan — embarking on a semi-successful tenure in New Japan Pro Wrestling that saw him capture the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Then Brock, always relishing a challenge, left for the world of mixed martial arts. He joined the UFC wherein 2008, he defeated Randy Couture, capturing the UFC Heavyweight Championship in the process. For pro wrestling, this was a victory over the stigma that wrestlers are pretend tough guys. For Brock, it was just another title conquered, though this time in a different field.
Typically, when Brock conquers something, he moves onto a new target. It happened in amateur wrestling, with the crown jewel being the NCAA Championship. We saw it in his initial run in the WWE, where he became the top dog in the industry. We saw it again in Japan, where he won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. UFC was different — Brock liked being there. He loves to fight and whereas he is notorious for his lack of respect for the professional wrestling business, he is clearly a fight fan. Instead, Brock’s MMA career was brought to an end by a nasty bought of diverticulitis – leading to life-saving surgery to remove a significant portion of the large intestine.
“I have a high threshold for pain, higher than most guys, and I couldn’t deal with it. It felt like I had taken a shotgun blast to the stomach, and then someone poured in some salt and Tabasco and stirred it all up with a nasty pitchfork.” – Brock Lesnar (Death Clutch)
This negatively impacted his career, eventually culminating in a harsh defeat against now UFC veteran, Alistair Overeem on December 30, 2011. Just a few short months later, we are back at April 20, 2012. Indeed, the return of “The Beast”. He would hit the F-5 on Brock Lesnar to a raucous ovation. Though he would lose to Cena in his return match at Extreme Rules, he would dominate in such convincing fashion that it didn’t hurt him. Brock had changed his style to bring some MMA legitimacy to his arsenal. The defeat would later be blamed on some complications on the recovery from diverticulitis. He would eventually embark on such a dominating run that the blame would be accepted as truth (within storyline).
Reunion with Paul Heyman and Feud with Triple H
The man most responsible for Brock Lesnar’s initial successful run is… Brock Lesnar. However, if there was to be a second man credited, it would be Paul Heyman. Heyman is, after all, the reason Lesnar was fast-tracked out of Ohio Valley Wrestling and straight into uniquely dominant WWE rookie success. Therefore, it was no surprise (though highly welcomed) that Heyman would reunite with Brock after his return. Heyman was doing something of “double duty” 2012, given he was soon to be the advocate of WWE Champion, CM Punk. He joined up with Lesnar once more, to serve as his “legal advisor” in his case against WWE. Lesnar argued with Triple H, the on-screen “COO”, for better contractual demands; including his own personal jet… and for RAW to be renamed “Monday Night RAW Starring Brock Lesnar”.
The back-and-forth feud with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon would include a successful victory for Brock over Triple H at SummerSlam 2012. Lesnar “broke” the COO’s arm with the kimura lock, for the second time. Brock “left” the company that August, declaring himself the new “King of Kings”. Of course, we would soon come to realize that Brock was to take large gaps between matches – the benefit of being part-time. He would return the following January, to F-5 Vince McMahon, who was about to fire Paul Heyman. This would lead to a match at WrestleMania XXIX, where Triple H would defeat Lesnar. It had become an issue with some fans that Lesnar had already lost twice since returning. However, he would defeat Triple H at Extreme Rules, to successfully conclude the feud.
Feud with CM Punk
“The corporate idiots are calling this match ‘The Best versus The Beast’. You listen to me. The Beast is the Best.” – Brock Lesnar (2013)
The feud with CM Punk was highly welcomed. It had always been known that Brock worked best with smaller talents. After all, his best career matches to date had been against the likes of Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, and Kurt Angle. For the past year, Punk had been aligned with Heyman – a friendship notoriously built on Heyman fighting for Punk to keep his name when he came to the WWE from Ring of Honor. When Punk was almost fired for his attitude in the early days of his time in WWE development, it was Heyman who fought his corner. Therefore, when Heyman turned on Punk and took Lesnar’s side, it was clear that Heyman was doing this not out of a betrayal of friendship, but out of a belief that Punk just could not defeat Brock Lesnar.
Lesnar – through Heyman – would accept Punk’s challenge to Brock for a match at SummerSlam 2013. Though it would be a valiant effort by Punk – perhaps more so than any challenger that would come later – Punk would, of course, fall victim to the Beast. Punk, at this point, was one of the most popular babyfaces in the company. Beating Punk – with Heyman in his corner – solidified Brock’s role as the WWE’s top heel. “The Best” had been conquered by “The Beast” and Lesnar made true of his word that “The Beast is The Best.”
“My Client, Brock Lesnar, Conquered the Streak”
Heyman: “Knock knock.” Crowd: “Who’s there?” Heyman: “Mike”. Crowd: “Mike who?” Heyman: “Mike…lient conquered the streak!” – Paul Heyman (2014)
Lesnar returned to the WWE in January of 2014. He originally returned to challenge the winner of Randy Orton and John Cena’s Royal Rumble 2014 WWE title match. Instead, Lesnar would be attacked by The Undertaker. Undertaker was, of course, one of Lesnar’s first rivals in the WWE. Lesnar had defeated who was then “Big Evil” on multiple occasions. However, what no one in WWE history had been able to do was defeat The Undertaker at WrestleMania. The streak, at this point, was stood at an unprecedented, healthy 21-
At the previous WrestleMania, Undertaker had defeated Lesnar’s recent opponent, CM Punk. Lesnar had been defeated by Triple H, who had been defeated by Undertaker at WrestleMania on three separate occasions. The odds were firmly stacked against the man who was about to be dubbed “The Conqueror”.
In a match not remembered for solid work from either man but etched into pro wrestling folklore for its uniquely surprising outcome, Lesnar would become the one in twenty-one-and-one. If you have ever wanted to be in a building full of 80,000 silent people, this would have been the night to do it. Silence took over the Superdome in New Orleans at WrestleMania XXX. If not for the tremendously popular Daniel Bryan winning the main event, this would have been arguably the most tragic WrestleMania in history. It still is, to an extent – the streak was simply an untouchable phenomenon that no one believed would ever be ended. Then, of course, it did. What had become a yearly tradition, a core component of WrestleMania was no more. WWE would never be the same; The Undertaker would never be the same. Brock Lesnar, now “The Conqueror,” had truly arrived.
Surprising SummerSlam, Roman Reigns and Heinous Heists
The most shocking WWE result in history is probably Lesnar conquering the streak. The only other obvious contender is, of course, the infamous Montreal Screwjob. However, one more match belongs in the debate: John Cena vs Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2014. John Cena had been the, as aforementioned, undisputed Face of the WWE for the past decade. The night Lesnar walked out of the WWE at WrestleMania XX in 2004, John Cena was just getting started – building a warpath to the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XXI. In the years following, he was the guy. He was more media-friendly than Brock; more family-friendly than Brock and, ultimately, loved the business more than Brock ever could. He was the complete, polar opposite of Lesnar. Cena during this time was known as “Super Cena” for a reason – he was the WWE’s “Superman.” He didn’t back down, he didn’t quit and he overcame all hate. If he lost one match, you could be sure he’d win the feud. SummerSlam 2014 was different.
No one ever expected to witness John Cena get decimated to that extent. This is exactly what happened that night in 2014. Sixteen suplexes, two F-5s, and a barely competitive Cena was finished. Brock Lesnar had captured the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in spectacularly dominant fashion and had put an end to any comparison between him and Cena. Lesnar would then move from the last Face of the Company to the new: Roman Reigns. At this time in 2014/2015, Roman Reigns was just getting started as the face of WWE. Lesnar existed as the Bane to Roman’s Batman – he was there to act as a competitive, freakish rival who would ultimately make Reigns look good. Their WrestleMania XXXI match-up for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, however, was cut short by Seth Rollins initiating the “Heist of the Century” – where he cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase to capture the title from the defending Lesnar. Lesnar’s title was stolen; Reigns’ WrestleMania moment was, for now, missing.
Brock Lesnar’s Babyface Turn
Following on from the “Heist of the Century”, Lesnar would be suspended from the WWE. On the post-WrestleMania edition of RAW, a furious Brock Lesnar would take out the WWE announce team (Booker T, JBL, and Michael Cole) before attacking the camera crew. Lawsuits would be filed against Lesnar and he would be suspended indefinitely. He would return in June, now something of a babyface, to challenge Rollins for the title he was robbed of. At Battleground 2015, Lesnar would dominate Rollins in convincing fashion. However, he would lose the match following interference from The Undertaker – who was furious about the streak ending. What would follow was a series of two matches: a losing (though under precarious circumstances) effort at SummerSlam 2015 and a winning performance to blow-off the feud at Hell in a Cell 2015.
At WrestleMania XXXII in 2016, Brock Lesnar would face neither Roman Reigns nor Seth Rollins. Instead, he would have a (now infamous) hardcore match with former “Shield Brother”, Dean Ambrose. This was the match that led to Ambrose accusing Brock of being “lazy” and “difficult to work with”. Ambrose, the hardcore specialist, never really got the chance to do anything hardcore. Instead, Brock would win an otherwise unspectacular match and put an end to a feud which many were actually excited about. Lesnar would then go on to defeat Randy Orton at SummerSlam 2016 – a match memorable for ending as a “technical knockout” after Orton was busted open the hard way. This was a fun and interesting feud, given both men were OVW guys of similar age that never crossed paths before.
Feud with Goldberg
Brock Lesnar then entered into a feud with the returning Goldberg. In part one, we looked at their WrestleMania XX bout – which turned out to be a departing match for both men. It was one that ended in controversy, as the audience had learned of both men leaving after the event, therefore leading to the fans turning on the match and booing both superstars. In 2016, this was their chance to have a decent match that the fans would accept. So shockingly, at Survivor Series 2016, Goldberg beat Lesnar in one minute and twenty-six seconds. Lesnar had underestimated his former adversary and was therefore humiliated by his prejudice. Lesnar had become the master of surprising match-ups… and now he was on the other end of one.
Goldberg would capture the Universal Championship from Kevin Owens at Fastlane 2017. Therefore, when Goldberg accepted a rematch between the two at WrestleMania XXXIII, it was to be a title match. Goldberg was 2-0 against Lesnar – perhaps the only man in the history of the WWE to have such a record against The Beast. However, though a much smaller streak than previously conquered, Lesnar made good on his Conqueror moniker and defeated Goldberg – capturing the WWE Universal Championship and embarking on a year-long title reign that would see him defeat the likes of Samoa Joe (Great Balls of Fire) in an epic feud; Braun Strowman (numerous occasions); Roman Reigns (numerous occasions, including WrestleMania XXXIV); AJ Styles in a champion-vs-champion bout (Survivor Series 2017) and more. The dominant, 504-day title reign would culminate with Reigns finally achieving a victory against Lesnar at SummerSlam 2018. This was Lesnar’s longest title reign to date and is perhaps worthy of its own, separate article.
Becoming Champion Again
Though Lesnar was finally defeated by Roman Reigns, this was not to be the end. Reigns would end up relinquishing the Universal Championship after his leukemia diagnosis — thus allowing Brock to recapture the gold at Crown Jewel, where Lesnar demolished Braun Strowman in record time. He would go on to have a second champion-vs-champion match at Survivor Series 2018. This time, however, he was to face Daniel Bryan – who was days removed from capturing the WWE Championship from AJ Styles. Lesnar dominated most of the match, before Bryan – undergoing a heel turn – would turn up the pace and give Lesnar a number of scares. However, Lesnar would ultimately win the match a year to the month that he defeated Styles. At Royal Rumble in 2019, he would have a similar bout against Finn Balor, who very nearly defeated The Beast. Lesnar would then, of course, attack Royal Rumble winner Seth Rollins — prompting a match between the two at WrestleMania XXXV.
Lesnar had not forgotten the humiliation experienced by Rollins at WrestleMania XXXI, just four years previously. The Heist of the Century had become etched in Lesnar’s mind and he wanted revenge. Rollins, now free of The Authority and a beloved babyface, was the resistance against the dominance of Lesnar. Lesnar would not achieve vindication, however, as – despite attacking Rollins prior to the match – he was to be defeated, with thanks to a lucky low blow by Rollins (something which had become Lesnar’s kryptonite). Lesnar had lost the Universal Championship once more, this time after 156 days as champion.
Boombox Brock, Final WWE Championship Reign and Second Depature
Brock would replace Sami Zayn as an entrant in the Money in the Bank ladder match at Money in the Bank 2019. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given who Brock is, he won the match – thus capturing the briefcase and guaranteeing himself a future title shot. A sometimes underestimated aspect of Brock’s character is his ability to be genuinely funny when he wants to be. He’s a big, hulking, legitimate badass who, when acting goofy, is funny simply because he’s usually such a serious threat. When Brock Lesnar turned his Money in the Bank briefcase into a boombox; donned a hooded sweater and began break-dancing to some form of 90s hip hop, it was funny. Boombox Brock, as short-lived as it was, was golden. Lesnar cashed in on Rollins at Super ShowDown, reclaiming the Universal Championship for the third time. However, this would be his shortest reign – with Rollins regaining the title at SummerSlam 2019, just twenty-eight days later.
Brock would then be drafted to SmackDown and enter into a feud with the debuting Cain Velasquez – a former UFC Heavyweight Champion, who famously captured the title from none-other-than Lesnar. Cain had turned up to defend the Mysterio Family from Brock. Lesnar would defeat Velasquez in a surprisingly dominant fashion at Crown Jewel. It was an unspectacular feud which, if remembered, will only be so because of how short-lived it was. Lesnar would then defeat Rey Mysterio at Survivor Series 2019, retaining the WWE Championship. Brock Lesnar, believing no one was worthy of facing him, entered into the Royal Rumble 2020 match. He eliminated thirteen participants – including the likes of Keith Lee – during the match. Lesnar would be eliminated by the increasingly popular Drew McIntyre, who would then go on to defeat Lesnar at WrestleMania XXXVI; capturing his first WWE Championship and – at least for now – putting an end to Brock Lesnar’s dominance over the WWE.
The Legacy of The Beast
Over the course of two unprecedentedly successful spells in the WWE, Brock Lesnar has done it all. His list of accomplishments include: WWE Championship (5x), Universal Championship (3x), King of the Ring Winner (2002), Money in the Bank Winner (2019), Royal Rumble Winner (2003), Slammy Award Winner (5x), and has topped the PWI 500 (2002). He has been the number one box office attraction in pro wrestling now for a decade. Lesnar has been an IWGP Heavyweight Champion – no easy feat for a gaijin. He has been UFC Heavyweight Champion – no easy feat for someone crossing over from a different sport. Brock Lesnar is, quite simply, an athlete unlike any other. Though many grew tired of his dominance during his second WWE run, what can’t be disputed is its legitimacy. Only Brock Lesnar could be justified as being booked so dominantly, simply because he is Brock Lesnar. Though this might not yet be the end of Brock in the WWE, if it is, what a phenomenal run it was. From Here Comes the Pain to “The Conqueror,” Brock is one of the best to ever lace up a pair of boots and will be remembered as such. He is the Beast in the World.
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