You had a feeling when it was announced hours before Sunday’s Day 1 PPV premium live event that Roman Reigns had tested positive for COVID, and that Brock Lesnar was going to be moved to the Raw title match, what would happen. That feeling only grew when then-champion Big E delivered his backstage promo, and if you looked deep into his eyes you could definitely see him loudly screaming, “I’m about to get screwed here!”
So when Lesnar went over in the fatal five-way match to close the show and became the Raw World Champion, after having only appeared on Smackdown since returning in August, no matter how much the announcers tried to bill it as some shocking turn of events, seasoned wrestling fans just kind of nodded their head and muttered, “Yeah, that figures.”
The thing that’s hard to split for everyone is that WWE’s need for Lesnar, now on both shows, is an indictment of WWE’s failure to book literally anyone else other than Reigns, intricately, and how good Lesnar has actually been as a babyface. They are not mutually exclusive.
That’s the thing about Lesnar, it’s almost always disappointing when he comes back to WWE and immediately occupies a top spot on the card and every show. It’s not really anger at him, because who could begrudge him for cashing a few more million for a few minutes of work per week for just a few months per year? If you’re on #TeamGetPaid in any facet, Brock is basically the posterboy. It’s just always a sign that WWE hasn’t been able, or even tried, to put anyone else in that slot, and they keep returning to the same warm embrace of Lesnar’s draw (there’s an image for you). And it would get stale, watching Paul Heyman cut the same promo we’ve seen for a good four-to-five years now, while Lesnar hops in place, dropping in the occasional F5 to an unsuspecting doofus. The pattern is worn.
That said, Lesnar’s actual matches are usually…pretty good? Lesnar had to fight against the same tired and forced booking that kept pitting him against Reigns years ago, as Vince McMahon was going to make that a marquee match whether it killed him or not (too bad it didn’t!). Even with all that, they did produce two pretty good matches (their first at Mania 31, and then whatever number it was for SummerSlam 2018). But when Lesnar has had other partners, it’s worked pretty well. He specializes in bouts with smaller guys that he can toss from one side of the ring to the other, and clashes with A.J. Styles, Daniel Bryan, and even Finn Balor have been memorable (which is saying something for Balor, whose reputation has been far ahead of his actual performances for a few years now). Lesnar’s performance at the last real Royal Rumble was really a delight, even though we all complained about it at the time, as he tossed aside the first 11 entrants. Failures like the Cain Velasquez fiasco or nerfing Kofi Kingston aren’t really on him, but what he was called on to do. Yes, Lesnar turns his very own shade of purple whenever a match goes longer than five minutes, but few sell better than he does, few do utter destruction better than he does, and they always feel like an event.
And it has to be said, this current version of Lesnar — the goofy lumberjack who looks like he was roused from getting high and listening to Kyuss in a cabin somewhere – has been a massive hit. And it should be, because it looks like Lesnar is actually having a blast. While he’s been derided in the past as not caring, and being around just long enough — and doing just enough — to cash another massive check, that isn’t the case here. Lesnar has actually talked, and been funny and engaging. My mileage didn’t go as far as many others for his segment with Sami Zayn, but it did illustrate an actual personality. Lesnar has been…fun? Yeah, it feels weird to write, too.
And while I’m no fan of Big E getting tossed on the pile, it’s hard not to be at least interested in Lesnar’s Royal Rumble match with Bobby Lashley. It’s something the latter has openly called for for years, and will be the very definition of “MEATY MEN SLAPPIN’ MEAT” (sadly BIg E’s term).
That said, just because WWE hit on something with Lesnar, and these days it feels like whenever that happens it’s almost certainly by accident, doesn’t mean they have to try and squeeze it until it withers and dies. Brock’s on Day 1, two days later he’s on the beginning and ending of Raw, come Friday he’ll be on Smackdown. He’s got a headlining match at the Rumble, and the plans are still to have him stare down Reigns at Wrestlemania’s main event. He’s now sucking up the oxygen on both halves of the company.
Meanwhile, there’s basically no one else on Smackdown other than Reigns. If Big E doesn’t win the Rumble (he might!), he’s kind of in the rabble of Raw with everyone else. Drew McIntyre’s hurt, so alternatives are very thin on the ground.
WWE’s lucky that the button they always press when in need of a top drawer feud worked so well this time, but it’s really no credit to it. The fact that it had to, and has had to so many times, along with its baffling releases and booking, shows that it really only cares about five-to-six guys at any one time. The rest are just thrown into a pit and whatever spills out on a weekly basis is what gets put on TV. By the time we get to Mania, it is likely that everyone will be as sick of Lesnar as they were of Reigns once upon a time…when he was constantly chasing Lesnar. It’s stasis.
There were many who derided Lesnar as just having one move. It seems WWE only has one move, and that’s Lesnar himself.