Brock Lesnar before he found out he couldn't hack it anymore as an UFC fighter.
What a difference eight long years make! At WrestleMania XX, the hardcore smark fans in attendance were all too happy to turn their backs on Brock Lesnar. He was the scum of the wrestling world for walking out on a highly lucrative, multi-year WWE deal after just a couple of years on the main roster and receiving the type of push most wrestlers would die for. Somehow he had "sold out", despite opting to take an unlikely punt on a football career with no guarantee of a fat contract at the end of it over the certainty of WWE's cold hard cash. But that cash came at a high price; to cope with the torturous schedule and the injuries he was encouraged to work through, Lesnar spent most of his WWE days in a vodka and pain pill induced haze. Looking at his veteran colleagues like Eddy Guerrero, Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle, who all struggled to function after their in ring performances, Brock realised he needed to escape before he ended up like them.
Now Lesnar is back in WWE and those same fans welcome him back with open arms, despite it being completely transparent that he's only back because he can't hack it as an elite MMA fighter anymore and WWE is the only place he can make close to UFC level money. For the moment, the hatred of that phoney poser John Cena by any male over the age of sixteen and the credibility, legitimacy and presence Lesnar brings to the table is enough to outweigh the fact that the former UFC Heavyweight Champion doesn't love the wrestling business like Cena does and is unlikely to hang around after his one year deal expires. But how long will the renewed romance with Brock last? Will WWE fans soon start to remember why they hated the old flame that had spurned them in the past?
My colleague Sergio Hernandez argues that Lesnar being around more than The Rock was over the last twelve months is a good thing, but that's a double edged sword. The more appearances before WrestleMania 29 he has, the more time there is for his limitations to be exposed before the big day and the more opportunity the WWE creative team has to unwittingly damage his character. That Paul Heyman hasn't been brought back to serve as Brock's mouthpiece again is a serious blow, as Lesnar is weak at doing the long form promos that WWE requires all their headliners to do. Moreover, Heyman was the producer who best knew how to hide Brock's weaknesses and show off his strengths, and his input on how to handle this unique "return of the all conquering UFC hero" storyline would be a big help to ensure that this is one can't miss opportunity WWE doesn't blow or fail to take full advantage of.
There's also the big question mark of how hard Lesnar will be willing to work in the ring. Having proven himself as a celebrity fighter without a true passion for the business, he's obviously not going to want to beat his body up to put on the best performance possible. Brock didn't set the world on fire post WWE when he did matches for New Japan Pro Wrestling and the Inoki Genome Federation; even when he was in with someone who could carry him, his matches weren't very memorable. His first match back on pay-per-view will obviously draw well for WWE, but will that sustain if he can't deliver the quality of matches that headliners are expected to deliver?
Once the bloom is off Brock's rose, the honeymoon period will be over and the political problems will begin. Vince McMahon will grow to resent giving Brock the most lucrative one year, limited dates, guaranteed deal in WWE history, just like he resented giving Bill Goldberg a similar contract, especially when Brock starts to decline any extra dates his boss wants him to work. If you think the WWE locker room disliked The Rock, then you ain't seen nothing yet. At least Dwayne Johnson had the excuse of his busy movie schedule for his perceived aloofness. Brock just doesn't like people full stop and is likely to be much harder to work with than the amiable Rock. It doesn't help that numbers like five million dollars are being bandied about in the wrestling media either, instead of pay being kept secret like in UFC, which is a guaranteed lightning rod for jealousy. Indeed, the negative stories about Lesnar have already begun to start leaking out and morale over Vince McMahon making such a deal is said to be as bad as you expect.
So there may be trouble ahead and WWE had better hope that Brock Lesnar is ready to face the music and dance. Otherwise there will definitely be teardrops to shed in the not too distant future.