Brock Lesnar, the current WWE Universal Champion, is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment. It’s been that way his whole career. Some people love him because he’s a once-in-a-generation athlete that is a natural fit for professional wrestling and others hate him because he seems to be a guy that’s only there for the paycheck who lacks passion for what he does.

There’s also the fact that Lesnar is the WWE Universal Champion, which is the centerpiece of the Raw brand right now. Lesnar won the title at WrestleMania, then he was off television for a few months and returned to defend it against Samoa Joe at Great Balls of Fire last month.

It’s easy to see both sides of the spectrum in terms of how fans view him. We want to see the top guys, especially the champions, on television every week and defending the titles once in a while. In Lesnar’s case, he hasn’t had a match on WWE television since his return to the company in 2012. If you want to see him in the ring, go to a pay-per-view, watch a PPV on WWE Network or maybe he’ll be in your city for a live event like he was this past Saturday in Tampa.

Lesnar was always the “Next Big Thing” in WWE’s eyes

The first time I heard about Lesnar as a pro wrestler was when he was in Ohio Valley Wrestling with WWE’s developmental system in 2000. He was fresh out of college as a NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion, WWE signed him to a big contract with hopes that he’d be a huge star and he was training to reach the main roster. This may surprise some people, but WWE took their time to elevate Lesnar to the main roster. I can remember watching him wrestle in a dark match at TV taping long before the average fan knew who he was. He also teamed with fellow Minnesota Golden Gopher and later WWE star, Shelton Benjamin.

Another thing I remember fondly about Lesnar during his training days is that he could do a Shooting Star Press. You have to remember that this was the early 2000s and there weren’t that many guys doing a SSP. Billy Kidman popularized it in WCW in the late 1990s and he brought it with him to WWE, but not a lot of guys could do it. This was also when we didn’t have YouTube (yes, kids — the world existed without YouTube!), so clips of cool wrestling clips were hard to find. I remember being a part of a wrestling forum in those days and somebody posted some clip we could download of Lesnar doing a SSP. It was the coolest thing ever because Lesnar was a legit 265 pounds back then, just like he is today.

Think about Lesnar’s start in WWE in 2002. The Rock wasn’t going to be around as a full-timer anymore because Hollywood was calling and Steve Austin’s body was breaking down, so WWE knew they had to plan for the future. Lesnar debuted on the main roster on the Raw after WrestleMania, destroyed everybody in his path and at SummerSlam 2002 (maybe the best SummerSlam of them all), he beat The Rock clean for the WWE Title when he was just 25 years old. Lesnar was the youngest WWE Champion ever at the time.

If you think back to the WWE landscape in 2002, it was a huge year for the company because that’s when they did the first brand split. After accumulating a lot of talent from WCW a year earlier, they had the kind of roster that afforded them the chance to split everybody up. Lesnar was the centerpiece that they were going to build around. Other future World Champions like John Cena, Randy Orton and Batista (all of whom were in OVW with Lesnar) also debuted in 2002, but it was only Lesnar who was pushed to the top right away.

Lesnar main-evented his first WrestleMania on the main roster. That was WrestleMania 19 in 2003 in Seattle when he won the WWE Title (for the second time) from Kurt Angle in what was a dream match. The most memorable moment from that match is when Lesnar went for the previously mentioned Shooting Star Press, but Angle was too far away and Lesnar landed right on his neck. Amazingly, he was fine after that and back in the ring soon after.

Lesnar’s WWE departure left a void in WWE

In a perfect world, Lesnar would be a 15-year main roster guy in WWE right now, just like Cena and Orton. Instead, he’s the guy who walked away from WWE in 2004 because he wasn’t happy. John Cena’s a 16-time World Champion in WWE, while Orton is a 13-time World Champion. Lesnar’s a six-time World Champion (the Universal Title counts in that category) who would probably have 20 reigns if he never left the company. While it’s hard to argue against the claim that John Cena was WWE’s biggest star of the last 15 years, it’s also fair to say that if Lesnar never left, then it might be him.

A lot of fans who don’t like Lesnar will point to his departure in 2004 as the main reason why. He was on top of the wrestling world and getting better all the time. I remember his feud with Eddie Guerrero in early 2004 when Brock really started to show more personality. It looked like he was loving what he was doing. Sadly, Lesnar ended up quitting even though he had just signed a massive contract extension with WWE. Watch WrestleMania 20 in 2004 and listen to the crowd boo Lesnar along with Goldberg, who was in his last WWE match at the time. There was contempt and hate from that New York City audience that was reflective of the entire WWE Universe at the time.

Did WWE miss Lesnar when he was gone? Of course they did. If you watched Smackdown in 2004, then you know that it was a down year compared to 2003 when Lesnar was the main focus of the brand. The company had invested a lot of time and money in making Lesnar their biggest star, so having him walk away left a huge void.

When Lesnar left WWE in 2004, he tried making the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings as a defensive lineman. That didn’t work out, so Lesnar had a legal battle with WWE because they tried to prevent him from wrestling elsewhere. Eventually, he was able to wrestle in Japan and even had a match with current WWE superstar Shinsuke Nakamura.

In 2008, Lesnar debuted with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It seemed like a natural fit since Lesnar was a NCAA Heavyweight Champion in college. The timing was perfect because Mixed Martial Arts was growing as a sport and Lesnar brought in a lot of fans who knew him from his run in WWE.

In Lesnar’s third fight in UFC (he went 1-1 in the first two), he won the UFC Heavyweight Championship from the legendary Randy Couture at UFC 91 on November 15, 2008. The show topped 1 million PPV buys and Lesnar cemented himself as a huge draw in UFC. At UFC 100 on July 11, 2009 with Lesnar in the main event, he beat Frank Mir and they did 1.6 million buys. Lesnar was a champion just like in WWE and college and one of the biggest draws in UFC history.

The main appeal for Lesnar in UFC was that it was real competition. While WWE is entertaining in a lot of ways, it has scripted outcomes (breaking news!) and you can see why a competitive guy like Lesnar would get bored of it.

Lesnar’s run in UFC didn’t end in the best way possible because he was dealing with various illnesses including diverticulitis. When you read about how a guy got 12 inches of his colon removed, it makes you cringe and also realize how tough this guy is just to get back in the ring and fight again. Lesnar was embarrassed in his December 2011 fight against Alistair Overeem that led to his departure from UFC. That’s when the WWE return rumors started.

Lesnar’s 2012 return “home” to WWE proved he was where he belonged

I was at WrestleMania 28 in Miami in 2012. It was a fun night with The Rock beating John Cena in the main event. I flew home on Monday morning, which I regret big-time because of what happened on that night’s Raw. There were rumors that Brock Lesnar was coming back to WWE, but nobody knew for sure. The date was April 2, 2012 with John Cena in the main event of Raw that night and Brock Lesnar’s music hit. Lesnar appeared on WWE TV for the first time in eight years and dropped John Cena with a F5.

What happened next confused me. Lesnar faced Cena in the main event of Extreme Rules 2012. They had a fantastic match that should have been a win for Lesnar to show that he was back and better than ever. Instead of the clean win that it should have been, Lesnar lost to Cena while I was left wonder why would you pay so much money to bring a guy back and have him lose?

Lesnar also lost to part-timer and son-in-law of the boss, Triple H at WrestleMania 29 one year later. Sure, Lesnar beat Triple H at SummerSlam 2012 and Extreme Rules 2013, but what are people going to remember most? WrestleMania. The booking of Lesnar in that first year was ridiculous. He should have won every match for two or three years and nothing else should have been an option.

Fast forward to WrestleMania 30 in New Orleans in 2014. I was at that one too. When The Undertaker wrestled Brock Lesnar that night, I expected Undertaker to win like he always did at WrestleMania. Lesnar hit a third F5 and I thought The Undertaker would kick out. Nope. He didn’t. I looked over to my buddies and we were all in shock. It meant The Undertaker was 21-1 at WrestleMania. Back then, I didn’t know if it was the right decision and here we are three years later, I still don’t know if it was right.

I think Lesnar’s return to WWE over the last five years has shown that he is a better professional wrestler (or “sports entertainer,” as WWE calls their superstars) than MMA fighter. Whether he likes it more, I don’t know, but I think he’s got a special aura about him that is a main reason why his WWE run was longer than his UFC run.

Lesnar is a private man in the public eye

Lesnar is one of the most private WWE superstars ever. He’s a father of four (he has two sons with wife Rena Lesnar, aka WWE diva Sable, and boy & girl twins from a previous relationship), yet he’s not the kind of guy who’s going on Instagram posting daily pictures of his kid’s latest activities. When he was in UFC, they would show videos of him working out and training as part of their promotional videos and he seemed like a quiet guy who didn’t crave the spotlight.  He lives in a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada and doesn’t get out much with the family, although he did appear at a Winnipeg Jets NHL game with the family last year.

I have so many questions that I’d love to ask Lesnar that he’ll probably never answer. Does he like wrestling or is it only about the money? Do his kids love seeing their dad in a WWE ring? What’s his favorite match? Who is his favorite rival? Does he want to wrestle Kurt Angle again? Did he have second thoughts about being the guy to end The Undertaker’s streak at WrestleMania? How much longer does he want to wrestle? Does he want to punch me in the face for asking so many questions?

The answer to the last one is probably a yes.

At 40 years of age, Lesnar is one of the oldest wrestlers in WWE. He’s also got the nicest schedule in the company since he works on a part-time basis and is one of the highest-paid guys on the show, along with Cena. Perhaps after WrestleMania next year, the company may decide they don’t want him anymore and he will move on. Chances are, they will realize how important he is in terms of bringing in casual fans or those guys who may not watch all the time, but when they hear Lesnar is on they may tune in. I have a lot of friends like that and I’m sure you do too. That’s why Lesnar’s value is still so important to WWE.

Lesnar is the biggest attraction at SummerSlam again

Looking ahead to Sunday’s WWE SummerSlam event, I’m intrigued by what WWE might do in the Universal Championship match. Lesnar is set to defend the Universal Title in a Fatal 4-Way against Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe and Roman Reigns. The first fall wins the title, so it could be a way to have Lesnar lose the gold without getting pinned.

A few weeks ago on Raw, Brock’s advocate Paul Heyman teased in a promo that if Lesnar loses the Universal Title in a match he doesn’t like being a part of (because he doesn’t have to be pinned), then he may just leave WWE altogether. That doesn’t mean that Lesnar is going to lose or that he’s going to leave. It’s just one of those things that Heyman added to the storyline to make people wonder what if. There could easily be a storyline in place to write Lesnar out of WWE for the next four months before coming back to the company for the Royal Rumble next year, where he’d be hotter than ever.

The reason Heyman teased the idea of leaving is because of the Brock Lesnar vs. Jon Jones UFC superfight rumor, which you can read about here if you missed it in the last couple of weeks. I’m not holding my breath on that happening because as leading wrestling/MMA journalist Dave Meltzer noted recently, it may not happen until next summer at the earliest. Jones is having fun teasing it because he event-tweeted recently that he could appear at SummerSlam in Brooklyn on Sunday night.

I’ve been critical of the way WWE has used Lesnar in the past. You may recall a February 2016 I wrote here at The Comeback about how WWE was wasting Lesnar. I don’t think they are wasting him anymore because he’s in a more featured role and is the centerpiece of SummerSlam 15 years after he won his first WWE Title.

What’s next for Lesnar after SummerSlam? He is advertised for the Sept. 24 No Mercy PPV in Los Angeles, which could see him defending the Universal Championship again or perhaps getting the mandatory rematch that champions get after they lose a title.

All we really know for sure is that Lesnar is signed with WWE through WrestleMania 34 next April. Lesnar will wrestle at No Mercy, he’ll wrestle at Royal Rumble, he’ll wrestle in a big match at WrestleMania 34 and other than that, he might have a match at Survivor Series and select live events too.

Early thoughts on SummerSlam 

Will Lesnar retain the Universal Championship on Sunday? I’m not sure. I have a preview of the event that I’ll post here at The Comeback on Friday, but I honestly don’t know who I’m going to pick right now. My original pick was going to be Samoa Joe and now I’m leaning towards Lesnar. All I do know is I’m very interested in the Universal Championship match in terms of the match quality and more importantly, the booking. It’s going to be an interesting night, that’s for sure.

I’m a Lesnar fan. I was when I first saw him live in 2002 and I still am all these years later. His presence makes the WWE product better. When he had that match with Samoa Joe at Great Balls of Fire, the anticipation for it was by far the biggest for any major championship match in years. At SummerSlam, it’s even greater and it’s because Lesnar is in the middle of it. There’s nobody else that has his credibility as a legit badass that can “sports entertain” with the best in the world. That’s why I’m excited to see what happens on Sunday night.

Love him or hate him, Lesnar has at least another nine months left in WWE. After that, who knows because “The Beast” keeps things close to the vest. My suggestion is that you enjoy him while he’s here or if you don’t like him then celebrate that the end could be near because Lesnar’s future is up in the air more than ever. I have a feeling that’s just the way he likes it.

About John Canton

John has been writing about WWE online since the late 1990s. He joined The Comeback/Awful Announcing team in 2015. Follow John Canton on Twitter @johnreport or email him at mrjohncanton@gmail.com with any comments or questions. For more of his wrestling opinions, visit his website at TJRWrestling.net. Cheap pop!