This past weekend I had a chance to soak in the WrestleMania 28 festivities from Miami – the Hall of Fame, Fan Axxess, the event itself at Sun Life Stadium and Raw the next night. Truly, for any WWEfan that came to participate in the crowd chants and invest themselves fully into the emotion of the stories being told, it would have been an absolutely draining 72 hours.
Yet despite the Hell in a Cell curtain call, Sheamus pounding Daniel Bryan in 18 seconds (spawning a "YES!" chant that lasted through WrestleMania and in every segment of Raw, that will now transcend the superstar himself; also heard at the Miami Heat/Philadelphia 76ers game Tuesday), The Rock promising he will become WWE champion and John Cena acccepting defeat to thunderous boos, the icing on the cake was the return of Brock Lesnar to the WWE.
Lesnar couldn't have returned at a better time for both parties. Past WWE focus groups have indicated that fans (at least in those focus groups) want names from the past and longer storylines (exhibit A: The Rock vs. John Cena being a year-long build). Nostalgia will always sell to pro wrestling fans, and who better after The Rock than the former UFC Heavyweight champion, who is still young enough and in shape enough to deliver a quality match against a guy like Cena.
And what about Cena? In his current role he is the ambassador of today's WWE, facing superstars like The Rock and Lesnar who the fans that boo Cena idolized years ago. With The Rock gone to do four consecutive movies (as he noted during Sunday's pre-WrestleMania news conference), Lesnar fills the void and can now feud with Cena.
Don't expect Lesnar to appear weekly; he has noted in several interviews while with the UFC that the major reason he left WWE the first time was because of the hectic travel schedule. But Lesnar doesn't have the same Hollywood commitments The Rock does, which would conceivably free him up for more work with WWE (recall the average amount that The Rock appeared in WWE in one of my previous columns).
Looking purely art how Lesnar returned on Raw, it was simple, effective, impactful, and from a fan standpoint, incredible. After Cena asked The Rock to come back out to shake his hand and congratulate him on winning at WrestleMania, Lesnar came out to an immense boom response (I was there and it was insane), came to the ring, shook Cena's hand, delivered an F5 and kicked Cena's hat. As a fan you likely completely forgot about the returning Alberto Del Rio and Lord Tensai (formerly A-Train) due to the impact of Lesnar's return.
Another major factor was that many fans in the arena were anticipating Lesnar's return, with rumors circulating throughout the weekend and WWE tweeting a picture of him minutes before his return. Along with "We want Lesnar!" chants that Cena half-acknowledged in the ring during his promo, it was all the more impressive that fans exploded the way they did. It was as if the hype, as big as it was, did not exceed the moment.
Overall, given all these circumstances, this is easily the best return to WWE in recent memory -- even say better than The Rock's return to Raw before hosting WrestleMania 27, as great as that was. Lesnar's silence was golden.
Perhaps the best part about all of it is that unlike The Rock and Cena, Lesnar and Cena have history in WWE. Recall that Cena's Attitude Adjustment finisher is a modification of the F5, which was first called the "FU," which was a response to Lesnar at the time as the pair were feuding in 2003 when Cena was the "Doctor of Thuganomics." And though many will say that Cena needed to beat The Rock so that the torch was passed, I disagree. The Rock can now challenge for the WWE title upon his return after defeating Cena and ultimately make another star (for example, facing CM Punk for the WWE title at WrestleMania and Punk winning). Lesnar has also defeated The Rock before for the WWE title at Summerslam 2002, which adds a nice wrinkle to his future interaction with Cena.
How do I see this feud unfolding? I love that Lesnar is mysterious and is a monster right now. Because he wasn't the best promo guy in his time with WWE to begin with, I would envision him saying very few words and letting his actions do the talking. While The Rock saw Hollywood "change" his Rock persona and make him a softer, more smiley Rock (a hybrid between Rock and Dwayne Johnson, if you will), Lesnar's time in the UFC, if anything, made him meaner and more matter-of-fact. Was Lesnar the best in-ring competitor? No, but Cena has a history of presenting an entertaining match with an opponent of any skill level. Can this feud build slowly? Absolutely it can. Though WWE is big with social media, particularly Twitter, I think it would be a great idea for Lesnar not to embrace Twitter. During his time in the UFC, he didn't seem to do so either (@DCBrockLesnar). Lesnar is a quiet guy who is easily rattled (past UFC press conferences dictate that) and gets easily annoyed with opponents. What's a more perfect opportunity to let Brock adopt that very persona in WWE and blur the lines? The story of a former UFC Heavyweight champion and the biggest draw in the UFC now turning back to WWE is a big one and a marketable one.
Yet despite all of the positives, there are still those that say "The Rock and Brock Lesnar are taking a spot away from a younger superstar who is ready for the main event." The fact is, both guys have elevated WWE interest to a whole new level and have brought in new crowds. Both of them feuding with Cena is brilliant. Cena needed this sort of outside support to elevate him and WWE even higher in the eyes of the mainstream. When The Rock and Lesnar say godbye, Cena is left with a bigger name and then it's time to have opponents like Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes, who then look like even more legitimate main event players. With a little patience, fans will see that it's a win-win situation for everyone involved.