Views from the Hawke’s Nest 1.04.12: Maximizing an Investment in Brock Lesnar
Posted by TJ Hawke on 01.04.2012
How can the WWE maximize an investment in Brock Lesnar now? By learning lessons from the past and by being bold enough to try something out of their comfort zone.
Some wrestlers in a company are meant to be your workhorses and some are meant to be special attractions. CM Punk and John Cena are on the road all the time, and they try their best to put on a great performance at every TV, house show and PPV. Brock Lesnar does not want to do that, and that is why he left the WWE in 2004. 2012 Brock Lesnar, the millionaire, will definitely not go back to that lifestyle.
As soon as Brock Lesnar announced his retirement from MMA after his loss at UFC 141, people started clamoring in various social media outlets for Brock to return to the WWE. Is Brock interested in working for the WWE again? Possibly. None of us really know Brock (and that's the way he likes it), but if Brock is interested in working for the WWE again, we know two things: he won't go on the road full time, and he will want to be paid handsomely for everything he does. Between that and the WWE seemingly being more willing to have big wrestling stars wrestle for them on a part-time basis for big payouts (see: Hart, Bret and Rock, The), Brock Lesnar wrestling for the WWE again seems like a perfectly reasonable possibility.
As I said though, Brock will come at a steep price for each appearance and for any matches. How can the WWE (or any company willing to pay him) best maximize the value of their investment? How can a company make as much money as possible off of Brock? The obvious answer is that Brock will have to be booked to be as special as possible. This can't be like the WCW/ECW Invasion, Goldberg's 2003 "push," or countless other instances in the wrestling business where debuting talent were punished for petty reasons at the expense of financial and creative success. Luckily for us, one pro wrestling company has already booked Brock to be as special as possible in part-time appearances, so we know it can be done. That company was New Japan Pro Wrestling.
In Brock's first NJPW match on October 8th 2005, Brock won the promotion's world heavyweight title. After that match, NJPW had Brock wrestle 6 more times until May 3rd, 2006. Here is how his story went.
The match has a big main event feel in the building. Brock is wearing what appear to be shin guards, in lieu of kick pads. Fujita and Chono initially try to double team Brock, but that fails big time. They were very tentative in trying to attack Brock. Then they foolishly try to take him on one at a time. Finally, they work together again and send Brock to the outside. Fujita and Chono attack each other for a couple of moments, but Brock quickly returns and dominates again. Brock went to F-5 Chono, but Fujita stopped it, only to get a German Suplex for his troubles. Fujita slowed Brock down with a standing Front Chancery, but Brock escaped. Brock went to F-5 Fujita, but Chono made the save. Brock sent both men to the outside and gave them a big baseball slide. Back in the ring, Fujita actually gets a near-fall on Brock with a back suplex, but Brock recovers and hits an F-5 on Fujita! Fujita rolls to the floor, and then Chono walks into an F-5 too! 1…2…3! Charlie Haas was in Brock's corner and celebrated with him in the ring.
Only 8 minutes long, but it was a fun 8 minutes as the crowd was into everything. Brock looked fine for his first match in over a year, but he wasn't really asked to do much. He just had to be a monster and sell as little as possible. Match Rating: **3/4
NJPW immediately forces their audience to see Brock as a completely dominant star who may be impossible to beat. After all, he not only won their biggest title in his first match, but he did it by completely dominating their champion AND another man in the same match. This is how a company can make someone's debut truly special.
December 10th, 2005
Brock Lesnar vs. Manabu Nakanishi
This happened two months after his title win, and it is a non-title match (a WWE lawsuit prevented Brock from defending the title for several months, but that's not really relevant when looking at this story from a rhetorical perspective. The story of importance is the one that plays out on camera, not behind the scenes).
Unlike Fujita and Chono, Nakanishi immediately is aggressive and takes it right to Brock. I like that he is trying a different strategy from the first two guys who were so unsuccessful. Brock gets the advantage quickly though and gives Nakanishi a big German Suplex. They brawl around the ring, and Nakanishi gets the advantage back. Back in the ring, Nakanishi hits a big top rope dropkick, which got a nice pop. Nakanishi delivers several running strikes and manages to take Brock down again. The crowd really reacted to that. Nakanishi gets Brock in the Torture Rack position, but Brock escapes and hits a massive powerbomb. The crowd was trying to rally behind Nakanishi, but Brock gave him an F-5 to decisively end the match.
Basically, this was just a quick (less than 5 minutes) squash to put Brock over huge as a killer. Nakanishi looked smart for having a new strategy and being aggressive, but in the end he was no match for Brock. Brock just killing this man in a 5-minute main event is a big deal and makes him look like a completely dominant star. Once again, the crowd reactions really made this awesome despite the short length. Match Rating: ***
Brock's first win was not a fluke. Brock was a completely dominant wrestler.
December 11th, 2005
Brock Lesnar vs. Yuji Nagata
This match happened the night after the last match.
Nagata tries to win quickly with a rollup, but Brock kicked out. I love how his opponents are trying different strategies. Nagata uses a front chancery and a headlock in an attempt to slow down Brock, but Brock just hits a big back suplex. Nagata recovers and takes him down with a dropkick, but Brock pops back up and hits a massive spinebuster. Brock went to work on Nagata's back after that. Brock started to taunt Nagata while getting the heat. Brock went for a pair of turnbuckle powerslams, but Nagata escaped before the second one. Nagata tried to come back, but he got caught with a bell-to-belly suplex from Brock. Nagata finally came back with some kicks to Brock's left leg. Crowd was really reacting to this. Nagata took Brock down with a running knee smash and a big saito suplex: 1…2…NO! Nagata escaped a powerbomb attempt, but Brock cut him off with a big lariat. F-5!!! 1…2…3!
This one was about 9 minutes and once again, it was really fun to watch. Brock was booked to be an absolute beast, and Nagata was clearly overmatched. However, Nagata's comeback got so over and he looked great for being able to accomplish that. Match Rating: ***1/2
This match shows how well the storytelling was working because anytime Nagata made a comeback, the crowd reacted like it was the most impressive thing possible. It's not about what moves Nagata did, it's that he was able to come back at all that got the reaction. That's pro wrestling at its best and most effective.
Brock took it to him early, but Nakamura used his quickness to stay in the match. Brock caught one of his kicks and then crushed him with a lariat. Nakamura tried to get a crucifix pin, but Brock just gave him a Samoan Drop on the way down. Brock then rammed Nakamura's back into the ring apron repeatedly. Nakamura was about to go for a suicide dive, but he stopped for seemingly no reason. He then hit a sloppy suicide dive without a running start. Maybe Brock was out of position on the first attempt, because that looked awkward. Brock recovered and slammed Nakamura's back into a ring post. Back in the ring, Nakamura locked in a sleeper (again, a new strategy from Brock's opponents). Brock was able to escape though and went right back to work on Nakamura. Nakamura came back with a ropes assisted triangle choke, which slowed down Brock. Nakamura followed that with a top rope dropkick and a German suplex, which got a HUGE reaction. Brock blocked a cross arm-breaker attempt, and then gave Nakamura a Rampage Powerbomb. LARIAT! F-5!!! 1…2…3! Match Rating: ***1/2
If the Nagata match showed it was possible that Brock could be touched then this match showed that Brock surviving Nagata's offense wasn't a fluke. Brock is resilient, and he is still dominant. This match seemingly doesn't advance the Brock story much (as the layout was very similar to the Nagata match), but the fact that Brock can still be so dominant in a 1v1 Title match is a big deal.
February 19th, 2006
Riki Choshu & Akebono vs. Shinsuke Nakamura & Brock Lesnar
Nakamura and Choshu wrestled into the former's corner, and Brock tagged in to a big pop. Brock then proceeded to destroy Choshu. Choshu got a couple of hope spots in with lariats, but Brock seemingly stopped him, only for Choshu to hit a big saito suplex. Akebono tagged in and the crowd got even more excited. Akebono used his power to overwhelm Brock. Brock then wrestled Akebono like one of the smaller wrestlers wrestled him, which was awesome. And Brock failed just like the smaller guys when they face him. Nakamura tagged in, but he quickly got hit with a Black Hole Slam. Brock tagged back in and hit Akebono with a BACK SUPLEX! Both men tagged out, and Nakamura almost immediately made Choshu tap with a cross arm-breaker. Akebono interfered and sent Nakamura to the floor, where Choshu wiped him out with a slingshot plancha (Choshu was 55 at the time, so that got a big pop). Brock ran in to give Akebono an F-5, but Choshu stopped him. Brock tagged back in and overwhelmed Choshu. Akebono saved his partner and gave Brock a big splash in the corner. Nakamura held Akebono up in the ropes, which allowed Brock to give Choshu an F-5! 1…2…3!!! Brock and Akebono shake hands after the match.
What this match lacked in action, it made up for in so many nice story touches. The interaction between Brock and Akebono was perfect, as it no doubt made people excited to see them in a 1v1 match. Not to sound like a broken record, but once again, the crowd made this match so much fun. I am having a blast watching these matches. Match Rating: ***
In a brilliant twist, after months of dominating smaller heavyweights, NJPW had Akebono, the former sumo wrestler, challenge Brock for the title. I love how NJPW completely changes the dynamic of Brock's matchups here. It gives extra layers to Brock's character, and it shows how dominant he truly is.
In the back, Akebono was seen talking to reporters, as Brock walked by and boasted about how he kept his promise about walking out of their match as the champion.
This match was fucking brilliant. I don't care how slow it was; these two had the crowd the entire way and put on an amazing spectacle of a match. Brock's character work in the match was perfect. Brock was a man with something to prove. His pride dictated that he has to consider himself the best in the world, and that this belt symbolizes that. His pride dictated that he must defeat Akebono, because he must keep the belt and prove that he is better. While he starts off just trying to wrestle him, he realizes that he is outmatched and that he must resort to cheating to keep the belt. This puts the belt over as the most important thing to a wrestler. Wonderful stuff. Match Rating: ***1/2
With Brock's goal of keeping the IWGP World Title at all costs, what will he do to keep the title against another wrestler bigger than him?
Bernard takes Brock early and sends him to the floor. Back in the ring, Brock doesn't have the same success trying to get Bernard down, and Bernard takes him down again with a lariat. Again, Bernard sends Brock to the floor. Bernard charges at him on the floor, but runs into a ringpost and injures his shoulder. Brock immediately pounces and goes after the injured shoulder. STRATEGY! Back in the ring, Brock gets Bernard down with a nice suplex. Brock gets an armbar on the injured arm and tries to make Bernard tap. Brock can't just use his brute strength to take down this opponent. Brock is adapting and adjusting. Bernard crawls and makes the ropes. Bernard gets to his feet, but Brock gives him a belly-to-belly suplex for his trouble. Brock actually uses a small package variation out of nowhere, which gets a near-fall. More strategy from Brock. Bernard tries to use his size to get back the advantage, but Brock grabs an armbar on the injured arm out of nowhere. Bernard is crawling to the ropes, but Brock keeps doing more damage to the arm. Bernard eventually makes the ropes and gets to his feet, only for Brock to go right back to working over his arm. Bernard delivers some shoulder shots in the corner and then gives Brock a Baldo Bomb out of nowhere. Bernard hits a big running splash in the corner and Brock falls to the mat. Bernard delivers a Vader Bomb: 1…2…NO! Brock almost gets an F-5 out of nowhere but Bernard escapes and hits a German suplex to a big pop. Bicycle Kick from Bernard: 1…2…NO! Bernard goes for another Vader bomb, but Brock catches him and gives him a German Suplex from the middle rope. DDT (THAT FINISHED AKEBONO): 1…2…NO! Another DDT: 1…2…NO! Crowd bought both of those near-falls. Both men get to their feet and start trading punches. Brock escapes a brainbuster attempt and hits the F-5! 1…2…3!
Brock cuts a promo in the back about how he will be the champ forever until NJPW finds an opponent worthy of him.
The Akebono match showed that there could be weaknesses in Brock's armor, but this match re-established Brock's dominance. Bernard tried to overpower Brock similar as to how Akebono did, but Brock showed that he could overcome that, and he didn't even need to cheat. Brock adjusted to Bernard's strength, and instead of trying to overpower the bigger man, he went after his injured shoulder and even tried to roll up Bernard at one point. The monster champion is growing. Match Rating: ***1/2
And now it's time to show how Brock's story in NJPW came to an end…oh, wait. Brock hasn't wrestled in NJPW since the match with Giant Bernard. Much like Terriers, Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared and countless other great television series, Brock's story was "cancelled" before it ever got a proper end. After falling in love with this story, it's disheartening that it never got a proper end in NJPW, where the company could have had someone defeat Brock and get that person over huge (think Brock's match with Eddie Guerrero in 2004). NJPW instead stripped Brock of the title, and held a tournament to crown the new champion. Brock, who apparently believed that NJPW owed him money (because they tried to pay him less than what the original deal said), kept the physical belt.
What a story. NJPW presented Brock Lesnar as a wrestling God who dominated the sport, but he wasn't some two dimensional thug. Brock was portrayed as a resilient fighter who overcame many different strategies from his challengers. When Brock's opponents were actually bigger than him, Brock was smart enough to adjust his strategy. Was Brock willing to cheat? If he had to, yes. That's how important the belt was. Brock saw the belt as a symbol of being the best in the world, and he had to do whatever he could to keep that title.
If the WWE wanted to bring Brock back, they could learn a lot from Brock's story in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Sure, the WWE could have Brock do a single dream match against someone at a WrestleMania, and I am sure that match would do great business. However, if Brock is willing, I would love to see the WWE be bold and do something that is not only great for one PPV, but also something that could be genuinely different and reestablish the importance of the WWE Title. That would lead to a series of big PPV buyrates featuring Lesnar, and possibly create a new star if the story is actually completed.
I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying.
Bonus Match Review
June 29th, 2007
IFG Toukon Bom-Ba-Ye
So, Brock never gave up physical possession of the IWGP belt he won in NJPW, and that belt became the official belt of Antonio Inoki's IGF promotion. Brock's first and only defense of the belt came against Kurt Angle at this event. The belt was renamed the IWGP Third Belt Title. Angle was TNA's Heavyweight champion at the time.
Kurt jumps Brock at the bell and quickly gets a German suplex. Brock rolls to the floor and delivers some stiff uppercuts. Back in the ring, Brock hits a big belly-to-belly suplex. Brock tries to get a quick F-5 victory, but Angle grabs the nearby ropes. Brock decides to just toss Angle to the outside. Brock brings him back in the ring and hits a suplex. Kurt made a brief comeback, but Brock quickly cut him off with another belly-to-belly suplex. Brock locked in a Front Chancery, and Angle almost passed out. Angle was able to stand up though and hit a Northern Lights Suplex. Brock went for a powerbomb, but Angle escaped and got the ankle lock! Brock escaped, but Angle took him down again with a shoulder block and then a pair of German suplexes. Brock avoided an Angle Slam and went for an F-5—but Angle reversed it into a DDT…kind of. THE STRAPS ARE DOWN! Ankle Lock! Brock escaped though and hit a big German suplex: 1…2…NO! Brock missed a running splash in the corner, and Angle immediately hits an Angle Slam: 1…2…NO! ANKLE LOCK! Brock rolls through and almost wins with a rollup. F-5! 1…2…NO! NO ONE KICKS OUT OF THE F-5! ANKLE LOCK FROM BROCK! KURT REVERSES IT INTO ANKLE LOCK! GRAPEVINE! BROCK TAPS OUT!
This felt like a "greatest hits" match, and I mean that in a positive way. It was fun, they ran through all of their spots and reversals and displayed great chemistry. Technically, I'm giving this match a higher rating than all of Brock's NJPW matches, but that just goes to show that star ratings aren't everything. The story being told through Brock's NJPW run would have resulted in far more money long term. In a crude comparison to today's wrestling, this match felt like a PWG match, whereas the NJPW story was like Chikara in that they hold back early in stories in order to build to a big finale (only the big finale never happened…like Chikara's Claudio/Kingston feud!). Match Rating: ***3/4
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