Brock Lesnar, pro wrestler and monster, crashed back (again) into the WWE in January. There are two problems with Lesnar’s comebacks that, for me, may have poisoned him as a pro wrestler forever: one, that he was in UFC and two, what he was in UFC.
Brock Lesnar, mixed martial artist and UFC heavyweight champ, stood in the Octagon before a worldwide audience and showed his legitimate combat skills. He knocked out a pair of legends in Frank Mir and Randy Couture, submitted Shane Carwin, and dominated Heath Herring. Unlike WWE, UFC isn’t staged, and Lesnar indeed took it seriously. He put in the time, sweat, and pain to learn real striking, chokes, triangles, and takedown defense. He built his impressive arsenal of amateur wrestling holds into an offensive tool chest that made him honestly dangerous.
Coming off that kind of résumé, can Lesnar really climb back into wrestling rings to deliver F-5s and double axe-handles? Given Lesnar’s proven striking and ground-and-pound, can we possibly accept that he can’t knock out Triple H after twenty minutes? Why would a post-MMA Lesnar even want to deliver the flashy (but essentially harmless) F-5? And WWE only makes it worse when they have Lesnar slap on the arm triangle that beat Shane Carwin and ask us to believe it just isn’t enough to take out Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Some WWE wrestlers can’t be taken seriously because they look like they’d never be able to win a real fight. Today’s Lesnar can’t be taken seriously for exactly the opposite reason.
But there may be a converse effect that attracts some wrestling fans: maybe Lesnar’s UFC career gives him a badge of legitimacy that other superstars just can’t match; call this the Ken Shamrock effect. I can buy that such an effect exists, but in Lesnar’s case, I think it only raises its own problem: Lesnar’s legitimately successful UFC career also showed the world how fragile, unhealthy, and unsustainable he was in the ring.
Lesnar fought a total of just eight MMA matches and won only five. (Those numbers may sound high given his part-time WWE routine, but that’s not saying much.) In the UFC, Lesnar showed himself to have a glass chin, taffeta skin, and shaky mental composure. Frank Mir made him tap, Shane Carwin abused his face, Cain Valesquez took him out in one round, and Alistair Overeem physically destroyed him. He was also chronically ill with legitimately life-threatening conditions. So even if we try to read Lesnar’s UFC sojourn as proof of his brutal monster status, the UFC evidence will suggest he’s not a monster at all.
These seem like equal but opposite problems: Lesnar’s MMA stint shows that he’s either too real to play games in WWE or too fragile to be taken seriously in WWE. Maybe for some fans these points conveniently cancel each other out, but not for me. I’m left wondering why the Brock Lesnar who vanquished Randy Couture can’t pound Triple H’s face into pulp—or else why Triple H can’t use that sledgehammer to do to Brock Lesnar what Alistair Overeem did with just his feet and fists. I can’t suspend my Lesnar-related disbelief, no matter which direction I turn.
As it plans the supercards of the future, I hope the WWE leaves out athletes who choose to damage their brands in other sports. The WWE has a deep roster of guys who are eager to pursue full-time pro-wrestling careers; that’s where the wrestling world’s next true monster should come from.