By Chuck Carroll
(CBS New York/CBS Local) — WWE needed a boost, and they got one courtesy of a familiar face. Even though he had only been absent for six weeks, the surprise return of Brock Lesnar at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view felt as though The Beast had been away for ages.
Nobody saw his return coming and certainly even if they had, they couldn’t have imagined that he would become the winner of the Money in the Bank contract. Until he walked through the curtain last Sunday, Lesnar hadn’t been seen since losing the Universal Championship to Seth Rollins at WrestleMania. And having fans think they’re more likely to see his face on a milk carton than in the ring is exactly what WWE wanted. His return had to be a closely guarded secret.
The company reportedly went to great lengths to hide Lesnar up until just seconds before he ran to the ring. There is even speculation the other participants in the match didn’t even know he would be there. All they were reportedly told that somebody would come out, tip over a ladder with Ali perched on top, and then retrieve the briefcase. That was it.
We live in an age where spoilers are commonplace. Pro wrestling has beat reporters now just like any other major professional sport, and one of their primary functions is to sniff out secrets like this and beat WWE to the punch. Many of these squared circle scribes have broken enormous stories, and yet no reporter was able to report this story. The only way that happens is if just a handful of top-level executives know the plan. And because of that, it wouldn’t be difficult to trace the source of the leak had plans for Lesnar’s return gotten out. So, everyone kept their mouths shut, and the element of surprise delivered one of the most shocking and memorable moments in recent memory.
The secrecy paid off for WWE, as the combination of Lesnar’s return and the usual night after a pay-per-view curiosity delivered a significant boost in viewership for Monday Night RAW. The debut of “Boombox Brock” didn’t hurt either.
The intrigue now surrounds who Lesnar will cash in his guaranteed title shot against. Is a Universal Championship rematch with Rollins in his future, or will he target Kofi Kingston’s WWE Championship? Paul Heyman, Lesnar’s silver-tongued on-screen advocate, revealed that their decision would be announced on tonight’s episode of RAW.
As of now, Rollins seems to be the logical choice given their recent history and the fact that Kingston is now embroiled in a feud with Dolph Ziggler, who also surprisingly returned last week. But Lesnar is a wild card anything can happen.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Heyman to talk about the magnitude of Brock’s impact in WWE, his post-UFC retirement marketability, and what the future holds for the pair.
Typically after a big match like WrestleMania you and Brock Lesnar have been absent for longer than the six weeks this go around. Was the idea to return at MITB something that you knew going into WrestleMania, or was it something that came together relatively quickly?
Taking a look at the landscape right now, and the emergence of Kofi Kingston as a headline star and the popularity that he’s enjoying, and just how well Seth Rollins is doing as Universal Champion, it was a very easy suggestion for me to make to Brock Lesnar. That there is a lot of box office this summer, with the two champions that are enjoying a wave of popularity in WWE. And we should consider bringing them even higher on the box office food chain and putting one or both of them in the ring with Brock Lesnar.
Speaking of box office, there’s no doubt that Brock is a big box office draw. What does he mean to WWE in terms of marketability? How important of a figure is he at a time when billion-dollar TV deal are being negotiated?
Billion-dollar TV deals are based on the authenticity and credibility of a brand. Brock Lesnar, as I’ve said forever, is the only being in history to hold the NCAA Division I Championship, the UFC Heavyweight Championship, and the top titles, whether it’s the WWE Title or Universal Title, in WWE. When you take a look at that, there’s a reason for it: Brock Lesnar is a once-ever athlete. If Daniel Cormier could be WWE Champion, I assure you he would be. But he can’t pull them both off. If John Cena could have been UFC Champion, I assure you he would have been. Be he couldn’t pull both off.
Brock Lesnar can walk seamlessly between those two universes, dominate each of them at the same time if he chooses. And there is no one else on the face of the planet that can make that claim, with the possible exception of Ronda Rousey if she were so inclined. To have someone like this on your roster is something that WWE has in its hip pocket that trumps all. There’s no one else out there that can make the claim that they have an athlete the caliber of Brock Lesnar. UFC may have the best MMA fighters in the world, but they can’t also be the best sports entertainers. There may be other sports entertainment properties out there, and they can claim to have great in-ring performers, but none that can walk into UFC and become a champion. WWE has the one being on the face of the planet who can do both.
Dana White recently revealed that Brock has retired from UFC. What does that do in terms of his appeal and marketability moving forward? Does it even have an impact on his future in WWE?
I think the public is willing to pay to see Brock Lesnar, as long as Brock Lesnar is presented in a manner that entices the audience to be emotionally invested in the story being told. That’s whether it’s in WWE or UFC. So, Brock Lesnar’s retirement in UFC only makes him more available for WWE if the circumstances are right. In terms of Brock’s marketability to the general public, I think the general public has always been aware of what a unique athlete Brock Lesnar is and how rare it is to have the opportunity to see Brock Lesnar in action. It’s the equivalent of understanding the greatness of Michael Jordan while he was playing. It’s the equivalent of understanding the greatness of a Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb while they were playing. Roger Federer, while he’s playing at his peak. Bjorn Borg. People who not only change the game, but dominate in a fashion that no one else could dominate. That’s Brock Lesnar.
He’s not going to do this forever. He’s very picky about the box office appeal that he has. So, when Brock Lesnar is willing to appear, it’s a magnificent opportunity for any fan to see someone whose appearances are booked out judiciously so that there are only a limited number of times you will have in your lifetime to see Brock Lesnar.
You say he’s not going to do this forever. Have you discussed a timetable for how much longer you’d like to continue on?
I would say that any conversation, like that between Brock Lesnar and I, would be considered confidential and privileged in nature. When Brock Lesnar wants information like that revealed to the public, we will do it in the grandest fashion possible.
This actually makes me laugh because of the plethora of memes that popped up. The “Boombox Brock” that appeared Monday night, who came up with that concept? Was that something that just occurred on the fly, or was that an idea that you pitched and thought it would be a hit?
That was just Brock Lesnar in the moment, and I would suggest it’s not a Boombox, it’s a BeastBox.
We were talking about marketability. BeastBox sounds like a t-shirt idea, my friend.
We’re way ahead of you.
You’ve spoken highly in the past of other people in the locker room, such as Becky Lynch. If you weren’t working with Brock, who would you like to be an advocate for? Would it be Becky, or are there some others that you have your eye on.
We can say “if, if, if” all day long. I am with Brock Lesnar. I am exclusive to Brock Lesnar. So, to speculate on someone for whom I would perform my advocacy is mere speculation. We have probably the most talented roster in WWE history, and I can only imagine how badly some of these magnificent Superstars would crave to be represented and advocated for by Paul Heyman. And I applaud them for their taste.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.