As part of an occasional series, we look at great What If scenarios in wrestling history which could indeed have changed the course of how major events may have occurred for wrestlers and companies. Today, we ponder the question: what if Brock Lesnar had remained with WWE in 2004?
So, Lesnar abruptly left WWE after his WrestleMania XX stinker with Goldberg, claiming he was tired of life on the road amongst other things, and wanted to pursue a career in the NFL. That didn’t happen, but over the next few years, he would return to wrestling in New Japan, before entering the world of MMA and becoming an even bigger star in UFC. Once his ultimate fighting career ended, he returned to WWE the night after WrestleMania XXVIII, and despite teases of a UFC return and even a comeback fight in 2016, he remains with Vince McMahon’s group to this day. Oh, and there was a lengthy lawsuit battle between Brock and WWE in the mid-2000s which both parties ignore talking about or even hinting at these days.
Supposedly, Lesnar had requested time off from Vince back in ‘04, which was allegedly refused. But assuming that he was granted a break, perhaps he would have stuck around, and that is the alternate reality we will explore today. It’s worth remembering that upon his departure, Brock was still considered to potentially be the biggest young star in the company for years to come, to be challenged only by other promising riding names, so it’s entirely feasible that his 2002-2004 success represented a mere snapshot of what he would go on to achieve, which is reflected in this article. We’ll assume that there would have been no major creative differences hindering the Lesnar-WWE relationship, and though we’ll chuck in a couple of curveballs of our own imagination for fun, we’ll try and stick as close to the actual narrative of WWE’s history as possible.
So, the rumour is that Lesnar was originally supposed to defeat Goldberg at WM XX, and there were whispers of a post-Mania feud with The Undertaker (who had just returned to his Dark Side origins). We’ll allow these scenarios to play out, culminating with Taker pinning Brock (who alongside Paul Heyman had fiendishly kidnapped Paul Bearer) at The Great American Bash 2004. From there, Brock gets the break he had asked for, only returning to the scene at Survivor Series to run roughshod on WWE Title combatants John Bradshaw Layfield and Booker T after JBL retained against T.
Brock regains the WWE Title (his fourth top title at that point) by beating JBL, Booker and Eddie Guerrero in a four-way at Armageddon. Successful title defences against Eddie (in a No Way Out ‘04 rematch) and Booker at Royal Rumble and No Way Out comprise his early 2005, before he drops the title to new top babyface John Cena at WrestleMania 21. He even puts young John over in an I Quit match at Judgment Day, with the blood-soaked battle playing out exactly as it did in real life, only with Lesnar instead of Layfield.
This time, Brock is given proper time off, and he only returns to announce his entry into the 2006 Royal Rumble match. Rey Mysterio upsets the apple cart by winning said Rumble after last eliminating Randy Orton and then Brock, and subsequent events lead Rey to defend his title shot against Brock at No Way Out 2006. Interference by a vengeful Orton costs Rey the big opportunity, leading to WrestleMania 22 where Rey faces Randy and new #1 contender Brock, in our curveball, faces World Heavyweight Champion and new face of SmackDown, Batista.
Brock ends Batista’s year-long reign to win the WHC (top title 5), and the two have an intense feud, one that sees Lesnar’s pal Paul Heyman pull a coup by having their final battle take place at ECW One Night Stand 2006 under Extreme Rules, with Batista claiming back his prize in a violent battle. But Lesnar doesn’t wait around to rebound, as he shockingly joins the ECW brand two nights later and, as his reward for jumping from SD, Heyman awards him the ECW Title (top title six). Though this displeases new WWE Champion Rob Van Dam, Paul’s decision is final, and Lesnar rules ECW for the next six months, including a SummerSlam victory over Kurt Angle that sends Angle out of the WWE door.
His dominance is ended by Bobby Lashley in the Extreme Elimination Chamber at December To Dismember, though Lashley loses the ECW crown back to Brock (now onto his seventh major title) under controversial circumstances at Royal Rumble 2007. This and other brutal displays catch the eye of Vince McMahon, who appoints Brock as his representative against Donald Trump in the Battle Of The Billionaires at WrestleMania 23, only for the future US President to pick Lashley. Somewhere along the way, it’s decided that the ECW Title will also be at stake, and with Steve Austin as special guest referee, Bobby pins Brock at WM 23, resulting in Lashley becoming a two-time ECW Champion and Vince being shaved bald.
Lesnar takes a break from TV while The McMahon’s and their new secondary monster Umaga target Lashley. Brock is back as a cornerman for Vince against Bobby at One Night Stand, though Lashley pins McMahon to reclaim his ECW Title. Afterwards, Vince foolishly blames Lesnar, leading to Brock turning babyface for the first time since 2003 with an F5 to Vince. This sends Vince off the rails, culminating in his limousine explosion on the June 11 Raw, the same night that Lesnar is drafted back to the red brand.
Over the summer, new babyface Brock tangles with McMahon henchmen Umaga and King Booker, before entering a lengthy rivalry with Randy Orton that dominates his autumn. The surprise in-ring return of JBL on Raw (in response to Layfield never getting a proper WWE Title rematch back in 2004-2005) occupies Brock’s time at both Royal Rumble and No Way Out of 2008. Lesnar wins both by disqualification and pinfall respectively, only to pick a fight at ringside with special guest Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather in a huge angle after his second victory over JBL. The fallout is Lesnar vs. Mayweather at Mania XXIV, a showdown that Floyd wins due to controversial means.
Brock takes this loss in his stride, but by mid-2008, he is feeling the strain of poor results and turns heel by putting John Cena on the shelf with a neck injury the night after SummerSlam, and taking advantage of Randy Orton and the soon-to-be Legacy injuring CM Punk by entering and winning the suddenly-vacant World Heavyweight Championship at Unforgiven 2008 (top title 8). He retains until the return of Cena at Survivor Series in his hometown, with John capturing the title and successfully retaining at Armageddon 2008, in less brutal bouts than they had previously contested due to the recent shift to PG.
Lesnar remains ruthless, though, and he assaults Vince (by now a babyface) right before Royal Rumble 2009, where he wins his second Rumble. From there, he replaces Randy Orton in the personal feud against the McMahons and Triple H. Brock states that HHH and his family ties prevented him from being more successful, to the point where HHH was afraid to face Lesnar and thus held him down. The two collide on PPV for the first time in the main event at WrestleMania 25, a match that Brock wins to capture the WWE Championship once more, his ninth top title.
Their feud runs until the summer, during which time the WWE belt swaps back and forth (making Lesnar a 10-time Champ), until a four-way with HHH, Cena and Orton sees Randy capture the title at Night Of Champions 2009. Lesnar destroys HHH after the match, indefinitely sidelining him, and to his aid the next night comes the returning Shawn Michaels, who faces and pins Brock in their first ever match at SummerSlam 2009. Their feud continues until a three-way also involving the returning HHH at Survivor Series, with Brock beating both DX members that night.
In early 2010, Brock finds a new nemesis in Sheamus, a fresh heel who targets the Pain in such a manner that Brock becomes a babyface once again. Lesnar pins Sheamus at WrestleMania XXVI in a mid-card match, though Sheamus wins a rematch at and under Extreme Rules. Brock takes a break after this bout to show a different side of his personality in the WWE Studios movie The Chaperone, before returning to pin Sheamus at SummerSlam. In the meantime, an anonymous Raw General Manager takes control of the show, and the mysterious person behind the keyboard seems to show occasional favouritism towards Brock.
As Brock enters a short feud with Chris Jericho, culminating in him sending Y2J out the door, a new threat known as The Nexus takes over Raw, and though Brock remains independent from the movement, accusations from the likes of Edge (who never has a full feud with Brock aside from some Raw encounters, since The Rated R Superstar is soon moved to SmackDown where his career ends shortly afterwards due to injury) make many wonder how closely involved he is. In early January 2011, to the chagrin of Nexus enemy Cena, Brock is indeed revealed as their new head honcho, stating that it was all his plan to take down Cena for their problems dating back to WrestleMania 21 in 2005, and how John replaced Brock as the Face Of WWE. From there, he smashes The Miz to regain the WWE prize (top title 11) and defends it against Cena at WrestleMania XXVII, though it’s essentially the final battle of WWE vs. Nexus.
By now, though, Cena has become distracted by the return of The Rock, who is hosting Mania. Interference by Rock means that Lesnar pins Cena to retain at Mania 27, and holds onto the gold with the help of Nexus for quite a while, until he strikes an unexpected new alliance with Vince. That’s because a rebel by the name of CM Punk has cut a pipe bomb promo ahead of a WWE Championship battle with Lesnar at Money In The Bank 2011, where Punk plans to leave WWE with the title. In front of a red-hot Chicago crowd, Punk shockingly wins and takes off temporarily. The next night, Vince plans to fire Lesnar, only for HHH to reveal that he is now in charge as COO and Vince has been relieved of his duties. In the midst of this, though, Lesnar says he’ll walk before he’s fired, and is out of the picture. As Cena is chosen to bring prestige back to the WWE Title against Punk at SummerSlam, Lesnar is off TV with rumours that it’s in fact Brock who has legitimately left the company, and he is even absent from WrestleMania XXVIII.
The remainder of this will largely follow what actually happened, albeit with a small number of twists based on the fact that Lesnar will have been around for all of the previous eight years which alters storyline explanations, and because, well, this version of events may have simply been a bit better than what really went down, even if only due to a slight tweak in the narrative.
So the night after Mania 28, Brock returns, albeit with a brand new part-time schedule written into his updated WWE contract, and he floors old enemy Cena with an F5, though he loses their bloody Extreme Rules 2012 contest, the latest battle in a feud that is by this point deemed as being legendary. Brock is so angry that he assaults COO HHH the next night to renew their hostilities, resulting in Lesnar defeating The Game at SummerSlam with the help of his trusty new submission move, the Kimura. His old pal Paul Heyman returns (as he reveals that he had been the anonymous Raw GM all along) during that feud, a rivalry which does not extend into early 2013, but ends right there at SummerSlam. That’s because Lesnar has set his sights higher, though not before quitting WWE again in a Tout video.
At WrestleMania 29, on a night where Cena faces Rock again and former WWE Champion CM Punk looks to take out his frustrations on management by beating HHH, Lesnar is back to achieve the only thing he hasn’t done, which is to end The Streak of The Undertaker. And what do you know, but in a gruelling match that is actually awesome, Lesnar pins Taker and ENDS THE STREAK, snapping it at 20-1 to the shock of everybody. He celebrates by destroying the now-former WWE Champion The Rock the next night, building the massive heel heat even more. This springboards Lesnar so much that after defeating new babyface Punk at SummerSlam 2013 to finally get his revenge from MITB 2011, he’s chosen by The Authority to get a quick title match that sees him end the night by dethroning new WWE Champion Daniel Bryan to capture his twelfth top title.
Lesnar retains throughout the autumn, but he misses out on unifying his gold with the WHC when he drops a TLC clash to Randy Orton at the PPV of the same name. A chance for revenge at Royal Rumble 2014 in a three-way against Orton and Cena ends abruptly with The Wyatt Family screwing Cena, and when Lesnar (well, Heyman on his behalf) demands an answer the next night, out bounces The Rock, who attacks Lesnar to get something back from the night after Mania 29, thus setting up Rock vs. Brock at Mania XXX. Lesnar wins this match, a Career match, thus meaning that he retires Rock one year after he ended The Streak (though Taker does return to WWE in a squash win over Kane, who had taunted his brother for the demise of his winning record, when Taker is asked afterwards about The Streak, he walks away without responding).
Lesnar gets his singles rematch at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam 2014 where he smashes Cena one last time, but this time he does so in unprecedented fashion with 16 German Suplexes before an F5 earns him a thirteenth top title. The more dangerous than ever Brock holds onto the gold until WrestleMania 31, where Seth Rollins snatches the title by cashing in Money In The Bank during Lesnar’s defence against new headline hope Roman Reigns, though it helped Seth that Brock was incapacitated by a Chokeslam from Undertaker, who after beating Bray Wyatt earlier on finally gets some revenge for the death of The Streak.
He does so again by costing Lesnar a title shot against Rollins at Battleground 2015, though by this point Lesnar is a tweener leading towards the face side. Taker still finds a way to defeat Brock in a massive rematch at SummerSlam 2015, though Lesnar has the last laugh by defeating The Dead Man once more in a Hell In A Cell match at WrestleMania 32. Lesnar evokes heel heat once more by bludgeoning Dean Ambrose at SummerSlam 2016, around which time fans are calling for the return of an old face.
You see, Goldberg is going to be the pre-order exclusive of the WWE 2K17 videogame, but he didn’t appreciate how his WWE run ended in 2004, and so he shocks everybody by facing and squashing Lesnar at Survivor Series 2016. Brock ends up beating Goldberg again though with a win at WrestleMania 33, one that earns Lesnar his 14th and final top title, the relatively new Universal Championship. Lesnar shakes Goldberg’s hand afterwards to end their hostilities, and Brock even inducts Goldberg into the Hall Of Fame in 2018.
Over the next year, Lesnar enjoys one last long title reign, his longest yet in fact, as he spends a year (on a part-time basis) destroying the best that Raw has to offer. Meanwhile, Roman Reigns notes that his WM 31 main event never had a true resolution, which becomes a bigger deal once Reigns earns another chance against Brock at WrestleMania 34, one that could potentially make him a legend. Lesnar and Heyman, back in a heelish role, are supremely confident, so much so that Lesnar vows to retire if he loses to Roman in New Orleans.
On April 8 2018, Reigns takes the best that Lesnar has to offer, even being busted open in grisly fashion. But a courageous Big Dog hits Spear after Spear to finally keep Brock down for the three to win the Universal Championship. At the age of 40, having won 14 major titles in a long career, having made many millions of dollars via WWE, and with nothing else to prove or achieve having even ended The Streak (he was also briefly a movie star remember, having starred in The Chaperone), Brock feels that now is the time to walk away, as the old guard of the Ruthless Aggression begin to fade away. Lesnar receives the ultimate honour as he is rewarded with one final WWE cameo at WrestleMania 35, as he takes a bow as the star inductee in the 2019 class of the Hall Of Fame, inducted of course by Paul Heyman.
Of course, it is pure speculation and guesswork as to what the futures of Brock Lesnar and WWE would have been had he not departed the company in 2004. Perhaps he would have left earlier and never returned, or maybe he’d have achieved even greater success than we have predicted here. Nevertheless, everybody has an opinion, and this is our take on how things might have panned out. It’s always fun to consider What If’s in wrestling, and so it has proven to be a lot of fun to speculate: What If Brock Lesnar Hadn’t Left WWE?
Keep checking out Writebase for another instalment of a wrestling-related What If in the near future!