WWE’s Universal Champion might be a terrifying man-monster, but his opponents and outside circumstance have changed everything.
If you’ve ever seen Brock Lesnar in the ring at SummerSlam, chances are you’ve seen him dominate whichever opponent he’s facing in the ring that night. He decimated John Cena in 2014 when he made him look like a rag doll via German suplexes and became champion in one of the most lopsided victories in recent history.
If you see Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam this year, you might not see that. In fact, you might just see him leave.
That’s because if Lesnar loses the Fatal Four Way main event and the Universal Championship, he will leave WWE. And some signs point to that actually happening instead of just being a story line bluff. Minutes after defeating Daniel Cormier at UFC 214, Jon Jones got a mic and turned his attention to Lesnar, who was last seen in the UFC in 2016.:
“Brock Lesnar, if you wanna know what it feels like to get your ass kicked by a guy who weighs 40 pounds less than you, meet me in the octagon.”
Two days later, WWE capitalized on that hype. Paul Heyman went out to paint the champ as the ultimate underdog, one whose challenges may be so difficult that he doesn’t actually overcome them. He blamed it on the odds of winning the Fatal Four Way title match. With Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe, and Braun Strowman making up three -quarters of the large adult wrestling sons match, defeating them seems like a lofty goal from the start.
Heyman expanded a bit more and blamed the match’s existence on who Kurt Angle answers to, implying that its less of a story motive and one commanded by WWE’s real-life bosses. “Why don’t we just rename this SummerSlam 2017: Brock Loses the Universal Title. Because sir, respectfully, you’ve been told to make Brock Lesnar pay the ultimate price haven’t you?” If the nod to UFC wasn’t enough Heyman spelled out what fighting fans wanted to hear. If Brock loses the Universal Title at SummerSlam, he leaves WWE.
Just a week before, reports came out that Lesnar would not sign an extension with WWE, so this makes perfect sense. Would Lesnar leave WWE early to un-retire from the UFC? Not necessarily, although this is may be the best way to inject a sense of doubt in spite of Brock’s victorious performances at SummerSlams past.
Taking a look at his opponents, one would have to wonder if Lesnar could legitimately lose. The competition has never been more prepared to topple Brock.
Lesnar and Roman Reigns faced off in the main event of WrestleMania 31. Both competitors were spent as the match wound down, giving Seth Rollins his chance to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase and snatch the WWE Championship from Brock. Had the one-on-one match continued, Reigns could have beaten Lesnar — that’s not something many Lesnar opponents get to even entertain.
Most recently, Samoa Joe got his chance at the Universal strap. Joe got the best of him with enough sleeper holds to make Lesnar look like the ripest tomato in the garden. But thanks to a quick escape via F5, Lesnar was able to scratch out the win. The moral victory that Joe got from having an entertaining match with Lesnar despite losing may have been worth more than the actual match’s victory. Joe should have beaten Lesnar, but it was last gasp vs. last gasp, and Brock’s won out.
Then you have Braun Strowman, the comparative novice in the match, who removes a certain characteristic from most Lesnar matches — the size advantage. Lesnar must look up at his opponent and cower (well, the Lesnar eqvivalent of cowering) at the sight of WWE’s monster among men. Their singular confrontation was teased, however, during last Monday’s edition of RAW. Surrounded by rows of security guards (and after Roman and Joe were taken out) Lesnar and Strowman had an intense staredown that escalated into a fight, much to the chagrin of the men with their tucked in black tees and then the entire WWE locker room.
Looking back, you could see this as a pivotal moment within the super heavyweight portion of the WWE roster. Strowman winning at SummerSlam could be a changing of the guard, officially certifying him as WWE’s top beast.
Unlike most of his other SummerSlam appearances, Brock doesn’t have to be pinned to lose in this multi-man match — that’s how he ended up dropping the title to Rollins back at Mania 31, as Seth pinned Roman instead of Lesnar. Brock Lesnar’s beast incarnate persona would not suffer as a result, which would come in handy upon Lesnar’s next quarterly set of appearances. With WWE on hold, he could take that time for a UFC fight.
With a wrestler as dominant as Brock Lesnar in the venue he’s most dominant in, it’s hard to convince fans he has a legitimate chance of losing. But thanks to his large competition, and the possibility of fighting in the octagon again, WWE has done just that.
Still, it’s feasible to see Lesnar win at SummerSlam and fight in the UFC: He did it just last year. Something about this time feels just different enough, though.