The Complete History of the WWE Championship - Part 11
2002 was an odd year for WWE.
On paper, the company had the most star studded roster in it's five decade history.
Mainstay main eventers such as Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, The Undertaker, Kane, Kurt Angle, Ric Flair, DDP and Booker T were part of the roster and underneath were top line mid-carders like Rob Van Dam, Edge, Christian, Scott Hall, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and others.
After trying and failing to elevate career mid-carder Jericho into a bonafide headliner, WWE gave Triple H his fifth World crown at WrestleMania X-8, when he comfortably defeated Y2J for the gold. It spent the next few months swapping the World title among veteran main event stars as WWE searched for a new identity in the post-Attitude era.
It was a year of transition and WWE recognized that fact.
Although they were booking tried and tested talent in the headline positions, they were also keen on building for the future and debuting on WWE television in 2002 were 24 year old Brock Lesnar, 22 year old Randy Orton and 25 year old John Cena.
There was also Batista, although he was much older than those three also debuted in 2002, as he discovered wrestling later in life.
All four of those men would be World Champions by the time 2005 rolled around. Lesnar would win the WWE Heavyweight crown just five months after his debut, shortly after his 25th birthday.
Indeed, Lesnar was the man that WWE saw as the next Hogan/Rock/Austin level superstar, even going so far as to literally dub him "The Next Big Thing". They believed that Lesnar would be the man to dominate the next decade of WWE. He had youth, sterling amateur wrestling credentials and a massive six feet five inch, 280 Ibs frame.
Ironically, Lesnar would dominate the subsequent decade instead. In his original run in WWE, he only competed in the company for two years between 2002 and 2004 before tiring of the grind of traveling on the road and deciding to take a crack at becoming a NFL player instead.
Lesnar would return to WWE in April 2012 following stints in New Japan Pro Wrestling and as a heavyweight UFC champion and would hold World titles almost continuously until time of this writing, even on a part time schedule.
The 2002-2012 period that was supposed to be the Lesnar Era instead became the Cena Era.
Part 12 in this series will look at the early reigns of Cena as WWE Champion.
Previous articles in this series can be found here: