The then-24 year old Lesnar exploded onto the scene on the post WrestleMania X-8 Raw on March 18, 2002. So confident in Lesnar, were WWE that they put the WWE Championship on him at SummerSlam 2002, just five months after his debut on WWE television at the tender age of 25. Lesnar defeated then nine time World Champion, The Rock to win the strap.
Lesnar was the main man; "The Next Big Thing" as it were.
However, Lesnar's first run in WWE would last just two years. He bowed out of WWE and the wrestling business entirely following his loss to Goldberg at WrestleMania XX.
Lesnar, despite his top card status and three reigns as WWE World Champion was unhappy in the company. His biggest gripe was life on the road and the grind of the four match per week schedule. "The Next Big Thing" yearned to spend more time at home on his farm in Minnesota.
A strong Football player in his youth, Lesnar made an implausible attempt to become a pro-Footballer but was eventually cut by his hometown team, The Minnesota Vikings, after several rounds of tryouts.
Lesnar attempted to return to WWE in late 2005, but WWE at that point were unwilling to yield to their former champion's demands for remuneration for a Shawn Michaels style part time schedule. Lesnar had not yet earned the right to dictate terms to WWE and he instead found himself employed by New Japan Pro Wrestling before he really made it big in UFC in 2008, when he defeated the legendary, Randy Couture to become the UFC Heavyweight Champion.
Lesnar became the biggest attraction in combat sports pulling in over a million pay per view buys for his UFC title defences versus Frank Mir, Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez.
When his full time MMA career ended in 2011, Lesnar was able to name his price. WWE acceded to his hefty contract demands and an extremely pared down part time schedule. He made his re-debut on the post WrestleMania 28 Raw, when he floored John Cena and soon became World Champion once more at SummerSlam 2014.
Lesnar has been presented as the biggest star in the company ever since. At time of writing, he was the reigning WWE World Champion, having defeated Kofi Kingston in a matter of seconds on SmackDown's debut on Fox on October 4, 2019.
Expect Lesnar to hold onto that title for a long time to come.
Previous parts in my series can be found here: Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10, part 11, part 12, part 13, part 14, part 15, part 16. part 17 and part 18.
Brock Lesnar (August 17, 2014 - March 29, 2015)
Brock Lesnar returned to the WWE Championship picture with a bang at SummerSlam 2014. He challenged WWE Champion, John Cena for the gold in the show's headline attraction.
Lesnar annihilated Cena in a prolonged one sided squash in which the champion offered very little offence.
The pair collided in a rematch the following month at Night of Champions on September 21, 2014. This time the bout was far more competitive and Lesnar narrowly escaped with the strap when Seth Rollins interfered and caused a disqualification.
Lesnar then disappeared from WWE television for several months, taking the title with him. When he resurfaced, he defended the strap at the 2015 Royal Rumble in an excellent triple threat encounter with Cena and Rollins. Lesnar walked out the champion and put the title on the line in the headline slot of WrestleMania 31 versus Royal Rumble winner, Roman Reigns.
"The Beast" battered Reigns at will in their much hyped collision, until the "Big Dog" began to make a comeback. It was then, that Rollins raced down, cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and walked out of 'Mania as WWE Champion.
Lesnar's seven month reign as WWE Champion was over. It was a long time before Lesnar would hold that belt again. Four years, in fact.
Seth Rollins (March 29, 2015 - November 4, 2015)
Seth Rollins was not supposed to be WWE's chosen one in 2015. When The Shield triumvirate of Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose split during the summer of 2014, it was Reigns whom WWE expected to be the star of the group. Tall, muscular, with a familial legacy in the business, he was everything that WWE Chairman, Vince McMahon wanted in a company figurehead.
The problem was that the WWE Universe felt that WWE were forcing Reigns onto them instead of him organically becoming a superstar baby face. The fans rejected Reigns. So much so, that the Royal Rumble winner who was originally booked to dethrone Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 31 was so universally unpopular that the company had no choice but to change their plans.
Reigns's former Shield team-mate got the nod instead. It was Rollins who walked out of 'Mania with the WWE Championship courtesy of Money in the Bank cash-in and it was Rollins who was subsequently positioned as the number one star in the company.
He defended the belt versus Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose, Lesnar, John Cena, Sting and Kane before going down with a legitimate torn ACL, MCL and medial meniscus in his knee that required major surgery. Rollins was sidelined for six months, forcing him to vacate the WWE Championship which was put up for grabs in a tournament to declare a new champion.
Roman Reigns (November 22, 2015 - November 22, 2015)
Reigns, like Cena had gotten over huge with the fan-base as a mega cool heel but once he turned face, WWE abandoned what had made him popular and geared his character towards children instead which caused the masses to resent and boo him. Reigns had a bigger problem than Cena had, as the fans actually wanted someone else, namely, Daniel Bryan to be WWE's number one superstar. WWE thought differently and had Bryan almost instantly eliminated from the 2015 Royal Rumble match, which Reigns ultimately went on to win.
Fan discord had not dissipated by the time WrestleMania rolled around on March 29, 2015 and Reigns was loudly booed by the fans in attendance at Levi's Stadium. WWE had finally anticipated that response and booked a contingency plan to save their 'Mania headliner. Money in the Bank winner Seth Rollins added himself to the bout and lifted the belt from WWE Champion, Brock Lesnar instead.
Reigns was shunted down the card as WWE tried to build him up more slowly in order to recover fan goodwill. WWE finally pulled the trigger on Reigns's first WWE Championship win in the final of a tournament at the 2015 Survivor Series, to crown a new champion after Rollins had vacated the belt due to injury. It was the battle of The Shield as Reigns defeated Dean Ambrose to lift the strap. However, fan enmity was still strong and WWE used another Money in the Bank winner, Sheamus to deny Reigns. Minutes after his victory, Reigns lost the belt to Sheamus's cash in.
The hope was that fans would sympathise with Reigns and rally behind him in a rematch. That was the thinking anyway.
Sheamus (November 22, 2015 - December 14, 2015)
Sheamus had last reigned as a World Champion back in 2012 and had not held the WWE Championship since 2010. He had not been a World title contender since 2013 and had struggled with injuries between 2014 and 2015.
However, he surprisingly won the Money in the Bank contract at the titular pay per view on June 15, 2015 but was not expected to win the title when he cashed in. Sheamus's time as a serious headliner according to most observers was over.
It was a colossal shock then, when Sheamus dethroned Roman Reigns to win the WWE Championship just five minutes and 15 seconds after Reigns had won the strap for the first time at the 2015 Survivor Series.
Reigns, with his victory had refused to join The Authority which necessitated the cash in. Sheamus had no such problems and aligned himself with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon and formed his own squad, monikered The League of Nations, featuring himself, Wade Barrett, Alberto Del Rio and Rusev.
Sheamus would retain the title at TLC on December 13, 2015 but would lose the belt the following night on Raw in a rematch with Reigns.
Sheamus's headline career in WWE was over.
Roman Reigns (December 14, 2015 - January 24, 2016)
Operation: Get Roman Reigns over as a Superstar baby face continued into the winter of 2015 with the same unfortunate results.
The WWE Universe continued to resent Reigns whom they saw as Vince McMahon's pet project. The problem being that fans were being told to cheer the "Big Dog" as opposed to gradually and organically warming to him.
He ended Sheamus's short title run to earn his second WWE Championship on the December 14, 2015 episode of Raw. It was a good match but the experiment was still not working.
WWE decided to stack the odds against Reigns so that fans would have to cheer him. A sound idea in theory and in the pre-internet world it likely would have worked. However, in 2015 and 2016, the WWE Universe was wise to the backstage goings on and did not stand for it.
The idea was that Reigns would be made to defend his WWE title versus 29 other superstars in the 2016 Royal Rumble match. The success of Reigns's reign was evidenced by how quickly he lost the strap. Reigns's second title run lasted a paltry six weeks.
WWE would try again with the "Big Dog" in 2016.
Triple H (January 24, 2016 - April 3, 2016)
Triple H's full time in ring career ended in spring 2010, after his loss to Sheamus at Extreme Rules on April 25, 2010.
Triple H exclusively became a part timer in storyline and real life when he returned shortly before WrestleMania XXVII. "The Game" had not held WWE Championship gold since April 2009 when he was dethroned by Randy Orton at Backlash. However, he was the obvious man to dethrone Roman Reigns of the title, with WWE Champion, Reigns in a full blown feud with The Authority team of Triple H and his wife, Stephanie McMahon.
Fast forward then to the 2016 Royal Rumble. Reigns had been made to defend the WWE Championship in the match; the first time the title had been awarded in the 'Rumble since 1992. The number 30 entrant was none other than "The Game."
"The Cerebral Assassin" rolled back the clock as he dispatched Dolph Ziggler, Bray Wyatt, Reigns and finally Dean Ambrose to win his fourteenth World title and his ninth WWE Championship.
Triple H was back at the top. However, this reign existed solely as a vehicle to ensure the WWE Universe cheered Reigns. That task would culminate in a WrestleMania headline collision between the pair with the WWE Championship on the line.