Brock Lesnar is set to fight Mark Hunt at UFC 200, news that has created a number of questions about his future in both mixed martial arts and professional wrestling. The fact that this fight has been made will certainly play a major role — if not the most important role — in the booking and marketing of SummerSlam, insofar that Lesnar should now become the primary selling point.
Setting aside the potential risk and reward of letting Lesnar fight a month before WWE’s biggest show of the summer, the question becomes how WWE would best utilize Lesnar’s spike in visibility.
So long as he is able to compete (and Mark Hunt’s knockout power may very well have something to say about that), the most likely course of action for Lesnar at SS would be a Wrestlemania 31 rematch against Roman Reigns. Putting Lesnar against the champion would be the biggest match to make, and whether Brock wins or loses against Hunt, it gives Vince McMahon the opportunity to do what he had originally planned for Mania 31 at a point where having Roman beat Lesnar arguably means even more.
If the idea is to use Brock’s elevated public profile to pull in casual and lapsed wrestling fans, then putting him in the main event and having him go for the title is practically a no-brainer.
Since Superman punched Mr. McMahon and defeated Sheamus for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship to cheers in Philadelphia of all places, Reigns has been heavily booed throughout the bulk of his programs against the likes of Triple H and AJ Styles, and this is not likely to change against the returning Seth Rollins (even considering how infuriatingly bad their segment together last week was).
Nothing about the prospect of having Reigns defeat Lesnar at the Barclays Center in front of a predominantly smart crowd suggests that the response would be anything short of hostile, particularly if Lesnar were to go out and maul Hunt the month prior. Irrespective of whether Brock would be coming off of a win or a loss at UFC 200, he would likely be the overwhelming favorite with the crowd, which would complicate the idea of using a win over him to get a big babyface pop for Roman.
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Still, if we observe recent history, it is fairly easy to deduce that Vince is not concerning himself with such trivial things as his top babyface being overwhelmingly booed at a big show. If Vince has his sights set on cashing in on Brock’s return to the UFC and using it as a means to elevate Roman Reigns, then that it is precisely what will happen, even if one could reasonably question just how much the now three-time champion gains from beating Lesnar this late into his transition into the role of WWE’s top star.
Having Roman be the guy to beat Brock clean, for as unavoidable as it seems, feels like WWE is putting all of its eggs in one basket. Utilizing every resource to prop up one name would not be an uncommon approach for them (just look at the last two years for reference), but with the initiation of a brand split making it imperative to create new superstars to float separate shows, it would be all the more shortsighted to not consider the possibility of using Lesnar’s spotlight to elevate a fresh face.
Defeating Brock Lesnar clean, especially if he is coming off of a win at UFC 200, is the kind of accomplishment that could launch a guy into the stratosphere in a single night. With WWE now needing to sustain two shows with independent rosters, this fact should not be ignored.
This begs the question of who outside of Reigns would benefit the most effectively from defeating Lesnar and appear reasonably capable of doing so both in the eyes of fans and in the esteem of Vince McMahon. With so much of the current main roster talent seemingly slotted in their roles (most of them being squarely in the mid-card), it is hard to come up with a name that convincingly checks all of the necessary boxes. However, if one looks beyond those names already on the roster and toward those likely to be called up from NXT around the start of the brand split, one name emerges as a very logical choice: Samoa Joe.
Since joining NXT a little over a year ago, Joe has been an unbelievable asset for WWE’s self-fashioned indie brand, particularly in his six-month championship feud with Finn Balor. When an errant blow busted Joe’s eyebrow open in their match at TakeOver: Dallas, the added effects of blood streaming down his face and shoving away a doctor trying to clean him up not only got him more over with the crowd, but it made him look every bit like a legitimately frightening monster.
With a dearth of strong heels and the impending division of the roster, a legitimate monster is exactly what either Raw or Smackdown needs now more than ever. With the upcoming TakeOver special bearing the somewhat controversial subtitle The End, many are speculating that Joe is earmarked for a main roster call-up in the near future. What better way to bring him into the limelight and present him as a fearless beast of a man than to have him confidently challenge Brock Lesnar to a match at SummerSlam only weeks after he stepped into the Octagon?
If the idea is that Lesnar’s return at UFC 200 and the promotion of SummerSlam at upcoming UFC shows would help WWE pull in fans of MMA, it then makes a great deal of sense to put Brock in with a guy who could at least reasonably pass as a legitimate fighter. Joe’s background and experience would arguably make him better qualified in that respect than anybody else in the company, and his style and size would also hopefully force Brock to break up his patterned and increasingly monotonous approach of just suplexing guys around the ring for 10 or more minutes.
And, not for nothing, but there is at least some degree of marketing potential in having Brock go from fighting “The Super Samoan” to wrestling “The Samoan Submission Machine.”
Even if Vince would be reticent to pull the trigger with Samoa Joe to the extent that he defeats Brock Lesnar, a 15-minute match that sees Joe get in a lot of hard-hitting offense and take a hellacious beating would be enough to put him on the map right away. So long as the match would be as little like Brock’s incredibly forgettable Wrestlemania match with Dean Ambrose as possible, it is hard to imagine a scenario where Joe wouldn’t find a way to make himself look like a star.
Ultimately, the utility of having Brock Lesnar become the man to beat The Undertaker’s streak should be to have him put over someone in order to push them to that next level and make them a big money draw. Roman Reigns, for better or worse, is already the ceiling that all other talent in WWE will butt up against; he certainly does not need the push that would come with beating Brock, and having him be the one is not going to change the mindset of most fans who refuse to cheer him.
On the other hand, having Samoa Joe go toe-to-toe with Brock — or even beat him — would make him a megastar overnight at a time where WWE absolutely needs it. For as much as WWE seems to be gambling with having Lesnar fight, using him to make a new monster seems like a fairly certain bet.