WWE Ruthless Aggression (Episode 4): The Next Big Thing Report by Josh Lopez
The following is a transcript of WWE Network’s newest series, “WWE Ruthless Aggression.” Please share some of your favorite Ruthless Aggression moments in the comment section. We’ll be highlighting certain comments made by the superstars, producers, and executives from that era and fan perspective from the current members of the WWE Roster.
You can follow me on Twitter @TheHootsPodcast
Description: Seeking “The Next Big Thing,” WWE finds Brock Lesnar. He becomes an in-ring monster — and a master of Ruthless Aggression behind the scenes. Relive Lesnar’s rise to the top, rivalries with The Rock and Hulk Hogan and his decision to depart WWE for eight years.
Episode 4: The Next Big Thing Narrated By Michael Rapaport
Paul Heyman: I think people need to understand that Brock Lesnar was only here for two years. Brock Lesnar started the day after WrestleMania X8 and finished at WrestleMania XX. Brock Lesnar was here for 24 months, that’s it. His first run was that fast. His contributions were enormous. The number of moments that Brock Lesnar offered in those two years, unheard of. But it was only two years.
Recruiting Brock Lesnar/OVW
Michael Rapaport: From the time he was 11 years old, there was something special about this kid from rural South Dakota. When it came to wrestling, he was always the best. In middle school, high school and even in college where he won the NCAA Heavyweight Championship. Brock Lesnar was a superstar in the making and quickly caught the eye of WWE Talent Scouts.
Jim Ross: We spotted Brock in college and started recruiting him. We needed new faces. We needed new stars. New stars is what the business thrives on. We got Brock in developmental. We sent him to Louisville.
Jim Cornette: Even if you have top stars now, that doesn’t mean you’re going to have top stars in two or three years. So it’s not like you can just sit and say, okay, I have all the wrestlers I need for the next five or ten years. That’s never going to happen. So I hear I have The NCAA Heavyweight Wrestling Champion coming. Okay, here we go.
Batista: Brock came in and he was just a stud. Physically there was nothing that he couldn’t do.
Jim Cornette: Tremendous athlete. And look at him. Couldn’t hurt him if you ran over him with a car.
Shelton Benjamin: He’s a once in a lifetime personality and athlete.
Randy Orton: He was as quick as the quickest guy and stronger than the strongest guy.
Batista: Everything that he did was just fast and powerful. When you get a guy who looks like that and is a freak athlete, but also really understands the psychology, he’s a money maker.
Jim Cornette: Brock, being a freak athlete, one in day practice just because he saw somebody else try it or he saw it on TV or whatever does a Shooting Star Press. This is not good for a huge guy to do something like that all the time. But for The Big Show, boy, you pull out all the stops, that’s great.
Michael Rapaport: Lesnar’s freakish athleticism stood out. Even among a group of the very best athletes to ever set foot in OVW. But Brock grew impatient with the developmental process.
Paul Heyman: Brock Lesnar had learned all he was going to learn in developmental. And he was tired of developmental money. Brock Lesnar knew he was the biggest box office attraction that WWE was going to have. And Brock Lesnar was tired of waiting. So Brock made a decision. Move me up to the main roster or kiss my ass goodbye. It was a no brainer of a decision. So Brock is working dark matches, which are the matches that take place before the television goes live.
He was getting horrible advice from these veterans that were still hanging on to their jobs as producers. You are too big. You move too fast. Don’t move so fast. Stay still. Stand in the middle of the ring and don’t move. So I got together with Brock and gave him some different advice than what he was receiving. And I asked Vince to watch Brock’s match and Vince loved it. Vince told me he was going to put Brock and Heyman together on screen.
Brain Gewirtz: There were these things called talent rosters. With every talent in developmental, on the main roster, all kind of condensed on one page. The top of every year we would pick three and go, all right, these three people were going to get over and they are going to become stars. Certain people like Brock Lesnar, you just look at them and you go, okay, well, that’s one.
The Miz: Once you see Brock Lesnar, you know exactly who he is. He’s an ass kicker.
Becky Lynch: It was like this mammal that you had never seen before. Where the hell did he come from?
Matt Hardy: Brock was just like very intimidating to wrestle against because you know this a guy that is real. If he wanted to, he could kill you.
Bruce Prichard: Paul was the perfect mouthpiece for Brock because here’s a big guy that could go out and do all of Paul’s bidding and Paul can flap his gums and do what Paul does best.
Paul Heyman: It was a natural fit to take the credibility that I had and parlay that on to whom I legitimately believed in my heart and my soul was the next big thing in the industry, Brock Lesnar.
Adam Cole: Normally, of course, over time you kind of move your way up the ranks. Brock got throw into the fire right away.
Brian Gewirtz: The business in itself thrives on new. So when you have someone like Brock coming on to the scene, it’s a godsend, certainly behind the scenes. And it’s from the audience perspective, too. They are yearning for new more than anybody.
Michael Rapaport: In just three months, the rookie had already earned a shot at the WWE Championship at SummerSlam. But classic Lesnar, he didn’t feel like waiting that long for the spotlight.
The Next Big Thing
Paul Heyman: Hulk Hogan versus Brock Lesnar in August 2002 on SmackDown is an opportunity for Brock Lesnar to be minted a long term main eventer.
Hulk Hogan: He’s built to go. He’s an animal. You see those traps coming up, you know, sticking out of his neck and you see his eyes roll back in his head like a shark when he’s coming at you. It’s a gut check.
Paul Heyman: Any fan watching WWE in 2002 thought Brock Lesnar was the next big thing. After the match with Hulk Hogan, everyone knew Brock Lesnar was the next big thing.
Brian Gewirtz: I remember a lot of consternation going back and forth in the production meeting in terms of whether this guy was ready.
Bruce Prichard: The question became, hey, if not now, when? And why not now? You’re right. He may not be ready, but if it’s not him, who’s it going to be? And there wasn’t anybody else ready to step into that role. We needed new. We needed fresh. And he was new and he was fresh.
Mick Foley: I knew Brock from seeing him around. But until I saw the build up for his match with The Rock at SummerSlam 2002, I don’t think I realized how big this guy could be or how much the momentum had shifted to his side.
Seth Rollins: When there is potential to be built upon, you know it. When you see it, you see it. I think everybody from Vince to The Rock saw it.
Bruce Prichard: The Rock was a huge proponent of let’s go with the kid. We looked at Brock for the future. This is a guy that could be a champion that everyone, no matter where you were, would believe.
Mick Foley: The crowd kind of shifted in Brock’s favor which was really startling because The Rock was so incredibly popular. Clearly there was a seismic change.
Michael Rapoport: SummerSlam was a turning point for The Rock, whose full time focus shifted to his budding hollywood career. So with The Great One on his way to Tinsel Town, Brock Lesnar was suddenly the top dog in WWE. A shock to everyone except Brock. Brock’s meteoric rise to the top was embraced by the WWE Universe. But outside the ring, Brock really didn’t care much for the constant attention.
Not Craving The Spotlight
Bruce Prichard: Brock was still young. Gone from OVW and now he’s in the big leagues and he’s the champion. It was a lot, very quickly. I don’t know if Brock appreciated the enormity of it all. I think Brock at the time was looking at the business as a business. And i’m going to be a businessman about it. I’m going to go out and do what I have to do when I have to do it. And i’m going to go home.
Brock Lesnar: I spent many hours out there on the tractor and chasing cattle around, too. Lots of hard work.
Brian Gewirtz: I don’t know if many people know Brock Lesnar the person. Brock is not like sitting down and having a chat with you and talking about the latest movie or tv show. Brock’s a private person and everyone knows that.
Batista: I think he’s fine to keep his walls up and keep everybody away. You know, I think there’s a part of him that likes to be intimidating to people. You know, that may be because he just doesn’t want people getting close to him.
Kurt Angle: Brock is a very private person. To a certain extent, he doesn’t like people.
Bruce Prichard: Not a lot of BS in Brock. You wind him up and Brock goes. And he looks at wrestling as this is how i’m going to be able to afford the life I want to have.
Michael Rapaport: Despite Brock’s as a matter of fact demeanor, he continued to put on an awesome display of power, athleticism and complete domination in the ring. No other rookie had ever dominated the WWE quite like Brock Lesnar. At Survivor Series, Lesnar’s historic run would finally hit an insurmountable obstacle. His mentor and manager, Paul Heyman, turned against Brock, helping Big Show take the title. With Paul Heyman no longer by his side, Lesnar still proved to be a force to be reckoned with. Lesnar added to his sensational rookie season by winning the 2003 Royal Rumble. Earning a shot at the title at WrestleMania XIX.
Here Comes The Pain & WrestleMania XIX
Becky Lynch: Pretty impressive year for Brock Lesnar. Until then, it’s that pressure of how do you top that and how do you keep that momentum going and make it even better.
Kurt Angle: I knew that when Brock got up here to the WWE, it was going to be about him and me because we came from the same sport.
Seth Rollins: The two where they went from knowing nothing and then in a year or two’s time were main event stars. You just don’t see that, especially twice in a generation.
Michael Rapaport: The two most accomplished amateur athletes in WWE history were set to collide in an epic battle on the grand stage. And it seemed destined to set the standard for years to come.
Kurt Angle: We were excited. We were main eventing. Everything was aligned for us to have the match of the night.
Paul Heyman: Brock Lesnar main eventing WrestleMania meant Brock Lesnar as a WrestleMania main eventer and now we can plan the next ten WrestleMania’s around Brock Lesnar.
Kurt Angle: I brought it up to Brock a week prior and said, hey, it would be cool if you hit your old finish that he used to do in OVW, his Shooting Star Press. Seeing on the top rope a 300 pound man doing that Shooting Star Press, people are going to remember that forever.
Brian Gewirtz: If you are ever going to do it, the main event at WrestleMania would be the time. Watching it with everyone backstage did, oh my god.
Bruce Prichard: It was horrifying. We didn’t know if Brock had broken his neck and wondering, is Brock okay? Get a little bit of movement. Then finally, they took it home.
Paul Heyman: Shooting Star Press was a classic example of Brock could be given bad advice and that bad advice almost cost Brock his entire career.
Michael Rapaport: Fortunately, it looked a lot worse than it could have been. Lesnar escaped with just minor injuries. And now champion once again, the demands on Brock’s time would weigh heavily.
Brock Becoming More Frustrated With The WWE Lifestyle
JBL: There is not an off switch when you’re on top of WWE.
Bruce Prichard: Brock came to us with his concerns. And Brock expressed he wanted to lighten his load. If Brock could have done once a month, I know he would have, but that wasn’t the business at the time. And, you know, you’d get a grumpy Brock some days. You attribute that to he’s young, first time he’s doing a lot of this. And you’ll get used to it, kid, you know. Come on, you’ll get used to it. And for some people, they don’t want to get used to it.
Brain Gewirtz: The superstar part of being a WWE Superstar, obviously entails a lot. You know, I think after a while, there was a little bit of, I didn’t really sign up for this because you don’t really know the life until you start embarking on the life.
The Miz: There are pressures that you don’t see, that nobody knows about. Sacrifices that you have to make.
Seth Rollins: Being the guy with the ball and the rocket ship strapped to you, that is a ton pressure. Then you add in how much pain you’re in because you are wrestling over 200 times a year and what that could do.
Kurt Angle: Brock and I were main eventing a lot of shows. And Brock and I also don’t know how to take it easy. Wrestling 250 dates or 300 dates a year, it’s grueling on anybody. But especially if you are Brock Lesnar and you’re main eventing every night.
Matt Hardy: This is a tough job. It will wear you down very quickly. Nobody has a schedule like WWE does.
Christian: It’s a hard gig. It’s a hard thing to do to be on the road and in the grind and traveling and then wrestling and you’re hurt and you’re banged up and you’re driving and you’re flying and living out of suitcases.
Eric Bischoff: Brock did mentioned how much he absolutely hated travel. I can complete understand that as big as he was. I could see that it was getting to him.
Kurt Angle: He actually bought an airplane so he didn’t have to go to airports anymore. And he would fly that airplane to every city. It was a private plane. That’s how private Brock was. He literally bought an airplane and hired a pilot to fly him around all over the country.
Brian Gewirtz: You could tell. You could tell when someone is enjoying the hell out of themselves backstage and when someone is like let’s just get this over with and move on to the next one kind of thing. And I think, you know, like Brock found himself during that period of time and knew what he liked and what he didn’t like and had no problem saying, all right, i’m going to do what I like until I don’t want to do this anymore and then i’m going to do something else.
Paul Heyman: He quickly grew to be miserable. And I knew Brock had to get out because a miserable Brock Lesnar is not safe for himself, let alone anybody else.
Michael Rapaport: In 2004, the grind of being at the top of the mountain in WWE eventually caused Lesnar to hit his breaking point. Not even two years into his WWE career, Brock Lesnar came to a decision that would send shockwaves throughout the entire company.
Leaving WWE & WrestleMania XX
Bruce Prichard: Brock just sat me down and said, hey, i’m quitting. It was that simple. It wasn’t a long explanation. It wasn’t blaming anybody or anything. He had obviously given it thought and had a plan. Do whatever you guys want me to do, but you’re not going to talk me out of it.
Brian Gewirtz: I think there was a lot of different emotions. I think there was surprise, some resentment by some people. We did all this for you and this is how you’re repaying us? Your’e walking away after we did all this for you? i think everyone was shocked by that. But at the same time the signs were there. It’s not like he’d show up every day with a smile and doing a tap dance and being, hey, what can I do today and happy to be here kind of thing.
Eric Bischoff: Brick is an individual. He’s a very unique individual. And he knows who he is and how he wants to live his life. And things weren’t going to according to his plan.
Michael Rapaport: The final match of Brock’s young career was set for WrestleMania XX in Madison Square Garden against another departing superstar, Goldberg. But this turned into a night both men wished they could forget.
Brian Gewirtz: The thing I remember the most about that match was being surprised how the internet reports permeated to the crowd.
Seth Rollins: That was like one of the first times where, you know, the internet and social media had an impact on what you saw on the screen. I remember hearing about it and knowing about it. And then like seeing the audience all on the same page just being like, ugh, they were disgusted with all of it.
Matt Hardy: You’re in New York City where you have the smartest of the smart fans. Goldberg, you’re walking out on us. Brock, you’re walking out on us, so the hell with both of you. You’re not just leaving WWE, you’re leaving me too and they let them have it.
Eric Bischoff: To have them go out there and sense the disappointment that the audience was experiencing had to be devastating for them. To have the audience disconnect that obviously from what you are doing, you almost feel like you’re standing out there naked. It’s a horrible feeling.
JBL: There’s nothing Brock could have done that night. He could have had the greatest match in the history of wrestling, and the people were still going to chant what they wanted to chant and heckle him and do what they wanted to do.
The Miz: As a fan watching and seeing Brock Lesnar walk away, you’re like you can’t believe it.
Seth Rollins: This is everything that most of us are pining away for all the time. And it just falls on your lap and you’re like, nah, I don’t want it. Like what can’t you handle? You know what I mean? What’s wrong with you? Come on, get it together and make it work.
Brian Gewirtz: There was also a little bit of sense of too like, you know what, good for Brock. He’s miserable. Don’t be here because that’s not going to be healthy for anybody. If your heart is not into it, go. And to his credit, he did. He didn’t retreat either. He ended up doing extraordinary stuff.
Brock Lesnar: If you want to get farther ahead in life, you’ve got to stick your neck out. So i’m looking forward to the future. I could really care about the past. What’s done is done and let’s move on and do something different.
The NFL & UFC
Mick Foley: I think Brock saw WWE as an incredible challenge that he then conquered, and then he wanted to be good at something else.
Michael Rapaport: Brock’s first challenge outside of the WWE was a seemingly impossible one. After not playing football for almost a decade, Brock decided to try out for the NFL. And after an impressive showing at the NFL Combine, The Minnesota Vikings invited him to camp. Brock appeared in several preseason games and was so impressive the Vikings had a tough decision to make.
Paul Heyman: Brock Lesnar was the last person cut before the main season. That’s unheard of.
JBL: He hadn’t played a game since high school. For him to do as well as he did shows how good an athlete he is.
Mark Henry: He ended up saying you know what, football is not what I want to do. I just wanted to give it a try. And his next challenge was MMA.
Kurt Angle: And Brock liked that style because that lifestyle was training at home six months and then going to an event one time to fight. That’s Brock’s cup of tea. That way Brock can stay at home, train, spend time with his family, do his hunting and fishing. And he doesn’t have to deal with the real world.
Michael Rapaort: After an impressive stint in Mixed Martial Arts, Brock Lesnar signed a contract with the UFC in 2008. Less than one year into his new career, Brock Lesnar was the UFC Heavyweight Champion.
Dana White: If you look at Lesnar what did, the guy comes over from the WWE and actually becomes the heavyweight champion of the world. It’s literally impossible. Crazy at times. You know how it could be dealing with Brock Lesnar, i’m sure. He has a very unique personality.
JBL: Here’s a guy who followed his dream and it was probably against what everybody else thought. Certainly, against what I thought at the time. We were all dead wrong.
Michael Rapaport: Brock Lesnar had conquered UFC. So it was on to the next challenge.
Legacy & WWE Return
Mark Henry: I was really glad that he came back home because a pro wrestler and a pro wrestling champion is who really is.
Michael Rapaport: After eight long years away from WWE, it was like he never left. Only Brock Lesnar could walk away before his prime, come back almost a decade later and be as dominant, maybe even more so than when he left. It’s ridiculous. To this day, Brock Lesnar’s latest domination in WWE is unparalleled. And it all began in the era of Ruthless Aggression.
Bruce Prichard: The Ruthless Aggression Era was a time of creating and a time of creating the future. Brock was someone brand new and he came in with brutality, wrestling fundamentals and he was fresh.
JBL: Brock is a once in a generation, at best, athlete.
Brian Gewirtz: I think Brock was a major factor in revitalizing WWE post WCW going down because he’s a home grown talent and never seen before until he hit a WWE ring as far as the sports entertainment world. There was just this energy of when that Brock music hits. That you are experiencing it in an arena in 2002 was unlike anything you have ever seen before.
Mick Foley: Nobody made the suspension of disbelief easier than Brock Lesnar.
Batista: He’s Ivan Drago. He’s terrifying. He’s a movie character.
Checkout Episode 194 of The Hoots Podcast