Pure adrenaline, personified.
In 2002, the WWE introduced the world to one of the greatest pure athletes sport entertainment has ever seen. Size. Speed. Strength. Brock Lesnar was the total package and his abilities in the ring shocked and surprised as he went on to become the youngest WWE Champion ever at the age of 25 in his rookie year.
Since then, Brock Lesnar has become the only man in history to become the NCAA Division I, WWE, and UFC Heavyweight Champion. Fewer men have made a larger impact on the wrestling world despite having such a short stint in the industry. Lesnar’s original run with WWE only lasted from early 2002 until 2004. His last appearance was at WrestleMania XX.
Still in that time the Wisconsin native had some of the WWE’s greatest matches of the new millennium. No one made such an impact in just two short years, but in the beginning of 2004 Lesnar left the WWE.
After a short venture into professional football, Brock Lesnar set his sights on MMA. He remains the single most successful professional wrestler turned MMA fighter ever when he defeated Randy Couture to become the UFC Heavyweight Champion.
However, to the surprise of many, Lesnar retired from MMA in 2012 and after an eight year absence returned to the WWE the night after WrestleMania XXVIII. Since that day, Brock has been used strictly as a special attraction performer. Even though the number of matches he has had since he returned can be numbered on two hands, several of them still stand among his best.
Let’s see which feats of athletic prowess number among the “Beast Incarnates” best.
BROCK LESNAR VS. REY MYSTERIO (WWE SMACKDOWN!, DECEMBER 2003)
This was a match, on Rey Mysterio’s birthday, for Brock Lesnar’s WWE Championship.
Lesnar was in the middle of what would be his last reign as WWE Champion before leaving for almost a decade.
“The Next Big Thing” had many notably well received matches on WWE Smackdown! It really makes one realize just how vital Lesnar was to that show’s success during the 2002 and 2003 time period.
This match followed a simple, but effective, formula of playing-up Mysterio’s speed against Lesnar’s strength. Lesnar would use his power to man-handle Rey and in turn he would use his speed to wear out the WWE Champion and catch him off guard.
The San Diego crowd was really into the match as it was one of Mysterio’s first opportunities being taken seriously in a main event setting.
Rey Mysterio’s speed was not enough to wear out the well-conditioned champion. Lesnar retained his title via submission.
- Brock Lesnar vs. Hulk Hogan (Smackdown!; August 2002): How many people can you name who have defeated “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan without the aid of some sort of dusty finish? This match makes the honorable mention more for it’s spectacle factor than actual wrestling. The young Lesnar was made to look like a destructive monster against Hogan, and pinned the six-time WWE Champion completely clean.
- Brock Lesnar vs. Big Show (Judgment Day 2003): Leave it to someone as athletic and physically talented as Brock Lesnar to carry Big Show to one of his most entertaining matches ever. Trust me, there were no arm-drags in this match, but it is way better than what we typically get out of Big Show these days.
- Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H (Extreme Rules 2013): Only a Steel Cage match could make a Lesnar and Triple H match interesting to me. After very sluggish encounters at SummerSlam 2012 and WrestleMania XXIX, these two beasts had a very NWA-esqe Steel Cage match that would have made Harley Race proud. It was traditional. It was a brawl. It was as good of a match you could hope for between two guys like this.
10. BROCK LESNAR VS. JOHN CENA (EXTREME RULES 2012)
After spending over eight years away from the company that gave him his start, Brock Lesnar returned to the WWE the night after WrestleMania XXVIII.
Lesnar returned bigger and better than ever after having become a household name in the mixed martial arts most notorious promotion; Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Of course the first man he ran into was the face of WWE for the better part of the last decade, John Cena.
This was a big money feud and the match was set up to be a huge deal for the WWE, but there was one problem. Creatively speaking, both men really needed a strong victory here for different reasons.
John Cena had just suffered one of the biggest defeats in his career at the hands of The Rock, and Lesnar needed to be reestablished as the dominate monster he was being billed as. So the company had sort of painted themselves into a corner in which they were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.
On top of this they made the match an Extreme Rules match which further cornered the company into having to have one of the men lose despite neither man really needing to. Despite this, the match was insane.
Within moments of the opening bell Lesnar opened up Cena’s forehead after several forearm shots.
The former UFC Champion was largely the aggressor in this contest, but despite that John Cena managed to defeat the freshly returned, Lesnar. It took an Attitude Adjustment onto the steel steps to finally silence Lesnar for just him for even just three seconds.
Many argued it was the wrong call to have Lesnar lose without issue in his first big money match back in the WWE, but regardless the man looked so dominate against the WWE’s franchise player in his first match back.
Lesnar and Cena would go on to have even more high stakes matches in the WWE in 2014.
9. BROCK LESNAR & CHRIS BENOIT VS. TEAM ANGLE (NO WAY OUT 2003)
For this match, I make a few exceptions to my “rules”. It was Brock Lesnar teaming with former number one contender to the WWE Championship, Chris Benoit, taking on current WWE Champion, Kurt Angle, and his associates Team Angle, made up of fresh-faced Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas. How much more wrestling talent could you fit in a single ring?
Originally, Edge was supposed to be the tag team partner of both Lesnar and Benoit, but due to injury Edge had to be written out of the match. He would not return until after WrestleMania XX over a year later.
The match was a beautiful display of athleticism, but due to the chaotic nature of a Handicap Tag Team match, managed to be more erratic than polished. This made it feel more like a really entertaining Monday Night Raw main event rather than something you would typically see on a Pay-Per-View.
I’m not sure whether that is a positive or a negative, because the action in this match is just so entertaining.
This match was sandwiched between two amazing WWE Championship matches, having occurred a month after Angle and Benoit’s classic Royal Rumble match, and month before Lesnar’s career defining moment at WrestleMania.
I feel as if Benoit and Team Angle were very much the extras in this match despite doing much of the work. This was very much a match to give fans a preview of Brock Lesnar versus Kurt Angle without having the two interact too much before the main event of the biggest show of the year.
Benoit would secure the victory despite them being a man down, but it would be the young amateur wrestler from OVW who would go on to win the WWE Championship the following month
8. BROCK LESNAR VS. KURT ANGLE (WRESTLEMANIA XIX)
As of writing, this still remains the career defining moment in the professional wrestling career of Brock Lesnar. In all honestly, it probably always will be.
Brock Lesnar, still in his mid-20s, was being groomed to carry the WWE for the next two decades. However, not long after this it seemed as if Lesnar had grown bitter of all the time he was spending traveling and the grind got too him so much that he opted to not resign after his contract expired.
In 2003, Lesnar was still in the mindset that he was going to be the one the WWE would build around for the next decade. Brock was beginning to catch on as a babyface, and in the early months of 2003 was especially over with the crowd. While this wouldn’t last long, Lesnar was extremely well liked by fans during his pursuit of WWE Champion, Kurt Angle.
Angle walked into Safeco Field in Seattle completely beat up after spending the past four years on the road, full-time. He needed time off and surgery and, as the story goes, was advised by doctors to not wait until after WrestleMania XIX to get it.
The main event of WrestleMania XIX was made up by a talented, but severely banged up, Kurt Angle and an extremely nervous and inexperienced Brock Lesnar.
Much of this “real life” back-story was largely discussed in one of WWE’s early movie projects, The Mania of WrestleMania, which documented the days leading into the nineteenth WrestleMania event.
Famously, near the end of the encounter, the challenger ascended to the top rope. Brock attempted a Shooting Star Press, a move he did sometimes during his OVW-days, but missed the WWE Champion. The Royal Rumble winner was stunned and Angle had to almost make Lesnar kick out to cover up the faux pa.
In the end, almost as if his body turned on autopilot, Lesnar rose to his feet and hit a final F-5 and won the WWE Championship.
7. BROCK LESNAR VS. EDGE (REBELLION 2002)
If you want to talk about polar opposite career paths in the wrestling business here is a prime example.
During the post Attitude Era, Edge began slowly climbing his way up the card through many injuries and setbacks. Brock Lesnar, on the other hand, went from wrestling at Ohio Valley Wrestling to dark matches to becoming the WWE Champion within a matter of months.
Technically, this was a Handicap match which pitted the WWE Champion, Brock Lesnar, and Paul Heyman battling Edge across the pond. However, Heyman’s involvement was for storyline purposes only. It added an interesting element in that it was almost a bigger handicap for Lesnar, as he could potentially lose his title without even getting pinned.
While not as “high profile” or significantly important to Lesnar’s career as many of the other contests we are taking about today, this was a great display of athleticism by two men who went on to become hugely important to the next decade of WWE history.
Edge, a popular up-and-coming babyface at the time on WWE Smackdown!, was getting one of his first opportunities to main event a Pay-Per-View event and one of his first shots at a World Championship. This was one of those matches that made the viewer suspend disbelief every time Edge nearly pinned the champion. Going into a well executed contest that pits and obvious main event talent with a middle of the card performer makes you want to believe in the underdog.
That’s what these two men did. It was seemingly obvious Lesnar would defeat the still rising star, Edge. Yet, they made you believe that Edge could somehow overcome Heyman’s pet monster and realize his childhood dream.
He actually very nearly defeated the rookie WWE Champion, but had the match snatched from him after Lesnar utilized a steel chair to retain his title.
It would be another some four years before Edge would finally complete his journey and become the WWE Champion.
6. BROCK LESNAR VS. EDDIE GUERRERO (NO WAY OUT 2004)
By 2004 rumors began circulating that Lesnar was over the WWE’s rigorous traveling schedule and was not looking to resign with the company. As such, the WWE needed to pass the torch to someone new who could be the babyface that fans paid to see when they came to taping of WWE Smackdown!
World traveled veteran, Eddie Guerrero, was chosen as the man who would unseat Lesnar as WWE Champion. Guerrero had wrestled in almost every major promotion in the Americas and had overcame the clutches of addiction. Charismatic, versatile in the ring, and (now) reliable, Eddie Guerrero was being set up for the biggest moment of his professional career.
Guerrero was so good because he could tell so many stories in the ring depending on who he wrestled. He was big enough that he could play the over-powering aggressor in a match with someone like Rey Mysterio, but agile an petite enough to play the evasive wily underdog in a match with someone like the WWE Champion Brock Lesnar.
Lesnar used Guerrero as a rag doll for much of the contest, but “Latino Heat” managed to ground the champion enough to keep him at bay. It would be Raw’s Goldberg that would turn the tide as the former WCW Champion stormed the ring and speared the “Next Big Thing.”
The challenger then landed a DDT onto the title and a Frog Splash to win his first and only WWE Championship.
Goldberg, who was also set to make his departure from the WWE according to the rumor mill at the time, was in attendance to start building towards their “dream match” of sorts at WrestleMania XX. It didn’t turn out that way.
However, Guerrero’s title win on this night turned out to be the greatest match Brock Lesnar never won. He’d his final WWE appearance less than two months later.
5. BROCK LESNAR VS. CM PUNK (SUMMERSLAM 2013)
It was billed as “The Best vs. The Beast.”
This is without question the greatest match Brock Lesnar has had since returning to the WWE after an eight year absence. It was also the last time we saw CM Punk go all out on Pay-Per-View before he went AWOL in early 2014.
On paper, this looks like a total miss-match of styles and characters. However, due to both men having strong ties to the on-air character of Paul Heyman it makes perfect sense to have these two tell a story together.
The punishment that Lesnar dealt out to the much smaller CM Punk was unreal. He looked so dominate against Punk for a majority of this encounter. Only by utilizing the No Disqualification stipulation was Punk able to keep up pace with his former associate’s biggest client.
Punk turned out to be the perfect opponent to really re-establish Lesnar’s physical dominance over the WWE roster. His matches with John Cena and Triple H were a much more even playing field when it came to size and strength, but Punk had to utilize a different strategy as he knew he could not match muscle with the former UFC Champion.
His ability to outwit Lesnar was the only thing that gave him a fighting chance, but eventually his split focus on both his opponent and Paul Heyman caught up with him.
While Punk seemingly had The Beast defeated a time or two during this contest his urge to go after Paul Heyman proved to be his downfall. The distraction of the loud mouthed manager was all the edge Lesnar needed to decimate the more tactical “Straight Edge” superstar.
Even still, the former WWE Champion looked like a badass in defeat for hanging in the ring with a man 50+ pounds more than him. Both men came out looking better than going in. That is a pretty rare thing in all actuality.
CM Punk would later get his just revenge against Paul Heyman, but only after Lesnar struck the first blow here at SummerSlam.
4. BROCK LESNAR VS. THE ROCK (SUMMERSLAM 2002)
This is the third match from the underrated SummerSlam 2002 card to make its way to the Pro Wrestling Countdown. That might be a record.
Speaking of records, not many men can say they won the biggest title in their company during their first year on the WWE roster. That is just another accolade we can add to Lesnar’s list of accomplishments.
At the age of only 25, Brock Lesnar unseated The Rock to become the youngest WWE Champion in history. A record that still stands to this day.
A lot of credit has to go to The Rock for really guiding this match and helping Lesnar in his first ever Pay-Per-View main event match. You can clearly see that it was Paul Heyman and The Rock who really guided this match’s narrative.
Lesnar was still very much a freight train who was running through opponents in television matches in a matter of minutes. A main event match for the WWE Championship on a huge event like SummerSlam was a different kind of match for him at this point of time.
The WWE Champion and his challenger gave a very entertaining main event that somehow managed to not be completely overshadowed by the notorious Street Fight between Triple H and a returning Shawn Michaels that took place earlier in the night.
Despite his veteran instincts, The Rock would succumb to the F-5 and lose his record seventh WWE Championship to the newcomer from Wisconsin. This match really established Lesnar as the monster he had been booked as up to this point. It would be only the first notable victory of many to come for the NCAA Division I champion.
While Lesnar still had so much to learn in the ring and about the storytelling elements of a wrestling match, it can’t be denied that he was a damn quick learner. Even still so new to the business Lesnar, and the people around him, knew how to acquiescent his positives and hide the negatives.
The fact of the matter was, by 2002 the company knew “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was hitting a breaking point both physically and mentally and could see that The Rock was on his way to bigger and better things. So what do they do? Create a new star. That is all they could do.
It made all the sense in the world, whether Lesnar was ready for this huge push or not the WWE needed a new franchise player and this was their first attempt. I have to say, if put in the same position I might have banked on Lesnar as well.
Little did they know, Brock’s career path would have other things in store.
3. BROCK LESNAR VS. CHRIS BENOIT (WWE SMACKDOWN!, DECEMBER 2003)
I often discuss a television match as being “forgotten, overlooked, or a hidden gem,” but this match from the tail end of Smackdown’s greatest era ever is probably the epitome of all of those.
Chris Benoit had defeated John Cena to become the number one contender at the top of this edition of WWE Smackdown!
Lesnar was doing a storyline in which he was seeking to become the “greatest” WWE Champion of all time by defending his title against many different challengers. This match was made out to be a big deal and honestly I would have shilled out money to watch a contest of this caliber on Pay-Per-View. With the brand extension in effect it meant fewer events for each brand and as such the shows had to do more to keep viewers hooked.
As Benoit was wrestling his second match of the night, Lesnar spent much of the contest in firm control of the smaller and more weary challenger. Benoit’s story of fighting from underneath and trying to outsmart and out-wrestle the WWE Champion is what built the suspense in this main event.
It was a concept that would be reused for Benoit the following year at both the 2004 Royal Rumble and WrestleMania XX.
Matches like this certainly did make for compelling reasons to actually tune in. It’s just a damn shame these two couldn’t have had more one-on-one matches together or even a longer storyline. This was one of their only notable singles matches ever televised.
These two had great chemistry. Lesnar has always gelled so well with more technically sound mat grapples, and Benoit was one of the masters of that craft.
In the early months of 2004 Smackdown’s brilliant roster took many blows. Brock Lesnar left the company. Chris Benoit and Edge were both drafted to Monday Night Raw.
Later that year Eddie Guerrero would go on to drop the WWE Championship to JBL which would eventually lead to him headlining some of the worst received WWE Pay-Per-Views of all time.
2. BROCK LESNAR VS. THE UNDERTAKER (NO MERCY 2002)
Over a decade before they stood in New Orleans’s Superdome at WrestleMania XXX, these two wagged war in a battle of “new school versus old school” inside of the dreaded Hell in a Cell.
I think this would qualify as probably the most overlooked and least talked about Hell in a Cell matches ever.
It didn’t quite make the list on Undertaker’s Pro Wrestling Countdown, but it serves as one of Lesnar’s most important victories. If you can stand toe-to-toe with Undertaker and come out the other end still intact, you have something.
The great thing about this match is that both men came out looking like cutthroat badasses. Lesnar, for overcoming a mainstay WWE performer for over a decade. Undertaker, for having a match with a dominate, young, and hungry new WWE Champion even with a broken hand.
It was the perfect story for these two to tell together.
Both men looked strong at different points in the contest, but Lesnar spent a slight majority of the time seemingly in control of the match. This was beneficial in establishing him as a strong WWE Champion and leader of WWE’s “Blue Brand” while it was still in its infancy as a individual product.
Lesnar’s rise in 2002 all the way up until he decided not to resign with the wrestling juggernaut was spent building him up as the next face of the company. Someone who could pick up were Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin left off.
The Undertaker has rarely lost without some sort of dusty finish in which he is screwed out of the victory, but Lesnar remains the man with probably more high profile victories over The Undertaker than anyone else alive.
Lesnar has always been very much the Bane to Undertaker’s Batman.
After his strong victory over “Big Evil” Lesnar’s next rival would be someone else’s whose athletic ability has long been the subject of praise here….
1. BROCK LESNAR VS. KURT ANGLE (WWE SMACKDOWN!, SEPTEMBER 2003)
What a difference only a few months can make. This match is just about the complete inverse of their more famous main event match at WrestleMania XIX.
If you’re discussing the year 2003 in WWE history your conversation should start and end with Kurt Angle versus Brock Lesnar.
This was a marathon exhibit demonstrating just why Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar were two of WWE’s most gifted mat wrestlers ever.
On a forgotten television match on WWE Smackdown! Angle and Lesnar managed to have a 60-Minute Iron Man Match that would surpass the quality of even Bret Hart versus Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XII.
It was a modern take on the Iron Man match, and one that saw both Lesnar and Angle in the reverse roles that we saw at WrestleMania XIX earlier in the year.
Angle had become the fan favorite and Lesnar had become the Vince McMahon-corporate endorsed heel.
The amount of huge maneuvers used in this match to try and simply get another point on the board border ridiculous. Angle and Lesnar were aiming for the fences every moment of this match and it made for a very tense atmosphere.
Lesnar, the challenger, spent much of the match leading the WWE Champion. If Angle had 2 points, Lesnar had 3 or 4 so really the champion was the one who spent much of this match battling from underneath, which is a great spin on the normality of the challenger being the underdog and one who has to work harder to secure the victory.
In the final moments, Brock lead the match with a score of 5 to Angles 4. The champion locked in his Angle Lock on a downed Lesnar, but the clock expired with Lesnar grimacing through the pain. Despite being the chief aggressor at the end of the match, Angle lost his WWE Championship.
I thought this was a terrifically unique ending to a title match. One which still makes Lesnar look like the better man, but also makes the former champion, Angle, look damn good in the process. This is without question one of the best matches ever contested for the WWE Championship.
It also stands as Brock Lesnar’s finest performance with a man I’d consider his best opponent.