Brock Lesnar became the youngest WWE World Champion in history at SummerSlam 2002, but that wasn’t the original plan.
After impressing in developmental and even threatening to quit the company, Brock Lesnar burst onto the scene the night after WrestleMania X8. What followed was one of the most destructive runs in WWE history as Lesnar racked up wins, destroyed opponents, and won the King of the Ring with Paul Heyman by his side.
That win at King of the Ring guaranteed him a shot at the Undisputed Title at SummerSlam, and The “Next Big Thing” duly dispatched The Rock to claim the gold just five months after making his debut.
Speaking in a recent interview with Rick Rubin, Heyman recalled Lesnar’s rise and how he came to work with the star who later became one of his closest friends.
Heyman broke down a conversation with Vince McMahon about Lesnar, which led to him working closely with him on-screen and backstage. In typically forthright Paul Heyman fashion, that conversation included him telling McMahon the company was “screwing up” with their treatment of Lesnar.
“You have Austin, you have The Rock, you have Triple H, The Undertaker. For me, what a crew there was back in 2001. But boy, what we don’t have is the next big thing. Who’s that next one with lightning in a bottle? Who’s the next one who is going to set the world on fire? Who’s the next guy we can hang our hat on? Who’s the guy that’s going to be the poster boy for WWE? That when he puts him up on his screen, people go, ‘Whoa, that’s that WWE guy.’
So I went into Vince and I said, ‘You know, Taz brought me Brock Lesnar.’ [Vince] ‘Oh, yeah. Keep an eye on him, I’m wondering what do you think of him?’ [Paul] ‘I’ll tell you two things. Number one, I think he’s the next big thing. And number two, we are screwing this up.’
[Vince] ‘How are we screwing this up?’ And I started telling him what the advice was. And he goes, ‘Oh, God, damn, Paul, get involved in this right now.’ I’m going to produce him? You take over, he’s yours. Okay. So I started lining up his matches. And I started and I know, here’s what I want you to do. And as you know, and here’s how I want you to display it.
And I put together a couple of matches of his. It was two that week, and maybe I think maybe two the next. And the opponents were the same Spike Dudley and Funaki. Because I knew they would, they would make him look like what he needed to look like.”
Brock Lesnar’s World Title Win Was Actually Scheduled For WrestleMania
After WrestleMania X8, there were originally plans for Paul Heyman to work with Chris Benoit, however, these were shelved once plans for Lesnar were put in place. Heyman added there was talk of Lesnar debuting at WrestleMania but this was moved to the following episode of Raw.
The idea was that Lesnar would make his first WrestleMania appearance a year later in the main event of WrestleMania 19 and win the World Championship. But Lesnar ended up being fast-tracked and won the gold at SummerSlam.
“The night before Mania, Vince comes to me and he says, ‘I’m not going to put you with Benoit.’ ‘Thank God, I’m not on television, I didn’t want to go back on TV.’ I was like, ‘Okay, that’s great. Thank you. All right, I found peace in my ability to pull out of the public eye.’ He says, ‘I’m going to put you with Brock Lesnar.’ And I just said, ‘Bingo, okay, money. Oh, my God, you just gave me a completely new life.’ Because I knew, Oh my god, do you want me to talk for this guy? Okay, this is the easiest job in the world.
Then there was a question of do we debut on Mania? And the decision was made no, start him the day after Mania. And let his first Mania be in the main event a year later. And that was supposed to be for the title. But we fast track that, we got the title on and by SummerSlam he was just, we were just moving and Dwayne Johnson was going off to Hollywood. So just the timing was perfect for us. And Steve Austin had left. So it was, Wow, we were going to anoint the next big thing.”
Although it didn’t work out as originally planned, Lesnar did win the World Championship in the main event of WrestleMania 19, pinning Kurt Angle.
If you use any of the quotes from this article please credit the original source with a h/t and link back to Inside The Ropes.