When reigning Universal Champion Brock Lesnar left the WWE after a horrible match with Goldberg at WrestleMania XX, he was gone for a good eight years, trying and failing to crack an NFL lineup, but ultimately (no pun intended) finding his niche as Heavyweight Champion in the UFC. He was a rare example of a top-tier pro wrestler who quit while he was still young and ahead of the game, and it was a big surprise when he returned to WWE in 2012. But did you know that WWE came so close to bringing him back to the company in 2005, just a year after his departure?
In an interview with Wrestling Inc.’s Raj Giri, former WWE writer Court Bauer looked back on the time when WWE nearly brought Brock Lesnar back to the SmackDown brand in 2005. At that time, it was about a year since WrestleMania XX, and Lesnar was relatively fresh off a stint with the Minnesota Vikings, where he was cut shortly before the start of the 2004 NFL season. As Bauer recalled, he and his fellow SmackDown writers were hoping to convince The Beast to join the blue brand, pitching potential programs with The Undertaker and Batista.
According to Bauer, the Brock vs. Batista storyline had the most potential, as both men were up-and-coming young prospects on OVW at around the same time, and the feud was just what Vince McMahon would have wanted—a hoss battle between "two massive forces” and a “big money match.” The plan was for the returning Lesnar to wreak havoc all over the SmackDown roster, leaving a "trail of wreckage" until Batista would put his foot down and step up against Lesnar in hopes of ending his destructive spree.
With a hot storyline planned for Brock Lesnar, Bauer’s SmackDown writing team was confident they’d end up with The Beast, even after he’d also met with the Monday Night Raw creative team and with Vince McMahon himself. But Bauer recalled that things abruptly hit a snag when another writer asked Vince if Lesnar was indeed returning to the WWE. In response, McMahon told his writers to “not factor Brock Lesnar into (their) plans for the immediate future.” In other words, Lesnar wasn’t coming back to the WWE after all.
Between his WWE and UFC stints, Lesnar also competed briefly for New Japan Pro Wrestling, even winning the company’s IWGP World Heavyweight Championship and defending his title against a young Shinsuke Nakamura early in 2006. Wrestling Inc.’s summary of the Bauer interview did not provide a more specific timeline for the talks between Lesnar and WWE that eventually fell through, but since Lesnar joined NJPW in October of 2005, it’s quite possible that New Japan and WWE were both vying for The Beast's services around the same time, with the former company offering the better deal.
As for the Batista feud that never was, it does make for an interesting "what-if" scenario. But the bigger "what-if" question may be this—if Brock Lesnar returned to WWE in 2005 and not in 2012, would he have broken The Undertaker's WrestleMania winning streak much sooner than he actually did? We're willing to say he would have.