The Best Damn Wrestling Column Period: Sports and Entertainment

It's hard to tell when wrestling fans truly turned on Brock Lesnar: before he quit WWE or after. Wrestling fans thought they were upset just before WrestleMania XX when they learned that Brock had given five-days notice to the company that had made him a celebrity and a millionaire. But Brock's comments in the media over the past few months have left wrestling fans seething.

Can Brock become as big a star in sports as The Rock has become in entertainment, or has Brock jeopardized his shot at a new football career by turning his back on the fans who made him famous?

Where it all began again

The reaction Brock received in his last match at WrestleMania XX was remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, the rumors of Brock's resignation had just hit the internet days before WrestleMania, and yet the entire crowd at Madison Square Garden not only knew the whole story, but agreed that Brock was a "sell out" for leaving. There were no signs that night reading "Brock, say it ain't so" or "I'm buying Vikings season tickets." Instead, the audience booed and heckled Brock in a way that we haven't seen in a long time. Some in the crowd even stood with their backs to the ring during the match. It got so bad in the opening minutes of the bout that Jim Ross was forced to acknowledge the rumors of Brock's NFL aspirations.

 
Brock hears it from the crowd during his last match at WrestleMania XX.

The other surprising thing was how the crowd seemed willing to ignore the fact that Brock's opponent that night, Goldberg, was also wrestling his last match for the company. Brock was leaving to pursue his life's dream; Goldberg was just leaving over money. Still, the crowd gave Goldberg a huge "Goldberg!" chant as he made his way to the ring. As soon as his music stopped, they were right back on Brock, launching into a "You sold out!" chant followed quickly by a "Nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, goodbye!" sing-along.

I think the difference was that Goldberg was merely ditching WWE, not wrestling altogether. Business is business, and fans have always forgiven wrestlers like Ric Flair and Kevin Nash for switching promotions in order to better their careers. But Brock was perceived as turning his back on the entire industry and implying that professional football was a more legitimate sport. Wrestling fans don't forgive that.

Lead by example

Brock still had a chance after WrestleMania to carry his fan base over to football. WWE fans may lash out sometimes, but we're a pretty loyal bunch. It's kind of like family. I may have some rude things to say about my older sister when I'm at home (and why not, the whore), but if someone outside my family says anything vaguely negative, well them there's fightin' words.

One guy who has successfully pulled off this transition is The Rock. Make no mistake, he ditched all of us for fame and fortune. He'd have us believe that he's still just "taking time off to film," but The Rock is clearly never coming back to WWE full-time. He currently has one movie in post-production ("Be Cool"), one in pre-production ("Instant Karma"), and two more scheduled to shoot after that ("Spy Hunter" and "Johnny Bravo"). You don't make millions starring in big-budget movies with actors like Pierce Brosnan and Uma Thurman one week, and then go back to risking paralysis the next at a fraction of the pay in order to put over some guy dressed like a superhero.

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But the difference between The Rock and Brock is that Rocky was smart enough to keep the WWE fans on his side throughout his transition. It's the family thing again. When one of his movies pulls in big numbers, we feel like proud parents because we took part in his ascent from being a relative nobody to being a superstar. And that relationship works for The Rock, too. If anyone saw "The Rundown," you know that that movie only did the numbers it did because of WWE fans.

Brock has decided to take a different route to football stardom. It seems that he's worried about how a stint in professional wrestling will look to mainstream sports fans, so he's doing everything he can to distance himself from WWE. It began with an interview with ESPN in which he said that he regretted ever joining the company and did it just to make some quick money.

Then there was the quote in The Minnesota Star Tribune after Brock had been invited to the Minnesota Vikings training camp. Brock said that he finds football fans to be "a lot more polite than wrestling fans" when it comes to seeking autographs. Again, another swipe at wrestling fans as I'm sure Brock knows that the real football fans were lined up for Dante Culpepper or Randy Moss' autograph, not the signature of a third-string defensive tackle who's not even officially on the team yet.

Then another story came out this past weekend in the Tribune about how Brock refused to sign a WWE poster for another one of those "football fans." He told the newspaper, "That was a part of my life, and I just don