The controversial decision to go with Lesnar for more than 16 months as Raw's Universal Champion came to a close at SummerSlam, when Roman Reigns speared the belt off of him at around the six-minute mark. After his victory over previous champion Goldberg at WrestleMania 33 on 2 April 2017, Lesnar would defend the belt 11 times in 504 days, or once every 46 days. Four of those matches were on house shows, so Lesnar defended the belt once every 72 days when the cameras were on. In his defence, that's probably more frequency than which Duane Gill defended the Light Heavyweight belt in his 15-month reign, but still.
Lesnar, of course, isn't the only part-timer to be entrusted with such a long reign with a top belt in WWE. In the last six WrestleManias, there has been at least one World title match in which either the champion or challenger (or both) were part-timers: Rock at 29, Batista at 30, Lesnar at 31, Triple H at 32, Goldberg and Lesnar at 33, and Lesnar at 34. You can even stretch the run to seven if you wanna go back to 28 and call Chris Jericho a "not in it for the long haul" type of part-timer, even as he competed regularly on weekly TV.
Going back even farther, when Hulk Hogan defeated new WWE Champion Yokozuna in a hokey impromptu match at WrestleMania IX, he wouldn't wrestle on TV again until dropping the belt back to Yoko at King of the Ring, 10 weeks later.
Those are some plum spots for stars of yesteryear, from bygone eras, while modern full-time wrestlers have to settle for midcard title matches or, in a few cases, launchpad wins over the Triple Hs and Chris Jerichos of the world at events such as WrestleMania.
This won't be a rallying cry for the abolition of part-timers in big match situations (WrestleMania title matches or otherwise), because they do have an importance: they're there to win back lapsed fans, to create a greater buzz for the bigger events on the calendar. The Rock's defending the WWE Championship against John Cena? A major box office draw like Brock Lesnar's headlining WrestleMania? If you haven't watched wrestling in years, you might be positively supercharged by revivalist runs like these.
Fans can lament all they want about a Lesnar or a Rock or a Helmsley usurping a spot that could go to a Rollins or a Balor or a Styles, but wrestling's a business first and foremost. When you consider some of the types of events that WWE puts on, and the specific countries they may travel to, you realize how much money they're getting paid to do those kinds of shows. Almost everything does has a business purpose, whether it's satisfying or not. And part-timers with big names and huge drawing power are there to drive up the numbers as much as their Q rating can possibly push them.
The recent run of Lesnar, however, may prove damaging. Not to UFC, whom apparently can't wait to get their biggest heavyweight draw of all time into the Octagon with Daniel Cormier. But for WWE, the way Lesnar's 16-month absentee super-reign was handled could have some difficult consequences.
Part-timers already have strikes against them for the aforementioned reasons: they're seen as the Charlotte in the "Charlotte weasels her way into Becky Lynch's title match at SummerSlam" equation, except in this version, Becky (as a stand-in for your favourite male wrestler) gets cut out entirely. Rock's presence earlier this decade aced CM Punk out of the WrestleMania main events, while Lesnar using the Universal title as a beer coaster for months at a time kept others from reigning with such an important belt. So part-timers have a negative side, particularly to the fans who zealously care.
But the way the latter portion of Lesnar's reign was handled only fuels the fans' hatred of part-timers. When it was decided to use Lesnar's sparse schedule against him by having Reigns frequently call him out for his professional aloofness, the idea was to warm fans to hard-working company man Roman. While there may have been a little relief to see the belt once more slung over the shoulder of an ever-present performer, it's still Reigns, and he'll always have plenty of vocal detractors.
But Reigns' character had a point, that Lesnar didn't care enough to show up every single week "for the fans". Viewers that had grown weary of Brock's disappearing act could at least relate to Reigns' seething words, and WWE made sure to have Roman repeat it enough. Lesnar's a part-timer, he doesn't care, he doesn't show up, yada yada yada.
If WWE goes back to the well of part-time champion, even if they're for shorter lengths than Lesnar's reign from hell, isn't crowd rejection almost a formality? Really, how often did The Rock show up in 2013 in his 10 weeks as WWE Champion? WWE wasn't about to show him moping around backstage with a hunting magazine in his hands, but the point is there, that thanks to the Reigns/Lesnar booking, all part-timers are assholes, and they're bigger assholes when they vie for top championships.
And the colossal assholes are the ones who would put them in matches to win those belts, especially after Kurt Angle's maddened diatribes about what an awful champion Lesnar was.
WWE's penchant for using infrequent ex-champions in top spots has a time and place, but putting a World title on them going forward will carry some real risks, particularly if they're a designed babyface. If Lesnar's 16-month reign taught us nothing else, it's that agreeing with your own audience's criticisms could prove hard to work around in the future.