For the next few days, a lot of the talk in the professional wrestling world is going to be Brodie Lee.
Jon Huber, the real name of Lee, will be talked about as being one of the most genuinely good people in an industry that has produced a lot of snakes and weasels, all due respect to Bobby Heenan for the latter. 2020 has been a year of reckoning when it comes to those of that character in pro wrestling thanks to the Speaking Out movement, but that’s not why we’re here right now. In a year where those people have dominated the wrestling headlines for what’s been done outside of the ring, the stories of who Huber was are a bright spot on a year where professional wrestling’s integrity and character have taken it on the chin.
However, when it comes to Huber, his in-ring legacy becomes far more complicated. For the first time I can recall, this becomes the complicated conversation to have over anything else. There’s been the conversations of someone being a brilliant in-ring worker but a terrible person outside of the ring, or plagued with demons. Or there’s the “they were a good hand but a better person” conversation. Brodie Lee was a guy who, depending on when and where you saw him, was either nobody special or the most underrated big man active in the sport.
WWE wasn’t kind to Brodie. Though a former Intercontinental Champion and 2-time Tag Team Champion with the Wyatt Family/Bludgeon Brothers along with a NXT Tag Team Title reign with Erick Rowan, his tenure there was never regarded as anything special. More often than not, Lee was one of the company’s more underutilized talents despite showing flashes of being an exceptional talent, the one AEW put on display when he arrived as The Exalted One. Lee had a hell of a pedigree coming into the WWE that not many talked about. Whether it was his tenure in the late Chikara promotion where he still managed to blend in despite standing out for his size, or the fact Dragon Gate brought Lee in as a special attraction in Japan as a member of the Blood Warriors faction, Lee had displayed talent that the casual WWE viewer probably doesn’t know he had and now never will.
I remember being at a Dragon Gate USA show in Chicago and I had only seen a couple of Ring of Honor appearances for Lee, where he had been involved in brawls as a member of the Age of the Fall faction. Even Lee had been underutilized by one of the country’s top independent promotions. DGUSA seemed to see something in Lee. He came in and destroyed competitors like a big man would and then garnered heat in Chicago simply by sitting in the center of the ring, legs crossed like Chicago’s Favorite pro wrestling son CM Punk. Lee didn’t come out and yell like a savage, he was calm, collected, and handled things in a way we’ve come to recognize were facets of his Mr. Brodie Lee character we saw in All Elite Wrestling.
The WWE never seemed to know what to do with him, and a lot of it was rumored to be because Vince McMahon wanted to see him portray this country hick monster, but Lee couldn’t successfully do a southern accent. This came from Lee’s mouth himself on an episode of Talk Is Jericho, but it showed the world that WWE really had no idea what to do with Lee. They would break him away from Bray Wyatt and/or Erick Rowan, only to bring them all back together in the end. Every singles run was cut short due to an unfortunate injury or just creative simply not having an idea of what to do with him. Everything always came back to his partnership with Rowan, for better or for worse. In his final chapter with Rowan as The Bludgeon Brothers, it seemed like the WWE finally understood they had a talented big man, and managed to start booking the duo as a monster tag team to varying degrees of success, varying only if you hadn’t completely soured on Harper with all the failed ideas they had given him.
For better or for worse, Harper was a victim of the WWE machine.
Even in his final days, nothing they did with Harper made sense. He was either with Rowan or not, nobody completely sure whether they were the Bludgeon Brothers or not still. He had been trying to leave the WWE for months by then, but had managed to make the most of the last few months he had left by having a gem of a match against Dominik Dijakovic during WrestleMania Axxess. It’s one of the best matches Harper had under the WWE few have seen unless you’ve done a deep dive on the Network.
All this talk about the poor booking of Brodie Lee leaves this complicated legacy. He was good, very good, and there’s a handful of people who saw just how great he was. In the middle of all that is the easiest content to find, Lee’s WWE work. The AEW and WWE work will be what most have been subjected to, and it will lead to the duality of the argument a casual wrestling fan will have.
Diehard WWE fans who see AEW as the absolute enemy will question why All Elite Wrestling took a guy who the WWE treated as a midcard wrestler at best and turned him into a main event talent. A lot of people in the much-derided “internet wrestling community” will see Harper as a guy who never got his due. So which is it?
The truth, as usual, rests somewhere in between that. Brodie Lee was always Brodie Lee. He was always an extremely talented big man that had main event potential. He was also the victim of poor booking during his time where people knew him best. It’s almost the pro wrestling equivalent of listening to a band who put out incredible albums before a major label, only to get stuck in a rut once they got there.
It’s difficult to even justify the idea of separating the legacy of Luke Harper and Brodie Lee. During the course of Lee’s 17-year career, nearly 7 years were spent in the WWE meaning a little under half of his career was spent in this quagmire. The most visible years of his career were spent as Luke Harper, unfortunately building up quite the independent resume during a period of time when independent wrestling was not yet so easily available for consumption. We can watch almost any indy fed now thanks to streaming services or people putting clips online the same day of the show. That kind of availability was unheard of back then. I’ve been a professional wrestling fan my whole entire life, and I remember when streaming shows on “internet pay per view” was just becoming a thing back in 2011-12.
Had Lee come up on the independent scene in hypothetically 2015, the conversation about him becomes much different. More people recognize the fact he was an underutilized talent and the move to AEW gave him the kind of platform a talent like his deserved. However, the casual WWE fan will see his legacy as “just Luke Harper” and respect the stories of him being a good friend and family man.
In the end, we’re left with three separate legacies for the man. The growing legend of the man Jon Huber and what he meant to every life he touched in professional wrestling, the internet myth of who Luke Harper could have been, and the unfulfilled potential of who Brodie Lee could have been.
So who was Brodie Lee? Somewhere in the middle of all of that – an incredible but underrated competitor, an amazing family man, and a guy with a dry sense of humor. The upcoming days will romanticize his WWE run and people will call him one of the most underrated talents in company history, which is true. It should also serve to remind us that people often don’t appreciate artwork until the artist has moved on. Fans will go back and see some of his matches and wonder why they didn’t see the signs during his WWE run. How did they miss how good he really was? The general apathy WWE can project upon a talent is contagious to the common wrestling fan. They can make you feel like even the most special in-ring performer is just another guy on television. Brodie Lee was a special talent that people will never truly realize how special he was.
Rest in peace, “Big Rig.”
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