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Facing More Important Fight, Brock Lesnar's Cage Future Grows Uncertain

Two months shy of his 34th birthday, Brock Lesnar is forced to step away from mixed martial arts again. Since August 2009, he's fought twice, had two bouts of diverticulitis and withdrawn from three scheduled matches, statistics he wishes he could erase from history. Though he once called himself the "baddest S.O.B." on the planet, there might be more fear for Lesnar now than fear of him.

On Thursday, he announced that he would not be able to fight Junior dos Santos next month due to another diverticulitis flare-up, but at least he managed to put a confident bend on an otherwise disappointing scenario.

"I tell you one thing: I'm not retiring," he said. "This isn't the end of Brock Lesnar. It's a speed bump in the road."

He may be right. We should hope he is. When Lesnar is fighting, MMA seems to get a little more of the sports spotlight, a little more respect. But right now, his return timetable is a big question mark, largely because of the question marks facing his own care. Lesnar admitted that he is forced with the decision to either have surgery or simply deal with it the rest of his life. The former is no small procedure, involving invasive surgery and recovery time. The latter, as we have seen, can result in recurrences that take him out of action. Either way, there is no easy solution. Because of that, it is only human to wonder if Lesnar's best athletic days are behind him.

Make no mistake, Lesnar has done some amazing things in his life. He was an NCAA wrestling champion, he became a world-famous professional wrestler, he nearly made it to the NFL with little experience, and he became the UFC heavyweight champion 17 months after making his MMA debut. It's been an athletic career filled with jaw-dropping moments, so it would be unwise to completely dismiss a return to glory. Regardless of what the doctors say, we've seen plenty of stories of people overcoming the odds to beat some illness and do great things.

But we must also realize that the numbers are no longer on Lesnar's side. As previously mentioned, he will be 34 years old soon. Out of the seven current UFC champions, only one is older than 30, the seemingly ageless middleweight king Anderson Silva. It's true that age usually affects lighter weight fighters first, because quickness is the first thing to go, but let's also remember that a lot of Lesnar's edge has always been in his quickness as a heavyweight.

If Lesnar chooses to go through with surgery, he could be lost for some time, as any surgery would require recovery time to heal the internal wound. And if he doesn't, he may face further issues in the future. He admitted that in both his comeback fight against Shane Carwin and title loss to Cain Velasquez, he did not feel close to 100 percent, but fought anyway.

"I told my wife and everyone else around me about a week ago, 'I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired,'" he said. "We've got to find a solution to this. The person I am doesn't want to back down from a fight, but let me tell you, my health and my family are more important than stepping in the octagon."

That is, of course, the way it should be. Lesnar rightfully should not concern himself right now with his fighting future. He should focus on working with his Mayo Clinic doctors to map out a route to health. The downside of that is that when you're standing still, the world moves on without you. dos Santos will now face Carwin at UFC 131. The winner gets champion Velasquez, possibly in October. By the time he comes back, he might be returning to an entirely new landscape. If it's early next year, Strikeforce might be merged into the UFC, and Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum and the rest of their crew might be laying their own claims to contender status. There could be a new champion. There will almost certainly be a rearranged top five in the division.

If it is the end for Lesnar, he will have plenty to celebrate and nothing to be ashamed of. This is a man who jumped into the deep end of the pool after a couple swimming lessons, who demanded attention by his sheer presence, and who took the championship when most people believed he didn't yet know how to fight. He came in under the most unique circumstances, and now he might leave the same way.

Lesnar once had a reputation as gruff and impersonal to those who didn't know him, but it's pretty clear that his first bout with diverticulitis affected him deeply. When Lesnar came back for UFC 116, the guy who revels in privacy was open enough to discuss his battle with the illness, his feelings on his return, and how it had changed him. He took pains to change his diet, and said he had faithfully followed the recommendations of doctors in hopes of avoiding a recurrence.

On Thursday, Lesnar spoke with frustration about what he was going through. He apologized to dos Santos, to Spike TV and to the UFC. But when push came to shove, Lesnar showed the same confidence and determination that got him to this point.

"I want to state that this is not an end of my career," he said. "Far from it."

His run to a UFC championship seemed impossible before he pulled it off, but a repeat performance would be the defining moment of his career. It's one thing to beat the opponent in front of you. It's another one entirely to defeat the one inside.

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