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Brock Lesnar now has less than three weeks before he enters free agency

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

With less than three weeks until he becomes the most unique free agent in MMA history, Brock Lesnar returned to pro wrestling television on Monday night's Raw in Pittsburgh, and didn't say a word.

Lesnar mostly smiled and smirked while his mouthpiece, Paul Heyman, claimed that if Lesnar wanted to, he would unify the WWE and UFC heavyweight titles this summer.

Of course, that's all in good fun. The reality is that Lesnar, the current WWE champion, is unlikely to have that crown in three weeks. The company wants to use Lesnar's name value to springboard its attempt to make Roman Reigns, a former Georgia Tech defensive lineman whose real name is Joe Anoa'i, a member of a famous Samoan pro wrestling family, to becoming its new top star.

And when he signs his next deal, with the WWE or the UFC, it will almost surely preclude him from the other.

But Heyman's job on television was to make a statement that would make people take notice, and try and bring reality into the fantasy world of pro wrestling. It's not exactly a secret that Lesnar's deal is coming up, nor, that as the wrestler with he was sitting their at ringside with Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta at UFC 184 nine days earlier.

There were negotiations for a new contract between Lesnar and WWE's Vince McMahon two weeks earlier in Nashville that hit a nasty snag. There was yelling and screaming loud enough that people were concerned, and Lesnar flew back home instead of appearing on the live television broadcast that night.

While McMahon wouldn't talk about what the impasse was about the next day, he made it clear that all plans involving Lesnar would continue, and he was confident Lesnar would finish out his contract rather than risk legal action that would come with a contract breach.

Lesnar returned, although the situation involving a future contract was said to be unchanged. It was described that neither Lesnar nor McMahon wants to be the one to give in on the key point, and for Lesnar, it is in his favor to be able to legally negotiate with UFC and/or Bellator to use the leverage to get the best possible deal. After losing C.M. Punk to UFC, it's unlikely WWE would want to have to answer questions to stockholders and analysts about how two of its biggest stars have left for the same company - one that WWE insists is not its competition.

It's a decision that comes down to timing and numbers. But the timing and numbers are more than just simple economics.

Lesnar turns 38 this summer. It's not the best age for a pro wrestler, but it's a lot better age to be doing pro wrestling than MMA fighting. Lesnar's prior UFC run saw him get by more on athletic ability and wrestling ability from years earlier as a former NCAA champion heavyweight, than overall fighting skill. After three-plus years on the sidelines, and given his age, his wrestling can't possibly be as sharp, nor will he maintain his quickness and explosiveness. What he likely has retained his raw power, as the current version of Lesnar is enormous, as Heyman noted, to be topical, that Lesnar this week is ten pounds heavier than the combined weight of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr.

But 38 also works in another way. It's an age where finite sports reality sets in. Those close to Lesnar have spoken of the MMA option as his being a highly-competitive athlete, which Lesnar is, feeling that he was never able to perform at his best level due to battling diverticulitis much of his UFC career. Lesnar himself wasn't even aware of it until a massive attack that nearly left him for dead in late 2009. He was already suffering from the effects of it when he defeated Randy Couture to win the UFC heavyweight title, and when he unified the heavyweight and interim titles with a win over Frank Mir.

The idea is that he's now cured and healthy, and that if he wants to compete at the top level in a competitive sports environment, if he makes the decision not to do it now, that will likely close the door on any chances for good. Sure, in three years, he could easily come back to MMA at the Kimbo Slice in Bellator level and make money at it. But as a competitive athlete, going against the best competition in the world, that ship will have sailed. Perhaps it already has.

Whether he's really 100 percent healthy at a level he wasn't when he lost to Alistair Overeem and retired from UFC at the end of 2011, is another question.

The fact is C.M. Punk walked away from a lucrative pro wrestling career because he recognized his window of opportunity to compete in UFC was rapidly closing due to age. He realized if he didn't make a move now, he'd never be able to.

Dave Bautista, at the time one of the WWE's biggest stars, also walked away from a seven-figure annual income and competed in MMA as something of a bucket-list thing. Bautista was 43 when he fought his one and only bout. In his case, he didn't leave specifically to do MMA, as much as to try and make his name as an actor. But, like Punk, he still wanted to go through a professional MMA camp and fight once in his life.

Another example of that mentality was Kurt Angle, who in 2012, at the age of 43, 16 years after winning an Olympic gold medal in wrestling, went back to training amateur wrestling for a run at making the Olympic team. In his case, his window was already shut. His body simply couldn't hold up to the training.

Lesnar competed, won the UFC heavyweight title despite being inexperienced in the sport, and set pay-per-view marks for UFC that nobody has since come close to. If he has the thirst for UFC that still needs quenching after accomplishing that years ago, then, as much as the age seems to make the decision unwise, he could return.

But if you're going with the odds, the WWE makes more sense. It's the decision with more longevity and less risk. He's going to make seven figures either way over the next year. Still, from that standpoint, that, on paper, also made the most sense for Punk, Bautista and Angle. Yet, they were at an age where they still wanted to take the risk, and perhaps not live the rest of their life with the regret.

But to get the best deal possible, from both sides, the best thing Lesnar can do is give every indication that he badly wants to go to the UFC, but that he wouldn't mind staying with the WWE.

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