LAS VEGAS -- As Brock Lesnar took the podium for his one-man press conference in a sweltering, makeshift tent outside T-Mobile Arena (they couldn't find money in the new joint's $375 million construction budget for a proper press conference room?), he looked like a man who had exorcised his demons.
The way Lesnar left the sport of mixed martial arts five years ago wasn't exactly the sort of closing chapter any fighter wants to have. Lesnar, who had mastered the ability of channeling his ridiculous size and strength for MMA wrestling purposes, never quite did the same with his standup game.
And by returning to the WWE's scripted fantasyland after losing back-to-back, one-sided losses to nasty strikers Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem, the perception lingered that Lesnar not only didn't like being hit, but that he hightailed it when things got too hot in the kitchen.
Never mind how Lesnar enveloped the sport on his way up. Or how he took everything hard-hitting Shane Carwin could dish out. Or the salient detail that a brutal case of diverticulitis sapped the former UFC heavyweight champion of his powers at his peak.
It's the last images, of covering up in Velasquez and Overeem's onslaughts, that everyone remembers. So when the opportunity finally arose to rewrite his story (and, obviously, when the paycheck was right), Lesnar jumped at the opportunity.
The overwhelming assumption in the MMA world -- including in this corner -- was that Mark Hunt would smoke Lesnar, if for no other reason than Lesnar had not competed in so long.
Instead, they saw a guy whose physical gifts are such that he can return and make a top-10 heavyweight and vicious striker look bad. And someone who had the tenacity to dig down deep in the final round and gut out a victory after looking gassed in the second, the sort of muscle memory that stays with an elite wrestler years after they're done with the mats.
"I took some good shots," Lesnar said. "I took him down. It was the wrestler versus the power hitter. He never knocked the f**k out of me. And here I am. I'm happy."
Just an hour or so earlier, a Lesnar, so often assumed to be a grouch and a monster, told the country that "we need to stand together, people" in the wake of a week of horrible violence across the country.
No wonder he's in a good mood. Not only did Lesnar get to rewrite his MMA story, but he's got a shiny new UFC chip to play next time his WWE contract comes due.
"Brock Lesnar does what Brock Lesnar wants to do," was how he put it.
Of course, Lesnar's near 40. It's not like he can turn back the clock forever. But Lesnar held up his end of the bargain on a megacard that otherwise didn't quite live up to the hype. Whether or not he returns again, it was good to have him back.
UFC 200 quotes
"I can't really pay attention to that anymore. The first time it happened, I kinda got angry. I was upset. I tried to explain it. It didn't make any sense, but now I can't really try and dictate people's emotions. I can only take care of what I can take care of." -- Daniel Cormier, on being booed by the crowd.
"I know Amanda was a fast starter, and I played with fire a little bit too much. But you know, she caught me, and I wasn't able to recover." -- Miehsa Tate, on her one-sided loss to Amanda Nunes.
"It's amazing. The most important thing is I'm happy with my life. That's the most important thing." -- Amanda Nunes, on becoming the UFC's first openly gay champion.
"I want the winner of Stipe and Overeem. That's what I want, you know. I feel like the stuff that I've done for this training camp, as far as keeping my body healthy, I feel like it's worked for me." -- Cain Velasquez, after running over Travis Browne
"Once the dust settles there, I don't know what I'm going to do. I had one hell of a time tonight, and I enjoyed myself, so we'll see what happens." -- More Lesnar.
Down: Daniel Cormier The UFC light heavyweight champ just can't win with the fans. He's been dogged relentlessly for holding the title in the first place, as if it's his fault that Jon Jones keeps getting himself in trouble. On Saturday, the crowd got all over his case for taking Anderson Silva to the mat and holding him there. As if it's easy to finish Silva on the ground. As if Cormier should have stood in front of one of the most lethal strikers in the history of combat sports and granted him his one realistic path to victory on short notice. How often has a champion looked really good when taking on a short-notice challenger? Luke Rockhold accepted Michael Bisping and got smoked. Even T.J. Dillashaw got pushed into the fifth round by Joe Soto, who has languished on prelims since. Short-notice fights aren't as easy as they seem. And Cormier, the guy who has done everything by the book, did not deserve to be jeered out of the building Saturday night.
Up: Jose Aldo The big question going into last night's interim featherweight title fight was how the former longtime featherweight champion would respond to his humiliating loss last December to Conor McGregor. Would the magnitude of the loss be a career-changer for the worse? Or would he shake it off like it was a simple matter of getting caught, which can happen to any fighter? After a masterful performance against Frankie Edgar at UFC 200, it sure looks like the latter. A refocused Aldo outhustled one of the game's great footwork artists in Edgar, sacrificing volume and instead making all his strikes count, as he slowly picked Edgar apart. If the Jose Aldo who showed up last night also shows up in a McGregor rematch, we may look back at their first fight the way we do on Cain Velasquez's initial loss to Junior dos Santos.
Up: Cain Velasquez Speaking of Velasquez, boy, did the two-time former heavyweight champion put up exactly the sort of performance he needed to quiet his doubters for now. You had to wonder going into UFC 200 whether this was the time Velasquez finally had one injury and one layoff too many, whether this was the time he'd stop looking like Cain Velasquez. Velasquez absolutely mauled Travis Browne in a vintage performance. Now, this doesn't answer long-term questions on Cain's health, but at least we know that when he's on, he's still an absolute monster.
Down: Miesha Tate. We'll never know why Tate insisted on fighting Amanda Nunes instead of either taking a rematch with Holly Holm or simply waiting awhile and seeing what panned out in Ronda Rousey's life. But a fight that seemed to have far more risk than reward turned out to be exactly that, as Tate took a horrible beating in losing her title. We've learned enough about Tate's resilience to know not to count her out over the long haul, but a giant-money fight with either Rousey or Holm was there for the taking, and it's gone for now.
With the benefit of hindsight, the UFC should have just left the Nate Diaz-Conor McGregor rematch atop the show. The way UFC 200 played out seemed a bit like karma striking back at the promotion for getting too cute. Nunes, while a plenty capable and worthy champion, doesn't have the star power of Rousey, Holm, or Tate, and she also doesn't seem inclined to build fights. The popular Hunt looked bad against a part-time fighter. Cormier, who is going to be key in the light heavyweight mix for some time to come, did absolutely nothing wrong, and the crowd hated him for it. From the moment it was announced Jon Jones popped for banned substances, something just seemed in the 110-degree Vegas air.
I'm not sure how this played out on television as opposed to in person, but part of the at-times-dead atmosphere at UFC 200 seemed to be due to T-Mobile Arena itself. It's a cavernous, antiseptic cookie cutter of an arena, with fans in the second level seemingly a mile away from the action. The MGM Grand Garden Arena and the Mandalay Bay Events Center are admittedly out of date, but the fans are right on top of the action in both facilities. Maybe the place will rock with the right fight card, but it wasn't a memorable event for the venue.
Fights I'd like to see next
I already touched upon this earlier, but the way Aldo bore down and outshined Edgar certainly puts a new spin on the McGregor rematch. Six months ago, the result of UFC 194 was so definitive that McGregor-Aldo 2 seems a tough sell. Now it seems like the only fight to make.
And finally, I have to admit I wouldn't mind seeing a reprise of the classic Jim Miller-Joe Lauzon fight. Miller rolled over Takanori Gomi last night. Lauzon's blitz of Diego Sanchez resembled his stunning UFC debut win over Jens Pulver in 2006 (if that fight had been allowed to go on for too long, at least). Perhaps they've both lost a step compared to their primes, but the UFC has done a compelling job making smart matchups for veteran lightweights, so Miller-Lauzon 2 seems to book itself.
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