Among the many straight-faced declarations he’s broadcasted over the years, one of Dana White’s favorites is that he doesn’t wait on anybody. If you have a champion — or even a contender — who is suspended, or injured, or who is simply dawdling, the show must go on. He will find an interim belt lying around the garage and put it up for grabs quicker than Chrissy Blair can bring a round card full circle.
That’s a refreshing way to think, but it’s also mostly a fib. White waited on Brock Lesnar, for instance, even when he said he wouldn’t wait on Brock Lesnar. After cutting some live promos at UFC 226 with the behemoth to set up a fight, Daniel Cormier waited on Lesnar, too. Miocic waited on Lesnar, against convention. The breadth of the heavyweight division waited on Lesnar to finish up his WWE duties and get his ass back in the Octagon, where — if memory serves — he left a trail of asterisks and a small part of his colon on his last couple of visits.
So when news came out from ESPN that Lesnar retired on Tuesday, it felt like we were watching a drunk slam his head into the piano keys after popping his knuckles in dramatic fashion. Such a sad, unremarkable, shoulder-shrugging thing to do. After all that this is how it ends? Why in the hell have we all been standing around?
The now 40-year old Cormier — who, to be fair, was nursing an injury for part of the limbo — could have been building up a fight with Jon Jones. Had the UFC not been waiting on Lesnar, it could have looked to make the Jones-Cormier trilogy rather than pairing Jones with a woodwork contender like Thiago Santos. Either that or Cormier could have in the very least been building a rematch with Miocic rather than cold-shouldering him.
After all the fuss and blather about a megabout between Lesnar and Cormier — which was meant to be a kind of career reward for DC, providing him a hefty paycheck for the honor of serving Brock’s head on a platter — Miocic-Cormier II looks a little blue in the lips (to say nothing of the balls). See, the idea is to generate hype, not squeeze the last sad sounds out of a windbag.
And already the shouts can be heard from the mezzanine about PEDs and cheating. Lesnar re-entered the USADA testing pool last summer, which was a kind of promise that he was Octagon-bound. Why would he subject himself to something that drastic if he wasn’t coming back? The WWE entanglement made it difficult, of course, as did his lingering suspension for testing for PEDs back at UFC 200, when he took out Mark Hunt in what now appears to be his last UFC fight.
Still, Lesnar’s only indication was that he was coming back. Something shut down that intention. The man loves money, and wouldn’t have just walked away without a reason. He had a chance to win back his title, too, a privilege that pissed off a whole colony of heavyweights. People are now free to speculate as to what that reason is. There will be no pay off.
Maybe all of this comes as a relief to that last bastion of fans who still believe in the meritocracy. As a polarizing figure, Lesnar spoke to a casual audience’s sense of awe, especially when he dropped the scripts, but he always did his best to peeve the MMA purist.
If it wasn’t a hot test, it was the constant oscillating between two worlds. If it wasn’t his sworded thorax, it was that he left America and resettled in Saskatchewan. When he frothed at the mouth after UFC 100, people beheld a wonder. When he came back to beat Shane Carwin, they marveled. When he went down after suffering from diverticulitis, they pondered what could have been. When he showed up under special circumstances and cashed a big check at UFC 200 only to pop hot for PEDs, well, the only thing left was for him to save face.
That was part of the limbo package. We were waiting for Lesnar’s dramatic outro, which was believed to be somewhat inevitable. Cormier understood this sense of adventure, just as he understood that Lesnar meant big business. He played up the anticipation, just as the UFC did.
But what’s that other thing that Dana likes to say? “We’ll see what happens?” Well, what happened is the fight he insisted on isn’t happening. After all that time on hold, Lesnar hung up on the UFC.