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It’s 2020, so it’s only fitting that the most talked about name in combat sports this week is Brock Lesnar. That’s right, a potential return to MMA is once again in the cards for the 43-year-old pro wrasslin’ star, despite the fact that it’s unclear if the man himself has any intention of stepping back into the cage.
But that’s the nature of the game when you’re one of the biggest box office draws in sports entertainment history, so with Lesnar’s name back in play, MMA Fighting’s Alexander K. Lee and Jed Meshew are here to discuss whether fans should expect to see “The Next Big Thing” fight for real once more.
BRING BROCK BACK
Lee: Simply put, MMA is a wilder, weirder, and more entertaining world when Brock Lesnar is involved.
Say what you want about the man’s wavering dedication to fighting, his brusque relationship with fans and media, and his regrettable history of failed drug tests. When Lesnar fights, everyone watches. There has simply never been a more perfect concoction of physical freakishness, pro wrestling showiness, legitimate combat sports credentials, and cold business savvy like Lesnar.
So yes, of course he will return to MMA. For someone with Lesnar’s gifts, there will always be money to be made elsewhere, but right now is the perfect time for him to fight again. He is tailor made for the ESPN-UFC era and uniquely suited for the difficult COVID-19 era that entertainment organizations are working through. He already performed at the first-ever no audience WrestleMania this past April and if anything, you get the sense that as much as Lesnar enjoys a good crowd pop, he could also do without the hassle of screaming fans. There’s no Conor McGregor-level baggage here. As long as the numbers are right and the check clears, Lesnar will show and do what’s asked of him.
Looking at his options—and they are plentiful—the heavyweight landscape of the UFC is rife with intrigue whether he goes back there for one fight or more. Stipe Miocic would love to add Lesnar’s name to his list of conquests, Jon Jones could make Lesnar his stepping stone to a title shot in a superfight for the ages, and Lesnar is probably the one name that Francis Ngannou would consider right now outside of a second championship opportunity. Even Daniel Cormier, apparently sticking staunchly to his retirement plan for now, would have to think about taking one more payday to fight Lesnar and finally reap the harvest of the seeds that they planted at UFC 226 two years ago.
Keep in mind, that’s just the UFC we’re talking about. Bellator President Scott Coker has already said that he’s down to book a Lesnar vs. Fedor Emelianenko dream match. He’d definitely have to ask Viacom dig deeper into the coffers than usual to make that happen, but if they ever wanted to take a shot over the bow and really rattle Dana White’s cage, this would be the way to do it.
The more you think about it, the more it just makes sense for Lesnar to fight again. Not to get too poetic about it (Lesnar certainly wouldn’t view his career through this lens) but that’s always been the magic of Lesnar. Ever since he debuted in MMA, it’s always felt like anything was possible.
Maybe he goes to Combate Americas and mad promoter Campbell McLaren figures out a way to convince Tito Ortiz to move up to heavyweight for a crazy matchup with Lesnar that none of us even knew we wanted. How about Lesnar head to Japan and flex his muscle for RIZIN, going for the ultimate cash grab against the likes of Bob Sapp or Hong Man Choi or Akebono (truly, MMA’s Holy Trinity of heavyweight oddities). Maybe he takes Vitor Belfort’s offer to challenge him over in ONE Championship?
And maybe, just maybe, the fine folks at CamSoda Legends and Full Metal Dojo can save up enough shekels to book him for a future Fight Circus event in Bangkok. How does Lesnar vs. five capoeiristas or 10 amateur atomweights, or two dudes with kendo sticks sound to you? If you answered with anything less than “irresistible,” you’re lying to yourself.
You’d be right to question if everything that follows is just a negotiation tactic for Lesnar, who has repeatedly played the UFC and the WWE against each other to raise his value and claim the rewards. It’s entirely possible that he stays within the confines of the squared circle as opposed to risking a humbling defeat inside the octagon (or hexagon or bare-knuckle boxing enclosure). But negotiations go both ways and if an MMA organization makes him the right offer in terms of monetary value and terms (wherever he goes, don’t expect Lesnar to deal with the same promotional headaches that his peers do), he’ll jump at the chance to boost his bank account. For a prizefighter like Lesnar, there is no such thing as enough money.
Lesnar isn’t the Hollywood-type. He’s not going to make a Dave Bautista or John Cena-esque leap onto the big screen. As much as I’d pay to see Lesnar rubbing shoulders with Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins at the Golden Globes, he’s just not cut out for that lifestyle. Sports entertainment is the devil he knows and one that he’s made an infernal pact with time and time again.
So come home, Brock. Because in a game that is rigged in favor of the house, Lesnar is the rare name that can walk into the casino and leave with chips spilling out from his massive arms every time.
NO CHANCE IN HELL
Meshew: Could Brock Lesnar make his return to MMA? Absolutely. Should he return to MMA? Probably. Will he return to MMA? No chance in Hell.
(Cue Vince McMahon music)
This is not the first time Lesnar has been rumored to return to unscripted combat. Hell, it’s not the 10th time. And on all but one of those occasions, the same thing has happened: he returned to the WWE fold with a heavier wallet. How many times does Brock have to do this to the MMA fans of the world before they stop getting excited about it? Just because he did it one time, in a very special circumstance, doesn’t mean it will ever happen again. Like “fetch,” this just isn’t going to happen.
The image most often evoked when Joe Rogan et al discuss Brock is a Viking marauder, but that misses the mark. As best I can tell, the man only cares about three things: his family, his privacy, and making as much money as he possibly can. As such, he’s not a Viking; he’s a mercenary. Lesnar has always and will always go to whoever is the highest bidder. He’s basically what would happen if you threw a penis-sword tattoo on a silverback gorilla’s chest and raised it in The Heritage Foundation. And in these trying times, the highest bidder will never be the world of MMA.
I’m by no means an expert on the WWE so I’m reluctant to go too far down a path where my knowledge is ankle deep, but Brock has always provided Vince McMahon and the WWE with more value than he’s provided Dana White and that largely comes down to Vince’s ability to dictate outcomes. If Dana could guarantee Brock would be the heavyweight champion and continue to reign, there is probably no limit to the amount of money he would shell out to “The Beast Incarnate.” However, he can’t actually do that and at 43, there are a handful of heavyweights out there who could punch him in the stomach and fold him like a lawn chair. Is that a good short-term boost? Sure, but it’s not a long-term plan. Meanwhile, Vince can continue to trot Lesnar out as a special attraction and any losses he does suffer, just won’t mean as much.
Then there’s the issue of the UFC wanting him in general. Yes, if he could get him at a price, I’m sure Dana would love to have Brock back, but that’s not realistic. Brock is going to be asking for a metric ton of money and Dana has no real incentive to pay it. Numerous fighters this year have been bucking at the pittance the UFC doles out to its “private contractors,” so this has come up a number of times but it bears mentioning: the UFC’s deal with ESPN nets them a flat rate for pay-per-views yearly, meaning no one fighter is actually worth that much to the UFC anymore.
The UFC is now insulated from chasing monster main events to jack up their PPV rates, and so they don’t have to give away any more than they want to in negotiations. Why do you think Dana has been signing so many people off the Contender Series lately? Because star power means less and warm bodies mean more. Brock Lesnar has never been a “I’ll fight whenever you want” guy and so his leverage at this point is minimal.
“But what about Bellator?” you ask with just a hint of desperation in your voice. Two words:
Scott Coker would probably cut off his foot if he could land Lesnar but seeing how that isn’t one of the three things Brock cares about, that won’t help him much and there’s no chance Viacom opens up the coffers for a 43-year-old guy who doesn’t even like fighting. That would be the kind of terrible business move that has bankrupted countless MMA promotions in the past: throw piles of money at stars and hope it works out.
To think Bellator, or any other organization is a serious contender is friggin’ fanciful, especially when you consider the struggles the WWE has had during the COVID-19 situation. In a vacuum, Vince McMahon has the deepest pockets in any bidding war and right now he also has the most incentive. All that adds up to one outcome: Brock Lesnar taking some time off and then returning at WrestleMania.
And none of that even mentions arguably the biggest reason why this won’t happen. Remember at the start when I said Lesnar cares about three things: his family, his privacy, and money? Well let me tell you who doesn’t give two tugs of a dead dog’s tail Brock Lesnar’s privacy: USADA.
Returning to fighting means returning to the UFC and returning to the UFC means returning to the USADA testing pool. The last time Brock did that, he wasn’t even in the pool for the required time and he still managed to piss hot. Making the move to MMA means Brock would have to be in the pool for six months before fighting, and aside from the potential for him to test positive and thus ruin the whole thing, that’s still six months of USADA agents ruining his privacy in the vain hope that he can, what, fight Jon Jones? A guy he outweighs by 60 pounds and probably loses to? What the hell kind of business sense does that make?
If Brock Lesnar could fight Daniel Cormier in December for $10 million, he’d probably do that. After all, that’s essentially what happened at UFC 200; Dana was desperate, backed up the Brink’s truck, and Lesnar got to make a quick payday. But that’s not a possibility at this point. Instead, he’s going to do what he’s always done: leverage a courtship with Dana White to make more money from Vince McMahon. In the end, Brock will return to the WWE with another bundle of cash and once again MMA fans will be Charlie Brown, swinging desperately at a football that was never there to be kicked in the first place.
Will we see Brock Lesnar in a real fight again?
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