Officially speaking, Brock Lesnar hasn’t won a fight in which the victor wasn’t predetermined in more than a decade.
Two months ago marked the 10th anniversary of Lesnar’s last mixed martial arts win that stood, a thrilling second-round comeback against Shane Carwin to retain the heavyweight championship at UFC 117. Lesnar absorbed a wicked beating that night then rallied to finish the gassed-out Carwin and run his record to 5-1.
There were two things no one could’ve predicted on July 3, 2010: One is that Lesnar, who appeared ready to rule the roost for as long as he chose, would find himself 0-2 with a no contest since. And two, that despite this, the mere idea of a potential return to MMA is still enough to command the sport’s attention in a manner like few others – even at 43.
That become obvious as soon as word broke earlier this week that Lesnar, who returned to WWE within months of his December 2011 loss to Alistair Overeem, was a free agent no longer bound to his WWE contract.
Don’t believe the hoopla it caused? Consider that Jon Jones was in the middle of one of his tweet storms Monday when the Lesnar news broke. Jones has done a better job getting his message heard the way he wants people to hear it via his Twitter account than any other means, and he was making his case to fight heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic next.
Jones detoured to take a swing at Lesnar. His best liked Miocic tweet has approximately 8,100 likes as of this writing; the jab at Lesnar is closing in on 35,000.
UFC president Dana White smelled the money immediately. He has a few well trained, go-to media lapdogs, and he went to them and made clear that if Jones wants to fight Lesnar, and Lesnar is serious about this (read: not blatantly using UFC for leverage to get a better pro wrestling deal), he’ll make the fight tomorrow.
Bellator boss Scott Coker got into the act, too. The UFC and Fedor Emelianenko never were able to come to terms, so we never got to see “The Last Emperor” against either Lesnar or Randy Couture, both of which would have been gigantic events at the time.
The ship has sailed on Couture, but Emelianenko is still under contract to Bellator, both he and Lesnar are the same age, and some of Coker’s biggest events come when he’s made the right matchups with MMA’s senior circuit.
All of this was a near-instantaneous response to the mere idea that Lesnar could return to the sport. That’s before we ever heard a word from Lesnar himself on what his intentions might be.
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You might roll your eyes in 2020 at the idea of Lesnar returning to the cage, but the sport’s two biggest promoters don’t indicate immediate interest in someone who won’t draw. If you’re White, Jones vs. Lesnar would let you sidestep the issue of whether Miocic should next fight Jones or Francis Ngannou, give Jones a huge drawing showcase in his first heavyweight fight, let Miocic-Ngannou play out, then have the winners meet. If all goes well, you’ve got three big fights among four fighters instead of one big fight in a scenario with three fighters and one left mad on the sidelines.
If you’re Coker, the fight everyone wanted 10 years ago might not fill Cowboy Stadium, but it’s still bigger than anything else they can do. From Tito Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar to Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock, Coker has plenty of data to prove that if he has the right matchup, he’ll get an audience.
Those are two cards that Lesnar – whose last octagon appearance was a UFC 200 win against Mark Hunt that was overturned becuse of a failed drug test – can potentially play. And that doesn’t even take into account the state of the rasslin’ business.
WWE is an obscenely wealthy entity these days. But the McMahon family also has a more stale and less culturally relevant product than they’ve had in generations. They’ve also got their first real competition in the space in nearly 20 years in the TNT-broadcast All Elite Wrestling, whose founder, Tony Kahn, has pockets every bit as deep as WWE’s.
Lesnar’s in an enviable position for a 43-year-old who has been performing in physically demanding jobs his entire adult life. He could probably walk away now and never have to work another day in his life, which already puts him one up on his peers. But he’s in position to make one last killer score, and he’s never been one to say no to big money.
What makes most sense to Lesnar at this point? If WWE made him an offer, he’d finish his career somewhere comfortable. AEW could make him newly relevant. UFC is a company who knows how to promote him and has already made him a lot of money. Bellator, if they have the money to make a real run, could offer him a nice payday to face someone in his age bracket instead of Jones.
That’s for him to figure out. As he does, remember this: The entire reason Lesnar is in this position is because at the end of the day, if Brock Lesnar put on a pair of MMA gloves and stepped into the cage again, you’d watch.
And the promoters know it.
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