Opinion: Laying the Framework for Brock Lesnar’s Return

By Zach Arnold Sep 18, 2014
Brock Lesnar always commands attention. | Photo: Sherdog.com



If World Wrestling Entertainment champion Brock Lesnar decides to return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2015, he will encounter many opportunities to bank big cash through big-game hunting top 10 heavyweights. Lesnar will also discover that his worst enemy, Cain Velasquez, remains the UFC’s heavyweight king, with no plans on surrendering the title any time soon.

While Ronda Rousey turned heads at “SummerSlam” in Los Angeles by not squelching the possibility of participating in a future WWE show, Lesnar and the company have a mutual decision to make after “WrestleMania 31” in Santa Clara, Calif., on March 29. The rumored grand plan for Lesnar’s exit from WWE is either a match involving Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or young up-and-comer Roman Reigns. Win or lose, Lesnar has to decide his long-term future with World Wrestling Entertainment. WWE is out of the pay-per-view business, and Lesnar wants a lot of money for not a lot of traveling. Something has to give. Will the WWE continue paying the steep price tag to keep Lesnar around as its champion, or will Lesnar pack his bags and head back to the UFC, where he can make a fortune as a PPV headliner?

Lesnar has options because so many promoters in different sports are enamored with his freakish athletic ability. Sometimes, he is human, as we saw with his diverticulitis. At other times, he is an animal, which is why the WWE has dubbed him “The Beast Incarnate.” As a mercenary, Lesnar has found a strangely unique and highly profitable sweet spot in the MMA and professional wrestling universe. Hardcore MMA fans see him as a joke of a fighter who crawls into a fetal position after getting punched. They also hate the fact that he attracts so many pro-wrestling fans to UFC pay-per-views, both at the arena and on television. “How can this man represent a real sport?” they ask.

On the other side of the equation, many hardcore professional wrestling fans grind their teeth every time Lesnar gets what he wants. No matter if it is with New Japan Pro-Wrestling or WWE, the man always seems to attract title belts. WWE can only hope he does not treat its title the same way he treated New Japan’s belt. This is a guy who beat The Undertaker at “WrestleMania 30” and destroyed a multi-decade winning streak. Sacrilegious, horrible, they said. Of all the people in the world who could have beaten The Undertaker, why would it be such a disloyal, part-time, spoiled brat of a behemoth who broke the streak? Yet those same fans who suffered figurative heart attacks after “WrestleMania” became practically orgasmic at the site of Lesnar brutishly beating down John Cena like a carpenter smashing an ant with a hammer at “SummerSlam.” Lesnar made Cena look like Heath Herring in their infamous Minneapolis squash match at UFC 87.

When Lesnar returned to the WWE after his initial stint with the UFC, the audiences were not sure how to react. WWE’s booking of Lesnar was, frankly, awful. The combination of fan confusion and bad matchmaking created malaise, and it took a while for fans and management to get on the same page. Eventually, everyone understood Lesnar’s strengths and limitations. The rest was history.

As a professional wrestler before his UFC heavyweight title reign, Lesnar was a freakishly athletic guy who could do the craziest power moves in the world. However, it was entirely in the context of traditional pro-wrestling standards. Post-UFC, Lesnar has morphed into a giant, scary, maniacal version of a modern-day Don Frye. Before wrestling and MMA crossover appeal was cool, Frye made a name for himself in the UFC and took his talents to New Japan Pro-Wrestling, where he wrestled Antonio Inoki in the old man’s retirement match. The crowd at the Tokyo Dome broke all attendance records. Frye loved being the bad guy who did not care what you or your mama thought. The difference between Frye and Lesnar is that “The Predator” had some cowboy charisma in him. Lesnar does not give a damn about you and does not mind if you think he is a meathead as long as you pay to watch him beat up someone. This is exactly why you should count on Lesnar returning to the UFC.

We know the three-step template for Lesnar’s MMA fights: (1) Can he take down his opponent? (2) Can the opponent get up from the takedown? (3) Can the opponent punch Lesnar in the face and rattle his cage?

We understand Velasquez is Lesnar’s kryptonite. The same could most likely be said for Junior dos Santos. However, what about the rest of the heavyweight field? Take a look at the current Sherdog.com heavyweight rankings. Admit it. Every single name on that list would be a viable opponent for Lesnar in a mega-fight. As a bonus, I will even throw in Frank Mir if it piques your interest. Would you be interested in a super fight between Lesnar and Daniel Cormier? That would catch your attention, would it not?

As long as you can get past the notion of Lesnar being boxed into a rematch with Velasquez for the heavyweight title, you can see lots of opportunities for the UFC to attract some respectable PPV buy rates, all while providing him opportunities to notch some more wins against top 10-level competition. The problem is that the UFC often struggles to control the narrative. If Lesnar returns, the critics will immediately call the company desperate and box the UFC into a corner. If Lesnar gets an immediate title shot, the pressure will be on to justify the booking. If Lesnar does not fight Velasquez right away, the critics will call him a crybaby and a chicken; and the heat will ratchet up further if Lesnar receives a title shot because Fabricio Werdum managed to beat Velasquez for the heavyweight title in Mexico City.

So what? You and I would pay to watch Lesnar fight Mir for a third time. How about a revenge match against Alistair Overeem, a freak show fight with Antonio Silva, a potential slobberknocker with Travis Browne or a test of grappling wills against Josh Barnett?

Realistically, a best-case scenario for Lesnar’s UFC return fight would involve Roy Nelson or Mark Hunt as the opponent; and ironically, those two men are fighting each other at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, in September. Lesnar-Hunt would be a brutal test of raw power and athleticism against an iron cranium and unstoppable will. Lesnar-Nelson would be a circus showcase in which the latter would have a puncher’s chance at least as good as the shot he had against dos Santos.

If Lesnar can stay healthy, pass his drug tests and figure out the right coaches for his training camps, then I do not see why the UFC cannot be a career option for him should he leave the WWE sooner rather than later. Lesnar is a guy who becomes bored easily and always wants to conduct business on his own terms. He is always looking for a new athletic challenge, and there are plenty of challenges awaiting him in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The UFC could use someone right now who can draw 750,000 or more PPV buys, as could the fighters who fight on those same cards.

Ask Dan Henderson how his career benefited after a million-plus people saw him plaster Michael Bisping at UFC 100. The exposure Lesnar-Mir brought to Georges St. Pierre, Thiago Alves and everyone else who fought on that card was invaluable. That is why Lesnar is worth the price tag he still commands in today’s combat sports marketplace.

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