After months of rumors and speculation, Brock Lesnar’s future will play out inside a professional wrestling ring, not a mixed martial arts cage.
During an appearance on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on Tuesday, the former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion officially closed the door on a return to the Las Vegas-based promotion.
“It was a very hard decision for me. It’s hard to talk about it,” Lesnar said. “The fighter inside of me wants to compete. “I’m an older caveman now, so I make wiser caveman decisions. I’m here to say that my legacy in the Octagon is over. However, my legacy this Sunday at WrestleMania will not be my last.”
Lesnar revealed that he has been training as if he was going to compete in MMA for the past two months. After much deliberation, the lifestyle offered on the sports entertainment circuit trumped the opportunity to get back into a non-choreographed, combat sports arena.
“I thought about this for a year. At the end of the day, it’s all about me wanting to have fun. The money is great, but the lifestyle....,” he said. “For the last two months I’ve been training; I’ve been training to get back in the Octagon. I felt physically great, but something lacked mentally, and that’s not good.”
It didn’t hurt that WWE CEO Vince McMahon made the hulking former NCAA wrestling standout a generous offer on Monday evening. That deal, Lesnar said, effectively rules out any hopes of him changing his mind and returning to the UFC down the road.
“I’m officially closing the door on MMA. I re-signed last night with the WWE,” said Lesnar, who will headline the WrestleMania pay-per-view on Sunday. “We’re pretty good at keeping secrets, even in today’s age of technology. We came to a conclusion last night and the offer on the table I just could not refuse.
“I think it’s fair to the fans. It was my decision,” he continued. “I wanted to be fair to the fans, to know that on Sunday at WrestleMania, I’m going home with that damn belt. It was public knowledge and it was out there: ‘What is Brock gonna do?’”
That speculation only intensified when Lesnar showed up at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Feb. 28 for UFC 184, which saw one of the organization’s current luminariess, Ronda Rousey, retain her bantamweight crown with a 14-second submission of Cat Zingano. The 37-year-old insists that his presence was not a negotiating ploy to squeeze more money out of either potential employer.
Instead, Lesnar wanted a chance to experience what he had been missing since retiring from the UFC in 2011.
“I went to the Rousey fight just to experience and to have that feeeling,” Lesnar said. “It wasn’t a contractual move or a bartering pitch. For me, I wanted to feel that energy. It just so happened it was Ronda Rousey. If it would have been anybody, I would have went to the fight.”
Lesnar initially called it quits following a first-round TKO loss to Alistair Overeem at UFC 141 on Dec. 30, 2011. That came on the heels of another lopsided loss at UFC 121, when the hulking fighter relinquished the heavyweight title to Cain Velasquez.
Lesnar was admittedly unhappy with the way things ended in the Octagon. After a promising start, which saw him capture the UFC heavyweight belt three bouts into his tenure and emerge as the organization’s top pay-per-view draw, Lesnar was derailed by diverticulitis.
The life-threatening illness claimed nearly a foot-and-a half of Lesnar’s colon and seemingly left him a shell of the fighter that obliterated Frank Mir at the UFC’s centennial event.
“I talked with Dana [White]; I talked with Lorenzo [Fertitta]; I talked to Vince McMahaon; I talked to my wife; I talked with my friends. I had many sleepless nights on what to do,” Lesnar said. “At the end of the day it weighted heavily on my heart: I was born to be an entertainer, and I have fun doing it.
“I could go back to the Octagon, and what am I gonna gain? I was the UFC heavyweight champion of the world. Due to my illness, my career got cut short. That’s God telling you, ‘Hey it’s time to move on’ and maybe it’s a bump in the road for me, but as the years went by it wore on me so much that the fighter inside me didn’t want it to end that way. I didn’t want it to be like that. I didn’t want to leave the UFC on a losing streak. That’s just the competitive guy inside of me. “
After much soul searching, even the chance to re-write that ending wasn’t enough to convince Lesnar to return.
“You can’t force somebody to get in the cage and fight. That’s not the business. And that’s where I was,” he said. “Was my heart and my head really into it? What are the reasons why I want to go in there? Because I don’t like the way it ended? Or, really what is it? At the end of the day I’m really happy where I’m at with the WWE.”