Brock Lesnar's UFC return: Everything you need to know
Not only was July’s UFC 226 one of the biggest shows of the year, but it also turned into one of the most controversial. There was certainly no controversy around Daniel Cormier’s knockout win over Stipe Miocic – a win which made him both the UFC Heavyweight champion and Light-Heavyweight champion – but the aftermath of that fight had more than a few fans scratching their heads.
Why? Because former Heavyweight champion – and at the time, reigning WWE Universal champion - Brock Lesnar entered the Octagon to challenge Cormier for his first title defence. Sure, the confrontation, which ended with Lesnar shoving Cormier, was cool, but for some fans, the whole thing left somewhat of a sour taste.
Despite that though, 2019 is likely to see Cormier and Lesnar clash for the Heavyweight title in what promises to be one of the biggest fights of the year – if not one of the biggest in UFC history. Here’s everything you need to know about Brock Lesnar’s return to the UFC.
So why is Lesnar such a big deal?
Newer fans of the UFC perhaps don’t understand quite why Brock Lesnar’s return is such a big deal, but in a nutshell, it’s because he’s one of the biggest drawing fighters in the history of the sport – as well as a former Heavyweight champion. He headlined 5 UFC pay-per-views that drew over a million buys – making him probably second only to Conor McGregor as a mega-draw.
Lesnar rose to fame in the early 2000’s as a WWE superstar and champion but ended up leaving the world of pro-wrestling in 2004. After a failed NFL career, he turned to MMA – using his background as a former NCAA freestyle wrestling champion to fall back on - and first debuted in the UFC back in 2008 after a lone victory outside of the world’s biggest MMA promotion.
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While he was defeated by Frank Mir in his first fight, it was clear he had a lot of potentials. A big win over contender Heath Herring followed, and due largely to Lesnar’s popularity stemming from his WWE tenure, he was surprisingly given a title shot at then-champion Randy Couture. And in one of the biggest selling UFC pay-per-views of all time, Lesnar stunningly upset Couture, knocking him out to claim the title.
From there, Lesnar’s reputation grew as he became the self-professed ‘baddest man on the planet’ and defended his title successfully against Mir in a hugely anticipated rematch at UFC 100. That show set a new buyrate record for the UFC – 1.6m buys – a record that was only topped by the Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz rematch in 2016.
A battle with the bowel disease diverticulitis followed, however, and prevented Lesnar from really living up to his early potential. He was shelved for a year between July 2009 and July 2010, and while he did defeat Shane Carwin in a second title defence, he lost his title to Cain Velasquez shortly after.
A long spell on the shelf with another bout of diverticulitis followed, and in December 2011, Lesnar returned only to be beaten badly by Alistair Overeem. From there, the former champion decided to retire from MMA and returned to WWE.
What about his 2016 comeback?
Okay, so here’s where it gets a little strange. Lesnar re-debuted in WWE in early 2012 and was immediately greeted with much fanfare, as he was pushed into major feuds despite only appearing on a part-time basis. Rumours of his return to the UFC persisted over the next handful of years, although for the most part they seemed like baseless rumours most likely designed to allow Lesnar more leverage in contract discussions with Vince McMahon.
That was until UFC 200 rolled around in July 2016. With the UFC on the verge of sale to the current WME owners, previous owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta were looking for a marquee fight to sell UFC 200 as one of the biggest shows of all-time. And somehow they found it in Lesnar, who managed to convince WWE to allow him to do a one-off UFC fight against veteran Mark Hunt.
The plan worked, as UFC 200 had its marquee fight and drew approximately a million pay-per-view buys. And Lesnar’s return worked too, as despite some sticky moments, he was largely able to take Hunt down, control him on the ground and beat him up. In the end, he was awarded a clear unanimous decision victory.
So why hasn’t he fought since?
Well, a couple of weeks after UFC 200, all hell broke loose when it was announced that Lesnar had tested positive for a banned substance – an estrogen blocker known as clomiphene – in both his pre-fight and post-fight drug tests. This meant that not only was Lesnar banned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for a year, but his win over Hunt was also overturned and declared a No Contest.
Not that the ban seemed to matter to Lesnar anyway – he simply moved back to WWE, which doesn’t drug test as stringently as the UFC. And from there Lesnar’s name was barely mentioned in the UFC again until this summer, when the rumours of his return were actually confirmed – and the expiry date for his ban had long passed.
Is he actually clean now?
The short answer is, who knows? WWE’s Wellness Policy simply doesn’t cover as much ground as the UFC’s deal with USADA and as a part-time performer, it’s largely unknown as to whether Lesnar was even covered by the WWE policy in the first place.
What is known, however, is that Lesnar was confirmed as re-entering USADA’s testing pool on July 8th, 2018, which would mean after six months of testing, he’d be eligible to fight again. And reports in August 2018 suggested that within just one month of returning to the testing pool, ‘The Beast Incarnate’ had already been tested three times.
Given there’s been no news of any drug test failure since then, it’s probably a fair guess that for now at least, Lesnar is clean. Whether he can continue to pass all of his drug tests leading up to the likely date with Cormier in 2019 is still a question, but hopefully – for Lesnar and his fans at least – that will be the case.
But why give him an instant title shot?
In one word, money. Sure, Lesnar’s done absolutely nothing to warrant a title shot – he’s won one fight since 2010 and that was overturned due to PED abuse, and he hasn’t been a regular member of the UFC roster since 2011 – but any Lesnar fight will draw more pay-per-view buys than any other fight that the UFC could put together at Heavyweight right now.
Cormier vs. Miocic at UFC 226 was pushed as a ‘superfight’, the two fighters were given a season of The Ultimate Fighter to attempt to build a grudge, and going in, Cormier was already recognised as one of the most popular fighters on the roster. And yet UFC 226 only drew approximately 386,000 pay-per-view buys – a fraction of the 1m+ that Lesnar’s last few shows drew.
Given that the highest buyrate for a show headlined by a Heavyweight title fight post-UFC 200 was 475,000 for September 2016’s UFC 203 – less than half of UFC 200’s buyrate – it makes sense, financially at least, to give Lesnar a shot. From Cormier’s point of view, this is a chance for him to really make some big money – assuming his contract awards him a percentage of the pay-per-view profits.
And while detractors of Lesnar are furious with the idea of him walking into a title shot, realistically, the next contender in line – Curtis Blaydes – is a young and still developing the fighter. So it probably won’t hurt him to wait a little while before claiming his shot.
So can he actually beat Daniel Cormier?
Any kind of solid analysis would probably point to ‘no’. Even if Lesnar hadn’t been away from MMA for so long, Cormier would always represent a bad match-up for him. Essentially, Cormier fights in a very similar style to his main training partner, Cain Velasquez – using a combination of sharp striking, strong wrestling, surprising speed for a big man and an endless gas tank.
Back in 2010 when Lesnar was faced with Velasquez, fans of Lesnar figured that his superior wrestling background – as well as his massive size advantage – would allow him to defeat the smaller challenger, but that simply wasn’t the case. Velasquez avoided Lesnar’s takedown and simply destroyed him on the feet en route to a first-round TKO.
And against Cormier, Lesnar doesn’t even have that supposedly superior wrestling background. Sure, he won the NCAA Division I wrestling championship back in 2001, but where Velasquez was simply a very good Division I All-American, Cormier is a former Olympian. That means that Brock’s wrestling skill will most likely be nullified.
In the other areas, he’s wildly outgunned by the current champion. Cormier has only been stopped by strikes once – by a Jon Jones head kick – and Lesnar is hardly likely to recreate that one. And outside of that he’s survived heavy hitters like Anthony Johnson, Stipe Miocic and Alexander Gustafsson.
Basically this is a horrible fight on paper for Lesnar, but of course, MMA is a wild sport and we’ve seen plenty of upsets in the past – which means you can’t totally count Lesnar out.
What should we expect?
Prior to the fight? We should expect a hell of a lot of hype from both men. Cormier loves to use the mic to build a fight and Lesnar – in contrast to his relatively silent persona in WWE – was one of the better promos in the UFC when he was around during his initial run with the promotion. Expect the term “baddest man on the planet” to be thrown around on numerous occasions, and don’t be shocked if there’s another shoving match like we saw at UFC 226.
When it comes to the fight, though? The closest thing I’d compare this one to would be either Tito Ortiz’s first fight with Ken Shamrock in 2002 or Matt Hughes’s 2006 showdown with the legendary Royce Gracie. Both fights saw current champions facing off with challengers from a past era who still carried their star aura. And both fights saw the current champion utterly demolish their legendary counterpart.
In the end though, is Cormier vs. Lesnar a fight worth watching? For sure. The UFC can build a fight like this like no other, and while a sporting perspective would say that Cormier vs. Blaydes should be next, that can wait for another day. Bring on the biggest Heavyweight fight since, well, Lesnar vs. Velasquez, maybe?
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