The story seemed to be dying down. After Brock Lesnar returned to WWE on December 30th, the rumors seemed to have finally ended. Many people were calling the rumors just a publicity stunt to hype up his return on Monday Night Raw. With the amount of pain he’s gone through outside the cage over his UFC career and his age, you would think that their wasn’t any possibility that Lesnar would make a serious comeback. That seemed to be the case, until last night when Dana White spoke about it in the scrum following UFC Fight Night 35 (quotes via Bloody Elbow).
Don’t hold your breath on Brock Lesnar returning to the UFC
“Me and Brock talk. I said recently Brock feels like … he said he has some regrets with MMA because he wasn’t healthy. He was going through those stomach problems the whole time he was here. So he has regrets.”
“It’s interesting. He became champion with diverticulitis. What would he have done without it? From the first day he fought in the UFC until his last fight he was suffering from it. He never felt right. He just didn’t know why and then it really hit him. He feels like he was fighting here at 40 percent.
“He thinks a Brock Lesnar that was 100 percent could have done much better. I told him, ‘you’re out of your f***ing mind. You came in here with one fight and became the heavyweight champion.’ It was fun having Brock here.”
“So he has some regrets. Would he like to fight again? I’m sure he would. We’ll see how this whole thing plays out. It’s definitely a possibility.”
When you hear those quotes from Dana White, then you may have to start taking the return rumors seriously. Before UFC 168, he never made it clear that there were actual talks with Lesnar. Then after the rumors of Lesnar showing up to Las Vegas for UFC 168, he never made an appearance.
I’m sure that the UFC is pushing hard for Lesnar to come back. The heavyweight division has lost a lot of top contenders over the past year in Alistair Overeem, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, and now Junior Dos Santos (if Cain Velasquez stays champion). While all four fighters remain popular, they are far away from a title shot. It’s hard to find heavyweights who are considered to be a credible challenger for Velasquez. Then you look at Antonio Silva being suspended for nine months and Mark Hunt likely missing the first half of 2014. It shows how depleted the heavyweight division truly is compared to two years ago. You had the likes of Lesnar, Mir, Overeem, and the “retired” Shane Carwin up there creating a lot of buzz.
The other major factor that couldn’t be more obvious are pay-per-view buys. Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva will most likely not be fighting in 2014, unless something dramatic happens. As popular as the sport has become, the buy rates weren’t great in 2013 for events that didn’t feature those two fighters. Besides his last fight with Alistair Overeem (which still did very well), any event headlined by Lesnar consistently brought in a buy-rate around one million. His fight with Frank Mir at UFC 100 still holds the record for most buys for a UFC pay-per-view. That will probably never be broken, due to internet piracy and the lack of fighters who are considered to be “superstars”.
Lesnar would be a major asset to both of those categories that the UFC could absolutely use right now. The issue is more about his health than his WWE contract. Obviously the WWE contract lasts till 2015, but let’s look back at Lesnar’s history. He has gotten out of a WWE contract in the past, if you remember in 2004 when he was the face of the WWE. That led to a nasty lawsuit, where his contract didn’t allow him to compete for any other organization until 2010. Eventually the non-compete clause was overturned, after leaving the WWE and wanting to become a fighter (once his NFL dream ended). It would be difficult, not impossible for him to get out of his current WWE deal. While they still value him greatly, he’s not there on a weekly basis like he was from 2001-early 2004. He’s used for major pay-per-views to generate more interest.
His current contract is exclusive to WWE although that doesn’t mean they can’t rework his contract. He has done it before under difficult circumstances. With the launch of the WWE network, they aren’t relying on pay-per-view buy rates anymore. As long as their audience buys the network and fills up arenas, they don’t have to worry about a part-time wrestler like Lesnar. So there are some elements that show how WWE doesn’t feel obligated to keep him. That is why his wrestling career isn’t the biggest roadblock towards him fighting again.
The main roadblock for Lesnar coming back is his simply his health and age. He’s going to be 37 years old in July, which means he’s already on the decline. His struggles with diverticulitis are well documented. Even though he physically looks great on TV, that doesn’t prove if he’s in fighting shape. I don’t need to get into the differences between staying in shape to wrestle three times a year to eight-week training camps to prepare for a fight. It’s hard to see him get through a camp after all he’s been through, even if the fight was booked. Can he actually put on a good performance or will we see him crumble in two minutes like he did against Alistair Overeem?
You can’t help but respect Lesnar after what he said. It always seemed like he was a guy, who was there to be the best heavyweight in the world and make his money. You never would see him go to any other UFC events or show that he really enjoys MMA. The fact that he has regrets about his UFC career, despite becoming champion and making millions of dollars was a major surprise. He still cares about wanting to fight to his full potential. It’s likely too little too late for that, although once again how can you not commend him for that?
Even if you hate pro wrestling with passion or can’t stand Lesnar for never respecting his opponents, you can’t deny that all of his fights were entertaining. There was always major buzz for any pay-per-view he headlined. That is why people, including myself would be salivating to see him back in the octagon. As a realist though, there just seems to be too many obstacles for him to overcome.
Then again, you have to look what he’s done in his career. He went from pro wrestling to the UFC and became champion in just four professional fights. I’m aware of him being an NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion, so he benefited from having the wrestling background. That still doesn’t change the fact that he practically had no striking or jiujitsu experience going into his first fight. So what if he was handed a title shot too early, he knocked out a Hall Of Famer in Randy Couture and proved to be a worthy champion. Then he overcame the first loss of his career and annihilated Frank Mir. Then in his biggest obstacle, he came back from diverticulitis to beat Shane Carwin. Who can forget how he was getting pummeled in the first round, before coming back to submit Carwin in the second round. Those examples prove that nobody should completely doubt him in whatever he chooses ever again. That is why I can believe Dana White, when he says he could possibly return.
Don’t hold your breath about an actual return within the next eight to ten months. It could very well take until 2015 for Lesnar to even gain clearance to be booked for a fight. Then you have to see how he gets through a full training camp. We’ve seen him pull out of fights against Carwin and Junior Dos Santos in the past, due to training camp injuries. He doesn’t train like a normal fighter let alone human being; there is a reason why he’s known as “the beast”.
It would be special to see him come back, whether it’s a fresh matchup against someone like Josh Barnett or the trilogy fight against Mir if he’s still around. There will still be tremendous buzz, regardless if he’s now past his prime. People will pay to see him fight in the UFC; it will eventually come down to his health. I’m skeptical about his return because of that, but Lesnar has a proven track record of overcoming the most grueling obstacles. I’ll know better this time around not to completely rule him out of fighting again. If he can remain healthy and get through an intense camp, he could get back to pulling horseshoes out of fighter’s behinds.