Last night (Tues., April 30, 2019) the extremely anticlimactic news that Brock Lesnar had abruptly retired from the sport of MMA broke.
The announcement ended almost a year full of speculation that the former UFC heavyweight champion would return to face current champ Daniel Cormier. Lesnar slid into the Octagon to shove ‘DC’ in the moments after he knocked out Stipe Miocic in the main event of last July’s UFC 226. It was thought that a pay-per-view (PPV) spectacle between the two would serve as Cormier’s swan song.
Obviously a massive payday, the bout was essentially a reward for company man Cormier’s long tenure of service to the UFC. While utterly ridiculous from a rankings and legitimacy standpoint, it was understandable from a standpoint of rewarding Cormier. And of course, the fact it would almost certainly be one of the top-selling PPVs of the year didn’t hurt from the UFC’s perspective.
Never A Real Chance
But talks never got off the ground.
Lesnar finally called it quits on MMA – something he did at least once before. While it’s a big blow to Cormier’s pocketbook and even the UFC’s bottom line for 2019, you can also argue it’s simply great for the sport of MMA. Sure, Cormier vs. Lesnar was always going to sell big numbers on PPV. With the UFC’s new streaming deal with ESPN, that just doesn’t matter as much now, however.
The price to get those numbers was also too great. The division remained tied up, even though Cormier defended his title in a one-sided bout with Derrick Lewis just last November. Miocic was waiting on the sidelines for a rematch with Cormier. He probably deserved it, even though his first fight with Cormier was rather one-sided and clear-cut. You could argue the eye poke played a role in the outcome. Yet more importantly, Miocic held the record for most consecutive heavyweight title defenses with three.
So the UFC went ahead and went with that fight as a consolation prize. The bout is rumored for an August PPV, which should be UFC 241. It’s the fight hardcore MMA fans were clamoring for, and they’ll get it. Overall, it just adds continuity to the heavyweight division. If Cormier wins, he can retire. If Miocic wins, well, he can either continue on as champion or face Cormier in a trilogy match if ‘DC’ so desires. What if Lesnar would have somehow won as a huge underdog? What happens to the title then?
The Past Is Just That
Lesnar is a huge draw, that much cannot be disputed. His time as champion proved he was one of the biggest draws the UFC has ever had. I was there. All of his bouts had a palpable buzz back then, something akin to a feeling we may never see recreated in the sport.
We still need to remember that his last true win came in 2010. That’s nearly nine years ago. Many have whispered that the UFC’s anti-doping partnership with USADA played a part in Lesnar’s retirement, and it may have. He was busted for a banned substance following his win over Mark Hunt in July 2016. The general consensus was that he appeared much smaller when his UFC return was rumored over the past year.
So what does this all amount to? Well, it means some semblance of continuity for both the heavyweight division and the UFC overall. It’s absolutely ridiculous to hold up a division for a sometimes fighter who could leave for pro-wrestling at any time. The specter of him testing positive even if the fight happened loomed large as well. Case in point, the fact that Lesnar called Miocic and Francis Ngannou “pieces of s**t” in the Octagon at UFC 226 shows how out of touch he was with MMA’s current state. Again, he hadn’t won a fight since 2010.
Casual fans may bemoan missing out on a potentially huge match-up. They’ll have to get over it, however. The fact is, Lesnar retiring is just good – if not great – for the UFC heavyweight division.
Even if it cost Cormier his coveted massive payday.