In the early hours of Sunday morning while watching the chaos that was UFC 199, the Ultimate Fighting Championship revealed their big 265lbs secret (well, a secret which cuts weight to 265lbs). At the end of a, fittingly, pro-wrestling inspired video package for UFC 200, the famous words “can you see me know” echoed in the darkness. A face followed. It was Brock Lesnar. The secret was the return of Brock Lesnar to MMA, and you know what? It’s great for just about everybody.
A career plagued by a disorder.
The former UFC heavyweight champion hasn’t competed inside the cage – unless you count a pro wrestling cage match – since losing in a one-sided affair opposite Alistair Overeem at UFC 141 in late December, 2011.
That loss marked a two-fight losing streak on the former amateur wrestling standout’s résumé for the first time in his albeit short mixed martial arts career. Although the losses certainly didn’t help extend his MMA tenure, it was his battle outside the cage with diverticulitis that caused an untimely halt to it.
The serious intestinal disorder plagued Lesnar’s UFC career from 2010 right up until his exit in late 2011. Prior to his final bout in the organisation against Overeem, he underwent surgery for the disorder which resulted in the removal of 12-inches of his colon.
Shortly after retiring from the sport, he returned to his old stomping grounds in the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) to “work part-time with full-time pay”; a decision we can all understand and envy.
A legitimate superstar
Working part-time with full time compensation can only be commanded by genuine superstars; and Lesnar is a bona fide superstar.
During his run with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Lesnar consistently flexed his box office muscle, breaking the elusive one million pay-per-view buys mark on three occasions. This run included headlining UFC 100, which is generally recognised as the benchmark for a UFC pay-per-view with a record 1.6 million PPV unit purchases.
The mark he left on the sport was certainly massive. You could even specify his time in the sport as its own ‘era’ – and much like each era in MMA, it drew in its own set of new fans.
It’s measurable too. If you were to assemble 100 mixed martial arts fans into a single room and ask them to group into one of the many periods in the short history of our sport from when they became a fan, I’m confident to write that you would have strong group of fans from the Brock Lesnar era.
But despite his legitimate superstar status, some analysts and insiders who cover the WWE think his popularity has somewhat stagnated.
Wall Street analyst James Clement is one of these people.
Clement is an analyst from Macquarie Capital and tracks the WWE in monthly research notes. In a note made at the end of 2015, initially reported by Benzinga, Clement concluded that a Brock Lesnar had peaked as a box office draw.
“[Cena and Lesnar] are, in our opinion, WWE’s most popular stars but both have probably reached their popularity ceiling,” he said. “In other words, we don’t see either taking WWE’s popularity to the next level, particularly among some of WWE’s younger, newer fans.”
However, that shouldn’t affect the project between the UFC and WWE. According to the analyst’s note, Lesnar is still one of the biggest stars in the world of professional wrestling, if not the biggest. The concept of his waning ability to attract new viewers in the WWE enviornment doesn’t necessarily reflect his drawing power for the UFC.
The crossover effect that the UFC desires is still firmly in place. They are looking to entice existing pro wrestling fans, and bringing pro wrestling’s biggest star back to the Octagon should do the trick.
Hypotheticals don’t count.
It’s good for everyone involved.
It’s not just the UFC who wins. It’s all stakeholders involved who win, and there are plenty of them.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of this deal is that it’s not an exclusive contract with the UFC. Brock Lesnar hasn’t left the WWE. In fact, the WWE have signed off the move. In a statement released shortly after the announcement on the UFC broadcast, the WWE confirmed that it’s a “one-off opportunity”.
“Brock Lesnar remains under contract to WWE,” the company said in a statement on their website. “However, he has been granted a one-off opportunity to compete at UFC 200. Following this milestone event on July 9, Brock will return to WWE for SummerSlam on Sunday, August 21, live on WWE Network.”
This development – a talent exchange with a pro wrestling company (or any company for that matter) – frankly seems alien in the UFC’s ZUFFA era. And although it’s unknown at this time if the WWE will have any input into event itself, UFC 199, it’s certainly a jump in policy for the contemporary UFC.
At the very least we should expect some cross-promotion with advertising. It makes sense and will aid both companies in their process of building their dedicated online networks: UFC Fight Pass and WWE Network respectively.
There has also been talk of further talent exchanges; this time heading to the WWE in the form of Ronda Rousey and Paige VanZant. However, it’s just rumours at this point, but you have to think that it would make a lot of sense.
Either way, it’s a win for the WWE too.
It’s also a win for the two fighters: Brock Lesnar and his recently-named opponent Mark Hunt. Lesnar likes to refer to himself as a prize fighter, and I’m sure his prize is worth the fight. And for Hunt, he gets a PPV box office record breaking opponent, a tasty paycheck in his own right, and, if you are to believe most people, a very winnable fight.
Last but not least, we win. The fans and the media. The UFC were tasked with plugging a Conor McGregor sized void when he was removed from UFC 200, and they pulled one out of the proverbial hat. The media wax lyrical about Brock Lesnar, and it’s for good reason. We love covering this sport, but we also want fans to be excited about consuming our content. That’s our dirty little secret. We’re a little selfish like that. Brock Lesnar, like it or not, gets fans excited. That gets us excited.
Everybody is a winner.