Despite the UFC’s solid summer schedule featuring a ton of top talent, it seems as though news of Brock Lesnar’s temporary comeback is one of the only things fight fans care about these days.
While undeniably intriguing, and possibly even worth your hard-earned pay-per-view dollars, Lesnar’s one-night return to the peak of the MMA pyramid against knockout artist Mark Hunt at July’s UFC 200 won’t benefit anyone other than those directly involved. And for the division, it comes at a time when the promotion needs to be capitalizing on buzz built from other recent heavyweight headlines in order to restore interest in the UFC’s least popular weight class.
Thanks to a stale roster that currently features just two fighters under the age of 30 within its top-15 ranked contenders, the UFC’s heavyweight division is nowhere near the headline-worthy weight class it once was. The lighter divisions offer fight fans action-packed entertainment at a much faster pace, and the heavyweight division has yet to find its next generation of super-athletes to bridge that gap.
So why will Lesnar’s temporary return harm the long-term health of the entire heavyweight division? To begin with, it’s been far too long since fight fans were genuinely interested in a UFC heavyweight fight, or one of the division’s top contenders — and it’s exactly what the weight class desperately needs right now.
But every ounce of that interest is in a 38-year-old fighter who hasn’t fought in more than four years, and until further notice, a heavyweight who’s only competing once due to contractual obligations to World Wrestling Entertainment. Obviously, contracts can be broken, but Lesnar was far from committed to a future in the UFC during a recent interview with ESPN.
”It may just be a tease but I don’t know the answer to that question right now,” responded Lesnar when asked about his future in the sport. ”We’ll cross that road when we get there, but first and foremost, I’ve got a big event after this event, SummerSlam for the WWE so I’m a busy beaver.”
Initially, reports of Lesnar’s sudden return to the UFC briefly rocked the world of pro wrestling by forcing fans to wonder if Brock was gone for good. But the WWE immediately answered any questions related to the wrestler’s rumored retirement by releasing a statement aimed at clarifying the issue.
”Brock Lesnar remains under contract to WWE, 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 the WWE for SummerSlam on Sunday, August 21, live on WWE Network.”
Now, instead of the heavyweight spotlight shining solely on the matchup between Cain Velasquez and Travis Browne at UFC 200 — two fighters who are actually competing for a title shot — the bout between Lesnar and Hunt will be the division’s most popular talking point.
Obviously, adding another heavyweight bout to UFC 200 is great for the division. But make no mistake, any attention or discussion devoted to Lesnar will vanish the second he heads for SummerSlam. And when that happens, fight fans will become even less interested in the heavyweight division than they were before Lesnar’s return.
Long term, the former champion’s comeback means absolutely nothing unless it turns into something more. If Lesnar beats Hunt, one of the division’s most entertaining figures will have lost to an unranked opponent who stars in the planet’s most athletic soap opera. If Hunt defeats Lesnar, the quality of his win will immediately be questioned because it came against an opponent who hadn’t fought in more than four years.
With the heavyweight belt now worn by Stipe Miocic following his first-round finish of Fabricio Werdum in May, and Cain Velasquez finally ready to make a run at reclaiming the weight classes’ crown, UFC 200 would’ve been the perfect opportunity for the UFC to promote another heavyweight hoping for a title shot.
And at the very least, if an up-and-coming heavyweight couldn’t be found, which would be no surprise, it would’ve been a lot better for the division if the Velasquez-Browne bout wasn’t overshadowed by a lucrative sideshow that’s got nothing to do with the UFC’s heavyweight hierarchy.
Finally, with the entire world of professional sports supposedly taking such a tough stance on the use of performance-enhancing drugs, the USDA’s recent decision to allow Lesnar to fight in July without undergoing the four months of prior drug testing that everyone else must complete sets a sickening precedent.
To be fair, Lesnar is a lifelong competitor who was robbed of his chance at a lengthy UFC career by a serious bout with diverticulitis, and during his recent interview with ESPN, it was obvious that he still feels as though he has unfinished business in the UFC.
”It haunted me because, at the top of my career, I wasn’t at the top of my game,” said Lesnar. ”So I felt that I was cheated out of my career with the UFC.”
Can Lesnar still compete in the sport’s premier heavyweight division? Of course — he’s a former NCAA and UFC champion with sledge hammer hands and a hatchback for a head. But at this point, Lesnar’s sudden decision to return to the UFC will cost the division dearly.
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