Never has a WWE contracted wrestler been allowed to fight in a professional combative setting. That all changed on Saturday when it was announced on the UFC 199 pay-per-view broadcast that Brock Lesnar will make his return to the octagon next month at UFC 200, on July 9th. Monday, on SportsCenter, it was announced that Lesnar’s opponent at UFC 200 will be Mark Hunt. There are so many interesting variables to this unprecedented announcement.
Over the years, several WWE wrestlers have requested to fight in the UFC, but Vince McMahon never allowed it. He felt that if his wrestler lost or was embarrassingly defeated, that would ruin the wrestler’s credibility on his television show.
Brock Lesnar, however, retired from MMA in December 2011 due to diverticulitis. Lesnar signed with WWE in April 2012, which UFC allowed even though Lesnar had a couple of fights left on his deal. UFC president Dana White granted his release to resume his WWE career on the condition that when they need him, and when he’s healthy, they can bring him back. Lesnar has been free of diverticulitis for a couple of years now.
UFC needed something to bolster interest in hopes of UFC 200 breaking the all-time MMA record on pay-per-view. The show is stacked from top to bottom with three championship fights, however, interest in the show faltered after the Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz rematch fell through.
The main event featuring a light heavyweight title showdown between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones is a good fight with a genuine rivalry, however, people are sour on Jones and no one believes Cormier can win. It’s fitting to bring Lesnar back on this particular occasion since it was his title unification match with Frank Mir, back at UFC 100, that produced a record setting 1.6 million buys on pay-per-view.
Brock Lesnar’s UFC return is headline news, something WWE would normally take advantage of. However, WWE didn’t mention one word about Lesnar or UFC on Raw. Perhaps they have decided to play it safe and stay clear of making any mention of the fight. WWE might feel that constantly calling attention to a situation where Lesnar could not only lose but be embarrassed could make it easier for them to repair his character’s credibility.
There is also the elephant in the room regarding drug testing that could absolutely unhinge this entire deal on July 9th and beyond. Normally, a professional fighter coming out of retirement has to inform the UFC’s drug-testing partner, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), four months prior to the fight
Lesnar’s return has unearthed a loophole where UFC can exempt fighters from the four month waiting period. UFC granted Lesnar an exemption because he’s been working for WWE since his retirement and only became available as an active fighter on June 6. This lack of transparency is augmented by reports that negotiations for the fight began in mid-April.
Brock Lesnar has never failed a drug test during his time as an MMA fighter. What if, however, he fails one this time? The penalty for a test failure under USADA’s policy is a two year suspension. That might not be a big deal if this is truly only a one and done deal for Lesnar.
WWE, though, is a completely different story. Not only would their own drug testing policy come under scrutiny but they would be under immense pressure to fire Lesnar. Last November, WWE fired wrestler and trainer Billy Gunn when they learned he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone for a powerlifting event held four months earlier. If WWE fired Gunn for a low profile incident, they would have to exemplify the identical recourse for what would be a high profile occurrence.
The man who will be standing across the octagon from Lesnar also presents a whirlwind of high risk problems. Mark Hunt is an extremely dangerous opponent for anyone. While he doesn’t possess the strongest takedown defense, which plays to Lesnar’s wrestling playbook, it’s an aspect of his game that has improved.
Plus, Hunt, being a former K-1 World Grand Prix champion, kickboxing’s highest honor, can knockout anyone at any given time and has a highlight reel of walk off knockouts. While nobody likes getting punched in the face, Lesnar reacted poorly to adversity by turning his head, moving backwards against the cage and turtling up with no defensive posture. It’s hard to believe this would have improved over the four ½ years that Lesnar has been away from the fight game.
WWE is in unfamiliar territory as they have absolutely no control over the fate of one of their biggest stars. Something the predetermined nature of professional wrestling is designed to ensure. While the risks of failure and success are equally great for all parties involved, what is Vince McMahon getting out of this? It’s got to be something he deems extremely valuable in order to take such an unprecedented, and perhaps calculated, risk.