Is Brock Lesnar dead? No, he’s not. But his career is likely over. And that’s bad news for the UFC, which is trying to maintain its hold as America’s top mixed martial arts promotion.
Amid internet rumors Tuesday evening that the UFC heavyweight champion died from his mystery illness, UFC president Dana White used Twitter to announce that Lesnar was OK after having minor intestinal tract surgery. A week prior, reports indicated that Lesnar had mononucleosis.
The Lesnar illness has rattled the world of mixed martial arts, at a time when the company if facing a severe threat from the emerging Strikeforce, a San Jose, Calif.-based MMA company.
The UFC’s roster of other heavyweights is full of aging stars, many of them suffering from lingering injuries. Its one-time biggest star, Chuck Liddell, is too busy ballroom dancing on ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars,” to fight anytime soon.
Lesnar has become the UFC’s big cash cow, and for good reason. The hulking heavyweight has a built-in audience of professional wrestling fans who watched Lesnar defeat some of the WWE’s biggest stars, including The Rock, Kurt Angle and The Undertaker. Lesnar crashed and burned in the WWE. At 6 feet 5 inches tall, and 285 pounds, Lesnar was highly marketable, if not a bit slow on the microphone.
He received one of the biggest pushes (gobs of TV time, and title reigns) of any wrestler in recent memory, but still, after four years, collapsed under the pressure of the WWE schedule and backstage politics, and he up and left.
After a failed attempt to walk-on to the Minnesota Vikings as a defensive tackle, Lesnar caught the eye of White and signed with the UFC. Again, he received one of the biggest pushes ever, but this time it was White, and not Vince McMahon, who was shoving him in our faces.
Lesnar received a title shot with the iconic Randy Couture after just TWO UFC fights. Two. One. Two. Keep in mind he lost one of those of fights, tapping out to Frank Mir.
Lesnar KO’d Couture, and then went on to avenge his loss to Mir, knocking him out in his first title defense.
Lesnar, who’s married to former WWE beauty Sable (Rena Lesnar), seemed on a role until his intestinal tract infection clobbered him.
Besides Dana White, there won’t be many in MMA or the WWE who will be shedding a lot of tears if Lesnar never returns to a UFC cage.
Lesnar is strong, a good wrestler, and a gifted athlete, but that’s where the good qualities mostly end. He has proven time and time again that he can also be immature, pig-headed, and downright rude and unsportsmanlike. He has a history of major melt-downs in big moments.
In the WWE he broke character and flipped off the crowd at Madison Square Garden after the fans booed his match with Bill Goldberg.
In the UFC, after he bloodied and beat Mir earlier this year, he taunted him, shoving a finger toward his face. In boxing, fighters hug after a big fight. It’s a show of respect. Lesnar thought he was back in the WWE, where even there wrestlers sometimes shake hands or hug after an epic confrontation.
Although unlikely, there are other rumors that Lesnar “got sick” and pulled out of a November title defense against Shane Carwin because he knew he might fail a steroid test.
Lesnar hasn’t said much publicly about his mystery illness. Dana White essentially acts as his spokesman, one minute suggesting that Lesnar has mono, the next minute saying he “may never fight again,” to then stating he had “minor surgery.”
If it seems as though Dana White is highly interested in Lesnar’s public image, there’s good reason.
White bet the farm on Lesnar being his star of the future. Lesnar earned just under $1 million in 2008 for fighting twice – but both pay per view events, with Couture and Mir, shattering UFC’s pay per view records.
Lesnar’s possible demise stings even worse in light of UFC’s failed attempt to sign Fedor Emelianenko, the Russian warrior, who is regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. UFC tried to sign Emelianenko, but lost a bidding war to Strikeforce.
Three weeks ago Emelianenko pummeled Brett Rogers, knocking him out in the second round on CBS, and Emelianenko appears to have a healthy career, win or lose, ahead of him in Strikeforce.
So Brock Lesnar, get well soon. But don’t have any delusions about why your success matters.
The sport of mixed martial arts doesn’t necessarily need you. But the UFC needs you. A lot more than the company is likely to ever admit.