Somewhere out there folded in a waste bin was an unsigned contract that would have guaranteed a heavyweight super fight between UFC champion Daniel Cormier and Brock Lesnar. The supposed biggest heavyweight fight in history sat among yesterday’s garbage before permanently being hauled off to the dump and never to be heard from again.
This is goodbye to the fight that never should have been.
Can you believe it’s been nearly a year since Lesnar left his cageside seat for that infamous post-fight confrontation with Cormier at UFC 226? A playful shoving match between heavyweight icons was followed by Lesnar dumping on the entire division and the vociferous one-liner that was endlessly regurgitated throughout social media.
“DC, I’m coming for you m———-r,” Lesnar shouted across the cage.
UFC fans waited, waited and waited. Lesnar never came back.
Even after UFC President Dana White announced the fight was scrapped and Lesnar was retired from fighting, there are some fans out there still waiting. There is simply no way of knowing if Lesnar is done with MMA for good.
However, the UFC could have avoided the speculative circus if they simply waited for pen to be put to paper. The entire heavyweight division was basically put on hold for a potential blockbuster spectacle that never came to fruition. UFC heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes summed up his feelings in one tweet aimed directly at Lesnar.
Blaydes has every right to be angry, along with every other heavyweight on the UFC’s roster. There has been no movement at the top of the division since Cormier defeated Derrick Lewis back in November 2018 at UFC 230. Surprisingly enough, the UFC even passed on the opportunity to crown an interim, stand-in champion to sort out the rest of the division until the Lesnar situation was figured out.
At a time when interim champions are popping up constantly, the heavyweight division was somehow skipped over by the idea. Whether that was done purposely or not will never be known. What we do know, however, is that it would always be a roll of the dice in attempting to pry Lesnar away from his comfy perch in WWE.
That would be the case for almost anyone making millions of dollars participating in a part-time gig that doesn’t involve being punched and kicked in the face on a daily basis. Yet, the UFC still chose to go down that path instead of offering a company man like Stipe Miocic an immediate rematch with Cormier and moving on with the division until Lesnar committed.
If other fighters in the division are angry, then Miocic should be downright exasperated for being thrown in the same waste can that would eventually bury Lesnar’s return. The fact that he was pulled out of a landfill somewhere for a scheduled rematch with Cormier in August doesn’t justify him being in contender’s purgatory in the first place. His record-breaking three consecutive heavyweight title defenses make him the most successful heavyweight fighter in UFC history.
How does that guy not earn a rematch? More importantly, how does a fighter like Brock Lesnar, who is coming off a failed drug test and a three-year hiatus, leapfrog every other contender in the division?
Make no mistake, this isn’t an attempt to place the onus of blame directly on Lesnar’s shoulders. Quite the contrary, he doesn’t deserve much blame, if any at all, for merely taking advantage of the opportunities lying in front of him. He’s a self-made superstar that climbed to the top of the heavyweight division at a time when his journey from WWE to the UFC was treated as a joke. No one was laughing when he pummeled Heath Herring and then pounded on UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture to win the heavyweight title.
If anything, Lesnar should be applauded for being a savvy businessman. He has remained in WWE while basically feeding on free promotion from the UFC throughout his entire road to Wrestlemania 35. We will never know if he ever had any real intentions of returning to MMA, although a recent report from Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer suggests the UFC’s newly adopted pay-per-view model through ESPN+ might have been the culprit behind the failed signing.
The UFC’s job is to give the fans the fights they want to see, and there is no question Lesnar’s name on the A-side of the card would have raked in far better pay-per-view numbers. It’s the reason Cormier and the UFC were patiently on-board with waiting in the first place.
The UFC has to take this one on the chin.
While there was certainly no way to predict how things would play out at the negotiating table, it was public knowledge that Lesnar wouldn’t be available until after Wrestlemania in April. Even if Cormier needed some time away from the sport to heal up from injuries, an interim championship could have been implemented to help bridge the gap of inactivity. The same decision was recently made in both the lightweight and middleweight divisions.
There is also the fact that Lesnar never had a strong case outside of increased pay-per-view revenue to even warrant a title shot. Along with his no contest for the failed drug test in a bout with Mark Hunt, he was coming off back-to-back losses to Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem. Those are his only three fights in a near eight-year timeframe.
Even if the line between spectacle and sport is blurred, it’s mere existence must still hold some sort of meaning. Rankings should have some form of legitimacy, and active fighters should be rewarded for their consistency. Promotion of merely marquee fights with little substance shouldn’t be so blatantly obvious that it undermines an entire division.
The UFC can find solace in everything presumably working out in the end, despite the failed attempt at landing the blockbuster title fight. Lesnar can now return to the world of professional wrestling, and Miocic will finally get the rematch he should have received in 2018. As for Cormier, he’ll have the chance at solidifying his legacy even further by simply taking on the next man in line.
He can leave the fight with Brock Lesnar in that emptied waste basket, along with lingering thoughts of what could have been.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 5/7/2019.