Brock Lesnar was once the biggest draw in the UFC.
The former heavyweight champion was hated, loved, envied and admired by the mixed martial arts fanbase. When he stepped into the cage, everyone was watching. When his hand was raised in victory, no one complained about the cost of the Pay-Per-View program. When he was brutally defeated, some cheered, others grimaced.
And when he finally hung up his gloves to return to professional wrestling, no one was ready to see him go—at least no one should have been.
With Lesnar's decline came the rise of such heavyweights as Junior dos Santos and the man who defeated Lesnar to earn the belt, Cain Velasquez. Both fighters have attempted to take over the division, each holding the belt for a time. Velasquez has it now, giving him ownership over the division's throne. But just how dominant a ruler is he from a fan's perspective? Or, perhaps more appropriate for this conversation, just how valuable is the heavyweight champion?
As a headliner, Velasquez has drawn PPV buyrates such as 240,000 for UFC 110; 900,000 for UFC 121; 590,000 for UFC 155 and 380,000 for UFC 160.
One of these numbers is not like the other. That number is a result of Velasquez facing off against Lesnar. The two met at UFC 121, and Velasquez earned the title that night.
Lesnar's PPV numbers have been far more impressive than Velasquez', as he's totaled at least 500,000 buys in all five of the UFC events he headlined. He also cracked the 1,000,000 mark for three of those events.
Velasquez' highest draw—besides UFC 121—came at UFC 155 with just shy of 600,000 buys. That means his best PPV buyrate when he was not facing Lesnar was just 65,000 greater than Lesnar's worst PPV buyrate.
Love him or hate him, no heavyweight (or fighter, really) draws better than Lesnar.
The answer to why he is such a PPV behemoth isn't very tricky. Lesnar is a polarizing figure whose post-fight speeches and in-cage carnage leave fans with some type of emotion— love or hate. Whatever the feeling, it's there; you're not empty. That can't be said about every main event.
There are also crossover fans, a group spending a Saturday night to watch a former professional wrestler try his hand at a new combat sport. Then there are the casual fans who come running to watch guys like Lesnar, and only fighters with major name-value.
But the type of fans that composed the seven-figure buy rates Lesnar drew doesn't matter. What does matter is the fact that he could fill a venue, send PPV numbers through the roof and create an electricity that had you amped a week before fight night.
Lesnar made fans feel something; whether those feelings were positive or negative is irrelevant. And the UFC has yet to find a superstar to replace him since his retirement. It's really not hard to figure out why—he's left some big shoes to fill.
A Lesnar return would give the UFC back its biggest superstar. It would bring those UFC buyrates back into the seven-figures. It would give fans that jolt of energy, that incredible anticipation for fight night that Lesnar provides better than anybody.
It would satisfy that need to see Lesnar step into the Octagon one last time.
*PPV numbers courtesy of Wrestling Observer Newsletter