Brock Lesnar is one of the most polarizing mixed martial artists in the world today. To an outsider, he plays the role of villain to the extreme thrashing sponsors, the UFC brand and his opponents alike. To the purists, his epic rise to stardom has come with a myriad of questions.
Will he continue to develop as a mixed martial artist or will he become irrelevant due to his lack of overall fighting ability within the cage? How can a man with a mediocre record be so popular? And finally, what is it about Brock Lesnar that engages millions of MMA fans worldwide and places him upon the top of the UFC pedestal?
In 2002, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) was depositing millions of dollars in revenue from the wrestling performances of their heavyweight champion, Brock Lesnar.
A man of his tremendous size and stature with amazing athletic ability placed the future of the WWE on his shoulders and gorilla-pressed the omnipresent wrestling organization’s popularity into the stratosphere.
His ability to fly gracefully through the air or explosively drive his opponent into the turnbuckle engaged millions of WWE fans worldwide.
A larger-than-life character with menacing strength, power and sellable charisma, Brock overtook the likes of the Undertaker, Edge, The Hardys and The Rock as the face of the WWE and catapulted the organization’s dominance into Hulk Hogan-like proportions.
Brock Lesnar’s welcomed arrival into the UFC was of a global magnitude. With the millions of WWE fans around the world backing their wrestling sensation, Brock’s transition into ultimate fighting brought with it hordes of new fans to the fight game.
Unlike Kimbo Slice, who was nothing more than a YouTube-followed backyard brawler, Lesnar’s athletic ability and overwhelming strength and power secured his talent within the cage.
Not only was Brock a genetic phenom, he also had an evolving skill set to compete against the best practitioners in the world.
Dana White and the brass of the UFC had their “diamond in the rough.” With intense training and a continued evolution of Brock’s fighting abilities, this former champion would create millions of dollars in revenue for the UFC and its constituents.
At 6’3”, 265 pounds of chiseled muscle with a world class wrestling pedigree, Brock has proven to be a worthy adversary within the Octagon.
Winning the UFC’s heavyweight title at UFC 91 in November of 2008 with an impressive TKO victory over Randy Couture, Lesnar secured the loftiest of titles within just four fights.
Defending his title successfully on two occasions, Brock would be dismantled at UFC 121 in October of 2010 by the striking prowess of current champion Cain Velasquez.
With only seven professional mixed martial arts fights under Lesnar’s belt, a fighter with this lack of experience would typically not be such a big draw for the UFC. The truth, however, is quite the contrary. Brock’s financial impact for the UFC is comparable to his previous impact within the WWE.
In business terms, a fighter’s impact is determined by pay-per-view buys and gate sales. The more revenue that is earned for the UFC by a fighter’s reputation and talent within the Octagon, that fighter presents a greater value for that promotion and, subsequently, a greater impact to the bottom line.
In the past, marquee names with global appeal for the UFC included Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Georges St-Pierre. All four fighters created tremendous revenue for the UFC from increased pay-per-view buys as well as attendance at the live events.
Prior to Brock’s arrival in the UFC in 2008, the highest single grossing event with the most pay-per-view buys and gate sales was UFC 66 in 2006 headlined by Chuck Liddell versus Tito Ortiz II. That single event generated 1,050,000 PPV buys as well as $5.4 million in ticket sales.[i] Fueling from years of bad blood between Chuck and Tito, as well as championship belts to each of their credits, UFC 66 was a tremendous success for the UFC and earned the promotion tens of millions of dollars in revenue.
To place this fight into perspective, the sum of the gate sales of UFC 68 (Tim Sylvia versus Randy Couture) and UFC 69 (Georges St-Pierre versus Matt Serra) narrowly surpassed UFC 66 with a total of $5.8 million dollars in ticket sales.[ii]
Brock Lesnar’s brash, arrogant and larger-than-life arrival into the UFC would shake the business of mixed martial arts to its core.
His explosive style, mythological physique and utter dominance of world class fighters left fans captivated and wanting more of the one-time professional wrestler.
The UFC quickly capitalized on “Brock-mania” marketing this avalanche of a man to the world and arranging top-notch competition for Brock to challenge.
UFC 81 was Lesnar’s debut versus Frank Mir. Storming from his corner with a flurry of punches and explosive take downs, Brock did not disappoint the fans as his intensity and raw athleticism dominated a futile Frank Mir for the opening minutes.
Turning the tables, Mir’s experience and high-level jiu-jitsu rewarded him a last gasp win as he forced Lesnar to tap from a heel hook within the first round. Beaten and battered, Frank Mir had escaped Brock’s vicious attack, capitalizing on Lesnar’s inexperience within the Octagon.
Even though Brock Lesnar’s official UFC debut ended in a loss, the world witnessed a destructive, wrecking machine and the future UFC heavyweight champion. Over the next two years, Brock would headline five more pay-per-view events. Each event would top the previous in both pay-per-view numbers and ticket sales.
The combined gate numbers in which Brock was the headlining fight is $20.8 million for six separate events.
In comparison, two of the UFC’s biggest draws are Chuck Liddell and Georges St-Pierre. Gate sales from both fighters combined six main event fights between 2006 and 2008 earned the UFC $24.4 million.
Single-handedly, Brock Lesnar nearly generated the same dollar amount in gate sales that Chuck Liddell and Georges St-Pierre provided together over a similar two-year period.
Additionally, UFC 66 marked the previous highest number of pay-per-views buys with 1,050,000. UFC 100 skyrocketed past that number with 1,600,000 PPV buys featuring Brock Lesnar versus Frank Mir as the main event.[iii]
In terms of dollars and cents, for simplification purposes, assuming each PPV buy is $50, UFC 100 eclipsed UFC 66 by $27.5 million in just pay-per-view profits alone. That number does not include the $5.1 million dollars in reported gate sales or additional revenue streams including advertisement income, merchandise and concessions. In short, Brock Lesnar is a money-making machine for the UFC.
The fact that Brock Lesnar is the biggest name within mixed martial arts is undeniable. His PPV numbers validate that statement. However, what is debatable is why.
With an overall MMA record of 5-2, his performance within the Octagon is slightly better than pedestrian. I can name dozens of current ultimate fighters with better records than Brock’s.
Granted, even with a 5-2 record, he was victorious in winning the heavyweight championship belt and has successfully defended his reign on two separate occasions.
However, with that stated, he has been beaten by a more advanced jiu-jitsu practitioner in Frank Mir and dismantled by a far superior striker in Cain Velasquez, both of which exploited Brock’s glaring weaknesses and capitalized on their opportunities.
Typically, fans are drawn to winners. Basketball fans love Michael Jordan because of his six NBA titles. Football fans are drawn to the Pittsburgh Steelers, because they have won the Super Bowl six times throughout their dynasty.
However, Brock Lesnar is not the dominant force that either Jordan or the Steelers are. To compare within mixed martial arts, Brock Lesnar’s record within the Octagon can not hold up against current champions Georges St-Pierre or Anderson Silva. GSP is an astounding 21-2 and “The Spider” holds an even more impressive record of 27-4.
Even though he is not as dominant within the cage, his appeal outside is far greater than the top two pound-for-pound fighters on the planet. Surprisingly, as of January 31, 2011, Brock Lesnar is not even ranked within the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.
This writer sits dumbfounded by Brock Lesnar’s popularity. Not because I do not think he is a good fighter or worthy of his status within the mixed martial arts community. I am dumbfounded because recognition is typically earned by wins and losses. However, Lesnar has achieved star status based mainly on potential.
Brock Lesnar is still a raw, one-dimensional fighter, who has been provided the keys to a Bentley before he has even learned to drive.
His amazing physical abilities coupled with an innate power and explosiveness that is unmatched is the foundation for why he is so highly acclaimed within the heavyweight division.
From a former fighter’s perspective, it is impossible to train overwhelming strength, power and physical dominance. One can improve upon the blessings they were provided. But to completely overhaul God’s given abilities is impossible.
Brock Lesnar possesses the physical capacity to dominate any heavyweight on the planet. American fans love a genetic freak. And there is no denying that Lesnar is exactly that, a phenomenon. As he continues to train and develop his overall fight game, he will begin to close the gaps in his skill set and present a more balanced fighter against his opponents.
Is Brock Lesnar’s current status within the UFC rightfully earned? Based on his overall MMA record and rankings, I would say no.
As a genetic phenomenon with the ability to physically dominate his opponents, is Brock Lesnar’s potential in the Octagon worthy of his current status within the UFC? My answer to that question is yes.
Will Brock Lesnar become a balanced ultimate fighter and develop a stand up game and learn Brazilian jiu-jitsu to complement his outstanding wrestling pedigree?
I am not in a position to answer my own question. What I can say with conviction is that I hope so. And I am sure that Dana White and the UFC brass hope so as well.
Otherwise, continued losses within the cage will end Lesnar’s career prematurely, and he may assume the same future as many former fan favorites who are now grasping for MMA relevancy.
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[i] http://mmapayout.com/blue-book/pay-per-view/, January 30, 2011.
[ii] http://mmapayout.com/blue-book/pay-per-view/, January 30, 2011.
[iii] http://mmapayout.com/blue-book/pay-per-view/, January 30, 2011.