He will not be main-eventing the first UFC on FOX deal, but the news that Brock Lesnar would not be retiring and instead will be returning to the UFC soon was music to fans’ ears Friday afternoon.
UFC President Dana White scoffed at the rumors that the former heavyweight champion could be walking away from the sport after a second bout with diverticulitis, adding that Lesnar is, "100-percent healthy" and he, "will begin training again in a couple of weeks."
So now it’s time to play matchmaker.
No, not in the Cupid way, but rather in the Joe Silva way.
Who should fight Lesnar in his return to the Octagon? After all, he is the company’s biggest star and has proven to also be their biggest pay-per-view seller, so it is of the utmost importance that the right decision is made.
Here are five of the best choices that the company could make for Lesnar’s return to the Octagon.
MMA legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira came into the UFC 134: Rio fight card as a fairly significant underdog against up-and-comer Brendan Schaub.
Nogueira had previously dropped two of three fights, and many believed he was nearing the end of what is certain to be a Hall of Fame career. Even though the losses were to Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez—two of the top five fighters in the UFC heavyweight division—many fans believed Nogueira was a knockout loss away from probable retirement.
Likewise, Brock Lesnar is being counted out by a lot of fans after his loss to Velasquez at UFC 121. It’s not just his illness, either; there are far too many people who believe this former champion might as well just hang up his gloves and retire.
But that’s not going to happen. Brock Lesnar will be back, and a fight with Nogueira just makes sense. Both fighters are now consensus top-10 heavyweights who are both one or perhaps two fights away from another shot at the title.
Given their ages, it’s likely this fight may not ever happen if it doesn’t happen in the next year or two. So why not have it now when it could be a big victory for each of them?
One of the most anticipated rematches in the UFC happened at UFC 100 when Brock Lesnar attempted to avenge the first loss of his career against Frank Mir.
Lesnar had defeated Randy Couture to become the UFC heavyweight champion in his most recent fight, but had a personal distaste for Mir, who went out of his way to insult him. Even after crushing Mir in the rematch, Lesnar still seems to dislike him more than anyone else in the sport.
The UFC loves best-of-three contests, as evidenced by the history of Couture-Liddell, Edgar-Maynard and Penn-Hughes, so a third fight between the two would be a great way to put an end to one of the most intense feuds in the organization’s history. It would also very likely put the winner in the next title fight.
"The Reem" hasn’t officially been signed to a UFC contract yet, but it seems to be almost a foregone conclusion at this point that the former and only Strikeforce heavyweight champion ever will be signing with the UFC in the coming weeks.
Not only is Overeem’s deal with Strikeforce through, but he has also been in open discussions with the UFC regarding a contract with the promotion. There were even short-lived rumors that the "big announcement" Dana White made earlier this week was going to be the arrival of one Alistair Overeem.
Those rumors proved not to be true, but the UFC will certainly be looking for a top-level opponent for Overeem when he finally does sign. He marched right on through an extremely thin Strikeforce heavyweight division, winning only one fight against an opponent anyone considered top-10 at the time of their bout (Fabricio Werdum).
Overeem will test himself against in the best-of-the-best in the UFC’s heavyweight division, and if he doesn’t get an immediate UFC heavyweight title shot, a great first fight would be a much-anticipated bout between he and Brock Lesnar.
Both fighters have massive physiques with a ton of power to go along with them, but the contrast in styles between the two could be very interesting. Though striking defense has proved to be Lesnar’s biggest weakness thus far in his MMA career, Overeem has not fought a top-level wrestler in a very long time—and certainly not one with the credentials of Brock Lesnar.
The UFC on FOX debut will feature the heavyweight championship bout between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, with the winner walking out of the arena as the top heavyweight fighter in the world and the loser falling back in to a simple challenger position.
Brock Lesnar was in this situation just a year ago when he lost the heavyweight title to Velasquez at UFC 121. He was widely considered the top heavyweight in the world coming into the fight, but one loss knocked him down a few rungs on the ladder, even out of the top-five on some critics’ heavyweight rankings list.
Still, the majority of fans believe Lesnar remains one of the top big men in the world and that, even after a long layoff due to illness, he has a chance to recapture the glory of being the champion.
But first he will very likely need to step into the cage and prove he still has "it" after all this time out of the cage. The 34-year-old looks healthy in the minimal amount of video we have seen of him, but he has not yet begun training according to reports and claims to have hardly even watched the video of loss to Velasquez.
The loser of the Velasquez vs. dos Santos fight would make a very compelling opponent for Lesnar, no matter which fighter it is. If it’s dos Santos, the UFC could easily promote it as the fight that should have happened months ago at the end of The Ultimate Fighter.
But if it’s Velasquez, a rematch between the two former champions seems to make sense given how badly Lesnar annihilated Frank Mir in his only other rematch thus far.
Because, you know, why not?
At the end of the day, the UFC is a business. They’re in it, like it or not, to make money. This has been proven time and time again; many fighters labeled "entertaining" have remained on the roster despite numerous losses in a row, while other slower-paced fighters have been cut after as few as one loss.
But perhaps the biggest example of the UFC being a business came when, in his third fight for the organization, Brock Lesnar was booked to fight Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight championship.
Lesnar had lost the first fight of his UFC career, in somewhat embarrassing fashion, to Frank Mir at UFC 81. Even though he dominated the fight in the striking game and brought the fight to the ground where he was even more comfortable utilizing his wrestling and ground-and-pound, it was an eventual heel hook from the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt that highlighted Lesnar’s inexperience.
Though many believed he had a future in the sport, few thought he was ready to fight for the title after just one victory in the UFC over a fighter who wasn’t even in the top-10 in the division, Heath Herring.
But that’s exactly what the UFC did. After seeing how well the two fight cards involving Lesnar performed in terms of buy-rates, the decision-makers within the organization knew they could make a killing on promoting him in the main event for the heavyweight championship of the world—even if he wasn’t the top-ranked heavyweight contender at the time.
Their decision proved to be the right one, as Lesnar-Couture at UFC 91 became just the second UFC event to crack one million buys on pay-per-view. This came after Couture’s previous two headline events for the title against Gabriel Gonzaga and Tim Sylvia had not even reached 550,000 pay-per-view buys. It was very obvious a star had been born in Brock Lesnar.
Some of Lesnar’s shine seems to have worn off since his loss to Velasquez; the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter did not get as big of a boost in ratings as some so-called experts had predicted, but Lesnar still arguably remains the company’s biggest star. Until proven otherwise, he is certainly their biggest pay-per-view draw, even over Velasquez or dos Santos, and could be given a rematch for the title just based on that reality alone.
Many people would groan at the thought of Lesnar being given a rematch without having another fight in between, but those people need to remember that the UFC is a business. Businesses are intended to make money, and Brock Lesnar makes money better than anyone else the sport has ever seen.