Late last year, Brock Lesnar said he felt "robbed by diverticulitis" that cost him the prime of his UFC career. Now, as he prepares for a one-off return at UFC 200, Lesnar's ready to prove to the world he's still got it.
Appearing Monday morning on SportsCenter, Lesnar revealed he will face Mark Hunt at the July 9 pay-per-view.
During Saturday's UFC 199 pay-per-view, the promotion announced that Lesnar, 38, would return as a co-main event at next month's UFC 200. Hunt, 42, is the UFC's eighth-ranked heavyweight. He is coming off a first-round knockout of Frank Mir in March and has won his last two fights.
Lesnar talked about the matchup, per Brett Okamoto of ESPN.com:
I'm a grappler at heart. [Hunt] is a heavy hitter. I think that's what the people want to see. The UFC ultimately culminated because we're going to put guys with opposing disciplines against each other. I think I match up very well. If Mark ends up on the ground, the fight's over.
Lesnar has not competed inside the Octagon since Alistair Overeem knocked him out at UFC 141 nearly five full years ago. He finished his initial MMA run with a 5-3 record, though the Overeem loss came amid Lesnar still dealing with diverticulitis.
The digestive disorder, which counts abdominal pain and nausea among its symptoms, caused Lesnar to lose about 12 inches of his colon. Lesnar talked about how the ailment affected his career, per Okamoto:
At the top of my career, I wasn't at the top of my game. I felt like I was cheated out of my career in the UFC. In my mind and in my heart, I never lost to a foe. I never lost to an opponent. I lost to diverticulitis. That was my opponent that beat me. A lot of other people might have other thoughts about that.
The disease prematurely ended his UFC career and sparked a return to WWE, where he's been one of sports-entertainment's biggest draws.
Flirtation between the UFC and Lesnar, however, is nothing new. He seriously contemplated another UFC run last year when his contract with WWE expired. While he ultimately chose to return to WWE on a three-year contract, he was never over the Octagon itch.
During an appearance on "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's podcast (h/t Ryan McKinnell of Yahoo Sports), Lesnar spoke of how close he came to returning to the UFC:
It wasn't a bluff. I felt robbed by diverticulitis. I felt robbed by being sick. I was feeling good and it took me a couple years to start feeling good. I'm at home, I'm working out, my life is great, everything's in tune, my contract's coming to an end with WWE, hey it's been a great time but something's missing.
I started a training camp. I wanted to test myself and see where I was, not more physical, but mentally. I wanted to see the mental challenges that it was going to take. If your head's not in the game, the last place you want to get into is in the Octagon.
WWE categorized Lesnar's appearance at UFC 200 as a "one-off opportunity." It's clear the company would have no interest in allowing Lesnar out of his new deal with two years remaining, so it'll use this as a cross-promotional tool for August's SummerSlam. FrontRowBrian suggested UFC 202 will help promote SummerSlam in some capacity, but that has not been confirmed.
"I'm a crossover athlete. I'm a modern-day Bo Jackson," Lesnar said on SportsCenter. "I couldn't be more excited and honored that both companies have faith in Brock Lesnar to step back in the Octagon."
Lesnar even insinuated WWE may have been incorrect in saying he'd only fight one more time.
"It may just be a tease, I don't know the answer to that question right now," Lesnar said, per Okamoto. "We'll cross that road when we get there. I've got a big [WWE] event after that event, SummerSlam."
Still, WWE will assuredly get something out of this deal. The UFC and WWE have often been publicly at odds in the past, so their willingness to work together for Lesnar speaks volumes of his star power. Lesnar categorized himself as a "prizefighter" multiple times throughout the interview and also put himself on a pedestal when talking about his long-term legacy.
"If I shake a young man's hand someday and have the same effect Muhammad Ali had on me," Lesnar said on SportsCenter of the impact he hopes to make. "I can't talk about legacy. My legacy is whatever people want it to be. ... I think people who live on legacy are very shallow in the soul. I'm not."
Lesnar's UFC return indicates something big might happen in the future. Perhaps it's merely SummerSlam promotion, or this could lead to the long-rumored Ronda Rousey wrestling debut.
Either way, Lesnar will walk into next month's pay-per-view with eyeballs across the sports world—kayfabe or not—fixated on him.
Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.