Brock Lesnar is back in the UFC – for tonight at least.
The pay-per-view juggernaut, the former UFC Champion, the former Undisputed WWE Champion, the former NCAA Champion returns to the cage tonight at UFC 200, and he has a tall task ahead of him in #8-ranked heavyweight Mark Hunt.
But how did this happen to Lesnar, under a WWE contract for the last four-plus year? Let's take a look back.
A Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz re-match was the planned main event for UFC 200. I mean, why not? The fight drew a rumored 1.5 million PPV buys at UFC 196, the second-best in UFC history. Running it back at the biggest show of all-time made sense.
Not so fast.
Conor McGregor refused to fulfill his media obligations leading up to the fight, and was removed from the event. Many wondered why the UFC would be so willing to pull their biggest attraction off of the milestone event. As it turned out, they had a trick up their sleeve. A big one.
Brock Lesnar had been competing in the WWE since April 2012. He's had a run with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, ended The Undertaker's famed WrestleMania winning streak, and been a part-time star for the entertainment brand. It wasn't enough for Lesnar, who opted to sign a three-year contract with the WWE in 2015 as opposed to returning to the UFC.
"I couldn't live with that decision, that decision has haunted me for the last 15 months," Lesnar said on SportsCenter in June. "I'm a big believer in facing your fears and facing the reality of not sitting 20 years ago saying 'Son, you should have done that.' I was on UFC 100, so why not UFC 200?,"
Lesnar said that he called UFC President Dana White and wanted to explore the option of fighting on UFC 200. According to Lesnar, White and McMahon worked out a deal that helped out all parties involved. Lesnar wasn't able to just waltz in and get what he wanted out of McMahon, however.
"I said, 'Listen, old man, we can do this the hard way or the easy way,'" Lesnar told ESPN. "I said, 'Do you wanna arm-wrestle for it?' He was like, 'Aw yeah, what the hell.' So, I ended up beating him and here we are."
Lesnar's return was officially announced at UFC 199, as he appeared at the end of a trailer for the UFC 200 event. The following Monday, his opponent was announced to be fan-favorite and #8-ranked Heavyweight Mark Hunt, who seemed to be a rough matchup for Lesnar.
The trash talk started quickly. Lesnar, who last fought for the UFC well before their United States Anti-Doping Association drug testing agreement started, was given an exemption from the four-month notice most returning fighters are required to provide. Because Lesnar didn't retire during the agreement, he was treated as a newly-signed fighter, much like BJ Penn was. Mark Hunt wasn't happy about it.
"I don't think it's a great move. I think he's juiced to the gills ― and I still think I'm going to knock him out. So I don't think that's correct. I don't think he should be allowed to get a four-month exemption otherwise everyone else should. Otherwise I should start juicing. How are you going to clean the sport up doing that shit? It won't happen. I don't think it's fair,” Hunt said to Fox Sports. “I've already voiced my opinion to (UFC boss) Dana (White) about it but apparently he (Lesnar) has been getting tested but he's probably been off a couple of cycles anyway. I think everyone should be tested equally and fairly. Make it an even playing field otherwise you might as well get everyone juiced up and have the juicing UFC competition and the non-juicing (competition),” Hunt said.
The dust settled, and the fight is on, but not everything is in the clear – Lesnar is scheduled for next month's WWE Summerslam against Randy Orton where he figures to be a big part of the show, if he can compete, at least.
But Lesnar wasn't the only crossover athelete planned to be involved in the show. In June, UFC Fighter Paige VanZant's manager noted that the WWE had expressed interest in using her in some capacity on Summerslam, but she turned it down to fight. The lines are being blurred perhaps more than ever.
Lesnar's performance against Hunt at UFC 200 will likely alter his use in the WWE. A win would be monumental for Lesnar and the WWE both. It's hard to tell what a loss would do. Either way, Lesnar says he isn't worried about the outcome.
"I believe that in the WWE brand, I'm a legit athlete in that brand, and I bring lots to the company. For me to get back in the Octagon legitimizes why the WWE has me in their company. It's a win-win for all of us. It's a win for me, it's a win for WWE and it's a win for the UFC,” Lesnar told ESPN, saying there was no hesitation.
Lesnar claims that his in-cage woes were directly related to his battle with diverticultis, which could certainly be surmised from his last fight against Alistair Oveereem in 2011. Several knees and kicks to the body sent the mastadon Lesnar into retirement.
This wasn't the first time the UFC and Lesnar almost came to terms in 2012 for a huge fight against Fedor Emelianenko at the eventual AT&T Stadium in Dallas. UFC President Dana White told the media about the fight that never-was several months later.
I told you guys that story before, we were in deep talks with him we were that close to signing (Fedor). No [we were close to signing him] recently, right before his dad died, we were right there,” Dana White said in a 2013 media scrum. “When I was talking about doing that big Dallas Texas stadium show it was going to be Brock Lesnar versus Fedor. Remember when I met with him and I said it didn't get well? It actually did go well. It went well and then Fedor's dad died, he wanted to fight Fedor....Fedor was done, he said ‘I want to spend the rest of my life with my family.' We were negotiating for months. And then after his dad died he said, ‘That's it I'm done,' or whatever and then Brock said, ‘I'm done too.'"
WWE has provided minimal promotion for UFC 200, something that Lesnar said that he "didn't give a shit about." If he were to win, it's likely the company would be much more open to him fighting -- and helping promote it.
As far as the world knows, that was the last time Lesnar was close to taking a fight until he picked up the phone to call Dana White this year. Tonight's UFC 200 bout against Mark Hunt could change the course of the UFC, WWE and Brock Lesnar as we know them.
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