Ever since Conor McGregor was removed from UFC 200 due to his failure to fulfill his media obligations, you had to figure that the UFC had a “break open in case of emergency” plan for July 9th in Las Vegas. Would it be Georges St. Pierre? How about an early return for Ronda Rousey? Could CM Punk be ready to debut by that time? Last night, we found out that former 2-time defending UFC Heavyweight Champion and 4-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar has been training since April (around the time McGregor was removed from the landmark event) to make his comeback to the sport he helped bring into the mainstream.
Tomorrow on SportsCenter at right around 10 AM ET, Lesnar will reveal his opponent for UFC 200 to Hannah Storm. Until then, all we can do is look at the UFC heavyweight roster (and maybe a little bit beyond) to find the best option for Lesnar’s big one-off comeback co-main event bonanza. So below, we’re going to take a look at a little more than at a handful of potential opponents and the whys and why not’s by attempting to put ourselves in the UFC and WWE’s shoes. Let’s start with the man who is the current favorite (and in my opinion the best option) to fight Lesnar at UFC 200.
Before we start – let’s immediately eliminate the names who already aren’t options.
• Frank Mir (potential suspension for failed USADA test)
• Roy Nelson, Derrick Lewis (UFC Fight Night 90 – July 7th – these both would’ve been amazing options but this fight is just too amazing to break up)
• Travis Browne, Cain Velasquez (UFC 200 – if one of these men get injured we could still see the other fill in to fight Lesnar at 200)
• Andrei Arlovski, Josh Barnett (UFC Fight Night 93 – September 3rd)
• Alistair Overeem, Stipe Micoic (title fight – UFC 203 – September 10th)
• Fabricio Werdum, Ben Rothwell (UFC 203 – September 10th)
• CM Punk (guys – just stop it)
Pro MMA Record: 34-8 (8 KO’s, 20 subs)
Record Since 12.30.11 (Brock’s Last Fight): 3-3
Why?: Hey, didn’t you just put Barnett on the list of guys who couldn’t fight Brock due to previous obligations? Yes. Don’t worry about it. Barnett could probably fight Lesnar and still fight Arlovski in September. And if not, someone can easily be slotted in to replace him against “The Pitbull”- this is a once in a lifetime fight that almost makes too much sense. Don’t worry, I’m only going to break this rule once.
Not only does Barnett have the silver tongue when it comes to his work on the mic, he’s also more knowledgeable than anyone else on the roster when it comes to pro wrestling. Barnett wrestled for IGF and NJPW where he once competed for the prestigious IWGP World Heavyweight Title – a title Lesnar once held. This match up brings some many fascinating storylines to the table — it’s really tough to think of a better option.
Why Not?: If we’re trying to find Brock a safe match up so he can get to SummerSlam without any major medical suspensions then a fight against Josh Barnett may not be the best option. He didn’t earn the nickname of “The Warmaster” by playing footsie or patty cake baker’s man with his opponents. This is a dangerous heavyweight who at 38-years-old, just about 4 months younger than Brock, can hang with some heavy hitters on the feet (just go watch his recent fight with Roy Nelson) and threaten with just about any submission in the book on the ground. That said, are there really any easy fights for Lesnar after a 4-year hiatus from the sport? This is my first pick for a variety of reasons. It just makes so much sense when you consider what both of these men have done for pro wrestling and mixed martial arts. Book it.
Pro MMA Record: 27-8 (8 KO’s, 16 Subs)
Record Since 12.30.11: 5-3
Why?: You really have to ask? Putting a 7-footer (and you can’t teach that!) like Struve against a 6 ft 3 in freak of nature like Lesnar would be a throwback to the freak show days of the UFC. This fight would be bananas and who doesn’t love bananas?
Why Not?: Like Barnett, Struve would be a major submission threat off his back to Lesnar if the former champ decided to blast in for a double and he’d have a little over a 3 inch reach advantage to boot. Struve has had some unfortunate health issues in the past that have caused him to pull out of fights but according to him, his last camp before the fight against “Bigfoot” Silva was the best of his career and he certainly backed it up with a 16-second KO of the Brazilian. This is another dangerous opponent for Brock – if the WWE has the option to sign off on his opponent in order to help protect the character of Brock Lesnar I wouldn’t let him fight Struve. The 28-year-old Dutch “Skyscraper” is destined for great things at Heavyweight and I believe he’ll give Lesnar fits wherever this fight goes. Oh ya, watch out for the Struve kick! (Shout out to UpUpDownDown).
Pro MMA Record: 35-4 (11 KO’s, 16 Subs)
Record Since 12.30.11: 3-0
Why?: Fedor has been Dana White’s “white whale” for years. They’ve come so close to signing him (and making this particular fight) but it just has never come to fruition. Like Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, this may be years too late, but also like May-Pac, it’ll still create a huge buzz and generate massive PPV numbers. The UFC would have no issue promoting the stoic Russian as the greatest heavyweight of all-time ahead of this one if he’s one of theirs. And although he’s actually scheduled to fight in Russia for an EFN event in June (on UFC Fight Pass) the UFC brass would have no problem forking over enough cash to EFN to make it worth their while.
Most MMA hardcores will tell you that the ship has already sailed a few times over on this potential match up. Those are the same fans who will be watching along with thousands of others who will be watching MMA for their very first time due to the buzz of this card. You make this one of their first MMA memories and you may have them for life – just like so many fans jumped on board for the first time after experiencing Lesnar-Mir II at UFC 100.
Why Not?: Well, you really could look at everything I said above and flip it to make it a negative. The ship has sailed, Fedor already has a fight lined up that he may not be able to get out of, his management has given the UFC fits before and no one cares about this fight anymore. I just wouldn’t agree with any of it. If they can get this fight booked it’s a no-brainer. The folks who tell you that hate will be the ones inviting your over to their place on July 9th to watch it.
Pro MMA Record: 12-10-1 (9 KO’s)
Record Since 12.30.11: 4-4-1
Why?: This is a dream fight! Hunt’s takedown defense has improved immensely over the years but can he fend off “The Beast”? We know Brock doesn’t like taking a punch but would he be able to utilize his reach advantage to get hands on Hunt before setting up his ground attack? You have a true fan favorite in Hunt who is the closest thing to a real life “Incredible Hulk” against one of the most intense figures in the history of combat sports. Sign me up!
Why Not?: Brock doesn’t like getting hit. Hunt probably hits harder than any heavyweight in the world, even at 42-years-old. A KO loss to Hunt (which would be highly likely) means we probably aren’t going to see Lesnar at SummerSlam. If WWE has the option this would be the last guy you want Lesnar against aside from Junior dos Santos.
Pro MMA Record: 19-9-1 (14 KO’s, 3 Subs)
Record Since 12.30.11: 3-6-1
Why?: You want Lesnar to get the W – this is probably the weakest guy in the division right now. Unfortunately for Bigfoot, his chin is trashed (he’s suffered KO losses in 4 of his last 5) which has prompted folks to call for him to hang up the gloves. A few more KO losses and we’re looking at tomato can status. He just hasn’t looked the same since his 5 round war with Mark Hunt in Australia back in 2013, a fight where he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone mind you. .
Why Not?: This fight probably isn’t competitive enough for Brock looking at Bigfoot’s recent resume. The respect he earned from victories over Alistair Overeem (who really beat himself in that fight), Travis Browne (freak injury during the fight) and Fedor (got beat fair and square) have expired. A win over Lesnar would extend his career and a loss would likely get him cut. That said, Silva has a knack for winning when he’s not supposed to. More risk than reward here.
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