Timing is everything.
When a combination of diverticulitis and right hands from other heavyweights led to Brock Lesnar’s retirement from mixed martial arts, WWE brass jumped on the opportunity to bring him back to the sports entertainment world in 2012. The former NCAA national champion was recruited directly from the amateur ranks and given a meteoric push to the top of the card, winning the WWE championship less than six months after his debut on television in 2002. Just two years after he stormed onto the scene on Raw, Brock was tired of the travel involved with the WWE schedule and abruptly quit.
His sports entertainment name value made him an instant commodity for the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2008, and UFC kingpin, Dana White promoted him as a beast, despite a lack of fundamental striking skills. Eventually, Lesnar’s novice striking and aversion to punches in the face led to his UFC exit, but his time in the octagon gave him a renewed hype for sports entertainment.
Timing is everything.
A former UFC Heavyweight champion when he returned to the squared circle, Brock had much negotiating power, and perhaps Vince McMahon was a little too generous with the offer that made Lesnar among the highest paid performers on the roster with an extremely limited schedule. Plus, Brock was allowed outside sponsorship, something that CM Punk asked for prior to his departure, but was denied.
Since Lesnar’s original return to the WWE, he signed to renew his deal on a few occasions, including his current contract that runs until Wrestlemania of next year. There was a lot of debate as to whether WWE brass relied too often on part-timers to boost its major cards. Along with that, the debate continued as to the “opportunity cost” of a part-time champion. At nearly 40, is Brock really worth the investment of the top spot on the card instead of younger talent to build toward the future?
Just a few weeks ago, troubled UFC light heavyweight, Jon Jones returned to the octagon from his second career suspension, stemming from a positive test prior to UFC 200 in July of last year. Jones, one of the most athletically gifted competitors to fight in the octagon, had a laundry list of legal problems before he reclaimed his 205 LBS title at UFC 214. While “Bones” won via stoppage in the third round, there were varying opinions about if his opponent, Daniel Cormier had won the first two rounds. I’d say it’s too early to proclaim that Jon Jones is back in top form, but he immediately put the spotlight on himself. Post-fight, after he gave credit to his opponent, “Bones” challenged Brock Lesnar to an MMA bout.
Timing is everything.
Lesnar, who returned for a one-off appearance to fight Mark Hunt last year, was suspended for a positive PED test after the contest. Brock, still under a WWE contract, accepted the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspension and didn’t appeal their decision. Instead, he announced his mixed martial arts retirement earlier this year, which froze his suspension and removed his name from the USADA testing pool.
While it’s theoretically possible for the WWE Universal champion to be eligible to compete in mixed martial arts again, the retirement and suspension make the situation a little murky. Before a potential Jones fight would be an option, Lesnar would have to enroll in the USADA testing pool again and sit on the sidelines for the five months that remain on his suspension. During that time, he would be subject to random USADA testing, and a positive out-of-competition test could derail any plans to return to the UFC.
However, this Jon Jones challenge gives Brock leverage when his WWE deal expires. The two promotions worked a deal previously, and more specifically, the entire Lesnar career path was mutually beneficial to both companies. Make no mistake, “Bones” Jones wouldn’t have made the challenge unless Dana White had some indication that Brock wanted to fight again. Plus, this isn’t the first time that Brock used the UFC as a bargaining chip with the WWE, as rumors swirled right before he signed his most recent extension. Conveniently, he appeared on ESPN the week before Wrestlemania 31 to announce his “official” retirement from MMA before he revealed that he signed another WWE deal. Of course, when the money was right, Brock returned to the cage for the previously mentioned one-off to fight Mark Hunt. The point being, there’s a pattern here so these Jon Jones headlines shouldn’t surprise fans.
Right now, there’s probably a 50/50 chance that Brock Lesnar puts on the gloves again, mostly because of all the prior hurdles already mentioned. The weight class won’t be a problem because anything over 205 LBS is considered a heavyweight fight and Jones cuts down to make light heavyweight so it’s not that much of a stretch for him to fight in the heavyweight division. If these two sign to fight in the octagon, “Bones” will probably dominate Brock. Jones has the reach to land punches before Lesnar could attempt a take down, and if the Universal champion gets the chance to go for a take down, Jones has some of the best take down defense in the UFC. Plus, let’s not forget that Lesnar’s success in the UFC was at a time when the heavyweight division was at a relative low point, and when the level of competition improved, he was defeated.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s not an attempt to take anything away from his accomplishments, but the reality is, Lesnar is a mostly one-dimensional fighter, while Jones defeated world-class competition. Regardless of Lesnar’s weight advantage, he has a limited skill set in MMA, but Jon Jones is one of the most well-rounded athletes in the history of the sport, which tells the story of how a potential contest would probably go if a contract is signed.
Let’s be clear, this is a win-win situation for Brock Lesnar. Either he uses the combat sport alternative as a way to get more money from WWE or he returns to the cage for a major money fight before he retires back to his farm. For anyone that disagrees with his negotiating tactics, you can’t really blame Brock for trying to get as much money as possible. Considering the major pay checks that he earned the past decade, there’s no reason to expect him to compete into his mid-40s. That said, if he does plan to compete to that age, WWE would be the realistic option at that point so if he is going to fight again, this would be the last chance for him to do it. There’s easy money on the table for Brock to continue to work for the WWE, but again, money talks and it’s a matter of the amount of money each company offers that will determine his future plans.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
UFC 249 has a long and adventurous story
UFC 249 was originally planned to take place on April 18th in New York but, due to the ongoing pandemic, governor Cuomo restricted mass gatherings and sports events, confining everyone to their homes, leaving them with little more to watch than reruns of old fights and perhaps Game Changers. UFC president Dana White then announced that the event was still on but the location will change. Later, it was announced that it will take place at the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore, California. ESPN and its parent company Disney didn’t like this, though, pressuring White to suspend the event for the time being – which he did. Finally, the event was rescheduled for May 9.
Meanwhile, interesting news started circulating about a potential location for future UFC fight nights that, if it becomes a reality, might put an interesting spin on the world of mixed martial arts.
UFC Fight Island
Even before the issues with the event, White planned to arrange a brand new location where fight nights could be organized: a private island where athletes could train and fight.
“All the infrastructure is being built right now and getting put in place,” he told the press back in April. “As we get closer to that, then I’ll start figuring out booking fights, getting guys ready. Plus, I can ship guys over there earlier, and they can start training over there, on the island. So, once that’s all in place – we’re looking at like a month – I’ll have that all put together, and guys can start training and can go there.”
The UFC is serious about it: it has already registered several trademarks around the “UFC Fight Island” brand, covering several types of goods, services, even jewelry.
When, and Where?
The “where” is still a mystery. Although he spoke repeatedly about the arrangements being made for athletes to be able to train and stay on the island, White has not revealed its location yet. Some theorize that it may be somewhere in international waters so it could serve as a place where international athletes could stay without restrictions, perhaps off the coast of California. But this is just a theory – all will probably be revealed in due time.
The “when” is a bit less vague: White told the press that UFC Fight Island will be operational by June. It will have amenities like an Octagon on the beach, and hotels for the fighters to be lodged at. And most importantly, it will allow international fighters to participate in fights, even with the pandemic-related travel restrictions still in place.
The idea of an island dedicated to fighting may sound familiar – it was the topic of the 2006 martial arts movie “DOA – Dead or Alive” and 2007’s “The Condemned”, among others. Let’s hope this one will have a happier ending.
As for UFC 249 ‘Ferguson vs. Gaethje’, that event will now take place at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
What Justin Gaethje’s past fights tell us about his chances at UFC 249
It’s fair to say that Justin Gaethje has firmly taken up the role of underdog ahead of his clash with Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 on May 9th. The latest Tony Ferguson v Justin Gaethje betting offers present Ferguson as the clear favourite, after his opponent was drafted in at the last minute to replace Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is on lockdown in his home country of Russia.
Gaethje is relatively inexperienced in the world of UFC, having fought just six times in the competition in the past. But his calibre from prior ventures in MMA, notably the World Series of Fighting, means that he is a fighter not to be trifled with, and while he won’t represent as formidable a challenge for Ferguson as Khabib would have, there is much to admire about the 31-year-old.
To understand fully Gaethje’s chances ahead of UFC 249, it’s important to analyse his performances in recent fights. Indeed, his past three bouts have resulted in impressive victories, with Gaethje winning Performance of the Night awards in two of those fights — against James Vick and Donald Cerrone respectively.
But his UFC started off in disappointing fashion, with just one win from his first three fights. That victory came against Michael Johnson in the reality show The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption Finale, but from there he failed to gain a strong foothold in the championship. He suffered back-to-back defeats against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, including a knockout at the hands of the former, as he struggled to adapt to the competitive nature of the UFC.
Those defeats obviously shook Gaethje into life, because he has come roaring back in his last three fights, mustering up a trio of impressive performances to bring him to the level he finds himself at today, where UFC chief Dana White is drafting him to replace someone of the calibre of Khabib.
The first of this trio of victories was a win over James Vick in August 2018, where Gaethje produced a fine display which silenced some of the doubters who had perhaps questioned his ability at the highest level. He won Performance of the Night for that one, and was then involved in the Fight of the Night the following March as he defeated Edson Barboza by knockout in Philadelphia. His most recent victory was a TKO triumph over UFC veteran Donald Cerrone in October last year, where Gaethje once again walked away with the Performance of the Night accolade.
All three of his most recent wins have come via first round knockout or technical knockout, proof that Gaethje has the ability to overpower opponents in the opening stages of a fight. Of course, to do this against Ferguson will be a whole different ball game, as he is the most high-profile fighter Gaethje has faced so far, but perhaps the key lies in ensuring he comes out all guns blazing early on.
Gaethje’s Performance of the Night wins indicate that he is capable of producing a show-stopping performance on any given night. He is undoubtedly the underdog going into the fight against Ferguson, but with a few good wins now under his belt, who’s to say he can’t spring a surprise on May 9th and truly announce himself in the UFC.
UFC to provide a welcome sports fix for hungry fans
UFC 249 had promised to be a rare occasion of a sports event going ahead, but the April 18th showpiece ultimately fell victim to the coronavirus outbreak, and was cancelled. However, UFC chief Dana White is not one to be put out, and so came the recent announcement that there would be a series of UFC fight nights in May.
It’s a great chance for fans to see some sporting action, for fighters to keep in shape and perhaps make a name for themselves in these strange circumstances, and for people stuck in lockdown to have some alternative entertainment, something a bit different from Joe Wicks workouts or Zoom quizzes! Here, we look at why these UFC fight nights will be welcomed by so many people.
The sporting world has basically been at a standstill since the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the globe. It feels like an eternity ago that we were watching horse racing’s Cheltenham Festival and Liverpool’s exit from the Champions League, but the measures put in place by the government to protect the public meant that most events had to be cancelled.
And so, the news that there will be some live sporting entertainment in the form of several UFC fight nights will give sports fans that much needed fix of live action. Sports nuts all over the world have been forced to make do with virtual championships and races, or with trawling the archives to reminisce on past sporting occasions, but now White and co. have brought some welcome live sporting action back to our screens.
Of course, these are not just any old fighters going head to head. Some of the best in the business will be battling it out, not least Tony Ferguson who takes on Justin Gaethje on May 9th. The Tony Ferguson odds have him as hot favourite for the bout, but Gaethje will be a man on a mission on fight night to prove he has what it takes to cause a stir at the highest level of the sport.
May 9th sees two other interesting clashes, as Henry Cejudo takes on Dominick Cruz for the Bantamweight Championship, and Francis Ngannou meets Jairzinho Rozenstruik. The Cejudo vs Cruz fight features two men with similar records, and will therefore be an intriguing clash as both try and prove themselves on the big stage. Meanwhile, Rozenstruik will be trying to defend his 10-fight unbeaten record as he takes on Ngannou, and so there will be plenty on the line in that one.
A welcome distraction
Perhaps one of the key benefits of these fight nights is that they will provide a welcome distraction from the sad news and gloomy headlines we’ve all been reading in recent weeks. Sport has the power to unite people and spark a feel-good factor among the public.
Although the UFC may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a chance for a lot of people to get to know a sport they perhaps wouldn’t have considered watching before, and few sports have to power to grip and entertain like mixed martial arts. Many people are craving a dose of live sporting action, and thanks to the UFC, that sporting fix is not too far away.
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