Rumors about the return of former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar had fight fans in a social media frenzy last week. Now that the talk has died down, there actually seems to be a few fights that make sense for Lesnar, the promotion, and everyone involved.
Well, mostly died down. Lesnar himself stoked the flames early this week by telling the AP that he’d be willing to face fellow ex-champ Jon Jones “Anytime, anywhere.”
Lets backtrack though. Featuring events with the likes of Ronda Rousey, Brock Lesnar, and Conor McGregor in 2016, the UFC had a banner year. Living up to those standards was always going to be difficult in 2017, but the slow start has continued through International Fight Week for mixed martial art’s premier promotion. Dealing with injuries, cancelled bouts, and a lack of top-tier draws, the UFC needs a boost.
Cue unsubstantiated Lesnar rumors. Once started, and quickly picked-up by many outlets, the rumors were then shut-down by UFC Vice President of Althete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky. Apparently in the midst of negotiations with WWE, Lesnar’s return would be a major surprise considering his exit from MMA came with a USADA suspension and retirement. Currently the WWE Universal Champion, Lesnar isn’t exactly struggling in his wrestling pursuits, professionally or financially.
Still, as this summer is proving with Mayweather-McGregor, if the money is right, it can be done. Working on their hefty debt, the UFC needs all of the help they can get. The less-than-stellar first half of 2017 will have the promotion working toward solutions. Returns from the likes of Jon Jones, Georges St. Pierre, and Conor McGregor will help things soon enough. But if this year has proven anything, it’s that the UFC needs more stars, even if it’s just for a fight or two.
So, if Lesnar does return to the Octagon in 2018, who should he fight? The heavyweight division is in dire need of contenders, and despite his absence, Lesnar fits the bill. Figuring out the fine details of his comeback would be a hassle, but finding the right opponent shouldn’t be. Given these options, the UFC, Lesnar, and even the WWE could stand to make a decent chunk of change.
3. Alistair Overeem – UFC 141 Rematch
When putting together bouts in the top-tier of the UFC’s heavyweight division, pairing fighters who haven’t already fought is tough. If Lesnar and the UFC are looking in that direction, one fighter makes more sense than most: Alistair Overeem.
Overeem defeated Lesnar via first round TKO at UFC 141 in 2011, and is in a weird spot in the current UFC heavyweight landscape. A one-off with Lesnar would draw fans, and give Overeem something to do while working toward another title-shot. After losing to Stipe Miocic at UFC 203 last summer, Overeem has won back-to-back fights over Mark Hunt and Fabricio Werdum. Had he not lost his title-shot so recently, the Dutchman could’ve found himself vying for another bout with Miocic. But, it looks as though the UFC is going with Cain Velasquez instead, with prospect Francis Ngannou climbing the rankings as well.
How the UFC views the title-picture in the heavyweight division, and whether or not they want Overeem or Lesnar anywhere near it, could play a role in the likelihood of this bout being made. Should the promotion prefer to keep Overeem, or Lesnar, available for the belt, the chances of a rematch are slim. It’s more likely they’d rather utilize the duo in another fashion that would draw similar attention, while leaving the title alone. Either way, the matchup makes a surprising amount of sense, considering it’ll be 2018 if we see it at all.
2. Francis Ngannou – The Beast vs. The Predator
Pitting the hottest heavyweight prospect in the promotion against the biggest draw in the history of the division would be a special event. However unlikely, the thought of Brock Lesnar and Francis Ngannou fighting each other in a cage is awesome.
Currently 10-1, Ngannou is 5-0 since joining the UFC in 2015. After recording back-to-back Performance of the Night bonuses in his last two bouts against Anthony Hamilton and Andrei Arlovski, Ngannou found himself in the official UFC rankings. While other action played out over the following months, Ngannou rose to where he currently sits at #5. Slated to face Junior dos Santos at UFC 215 in September, another win could see Ngannou matched-up with heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic sooner rather than later.
If the promotion would prefer to wait, rather than reward Ngannou’s rapid rise, Lesnar would offer a more-than-interesting option. The UFC has plenty of other options, like Derrick Lewis, Alistair Overeem, and more, should they go that route. But none of those bouts would draw the crowd that a Lesnar-Ngannou main event would. Whether potentially scarring their stud prospect, or ruining their main event rental, would be worth the risk is another story. Regardless, this is a fight that we, and many others, would watch.
1. Stipe Miocic – Heavyweight Champion
If the UFC wants to hotshot Lesnar’s return to the Octagon, there’s a certain heavyweight champion that would love the challenge, and the payday. In a division lacking title-contenders, as Stipe Miocic continues to defeat them one-by-one, giving Lesnar a shot is less-crazy than it initially seems. A former champion himself, Lesnar’s MMA credentials aren’t in doubt, despite the fact that his last win technically came against Shane Carwin in July of 2010.
With a win over Cain Velasquez in their heavily rumored upcoming bout, Miocic will have his sixth consecutive win, and third-title defense since becoming champion at UFC 198 last year. Defeating the likes of Werdum, Overeem, and dos Santos, Miocic has separated himself from the rest of the heavyweight division. Working down the rankings, the promotion will have to start getting creative with Miocic’s title-bouts. As Miocic continues to build his legacy, another win over a former champion would go a long way toward proving whether or not the Ohio-native is the greatest UFC heavyweight of all-time.
An obviously huge draw, Miocic-Lesnar wouldn’t be the best use of the official rankings. We’ve seen some surprising matchups in title-bouts recently, and while Lesnar obviously wouldn’t be the most deserving contender, giving him a title-shot wouldn’t be the most egregious usage of a superstar in a title-bout. How willing the UFC is to potentially have Lesnar as champion, given his recent track-record and relationship with WWE, likely decides how probable this bout is. Even if it’s a long-shot, Lesnar fighting for UFC gold in 2018 would benefit everyone involved.
Desparate for top-tier draws and a boost in PPV buys, the UFC could be calling upon one of their biggest attractions. There’s a lot of red tape to get around, with USADA, WWE, and more, but as is the case with most situations like this, a solution can be found if the money is right. With these three bouts, the UFC has a few appealing ways to make big bucks with Brock Lesnar.