Back in the days when mixed martial arts was still a vaguely disreputable spectacle that had not yet moved toward the sports mainstream, its biggest star was a former professional wrestler, Brock Lesnar. Now after an absence of almost five years, he is returning to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), at least for one night.
Lesnar brought the sport some razzle-dazzle from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), where he had been a star after an NCAA champion amateur wrestling career at the University of Minnesota.
Though his WWE fame would have been enough to earn him a mixed martial arts career, he turned out to be an accomplished fighter in the Octagon, winning the heavyweight title in his third UFC bout over the legend Randy Couture. His success in a sport that was not fixed struck a blow for pro wrestlers as legitimate athletes, not merely bulked-up showmen.
Lesnar defended his title twice, but his career was derailed by bouts of diverticulitis. He lost the UFC title to Cain Velasquez in 2010, then, after a year away, lost a comeback fight to Alistair Overeem.
He immediately announced his retirement and soon returned to the colorful, and predetermined, world of professional wrestling.
However, “that decision has haunted me,” Lesnar told ESPN on Monday. “I never lost to an opponent; I lost to diverticulitis.”
So Lesnar will return to face Mark Hunt as part of the UFC 200 card in Las Vegas on July 9, he announced on Monday.
A reporter for mmafighting.com, Ariel Helwani, had broke the news of Lesnar’s return on Saturday and was later ejected from a UFC card at the Forum in Los Angeles.
A UFC spokesman told the Los Angeles Times that reporting the news was not the only factor in Helwani’s ejection and said he should have sought a comment from the UFC on the story.
Helwani tweeted: “Did nothing unethical. I reported fight news. That’s it.”
Lesnar was always a huge draw for the UFC. His title defense against Frank Mir in 2009 remains the biggest selling pay-per-view in UFC history. Though champions like Daniel Cormier and Miesha Tate are on the July 9 card, Lesnar is likely to drive sales again, despite his long absence.
Lesnar is 38, but mixed martial arts has often been kind to older fighters. The UFC heavyweight champion, Stipe Miocic, is 33, and the light-heavyweight champ, Cormier, and the new middleweight champ, Michael Bisping, are both 37.
Hunt, Lesnar’s opponent, is even older, at 42. He is ranked eighth among heavyweights, with a UFC record of 7-4-1, and brings a reputation as a hard hitter. In contrast, Lesnar is better wrestling on the ground. The contrast in styles could add more intrigue to the bout.
For now, Lesnar’s return is just for one fight, with permission of the WWE, which still has him under contract.
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