Forget life imitating art. Sometimes, when things get really strange, life imitates pro wrestling promos.
For evidence, consider the following video, from March of last year, when Paul Heyman, “advocate” for Brock Lesnar in the wild world that is the WWE Universe, decided to hold court on contract negotiations for his “client.” Working himself into a proper lather regarding Lesnar’s future opportunities, Heyman eventually delivered the most memorable line of the night.
“If Brock Lesnar wants to spend his summer unifying the WWE and the UFC title,” exclaimed Heyman, “that’s what he’s going to do!”
Fast forward a little more than a year, and no, Heyman’s prediction has not come perfectly to pass. His Saturday night fight, with Mark Hunt, at UFC 200, will not be for the UFC Heavyweight Title. (Although if Lesnar is victorious, it is certainly not hard to imagine Dana White and company quickly fast-tracking Lesnar to a title shot.) And sure, Lesnar is not, currently, holding on to the WWE Title either. (However, with a “brand extension” coming to the biggest company in the business, it also stands to reason that Lesnar will re-enter the title picture sooner or later.)
But even without belts on the line, it’s hard to overstate just how remarkable the next few weeks will be for “The Beast Incarnate.” On Saturday, he steps into the Octagon for the first time in more than five years, suddenly the centerpiece of one of the biggest UFC cards in history, and carrying even more of the promotional weight on his shoulders, following Jon Jones’ removal from the card following a failed drug test.
Then, as we learned Friday, Lesnar will step back into the squared circle on Aug. 21, taking on Randy Orton at Summer in a WWE “dream match.“ Titles or not, there is only one man with the drawing power, the stature, the leverage, and the sheer brazenness to hop back and forth between the world of legitimate fighting and scripted sports entertainment.
And to steal a phrase from Mr. Heyman, that man’s name, is “BRRRRRROCK LESSSSNAR!”
The man himself, at the center of it all, appears to be having one hell of a time. During Wednesday’s UFC 200 press conference, Lesnar was the life of the party, smiling broadly, sharing his joy at simply being able to participate in such a highly anticipated event, and detailing his rather prolific training regimen.
On Friday, speaking to the press once more, after learning of Jon Jones’ failed drug test, Lesnar was somewhat more restrained, but no less aware of his own powerful position. “It’s unfortunate, it’s unprofessional; it’s just the way it is,” he explained. “What else do you want me to say? Merry Christmas to Brock Lesnar.”
Indeed, every day must feel like a holiday for the 38-year-old, who goes where he wants, does as he pleases, and seems to offer frequent reminders that the “rules” of the business, those are for other people. World Wrestling Entertainment has, over the years, developed a well-known reputation for exercising strict control of their “independent contractors,” managing their appearances, their endorsements, their social media interactions. It was quite notable, therefore, when back in April 2012, Lesnar made his return to the company with a “Jimmy John’s” logo displayed prominently on the back of his t-shirt. Sure, maybe the rest of the locker room had to devote themselves fully to WWE merchandise. But a superstar of Lesnar’s magnitude? He gets to sell some sandwiches.
Of course, such exceptions seem quite meager, compared with allowing a contracted performer to step back into a legitimately dangerous fight for an entirely different company. Much as the WWE has long maintained that mixed martial arts is a completely different world, and not true competition for the wrestling world, there is no denying that allowing Lesnar to enter the cage is a real risk. Any significant injury would almost certainly jeopardize his participation in Summerslam, one of the company’s biggest events of the year. Furthermore, a loss to Mark Hunt, a high-level, veteran fighter, with serious knockout power, would chip away at Lesnar’s carefully cultivated WWE persona. It’s a lot harder, after all, for Heyman to sell Lesnar as an unstoppable monster, once someone leaves him looking up at the lights.
Of course, it’s not just the WWE who have proven, shall we say, flexible in their dealings with “The Conquerer.” After all, it’s easy to forget, given all that has happened since, that Conor McGregor, the UFC’s charismatic Irish motormouth, was once slotted for Saturday’s main event spot, until he made the unforgivable mistake of asking out of a scheduled promotional tour. Lesnar, it’s worth noting, was added to the card weeks later, seemingly confirming that for a big enough star, and a big enough return, the UFC had no problem making a late change to their plans.
That’s probably a good thing, given that Lesnar’s future in mixed martial arts competition, beyond Saturday night, is decidedly murky. When asked whether a win over Hunt might open up the possibility of more fights, Lesnar deferred to the man who still controls his contract. “That’s a question for Vince McMahon, right?” he asked. “Let’s get through Saturday and see what happens.”
This is fair, of course, but what might happen, what suddenly stands as a real possibility, is that the UFC must continue to ask another company for permission to continue utilizing one of their biggest attractions. For Dana White and the Fertitta brothers, who have built their company on absolute control, it is truly the most surreal of situations.
And yet, remarkably, it seems entirely possible that both the WWE and UFC will continue to compromise, to play ball, to make the sort of concessions that would be unheard of in other circumstances. Ultimately, though their businesses may be quite different, Vince McMahon and Dana White seem united in one thing, at least. A happy Brock, is a productive Brock, and it’s certainly better to share his massive drawing power, than to not benefit from it at all.
Back on March 25, 2015, just weeks after Heyman’s dramatic “title unification” promo, Brock Lesnar ended months of speculation, announcing that he had, in fact, chosen to re-sign with the WWE. “The fighter inside me wants to compete,” Lesnar explained to ESPN’s Michelle Beadle. “The father and husband — I’m an older caveman now. I make wiser caveman decisions.”
In retrospect, though he may not have realized it at the time, Lesnar probably could have chosen a different, more accurate character for himself. Rather than a caveman, Lesnar seems more akin to a Viking Warrior, barrelling through obstacles, laying claim to new territory, and collecting plenty of treasure along the way. (And hey, he did try out for the football team that one time.)
The reality is, though we didn’t know it at the time, (and apparently, neither did he), there was never really any need for Brock Lesnar to make a decision at all. Wrestling, fighting, heck, if Lesnar decided tomorrow to take up chess-boxing, it’s highly doubtful that anyone would stand in his way.
By sheer virtue of his strength, his athleticism, his rugged charm, and yes, his “white boy who’s jacked” physique, Lesnar has become one of the most marketable, most magnetic, most meaningful stars in the world today. He’s become the rare athlete who calls his own shots, who doesn’t have to take no for an answer, who can have his steak and eat it too. And in a world of combat sports, both legitimate, and scripted, that far too often treats competitors like commodities, that’s something to celebrate.
Now, if we can just get Heyman to the post-fight press conference.