Brock Lesnar LAS VEGAS – JULY 11: Brock Lesnar reacts after knocking out Frank Mir during their heavyweight title bout during UFC 100 on July 11, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)

The news that Brock Lesnar would come out of retirement to fight at UFC 200 shocked both the worlds of mixed martial arts and professional wrestling. Lesnar only recently had re-signed with WWE to continue his successful return to that company in 2012, after becoming UFC World Heavyweight Champion in 2008.

Of course, one of the reasons Lesnar ventured back to WWE was his forced retirement from UFC due to bouts with diverticulitis. But why now, after five years away from the octagon, would Brock Lesnar return? Why would UFC build their marquee UFC 200 event around a part-time star from another promotion? And why would WWE risk their biggest attraction in an environment where the winner isn’t predetermined?

The simple answer is that all three parties are desperate.

All three parties see the reward if things go well, but there is inherent risk for each party depending on the result at UFC 200. Even as Lesnar told ESPN, “It’s actually win-win for everybody as long as I do win.”

The easiest place to see desperation is with Brock Lesnar himself. He even admits as such. Lesnar told ESPN of his need to prove himself one last time in the octagon after his forced retirement. Perhaps more than any other person who participates in combat sports entertainment (maybe the best term to gather MMA and pro wrestling, although it’s a stretch), Lesnar defines himself as an athlete. And if one is to be considered the greatest athlete in his field, he has to be willing to accept all challenges and remove all doubt about his career. That’s what fighting at UFC 200 allows Lesnar to do. A victory over Mark Hunt (with Lesnar as an underdog after his absence from UFC) will do a lot to validate the accomplishments Lesnar previously experienced.

And let’s face it, even Vince McMahon probably wouldn’t have a lot of success telling Brock Lesnar what to do. If Lesnar is desperate to work for UFC, even during the middle of his new WWE deal, he’s going to do it… because he’s BROOOOOOOOCK LESNAR (*Paul Heyman voice*).

But what happens to Lesnar’s drawing power if he doesn’t win? Can he ever go back to UFC? Will his drawing power in WWE, which has been based on his legitimacy as former UFC champ, be at all harmed if he gets knocked out? One thing is for sure, Lesnar isn’t planning on answering those particular questions.

It’s also very clear to see the desperation the UFC is under entering UFC 200. Their top two most marketable stars, Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, each lost their last fight. With the defeat of Rousey’s conquerer Holly Holm, there was no immediate rematch of revenge for Rousey to take part in at UFC 200. Thus, the marquee women’s bout at UFC 200 will feature new Women’s Bantamweight Champion Miesha Tate defending against Amanda Nunes. Clearly, the UFC will miss out on Rousey’s crossover appeal to bring in casual fans who were so amazed by her dominance as champion and drawn to her budding movie career.

Also, UFC 200 will be absent their most brash personality in McGregor after losing a staredown with UFC head Dana White over… a missed press conference? In the short term, White showed all UFC fighters who the boss was by orchestrating McGregor’s removal from the UFC 200 card in his own rematch with Nate Diaz. In the long term, all of UFC was placed in a sticky situation. They’d lost their two most marketable stars for their marquee event. The main event now features a rematch between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones, two terrific fighters, but neither with the mainstream appeal of McGregor or Rousey. In fact, the most notoriety for either fighter is Jones’ various troubles outside the octagon.



So UFC was backed into a corner and had to do something to boost their buyrate by bringing in casual fans. Thus, they went for a past star for the UFC and a current star for WWE.  Say what you will about the “fake” wrestling angle, but several sports would do anything for the consistency in WWE’s ratings every single week. And if there’s one person who can wash away the line separating professional wrestling from MMA, it’s Brock Lesnar.

Lesnar has brought a legitimacy to WWE that hasn’t been felt since the days of spectacles like Andre the Giant. And Lesnar’s previous success in the octagon means he needs almost no build to his next fight. It truly seems like a win-win for both.

But there is significant risk for UFC on both sides of the spectrum, although they will have likely achieved their immediate goal of drawing eyes to their company’s marquee event. If Lesnar wins, what does that say about the state of the UFC heavyweight division that a part-time, retired, professional wrestler came in on a hotshot deal and won?  And if Lesnar loses, how foolish will UFC look trumpeting the return of a former champion, only to find out he isn’t the man he used to be?

However, in this potential win-win situation, the party with the most to lose is the WWE. Almost no matter the result, the WWE may be hurt by what unfolds at UFC 200. Of course, if Lesnar loses to Mark Hunt, who will never be confused with one of the UFC’s all-time greats, it will be an unmitigated disaster for WWE. They’ve made another long-term investment in Brock Lesnar at a time when the company is still trying to find solid footing in their PG, post-Attitude era. Don’t think the WWE is still trying to find their way? Just look at how consistently they rely on part-time stars like Lesnar or “surprise” appearances from legends like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin.  Even Shane McMahon wrestled in one of the main events of WrestleMania this year!

If Lesnar returns to WWE’s SummerSlam fresh off a loss in the octagon, it’d definitely take some of the shine off of his persona. In allowing Lesnar to fight in UFC 200, WWE is gambling that they can continue their momentum into the mainstream at the risk of going backwards quite a bit.

The more interesting outcome, though, is what happens if Lesnar wins at UFC 200? And not just wins, but wins in dominant fashion?

Do you think Brock Lesnar would be content with a single comeback fight that resulted in a dominant victory? Would the UFC? Why wouldn’t Lesnar take this “one-off opportunity” and make it a full-fledged comeback to regain the UFC Heavyweight Championship? Yes, a Lesnar loss may leave WWE with a diminished star, but a Lesnar victory may leave WWE without their prized attraction entirely. If Brock Lesnar could get out of his WWE contract for a single contract fight, surely he could take things a step further and leave WWE entirely if his UFC comeback is successful.

So why would WWE take such a gamble? They’re just as desperate as UFC and Brock Lesnar. Above all else, WWE craves mainstream acceptance and attention. Much has been written about the growing association between WWE and ESPN, and the WWE’s quest to again reach the heights of their late-90s relevance and popularity. Certainly, since his return, Brock Lesnar has been a game-changer in that regard. Would ESPN really give WrestleMania the time of day if it wasn’t for the presence of a former UFC champion? Go back and watch ESPN’s interview with Brock Lesnar revealing his UFC 200 involvement and notice how much attention WWE gets mentioned in the discussion, it’s incredibly revealing.

Sure, now there are rumors of a flourishing partnership between WWE and UFC in the wake of the UFC 200 announcement. But does anyone honestly believe these two promotions can co-exist in a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship? They are effectively two competing territories fighting for the same viewers. And no matter the result at UFC 200, the two have entered into a high stakes game of poker with Brock Lesnar as the big prize. The resolution will entirely depend upon the result of the fight, as all the questions above will have to be answered. What’s certain is that the outcome of Brock Lesnar’s UFC appearance will affect the future of both companies in ways that will be felt for years to come.