LOS ANGELES CA - OCTOBER 20: (L-R) UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar and challenger Cain Velasquez at the UFC 121 pre-fight press conference at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on October 20 2010 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Brock Lesnar is thought of as the face of the UFC. He's the big dog in the yard and by far the man who draws the most money for the promotion. When he's on a card the natural assumption amongst the masses is that it will do at least a million buys on pay per view. Is that really the case anymore? And if it is, how long will that last?
Lesnar was announced as having signed with the UFC at UFC 77. His first fight was going to be at UFC 81 against former heavyweight champion Frank Mir. MMA fans couldn't help but be intrigued at the idea of Lesnar coming into their sport. He's a gigantic man with a legitimate amateur wrestling background. It didn't feel like a ratings ploy or a cheap way to garner more PPV buys. The UFC handled his promotion perfectly. Pro wrestling fans were curious to see how he would do in an actual fight. It's a natural thought process. Anytime you watch these huge, larger than life characters in the WWE, you can't help but wonder how they would do if it was real. Now we would get to find out.
The fact that Lesnar is so big has really always been his selling point. Casual fans, the fans he manages to persuade to buy all of his PPV's, usually tend to think of the fight game in terms of absolutes. Lesnar is just too big. He's going to win because he's so gigantic. One punch and he'll kill this guy, he'll pick him up and throw him around if he wants, he'll pound his skull into the ground. These are all things I've heard in regards to casual fans talking about Brock. Obviously, he lost his first UFC fight against Mir but the way it happened, and the fact that it was his first fight, against a former champion no less, made it easy for fans to forgive him and give him another chance. There were a lot of ways to make excuses for that fight. Despite the loss, the unstoppable monster moniker still held true.
That fight drew 600,000 buys. His return bout was originally supposed to be against Mark Coleman but an injury forced him off and Heath Herring took his place. Brock opened the fight with a huge straight right hand that broke Herring's face and dominated the rest of the way. That event did slightly better with 625,000 buys. People started to buy in a little bit with that performance. But he wouldn't truly be the monster star that he is now without the help of Randy Couture. To use pro wrestling terminology, Couture put him over in every way possible.
To start with, Randy had left the UFC for various contractual issues among other things. One of those things was the fact that the UFC had failed to sign famed heavyweight star Fedor Emelianenko to fight him. Seeing no interesting fights for him as champion, he left. That was until Lesnar came along. After seeing his first two fights and how big he was, Couture couldn't help but fall into the same line of thinking as the rest of us and he wanted to test himself against him. He put him over by talking him up all throughout the promotion for their eventual fight at UFC 91. The casual fans already bought into Lesnar; Couture made the hardcores start to come around as well. Once Brock overwhelmed him to win the title, and 1 million PPV buys later, he was fully entrenched as the new unstoppable monster of the heavyweight division.
After the jump we'll look at where the chinks in the armor started and what that could eventually lead to.
After winning the belt, and Frank Mir winning the interim title, they set up a megafight at the historic UFC 100 and promoted it to death. Add in Georges St. Pierre and Dan Henderson fighting Michael Bisping coming off of coaching TUF 9 and this event was huge. It drew 1.6 million buys. That's a ton of eyes watching his fight with Mir. He crushed him in the second round to retain his title. It was yet another performance, for the largest audience ever, that would add even further to the mystique. Just one thing happened that was slightly overlooked. He was soundly outclassed on the feet. At one point he was very nearly knocked out with a flying knee. He showed that he could defend against strong jiu-jitsu and a tight guard, sure, but he also showed us that he can be had while standing.
The entire promotion of Lesnar has, and probably always will, depend on his marketability as a beast who can not be stopped. There's a reason they constantly drive home the fact that he is as big as he is. Then they sell you on his speed combined with his power and you can't help but feel like he can't be beaten. That's the allure of Lesnar. He's a larger than life character that no one can stop. We originally wanted to know how he would do if he was fighting for real and we found out fast. In just his 4th fight he became champion. Now he looks unbeatable. So what's the issue with this? It means any loss is a potentially devastating thing.
So then he gets sick and is out of action for a while. It made for a nice little comeback story leading into his Shane Carwin fight but that narrative wasn't picked up on nearly as much as you would think. Yes, it was largely reported on and made for a factor in the fight, but it wasn't the main driving point. If anything, all it did was lend even more into the idea that he was unstoppable. During the fight, Lesnar showed even more deficiencies in his boxing game and was very nearly finished. He managed to survive and make his way back to win by submission in the second round. A few people had the balls to call him out but the majority couldn't help but feed right back into the idea that he is just too much for any one fighter to handle.
So what does all this lead up to? It leads up to the fact that Brock Lesnar is an extremely beatable fighter who's entire persona in the UFC is exemplified by his ability to not be beaten. I'm not saying he's not an amazing fighter; he most definitely is. But he is not the baddest man on the planet that we all want to think he is, no matter how many times he or the UFC says so. He's a man who was submitted by Frank Mir, struggled at times to take down Heath Herring, was given a run for his money by a 45 year old Randy Couture, was exposed as a boxer against Mir again and was completely outclassed by Shane Carwin before the big comeback. Those are facts. That doesn't mean he didn't show a ton of great qualities in those fights and that doesn't mean I'm calling him a bad fighter or trying to take anything away from him. I just believe it to be a precursor to what's to come.
Now Brock gets to take on Cain Velasquez. The oddsmakers have Brock favored as of this writing by -135. That's not exactly showing a lot of confidence. Velasquez is a veritable beast himself, with endless cardio, solid power to go with outstanding technique and takedowns that no one has been able to stop. That's not even mentioning what he does to guys once he gets them to the floor. He smothers them and makes them pay for every movement. If they manage to get back to their feet he picks them up and slams them down again until he has broken their will to continue fighting. No different than Lesnar, he has his shortcomings. But he's not being sold as a beast who is really big and can't be stopped. Outside of the obvious Mexican angle, he's being sold, at least to the smarks out there, as the superior fighter when it comes to technique. The casual fans think he doesn't stand a chance. A deeper look shows that he might be just the guy to bring the whole house of cards crashing down.
Which bleeds right into the final point. How does the UFC sell Lesnar if he loses? The novelty is gone. He's no longer the new kid on the block and we no longer wonder how he will do as a fighter. He's now taken on the gimmick that Fedor carried around for all those years. We've seen what's happened to him since his loss to Fabricio Werdum. Is that what awaits Lesnar? The Primetime series was brought back to help promote this fight and one thing has become painfully clear from watching that show; underneath it all, Brock is a really boring guy. There really isn't any other way to promote him.
Right now, Brock Lesnar is the big dog in the yard who says and does what he wants because no one can stop him from doing so. But what happens if Cain Velasquez takes over the yard?