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Brock Lesnar is the most powerful man in Combat Sports

MMA: UFC 200-Lesnar vs Hunt Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

Starpower has been a central theme in combat sports -- both real and scripted -- for as long as underpantsed men have thrown fists.

The conversations are as loud as ever now, however, with the UFC suffering declining ratings and pay-per-view buyrates over 2017, showing it’s the stars more than the brand driving interest.

To fans of pro wrestling, this isn’t a revelation. Nor is the idea the true driver to success is a handful of viable “top draws” with a strong midcard.

With Conor McGregor’s career in a sort of perpetual limbo -- the Irishman recently set the record for longest title reign without an attempted defense of the belt -- Ronda Rousey relocating to WWE-land and Jon Jones compounding a failed drug test with arguably the most baffling defense in MMA history, the UFC’s top-tier of stars has all but dried up.

Enter WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar.

As a former UFC heavyweight champion and one of the three top draws in company history, it’s easy to see why Lesnar is coveted by the UFC. There’s also the mystery of if Lesnar finally ran into opponents far beyond what his skillset could handle or if his bout with diverticulitis left him a shell of the fighter he was capable of being (hint: the answer is a mix of the two).

Lesnar’s contract with WWE is coming to a close, he’s appeared on more dates than is demanded by his current deal, and he’s (allegedly) no-showing scheduled appearances on WWE Raw, putting him on the receiving end of a scathing promo by Roman Reigns — leading to a rare moment of full-throated fan support for “The Big Dog.”

Lesnar has flirted with the UFC to improve his positioning during WWE contract negotiations in the past.

Ahead of WrestleMania in 2015 — the last time Reigns and Lesnar were set to face off in the main event of wrestling’s grandest stage — Lesnar signed a new WWE deal after flirtations with a UFC return, stating at the time he had turned down a deal worth “10 times” what he had been paid during his initial run.

“Lorenzo said to me, ‘Can we sharpen our pencil? Can we double it’” Lesnar said at the time. “I said, ‘It’s not about that. I’m calling you to tell you where my heart is, and it’s not about the money.’“And then in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Well, yeah, it is about the money, but I don’t have to beat myself up for it.’ To prepare for another MMA fight, we’re talking 16, 18 weeks of pure hell, and then the cage door shuts and it’s on.”

Of course, Lesnar made his return to the octagon in a one-off against Mark Hunt at UFC 200, winning the fight before a failed drug test derailed any chance of a follow-up fight.

And here we are again. With WrestleMania approaching, Lesnar’s contract drawing to an end, and the flirtations with the UFC becoming public once again.

Dana White followed up his tweet during Elimination Chamber by calling Lesnar’s chances of returning to the cage “very, very good.”

Of course, Lesnar would be 41-years-old before he could step inside the Octagon after sitting out the remainder of his year-long suspension,, and would have to re-enter the USADA testing pool. Also, reports suggest Lesnar’s WWE deal extends to August if the two sides don’t reach an agreement on a new contract.

If age and the grind of “16, 18 weeks of pure hell” was an issue in his late 30s, what’s the appeal in his early 40s?

Lesnar looked fantastic in his UFC 200 bout (circle back to that failed USADA test if you’d like), and he’s an absolute monster. He could, no doubt, pick up wins over many members of the UFC heavyweight division, but what happens against a Stipe Miocic-level talent? And where is Lesnar’s motivation if he suffers a brutal knockout loss after re-signing with the UFC?

Lesnar’s constant motivators have been money and traveling as little as possible.

His WWE deal requires very little from him for a good amount of return. A new UFC deal would likely pay him far more and he would not have to travel much beyond 2-3 fight nights each year.

Forbes estimated Lesnar’s take-home from his UFC 200 performance at $6.5 million, while his 2016 WWE pay came to $12 million.

Either path he takes, Lesnar is set to make a ridiculous amount of money.

In the end, the UFC likely needs Lesnar more than WWE.

Both promotions are looking at new TV deals, and rumors have Fox pursuing a deal to bring WWE Raw to network TV and SmackDown to FS1 rather than a new UFC deal. Lesnar brings small bumps in viewership when he appears on Raw, but the appearances are few and far between. It may be in WWE’s best interest to not treat the guy who is never around as a bigger deal than the rest of their roster.

The UFC, meanwhile, is desperate for stars. Unless McGregor does return to the Octagon, the UFC is completely devoid of stars at this point. And their ratings and PPV buys reflect that. More importantly, the audience is aging and their current approach is not drawing in young viewers.

It remains to be seen if a full-time return to MMA for Lesnar would correct these issues, but a one-two punch of Lesnar and McGregor would be a big step in the right direction.

Ultimately, Lesnar is currently the most powerful man in combat sports. With two promotions in two “sports” looking to secure his services as they seek gigantic new TV deals that will determine their course for the next several years, he has the ability to secure a massive contract on his terms.

And that’s the way he has always liked it.

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