Not even in the scripted world of WWE could Brock Lesnar’s UFC comeback have been predicted. The “Beast Incarnate” returns to the Octagon for the promotion’s historic UFC 200 card on July 9 to face formidable knockout artist Mark Hunt in the co-main event.
It will be his first dip back into MMA since he retired from the sport in December 2011 following a first-round defeat to Alistair Overeem and his return fills a gaping void the UFC have been desperate to plug.
With three world title fights, 10 current or former world champions and a bitter rematch between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier spearheading the card, July’s event was still staring straight at pay-per view records. But it was by no means a guarantee.
When you look back at the end of 2015, the most successful year in the promotion’s history by just about every metric, it would have been difficult to envisage a UFC 200 line-up starved of the sport’s two biggest stars: Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor.
Yet circumstances have dictated both will be absent on July 9 – Rousey is on an indefinite hiatus and McGregor was booted off the card after his lengthy dispute with the UFC over his media obligations – and many have found it difficult to lick their lips at the current offering without the gravitas of those two names on the menu.
After all, this is a blockbuster event and it commands a special hype generated by extra special stars, especially when the aim is to chase down the current buy-rate record held by UFC 100.
To get there, the UFC have to draw in the casual audience and although Cormier/Jones has plenty of intrigue, it’s not a fight that enters the mainstream consciousness.
With no McGregor and no Rousey, they lacked that crossover presence. To tackle the issue, UFC president Dana White tried to lure Georges St-Pierre out of his semi-conscious retirement but when that failed, really, there was only one name left – Lesnar.
In hindsight, his comeback should have been anticipated because for as big as Lesnar is aesthetically, and make no mistake he is a colossus, his pay-per view numbers are equally as weighty.
Before McGregor and Rousey, there was Lesnar. His freakish athletic ability, size and strength, combined with the crossover aura of joining from the world of pro-wrestling, made him unmissable television – to the extent that a large portion of the record UFC 100 PPV buys can be attributed to his highly-anticipated rematch with Frank Mir.
Of course, the former heavyweight champion’s tenure was brief, diverticulitis stole his best years, but he is still one of only five to defend the belt twice and he has a pedigree that excites.
Even though he turns 39 next month, Lesnar is still a money-printing machine and in terms of sheer entertainment value, his return has elevated UFC 200 dramatically.
The question now is, will Lesnar’s comeback be enough to raise the event to levels never seen before?
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