Lesnar loves being UFC's biggest villain
The UFC enters its next centennial with something the company has
A true villain.
A snarling, seemingly unstoppable bully plowing through opponents like in World Wrestling Entertainment pretend fights. Brock Lesnar was a star there once. He plays the role to a T.
Lesnar didn't just crush Frank Mir in the UFC 100 main event Saturday night at Mandalay Bay. The heavyweight heel stole the biggest show in mixed martial arts history.
Tens of millions of viewers worldwide saw Lesnar take a page from a pro wrestling script with his crude post-fight antics. Somewhere, WWE owner Vince McMahon would be smiling at the spectacle -- except the monster he created is making money for someone else.
Lesnar knocked out a prone Mir with 14 straight punches to the face in the second round. This was the only excitement in a bout that initially had a sold-out crowd of 10,842 fans booing for the wrong reason. They wanted a brawl. Lesnar gave them a wrestling demonstration. An NCAA champion, Lesnar smothered Mir on the mat throughout with his 280-pound girth.
Lesnar's technique was crude and rudimentary -- understandable for someone with only five MMA fights -- but the blows he threw left Mir's face battered and bloodied.
And then the fun began. Lesnar -- who refused to tap gloves with Mir in a show of sportsmanship beforehand -- talked trash to him afterward. Lesnar celebrated by looking maniacally into a television camera through the octagon fence and shouting as drool spewed onto the steel mesh.
He flipped off the crowd. He solicited more boos with his hands and barked, "I love it! Keep it going!" during a post-fight interview. He then committed the ultimate sin -- insulting UFC's top sponsor. Lesnar said he was going to celebrate by drinking Coors Light since "Bud Light won't pay me nothing."
"Hell, I may even get on top of my wife tonight," Lesnar said as his spouse (former WWE valet Rena "Sable" Mero) laughed. "See y'all later."
Anyone not heading toward the exits was incensed or appalled. No fighter in UFC history -- not even self-proclaimed "Bad Boy" Tito Ortiz -- left an event so universally despised.
Just like in rasslin', Lesnar's actions are shtick. After what he described as a backstage "whip-the-dog" lambasting from UFC president Dana White, Lesnar apologized during a post-fight news conference. Lesnar said he got carried away because he wanted to avenge a prior loss to Mir. Lesnar even chugged a Bud Light. But those who don't pay attention to the UFC 100 post-media coverage will never see this softer side.
"I'm used to selling pay-per-view and tickets," a subdued Lesnar said. "I come from a business that's purely entertainment."
As much as he doesn't want to admit it, so does White.
UFC is a booming business enterprise, but the company has its warts. UFC is a closed shop not beholden to an outside sanctioning body to determine title shots. Staging an exciting fight and losing often leads to better opportunities than winning in lackluster fashion. White has admitted personal favorites are guaranteed jobs even after unimpressive performances like Stephan Bonnar had in his UFC 100 defeat against Mark Coleman.
White spouted that UFC is "about conducting yourself as professionals and showing sportsmanship." Yet he also approved <em>Ultimate Fighter</em> reality show telecasts where participants urinated in their rivals' fruit salad and let them eat it.
White ripped Lesnar's actions for the obvious reasons. First and foremost, UFC needed to appease its business partner. White also wanted to counter critics who now have more ammunition to argue that UFC shouldn't be accepted as a mainstream sport.
But deep down inside, how couldn't White love it? Lesnar's tricks appeal to the pro wrestling fans he brought with him from WWE. Lesnar haters will pay for future shows to see who can make him eat his words.
The problem is finding a new foe that fans can believe has a chance to win. Heavyweight is easily UFC's weakest division.
Lesnar's next opponent will likely be the winner of next month's Randy Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira matchup at UFC 102. Couture wants a rematch against Lesnar but he just turned 45 and was steamrolled in their first bout last fall. Nogueira, a former superstar in Japan, has underwhelmed in his three UFC fights and was dominated last December by Mir. The other legitimate contenders? Only hard-core fans could pick them from a police lineup.
For a boffo box-office like Saturday night, UFC has to think big. Even more grandiose than the "Next Big Thing" nickname Lesnar carried in WWE.
As in Fedor Emelianenko.
A household name? Hardly. But for those who don't know, think of Emelianenko as the scariest Russian athlete since Ivan Drago in <em>Rocky IV</em>. Only Emelianenko is real.
Thirty other international heavyweights -- including four former UFC champions -- have learned that the hard way. He defeated them overseas with an expressionless visage more chilling than any scowl. Emelianenko has just one loss. That was nine years ago. Even then, the "Last Emperor" wasn't knocked out. The fight was stopped because of a cut.
No disrespect to UFC kingpins Georges St-Pierre (a dominant five-round decision winner over Thiago Alves on Saturday night) and Anderson Silva. Emelianenko is the sport's best pound-for-pound fighter. He isn't with UFC because Emelianenko and company president Dana White couldn't agree on a contract.
Emelianenko now languishes in Affliction, an upstart company that has squandered millions of dollars trying to compete with UFC. What could be Affliction's swan song is headlined by Emelianenko against Josh Barnett in August.
After that show, Emelianenko may have nowhere left to go stateside but UFC. White is salivating. UFC's promotional machine would surely tout Lesnar vs. Emelianenko as the hottest USA-Russia feud since the Miracle on Ice.
"Eventually, Fedor is going to be here," White said. "I want him to come to the UFC. We'll end up getting that deal done and we'll do Brock vs. Fedor. It will be a huge fight."
With a huge man laughing all the way to the bank.