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Potential Opponents for Brock Lesnar’s Possible UFC Return

February 19, 2018 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Brock Lesnar - Stipe Miocic

Brock Lesnar’s contract with WWE is winding down to its final months, which can only mean one thing: speculation about Lesnar returning to UFC is heating up.

For those new to the game, there is an established pattern to this. Brock Lesnar likes money, so in the past when his WWE contract has come up, he’s played the UFC card to get better offers from WWE. That’s not to say that Lesnar doesn’t want to fight again—the UFC card has worked because that competition drives part of him.

In 2016, just one year after signing a three-year deal with WWE and stating his UFC career was over, Lesnar got Vince McMahon’s go-ahead to compete at UFC 200. Lesnar became the top attraction on the card, which sold 1,009,000 buys on pay-per-view, and defeated Mark Hunt.

After the bout, results returned from two of Lesnar’s out-of-competition drug tests. Both tests were positive for clomiphene, a banned estrogen blocker that can be used to combat negative side effects from anabolic steroids. Lesnar received a one-year suspension from the Nevada Athletic Commission and the United States Anti-Doping Association, and the Commission overturned his win over Hunt.

In February 2017, about seven months into his suspension, Lesnar retired from the UFC and withdrew from the USADA testing pool. Before returning, he would need to re-enter the USADA pool and serve the remaining five months on his suspension. At this stage, that’s a relatively minor point; Lesnar’s WWE deal reportedly runs through August. But if he is serious about returning this time, Lesnar will likely be back in the pool by June, allowing him to return by UFC’s big November and December shows.

Closing in on 41 years old, his return to UFC will likely be a Brock smash and grab. He’ll take the fight that will make him the most money, but I can’t imagine he’d stick around following a bad loss.

So the question becomes, who would Lesnar fight if he did return? I’ve compiled the strongest candidates, and laid out the case for each.

Jon Jones

Jon Jones is probably the first opponent on everyone’s mind. After Jones knocked out Daniel Cormier last July, he called out Brock Lesnar and dropped the mic. Prior to that, there were rumors that Lesnar was preparing to re-enter the USADA testing pool and return to the UFC to fight Jones. Certainly, there is interest in the fight.

The intrigue of the fight boils down to the idea of Lesnar being significantly bigger and stronger than Jones, as well as a strong wrestler, while Jones is a significantly better all-around fighter. Lesnar’s only chance would be to put Jones on his back and keep him there. Even with the size discrepancy, it would be no easy task, as Jones has out-wrestled better wrestlers than Lesnar, and has never been kept on his back in a fight.

Jones is the biggest fight for Lesnar, but there are two complications of varying degrees. The major complication is Jones’s own failed drug test. A sample collected from Jones the night before his bout with Cormier tested positive for the anabolic steroid Turinabol. It was the second drug test failure in Jones’s career, and his sentence has yet to be determined, but it could be clear by the end of the month.

If Jones receives anything longer than an eighteen month suspension, it kills a Lesnar match for the time being. But with a one year or an eighteen month suspension for Jones, the Lesnar bout becomes a likely target for the UFC.

If Jones is able to compete by next Super Bowl weekend, Daniel Cormier becomes the complication. Cormier, who is scheduled to challenge Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight championship in July, is Jones’s greatest rival. In a scenario where Jones can return by this time next year and Cormier becomes the heavyweight champion, it’s tough to deny Cormier a third crack at Jones.

Although Jones vs. Cormier doesn’t have the box office promise that Jones vs. Lesnar does, it’s still one of the most lucrative fights UFC could do and would have major historical implications. Jones vs. Lesnar, meanwhile, is a fun side show fight, but doesn’t have real substance.

Stipe Miocic

Let’s say things don’t quite work out with Lesnar vs. Jones. That’s where the possibilities become interesting. There aren’t many standalone draws in the UFC heavyweight division, so the biggest fights for Lesnar exist at the top. In addition to money, what could also interest Lesnar? Potentially regaining the heavyweight championship he lost seven years ago.

It sounds ridiculous because it is. How can a fighter without a win in the past eight years (by the time would return) challenge for the heavyweight championship? In the current UFC, nothing is a stretch if it makes enough money. (Even under past ownership, the promotion tried to goad Gina Carano out of retirement to challenge Ronda Rousey.)

Absent Jones, nothing would be bigger than Lesnar challenging for the heavyweight title.

The reigning champion, Stipe Miocic, has been the dominant champion that Lesnar should have been (and perhaps would have been if not for his battle with diverticulitis). I doubt it would be a competitive fight or last longer than one round, but for Lesnar, it’s both a challenge and a moneymaker.

Daniel Cormier

Let’s say the fight between Cormier and Miocic on July 7 goes Cormier’s way. That would mean that after his second fight with Jones, Cormier would have taken back the light heavyweight title; then taken the opportunity to fight Stipe Miocic, which had been earmarked for Jones; and then captured the heavyweight championship. While Jones has been superior to Cormier in their meetings inside the cage, Cormier has thrived from Jones’s failures outside of it. What would be more fitting than Cormier taking the fight with Lesnar that Jones wanted for himself?

With Cormier as heavyweight champion, Cormier vs. Lesnar would be bigger than Miocic vs. Lesnar with Miocic as heavyweight champion.

Like the other two bouts already discussed, it shouldn’t be too competitive. Cormier wouldn’t be overly concerned with Lesnar taking him down, and would be happy to let his hands go against a fighter that doesn’t react well to punches. There is the element of the size difference, but it probably wouldn’t be enough for Lesnar.

Francis Ngannou

Francis Ngannou created a lot of excitement last year by wrecking dudes with his hands. When he challenged for the heavyweight title last month, Ngannou wasn’t able to finish Stipe Miocic in the first round and gassed badly after that.

The hype has cooled off since Ngannou’s title shot, but it can be kicked back into action with one big knockout.

There is something inherently intriguing about taking two big heavyweights that pack destruction in their fists and smashing them into each other. That would be the idea behind Lesnar vs. Ngannou.

There is also the added intrigue of Ngannou being at least as big as Lesnar, if not a bit bigger.

The Ngannou fight is not as big as the other options mentioned, but it could still headline on pay-per-view. If the UFC is hesitant to thrust Lesnar into an immediate title match, a win over Ngannou could justify a heavyweight title shot.

While Ngannou would be the betting favorite, Lesnar has a path to victory in his wrestling. Ngannou doesn’t have the wrestling to stay of his back against a wrestler like Lesnar for fifteen or twenty-five minutes, but he does have the power to end the fight in seconds.

At the very least, there are a bit more questions than the other options mentioned.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.

article topics :

Brock Lesnar, UFC, Dan Plunkett