Brock Lesnar hits free agency: Potential landing spots for the former UFC and WWE champion

MMA

Brock Lesnar is on the open market.

One of the biggest combat sports stars of this generation is no longer under contract with WWE, multiple sources confirmed Monday with ESPN following a report from PWInsider. Lesnar’s merchandise was pulled over the weekend from WWE’s online store.

We have been down this road before. Lesnar, the former UFC heavyweight champion, is a master at playing WWE and the UFC against one another in contract negotiations. But as recently as last year there was a chance Lesnar could have returned to the Octagon for the first time since 2016, in a heavyweight title bout against Daniel Cormier.

Plus, for the first time in a long time, there is a deep-pocketed No. 2 pro-wrestling promotion out there in AEW, which is owned by the Khans, the family that also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC. AEW airs weekly in primetime on TNT and has snared ex-WWE stars Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley (formerly known as Dean Ambrose) in free agency.

There could also be other MMA suitors like Bellator, which is interested in a long-teased matchup between Lesnar and Fedor Emelianenko. With so many different potential Lesnar landing spots, here’s how likely each scenario is, and the biggest attractions each organization can offer.


Promotion: WWE

Top matches: Roman Reigns, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt, Keith Lee, Randy Orton

It seems like every year Lesnar’s contract with WWE comes up, and every time — at least since 2012 when he returned — he ends up back with WWE. That’s the most probable scenario again. WWE can still pay him the most annually for the least amount of dates, plus extra considerations for the promotion’s biannual shows in Saudi Arabia. In WWE, he gets flown in and out of cities on private jets. All the perks are there. The high-profile opponents are there, too, including continuing long-running storylines with Reigns and Orton and some potentially new stories with Wyatt and Lee.

Lesnar’s longtime on-screen advocate (and real-life best friend) Paul Heyman is now in Reigns’ corner on WWE television. Perhaps that was a signal that Lesnar won’t be back in WWE any time soon. But there is surely a smooth way to reintroduce him into WWE canon with Reigns and Heyman as adversaries. There would be money in that program. There could also be flexibility in a Lesnar deal with WWE. He was able to fight in the UFC in 2016 while still on the WWE roster. He fought Mark Hunt at UFC 200 and then performed at WWE’s SummerSlam one month later. So, that isn’t out of the question. The money and leeway he is afforded in WWE would be hard to turn down.

Chance Lesnar signs with WWE: 45 percent


Promotion: UFC

Top fights: Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier, Stipe Miocic, Francis Ngannou

The door is still very much open for a Lesnar return to the Octagon. Remember UFC 226 in 2018 when Lesnar entered the cage to confront newly crowned heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier? That pro-wrestling-style angle — what Cormier later called his “WrestleMania moment” — was not done randomly. Lesnar doesn’t do anything without intent. Cormier vs. Lesnar for the UFC title was very much a real thing that was talked about and their fight was targeted for the summer of 2019. Lesnar even re-entered USADA’s drug-testing pool in 2018 to prepare for a return.

But that didn’t happen. Lesnar, who held the heavyweight belt from 2008 to 2010, was unable to come to a financial deal with the UFC and ended up extending his contract with WWE. UFC president Dana White said at the time that he considered Lesnar retired. But Lesnar has not used the “r” word himself since then. He has in the past — but still came back anyway for UFC 200. If Lesnar were to return, he would have to enter himself back into the drug-testing pool and spend six months in that before competing again.

At 43 years old, Lesnar’s window for a return to MMA is closing. But 43 isn’t ancient for heavyweights. Cormier, 41, just fought for the title at UFC 252. Fabricio Werdum beat Alexander Gustafsson in July at 43 years old. If he does come back, Lesnar probably has just one big fight left. Jones would be at the top of the list.

Lesnar’s friend and fellow WWE legend Kurt Angle said last year on Ariel Helwani’s MMA show on ESPN that Lesnar still wanted the fight with Jones. It’s a money fight — one of the biggest draws ever against one of the best fighters ever — and Lesnar reportedly isn’t a big fan of Jones. On Monday, after the news came out that Lesnar was a free agent, Jones tweeted to Lesnar that “I’ll beatcho (sic) ass too.” Jones called Lesnar out in 2017, but that never gained momentum because Jones was suspended by USADA.

Jones would be the top choice for a Lesnar return bout, but let’s not forget Cormier. If there were any way to drag the now-retired former double champion back it would be a fight with Lesnar. Ngannou has also expressed a desire to fight Lesnar over the years. And Miocic is the greatest heavyweight champ in UFC — if not MMA — history. This would be the best time in a while for Lesnar to re-introduce himself to the UFC’s heavyweight division.

Chance Lesnar signs with the UFC: 20 percent


Promotion: AEW

Top matches: Kenny Omega, Jon Moxley, Cody Rhodes, Chris Jericho

AEW is trying to make a splash as WWE’s first real competitor in two decades. What better way than to sign Lesnar? It would immediately give AEW credibility, mainstream attention, television ratings and, of course, pay-per-view buys. It wouldn’t even have to be anything long-term. It could be one or two story arcs with AEW’s current top guys. A program with Omega would be particularly intriguing.

AEW doesn’t have a shortage of money, plus broadcast partner TNT has been very supportive. It could be argued that AEW has more financial resources — if the purse strings are open — than even WWE.

Chance Lesnar signs with AEW: 15 percent


Promotion: Bellator

Top fights: Fedor Emelianenko, Frank Mir, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson

Bellator president Scott Coker is already on record saying he has interest in Lesnar.

Coker told Helwani on Monday that he’d want Lesnar “if he’s truly available.” A potential hangup here is contractual. Lesnar is no longer under contract with WWE, but his old deal with the UFC might still be in effect. It’s unclear if that was fulfilled by the Hunt fight at UFC 200 or thereafter. If Lesnar is still under some kind of contract with the UFC, that would make a Bellator signing a long shot.

On the other hand, Bellator has one of the best opponents for Lesnar: Emelianenko. The UFC was never able to make Lesnar vs. Fedor. The promotion tried. The wish was to book that fight in 2012 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. The idea fell apart when Emelianenko didn’t sign with the UFC. White has said that is the only fight the UFC was unable to make that he wanted most. Could it happen in Bellator sometime in the future? It’s unlikely, but perhaps not totally out of the realm of possibility.

Chance Lesnar signs with Bellator: 10 percent


Promotion: New Japan Pro-Wrestling

Top matches: Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Minoru Suzuki

It’s improbable that NJPW could afford Lesnar on its own, even though it is owned by Japanese entertainment conglomerate Bushiroad and backed by powerful broadcast partner Fuji TV. However, NJPW could come into play in a joint deal with another promotion, such as AEW. Several of AEW’s top stars also work for New Japan, like Jericho and Moxley.

Lesnar is no stranger to Japan. He wrestled for New Japan in 2005 and 2006 after leaving WWE the first time and Lesnar’s first MMA fight was promoted by Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG), a Japanese company, under the “Dynamite” brand.

Chance Lesnar signs with NJPW: 5 percent


Promotion: ONE Championship

Top fights: Vitor Belfort, Brandon Vera, Amir Aliakbari

ONE has plenty of money behind it. There’s no doubt the Singapore-based promotion and its slew of blue-chip investors could afford Lesnar on paper, but would the matchups be scintillating enough to make signing Lesnar worth the investment? That doesn’t seem likely.

ONE’s biggest name in the heavier weight classes is Belfort, and he’s spent a good amount of his career fighting at 185 pounds. However, ONE is trying to make a bigger splash in the United States and signed a broadcast deal last year with Turner — much like AEW. Could AEW, ONE and Turner team up on a deal for Lesnar that would include wrestling and MMA? Probably not likely, but when it comes to one of the biggest stars in combat sports history it’s hard to remove anything from the table.

Chance Lesnar signs with ONE: 5 percent

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