UFC debate: Why Brock Lesnar should(n’t) return to fight Jon Jones


UFC president Dana White said Tuesday night that a fight against Brock Lesnar would be a good way to introduce Jon Jones to the heavyweight division.

But would it be?

Lesnar is 43 and hasn’t fought in the UFC since July 29, 2016, when a lackluster win over Mark Hunt was declared a no-contest because of a failed drug test.

On the other hand, there isn’t a bigger name Jones could face in his heavyweight debut than Lesnar, including champion Stipe Miocic, and Jones already indicated on social media he’s all for it.

ESPN reporters Brett Okamoto and Marc Raimondi have opposing viewpoints on a possible Lesnar return to the UFC, and they’re here to make their cases.

Brett: Well, Marc, I know you have some interest in seeing Lesnar fight again … because you tweeted as much a few weeks ago before we even know he was close to free agency. And I guess a good way for us to start this conversation is for you to tell me … Why? Why on earth do you want to see this man fight again? Do you remember UFC 200? Did you enjoy Lesnar’s appearance there? Because I don’t think many people did. Explain yourself.

Marc: Yes, indeed. I do have quite a bit of interest in seeing Brock Lesnar fight again in the UFC. And maybe, just maybe when I tweeted about that interest two weeks before this news broke I had some kind of inkling this would come up. To answer your question, I do remember UFC 200 quite vividly. I remember Lesnar executing a perfect game plan and beating Mark Hunt, a pretty well-regarded heavyweight, in one-sided fashion — with Lesnar coming off a nearly four-year layoff. Sure, the victory was later overturned to a no-contest due to a Lesnar positive drug test. But, like anything with Lesnar, it’s hard to keep your eyes off him. He’s one of the most unique, magnetic attractions in the history of combat sports, in my humble opinion.

Brett: Yes. He beat Mark Hunt, who is a legend, and a very exciting fighter … but also the same Mark Hunt who has lost five of his past six fights and hasn’t fought since 2018. I don’t think it’s out of line to suggest the Mark Hunt that Lesnar fought that night wasn’t exactly in his prime. And how did Lesnar win? Executing a perfect game plan? Normally, I would say that’s fun. I like game plans. I like watching the sport at its highest level. But when you’re talking about an older heavyweight, who has put his body through the rigors over the course of his lifetime, a “perfect game plan” might look something like … awkward, slow feints, a takedown here and there, picking and choosing your shots … that’s not exactly entertaining Marc! And I know it’s not entertaining because I watched it! And I remember the crowd was less than enthralled by it. So, now we want to see that again? Four years later? And by the way, I’m not hating on Lesnar. The man is one of the great entertainers of our time AND he legitimately won the UFC heavyweight title. I’m not taking anything away from him. But him showing up at a UFC news conference now, cracking a dry joke or two and then fighting at age 43 … I just don’t find anything entertaining about that. And I kind of didn’t at UFC 200, either.

Marc: I do get your perspective. No, Lesnar vs. Hunt was not the most exciting fight I’ve ever seen. But it wasn’t the worst I’ve ever seen, either. Besides, Lesnar has always been more about his mystique and aura outside the Octagon, not necessarily exciting fights inside of it. People will absolutely still pay to see him fight. If he does return to the UFC, he’s immediately one of the top three draws in the promotion. Would you disagree? And ultimately, that’s what this is, right? The UFC is a business and Lesnar brings more eyes — and pay-per-view buys — than anyone in UFC history, outside of Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey and Georges St-Pierre. If that wasn’t the case, then Dana White wouldn’t even be entertaining the idea of Lesnar coming back to fight Jon Jones.

Brett: Well, yeah, of course. Lesnar equals money. I’m definitely not debating that. I’m just saying I have zero interest in Lesnar fighting again, and honestly, I don’t really understand the appeal of it anymore to anyone. I get it from the simplest sense: “Hey, I know that guy. That’s Brock Lesnar!” That alone is worth something in combat sports, but man, I don’t get it this time. And I will say, I do think that ship is starting to sail. Lesnar’s free agency is still big news, of course, but it’s not as big as it used to be. And I think the MMA world collectively rolls its eyes a bit, because we’ve seen this before. We’ve seen Lesnar use the idea of an MMA return to get paid more in wrestling, which I’m guessing is happening here. But I’ll defer to you on that, because you know more about the wrestling world than I do (Nothing. I know nothing about the wrestling world.) You actually think Lesnar might come back?

Marc: I do think there’s a chance. But what you said is most likely true. No one has been better about pitting the UFC and WWE against each other like Lesnar. Remember when his WWE contract was coming up in 2015 and he just so happened to show up at UFC 184 in Los Angeles to watch Ronda Rousey? This is a guy who hates to leave his ranch in Saskatchewan and get on planes, yet he flew to L.A. to sit with Dana White at Staples Center. It obviously made big news, but WWE ended up ponying up and Lesnar went back there. The UFC was a tease. However, it wasn’t a tease just one year after that when Lesnar did show up to fight Hunt at UFC 200. There’s one major reason why I do think Lesnar might come back. He is 43 years old, so the window for him ever doing another MMA fight is closing rapidly. Lesnar is motivated by money and providing for his family, but he is also an intense competitor. He truly loves to compete. And he knows that a longer UFC run was robbed from him by diverticulitis. I’ve heard from several people who know him that he wants the Jones fight. He does not like Jones, from what I have heard. That might be the contest to bring him back.

Brett: Yeah, and I will say this about the whole thing: If Lesnar comes back to MMA — which, right now seems doubtful to me (although not impossible) — the ONLY fight I would have the slightest interest in seeing him in is against Jon Jones. And that sounds weird, when I say it. Why do I have no interest in seeing Lesnar fight, unless it’s against the greatest fighter of all time? The answer is because that would actually mean something. Lesnar coming back for a one-off just because he wants to, like what happened at UFC 200, wasn’t intriguing to me. There are a lot of retired athletes out there who would love to play one more game, but it doesn’t happen because it’s not that interesting. It’s not interesting to me to watch a guy fight past his prime, just for the sake of it. But if Lesnar comes back and fights Jones, to me, it’s WWE infiltrating the UFC. We kind of already know the outcome, right? But man, Jones is moving to heavyweight, the UFC already has a great heavyweight title fight between Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou with Jones likely to face the winner. But what if Jones got to play off Brock Lesnar, engage with him in a news conference, and build his star power before he fights for the heavyweight title? That’s a great story, and great business. And for Lesnar, he gets that ever so small opportunity to maybe, just maybe, be the guy to beat Jones. It’s probably not going to happen. But what a story. So, if that happens, I’m in. Anything else — well, I’m still in because it’s my job, but I don’t see the appeal in it. Are you the same? Or you actually think Lesnar could come back and be more than just a villain to Jones before he fights for the title?

Marc: I think you pretty accurately captured why I would have so much interest in that fight. To me, the idea of Lesnar, an athletic, 285-pound behemoth, coming in and fighting a 230-pound Jones would be incredibly interesting. The greatest fighter of all time taking on the greatest attraction of all time is epic. Just seeing those two facing off with each other would send people into a frenzy. It would be great theater, and the UFC, for all intents and purposes, is show business. And there would be doubt about who would win, absolutely. You and I both know Jones should be a heavy favorite. But there could be that Mayweather vs. McGregor effect where people buy into Lesnar, the bigger, stronger man, taking out Jones due to sheer size and strength. Lesnar has been involved in pro wrestling for nearly two decades. He’s good at making people believe. And I think that will be the case for a Jones fight. I do think Jones will be able to pick him apart on the feet, maybe even put him on his back and do damage from the top. What do you see that fight looking like? Because I have a hard time picturing it in my mind’s eye. That’s part of my fascination.

Brett: A lion playing with its food. A younger, better fighter beating an older one. Jones standing at a distance, with a significant speed advantage, stabbing his jab and kicks into the poor midsection of Lesnar. Kicking out his legs. Turning that 285-pound behemoth you just mentioned into an immobile heavy bag. Jones is a good wrestler, as you know. He has been in there with Daniel Cormier, who had a better shot at taking him down than a 43-year-old Lesnar. But all of this is to say, I’m still with it. It’s the Mayweather vs. McGregor effect, as you mentioned. It’s the spectacle, and it would help Jones a lot, because as great as he is, he has never been considered a superstar. If he goes in there and has some good back-and-forth with Lesnar before the fight, and then has fun destroying him in the Octagon (which, actually, if you think about it, Jones has received some criticism as of late because of playing it safe) … if he were to treat this as a spectacle and beat Lesnar with style, he could see a bigger increase to his brand than he’s seen in years. Damn it, Marc. Now I want to see it. But only this one fight. And in a weird way, it does make sense for everyone. Jones gets a bump in star power. UFC gets a big fight. Lesnar gets a ton of money (presumably) and a chance to shock the world, if the competitive side of him truly wants that. I’m sold.

Marc: Exactly. I couldn’t have said it any better myself. And you say you don’t know anything about pro wrestling. What you said is Pro Wrestling 101. Know why? Because MMA and pro wrestling have the same business model. So … want to cover WrestleMania with me next year?

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