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Brock Lesnar Is Probably Coming Back to the UFC (But It Doesn’t Matter. Here’s Why)

(Brock Lesnar flashes a rare smile after being informed he’s the highest-paid 5-3 fighter of all time. / Photo via Getty)

By Matt Saccaro

Brock Lesnar will likely return to the UFC in 2015, but it won’t usher in a new golden age for MMA.

The news of Lesnar’s UFC return came recently. Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that “within the [WWE], the belief is that he’s going back to the UFC, and his showing up lighter to TV last week confirmed that to people who thought it.”

Earlier this year, UFC President Dana White expressed openness to a Lesnar return, and even claimed Lesnar was willing to return. “We have a great relationship with him,” said White. “We’ll see what happens.”

Furthermore, Lesnar’s longtime friend Paul Heyman noted this summer that Lesnar still has an intense drive to compete in the Octagon.

Unlike every other time Brock Lesnar’s name has been in the headlines over the last few years, this round of “Is Lesnar coming back” speculation isn’t a gimmick to drive up pageviews during a slow news week. This appears to be the real deal. Lesnar is coming back. However, unlike conventional wisdom would have you believe, it won’t do a damn thing to turn the UFC’s fortunes around.

The UFC’s PPV buys plummeted throughout 2014, hitting an estimated low of 115,000 for UFC 174. The 2014 yearly average for PPV buys was only 256,000 — about 200,000 lower than the previous three years. The UFC’s business soured so much Standard & Poor’s downgraded Zuffa’s credit rating and financial outlook.

MMA fans have problems interpreting numbers, so let me spell it out plainly: The UFC’s domestic popularity hasn’t been this low since before the Ultimate Fighter boom. The PPV market is collapsing. The FOX deal is not the UFC’s catapult to mainstream super-stardom we all thought it would be. Casual fans have fled MMA, only to return sparingly for free television shows and almost never for PPVs. The resolve of hardcore fans, tasked with keeping the sport alive during its dark times, is withering. These problems are a result of Zuffa’s oversaturation approach as well as the fading/retirement of old stars. I’ve discussed both these problems numerous times so I won’t repeat myself suffice it to say one man can’t fix the MMA marketplace in the United States.

Brock Lesnar last fought at UFC 141 in 2011 against Alistair Overeem. Care to guess the buyrate? A mediocre 535,000. UFC 91 in 2008 — the first event Lesnar headlined, this time against Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight title — drew 1,010,000 buys.

Only half as many people cared to see Lesnar in 2011 compared to 2009. So how many people will care in 2015, four years and thousands of brand-killing, generic, unfit-for-television-and-PPV fights (that still made it onto television and PPV) later? Furthermore, Lesnar is 37 now. The last memories people have of him in the cage are Alistair Overeem liquefying his intestines with a body kick and Cain Velasquez punching him so hard he did a hilarious pirouette across the cage. Even if the UFC matches Lesnar up against the Brendan Schaubs of the heavyweight division, it’s not likely given Lesnar’s age that his second UFC run will be longer than his first.

Think about it this way, MMA is in such a state that if Lesnar’s first PPV back draws 500k buys it’ll be a tremendous success. Four plus years ago that same number would’ve been an abject failure for someone of Lesnar’s name value.

Brock Lesnar’s return is not the salvation of MMA. It’s not the restoration of MMA’s golden age. It’s Zuffa throwing two or three fight’s worth of kindling onto a dying fire — LIVE for $59.99.

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