When Brock Lesnar walked into the Octagon on July 7 and shoved newly crowned heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, the sellout crowd at T-Mobile Arena let the world know what it thought of the potential match with its collective roar:
The crowd’s reaction in the arena that night reminded me of three other memorable moments: UFC 52, when Matt Hughes slammed Frank Trigg in a welterweight title bout; UFC 68, when Randy Couture dropped Tim Sylvia early in their fight; and UFC 194, when Conor McGregor kayoed Jose Aldo.
The reaction by the crowd to Lesnar’s entrance and ensuing shove of Cormier was all the evidence UFC president Dana White needed to know that the next fight to make was Cormier-Lesnar for the heavyweight title.
That, of course, sparked immediate reaction, much of it negative. The most notable negative voice came from deposed champion Stipe Miocic, who called the situation “a s–t show,” during an interview Monday with ESPN’s Ariel Helwani.
Miocic, widely regarded as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history, wants a rematch and knows that if Cormier fights Lesnar, he’s unlikely to get one. Cormier has set a hard date of March 20, 2019 – his 40th birthday – for his retirement.
Given Cormier has a broken right hand and won’t be able to train for about two months, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to fight twice in that span, meaning it’s Lesnar and then retirement.
That will rob Miocic of the opportunity to avenge his loss, and it’s seen by some as evidence of the UFC’s preference for style over substance.
The point that Miocic and those who agree with him make is that by letting someone like Lesnar jump the line, it cheapens the title and makes the UFC more entertainment and less sport.
There is, no doubt, merit to that statement, but there is also much merit to the other side.
For those who complain that the UFC ignores its rankings when matchmaking, remember Bellator in its tournament days. The company was on life support, because the tournament format didn’t lend itself to exciting fights.
Like anything, it requires a balanced approach.
Fans need to understand that the fight game is a business and the fighters need to maximize their earnings when they have the chance because they all have short careers.
Cormier getting a bout with Lesnar at this stage is his free-agent moment, like Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw or Mike Trout being available to all Major League Baseball teams.
Cormier would make a lot of money fighting Miocic in a rematch, and a lot more if a strong card was put underneath it like was the case at UFC 226.
But Cormier will make more by fighting Lesnar – many multiples more – than he would by fighting anyone else, stacked undercard or not.
And so while Miocic unquestionably deserves a rematch, Cormier deserves the opportunity to take a fight in which he’ll potentially make more money in one night than he had in his career combined.
Critics of that might say that $6 million is a lot of money, and it is, but it’s not the $25 million or more that Cormier could conceivably rake in for fighting Lesnar.
This gets back to fighters marketing themselves. Not everyone has the kind of personality to turn themselves into a mega-star, but every last one of them has the ability to improve their name recognition and notoriety.
Promoting fights is a difficult and thankless task, and many fighters have shied away from it, preferring only to concentrate on the competitive aspects of the job. That is fine, but that person needs to then understand that he/she is never going to make the mega-payday.
McGregor himself declined to attend a news conference and lost a spot at UFC 200 by refusing to do it. It takes a lot of work, concentration and patience.
But when fighters commit to doing it, as McGregor has, as Ronda Rousey has, as Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao have, the potential pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is larger than one could have ever imagined.
As great of a boxer as Floyd Mayweather was throughout his career, he didn’t get a $100 million guarantee to fight Manny Pacquiao because of his ability to slip a punch. He became the highest paid athlete in sports because he knew how to make the fans care and want to see him compete.
So when you say it’s not fair that Lesnar, who is coming off a drug suspension and hasn’t had a win since 2010, is getting a title shot ahead of the far-more qualified Miocic, remember this: It’s also not fair for Cormier to have to go home and tell his family he can’t take the Lesnar bout and will instead accept a significantly harder match for a quarter of the money.
It’s easy to sympathize with Miocic, who clearly deserves the shot. But given that a fighter’s pay is largely generated based on how much the fans want to see him fight, it’s hard to complain that Cormier is taking the bout that will set him up for life.
Every one of us would make the same call in a similar situation.
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