The relationship between mixed martial arts and professional wrestling has always been uneasy.
Hardcore MMA fans bristle at the crossover of real sport and its scripted cousin, but this ignores obvious similarities between the two. The behind-the-scenes architect of the UFC’s success, former longtime matchmaker Joe Silva, grew up watching Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, which built superstars like Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, and Ricky Steamboat, and mimicked the model, minus the ability to pick the winners.
On the other hand, hardcore wrestling fans seem constantly on the lookout for ways to legitimize their pastime, and will often strain to find comparisons between the two. If UFC president Dana White was discovered to be eating a sandwich, they’ll claim WWE promoter Vince McMahon ate a sandwich first, and thus White was copying McMahon.
The in-cage showdown between UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and current WWE wrestler and former UFC heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar following Cormier’s first-round knockout victory over Stipe Miocic at UFC 226 on Saturday night fell somewhere in the gray area between the two.
Lesnar’s profane tirade in the cage, after which he shoved both a camera and Cormier, was enough to offend the righteous sensibilities of hardcore MMA fans while also giving wrestling fans the ability to point at a wrestling star’s involvement in a major sporting event.
And that might be just the right combination of notes to make Lesnar the front-runner to get the next fight with Cormier.
Unlike Conor McGregor, the only other fighter who ever held multiple UFC weight-class belts at the same time, Cormier plans on defending one — and perhaps both — championships after becoming a dual titleholder.
And he’s put a deadline of his 40th birthday, which is on March 20. So that likely means, while holding two titles, he’s going to have, at most, two fights in that span.
It also means that he’s going to chase after the biggest possible payday, which is why Lesnar, despite having precisely one fight in the past seven years, and without an official victory in eight, is near the top of the list.
Cormier is a wrestling fan dating back to the days of Mid-South Wrestling in his early childhood in Louisiana, and he has a message for those self-appointed guardians of sporting purity, which include many of his fellow fighters.
“You guys call it fake online,” Cormier said at the UFC 226 post-fight news conference. “I see a bunch of fighters. ‘Oh, it’s so fake, I don’t want to watch this.’ Tune in and keep lacing my pockets. You guys gotta get on board. These guys get on the microphone after their fights and say, ‘Yeah, it’s whatever the UFC decides.’ OK.”
Another option would be a third fight with his longtime rival, Jon Jones. Jones looked desperate in trying to get Cormier’s attention in the weeks before UFC 226 by making comments about Cormier’s wife on Twitter, and DC returned the favor by never mentioning Jones during his postfight interview.
But there’s no doubt a final showdown between the two would also be big business, particularly if Cormier chose to add a new wrinkle by insisting the fight be held at heavyweight. Both of their first two bouts were contested at light heavyweight, and while Cormier was competitive in each, he ultimately lost both (the second was later overturned after Jones flunked a post-fight drug test).
How would Cormier fare if he didn’t have to drain himself to get down to 205 pounds, a situation which got worse as the years went on? Minus a big weight cut, and with the heavyweight punch power that took out Miocic, we may have a whole new ballgame if DC and Jones clash.
Of course, we have yet to address the elephant in the room with both Lesnar and Jones: Both have run afoul of USADA’s PED testing program. Lesnar tested positive for banned substances after his UFC 200 victory over Mark Hunt. He must participate in the USADA random testing pool for six months and complete his suspension before he’s eligible to fight again, which means he won’t be eligible to fight until January. Jones is still under suspension due to his positive test after last summer’s Cormier fight, and still awaits word from USADA on his final punishment.
So where would Cormier turn if neither Lesnar nor Jones were available? A Miocic rematch seems the next-best option. While it will be awhile before pay-per-view figures come in, UFC 226 did a gate of just over $5.6 million, making it the ninth-biggest MMA gate ever in Las Vegas, indicating solid public interest.
After Miocic, things drop off quick, which is bad news for other contenders in both divisions. Cormier defeated top light heavyweight challenger Alexander Gustafsson via split decision at UFC 192, a match which was an artistic success but a bomb at the box office. Heavyweight, beyond Miocic, features a gaggle of contenders who aren’t quite ready yet, over the hill, or on the sidelines due to injury or suspension.
Which is why, at the end of the day, Cormier doesn’t care much what you think about whether or not Lesnar is the real deal.
“Brock Lesnar is the champion of the WWE,” Cormier said. “So, when he comes over here, there’s no script. There’s no Vince McMahon saying, ‘Hey DC, easy on the punches.’ … The moment Brock Lesnar punches me, I’m gonna get in his ass. And we’re gonna have him running across that Octagon like a lot of other dudes did. So he can be big and bad and tough right now. But once that cage door closes, he’s gonna have to answer for his words.”
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