It just didn't feel right.
Walking through the Mandalay Bay Events Center casino to watch Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir collide in the UFC 100 main event in July 2009, it was clear that the promotion was hanging its hat on the former World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) star.
Lesnar was everywhere, staring at me and every other fight fan in town to watch the biggest pay-per-view (PPV) event in the promotion's relatively short history. His likeness and/or image was wrapped around everything, from taxi cabs to blackjack tables to beer bottles.
He was inescapable.
It wasn't hard to figure out the reason: Lesnar was and still is a massive box office draw. He was fresh off the biggest win of his newfound mixed martial arts (MMA) career -- a technical knockout of UFC Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture -- and he was on the verge winning the division's undisputed title in a rematch against Mir.
Still, it didn't feel right.
Especially considering that perhaps the best fighter in the sport, Georges St. Pierre, was relegated to co main event status. In hindsight, I theorized, this would be viewed as a major blunder. Lesnar -- a WWE goon and NFL drop out -- headlining the UFC's centennial event?
He ultimately proved me wrong, defeating Mir handily and then defending the title once more against Shane Carwin one year later. Lesnar trains hard, leveraging his natural-born gifts and freakish athleticism to excel in a sport in which most fail. He's earned my respect (not like it matters much) over time with his exploits inside the Octagon.
Nonetheless, his "fake" past haunts me because of how others -- mainstream, fringe fans -- might view it as a knock on MMA. If Lesnar can do it, so, too, can "The Miz" or John Cena. That's clearly not the case -- Lesnar is the impressive and determined exception, certainly not the rule.
The good news as we head into yet another historic moment in MMA time is that Lesnar is no longer the division champion. On the contrary, Cain Velasquez whooped him in Oct. 2010 to claim the title. Meanwhile, a dangerous Brazilian, Junior dos Santos, climbed his way up the ranks, winning two number one contender eliminator matches to literally earn his date with destiny tonight (Nov. 12, 2011) in the UFC on Fox 1 main event.
Velasquez and dos Santos certainly aren't the marketable forces like Lesnar. No, they are talented, humble fighters who have worked diligently, quietly, to get to where they are today, which is likely the most important fight in the promotion's history. No colorful pasts rooted in kayfabe or over-the-top antics that would make new, unsuspecting fight fans think twice about the legitimacy of MMA today.
"Velasquez vs. Dos Santos" is an important fight. One with long-term significance and ramifications of the future of the sport. One with two fighters who represent themselves, as well as the sport, with dignity and respect.
One that feels right.
REMEMBER: MMAmania.com will provide LIVE blow-by-blow, round-by-round coverage of UFC on FOX 1, beginning with the preliminary card bouts on Facebook scheduled for 5:00 p.m. ET. In addition, we will also provide LIVE, real-time results of the heavyweight championship bout as it happens later this evening at 9 p.m. ET.