clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Saturday Night's Mania Event: Brock Lesnar is losing his luster as the UFC's top draw

Tonight I bring you the debut of Saturday Night's Mania Event (SNME), a feature column I will be doing every Saturday night that isn't occupied by a UFC or Strikeforce event.

What can you expect from SNME?

It will be a revolving door of thoughts, rants, opinions and debates. I'll bring in a guest every now and again and, in the spirit of the feature's name, we'll square off on whatever MMA topic has caught our attention.

Up first, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Brock Lesnar or better yet, the beginning of the end of his reign as a mega-draw in the sport. Let me be clear in saying, he is still undoubtedly the number one ticket in MMA. However, that is slowly, but surely, coming to a close.

There are more than a few reasons for this but there were two decisions, made with the best intentions, which have exposed one glaring flaw in the big man's personality. His participation in the Primetime series leading up to his UFC 121 fight against Cain Velasquez and his becoming a coach for season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) have shown the true nature of the beast.

And the unfortunate fact of the matter is that Lesnar is mundane. He's monotonous. He is, to put it bluntly, boring. 

That's not a bad thing in everyday life. It doesn't mean he's a bad human being. It just means he won't sell the tickets the UFC so badly wants him to.

And it's only going to get worse.

There was a time when Brock Lesnar was a lightning rod. An unstoppable promotional freight train. All he had to do is show up and hundreds of thousands of fans paid to see him. 

That's all well and good but that initial curiosity that came with his debut with the UFC, against Frank Mir back in Feb. 2008 at UFC 81, has worn off. His six fights with the promotion have shown us all we need to see in order to evaluate his worth as a fighter.

That was a small part of the initial allure. "I wonder how this fake fighter (read: pro wrestler) will do when the punches are real?" the fans asked. If he wants to execute a suplex, he'll have to do it on his own power instead of his opponent jumping to help make it look good to get him over. 

Well, we found out. He was actually pretty good. Sure, he nearly got his leg torn off by Mir, but he looked like a monster before he tapped out. He was every bit the hulking behemoth of a man that is so difficult to ignore. His losing, but nearly killing Mir before doing so, was enough to make fans want to come back.

Not many new fans tuned into his next fight, however. The buyrate for UFC 81 was a reported 600,000. His next fight, a unanimous decision win over Heath Herring? 625,000. He looked good, not great, but it was this fight that he threw in a bit of the personality his time with WWE instilled in him, the showmanship of an entertainer who knows he needs to do more than just show up to make the fans want to come back.

After rolling through Herring for three rounds, Lesnar had some fun at his expense toward the end of the fight. He took his back, and rode "The Texas Crazy Horse," lasso and all. When the horn sounded, Brock pointed at Heath and laughed out loud.

He LOL'd at a man, straight to his face, after literally beating his face in.

That's what a character does, a heel character. Lesnar was the bad guy and that was perfect because bad guys sell. And what sells even more than a bad guy who talks big?

A bad guy who backs it up.

So it was all the better, and a brilliant move by the UFC, to match him up against the number one good guy in the organization, Randy Couture. With the heavyweight title on the line, no less.

The numbers for that pay-per-view, UFC 91 in Las Vegas, came in at 1.01 million buys, just the second time in the history of the promotion that an event had hit that magic mark.

And it was all thanks to Brock and the storyline character that he had created and the UFC had facilitated. He won the belt, in impressive fashion, and set up the biggest fight in the history of the sport, a rematch against Frank Mir at UFC 100.

The event was historic for the iconic number associated with it, and the company promoted it as such with a triple-main event card, but make no mistake; Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir was THE main event to end all main events. 

And like a good little promotional tool, Brock played the role perfectly, with Mir right in step trading barbs in the media to build anticipation to a level never seen before. 

By the time the fight was over, once again working out as beautifully for the UFC as possible, we had witnessed what essentially amounted to a snuff film. He brutalized Mir, and when he was done rearranging his face, he snapped. 

He turned into the Brockness Monster. The heel that plays to the crowd that loves to hate him.

He walked straight up to Mir, who was still being attended to by doctors, and told him to "talk all the shit you want now." Then he proceeded to flip off the live crowd while waving his hands for them to boo harder -- boo louder.

The fans ate it up, showering him with their hatred. Real or imagined, it doesn't matter.

Not only did he do all that, he went so far as to cut a heel promo when interviewed post-fight by Joe Rogan, taking a proverbial dump on the UFC's top sponsor before saying he was thinking of going home and "getting on top" of his wife.

This man was an abomination. He was a disgrace to the very principles martial arts were built upon. He was a genetic freak pro wrestler who bullies people with his overwhelming size and massive ego.

He was marvelous.

Everything a must-see bad guy needs to be, that's what he was. Emphasis on the past tense because that man is gone now. That night was the last we would see of that mega-heel we all loved to hate.

He was replaced by a soft-spoken, well-meaning, easygoing guy, who is just happy to be where he is in life. The fact that he nearly died due to an intestinal disorder following the Mir rematch has a lot to do with that. A brush with death would change any man, even one as seemingly invincible as Lesnar.

But there have been other factors that have slowly eroded the perception so many now share of the once-great champion.

His continued successes inside the Octagon naturally led to more difficult match-ups. The first being Shane Carwin, who battered and blasted Lesnar around the cage, handing his ass to him in every way, shape and form. His lack of endurance, however, opened the door for Brock, a supremely well-conditioned athlete, to make a comeback for the ages. 

But the damage was already done. The chinks in the armor were made visible. The door was now open; it just needed an able-bodied heavyweight to burst through it.

That man was Cain Velasquez, who ran right through Lesnar in under a round just over three months later. The combined pay-per-view buys for those two shows, UFC 116 and UFC 121, were right around 2.2 million. That's how many people watched Lesnar get destroyed and look every bit like a boy in a man's game.

The unstoppable monster was officially dead.

But that was okay because that's not the major reason fans tuned in to see him. They tuned in for the mammoth man that didn't care what anyone thought and said whatever he wanted.

The UFC, though, made two fateful decisions that went a long way in stripping away the character that fans paid their hard-earned money to see. The first was making him the focus of a "Primetime" series in the lead-up to the Velasquez fight and the second was having him as a coach on TUF.

The "Primetime" series showed Brock as he really is -- a stoic and private man with very few wide-ranging interests. He is nothing like the heel character that fans loved to boo. The image he projects when he's just being himself is one of indifference.

This has made itself even more evident in the first episode of season 13 of TUF. He no longer looms large. He doesn't radiate the charisma he once did. We're not pulled to him the way we used to be.

The larger than life character, the one that we saw when the cameras were rolling but disappeared behind closed doors is gone.

Maybe it was mostly because of his dance with death but the fact is, the UFC asked too much of him. They put a camera at every corner and eventually the character dissipated and the actual man shined through.

The problem is -- that man is insipid.

It's sad, really. In just over a year, Lesnar lost his perception as an unstoppable force, his heavyweight title and the personality that made him the biggest star in the history of the sport.

It's not unrealistic to think the UFC, for all its promotional savvy, senses this. They understand the game as well as anyone and they know their mega-star is on wobbly legs. It's entirely possible the decision to put him on TUF was the last effort to draw as much as they could from his dwindling star-power. 

If Lesnar loses to Junior dos Santos at the conclusion of the show, at the age of 33 years-old, it could very well mark the end of his time as a top draw in the sport.

After all, what will be left? His standing among the elite? The character and allure that made him a star?

Find your new nemesis, ladies and gentlemen. This one is at the end of his rope with little hope of a climb back to the top.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Mania Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Mania