LAS VEGAS – Brock Lesnar's four-year foray into mixed martial arts apparently ended on Friday night. He announced his retirement in the Octagon after losing to Alistair Overeem in just 2:26 in the main event of UFC 141 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The announcement apparently blindsided UFC president Dana White, who said he had no indication his former heavyweight champion was going to call it quits. But he said that this isn't a sport for people who don't want to be there.
"I had no idea he was going to do that," White said at the post-fight news conference. "Am I surprised? No. He's made a lot of money in his career. He's achieved a lot of things.
"Brock came to me one night here at the MGM [in 2007]. He said he wanted to fight in the UFC and I laughed. He had only had one fight. What that man accomplished coming in with only one fight is amazing. I get it. I doesn't shock me. But I didn't know it was coming.
"When a guy wants to retire, it's his thing," White said. "This isn't a game where you hit a ball with a stick. You don't half-ass this stuff. When you know it's over, it's over. The bad part is when I think it's over and the guy doesn't."
In his post-fight interview, Lesnar said that he promised his wife, Rena, a former pro wrestling star and Playboy cover girl who was a celebrity in the late 1990s known as "Sable," that if he won, he would challenge Junior dos Santos for the heavyweight title, the shot promised to the winner of the Lesnar-Overeem scrap.
He said even if he had won the title in that fight, he then would have retired as champion.
Lesnar did not attend the post-fight news conference. He told White that he believed one of his ribs was broken by the kick to the liver that was the key finishing blow of the fight. Lesnar had taken several hard knees to the body in the short fight.
He had surgery on May 27, in which 12 inches of his intestine was removed after recurring attacks of diverticulitis. There was obvious question as to whether his body would be able to hold up to hard shots, and that was the spot at which Overeem aimed his offense.
"My hat's off to Alistair Overeem," Lesnar said in the Octagon after the fight. "I want to take my hat off to all my training partners, to my wife, my family. I've had a really difficult couple of years with my disease. I'm going to say officially, tonight was the last time you'll see me in the Octagon. I want to thank everyrone. I want to thank the Fertittas [co-founders of Zuffa, UFC's parent company]. Brock Lesnar is officially retired. I promised my wife and kids, if I won I'd get a title shot and it would be my last fight. It's been a pleasure."
Going in, the fight was expected to be quick. The thinking went that either Lesnar would take down Overeem and hurt him on the ground and finish him quickly, or he would not take down Overeem and the world champion kickboxer would finish Lesnar quickly and brutally in a standing fight.
[ Related: Kevin Iole's complete UFC 141 recap ]
But Lesnar never really committed to his wrestling game. There was one moment when he briefly went for a single-leg takedown but didn't get it right away and gave up on it. He never really committed a shot for a takedown, or even tried upper body control to push Overeem against the fence and soften him up from short range before trying to get him down.
This came just seven weeks after Junior dos Santos' first-round knockout of Cain Velasquez for the UFC heavyweight title, where Velasquez's coaches' battle plan was to get the fight to the ground and Velasquez also didn't commit to a wrestling game. Lesnar and White were doing commentary on that fight, and White questioned Velasquez's strategy.
"I have the same assessment," White said of Friday's fight. "When you're in with a striker, you don't stay in his range. He was close and grabbed a single and didn't commit to it. I'm not a trainer. I'm nobody's coach. I don't understand why he wouldn't take one shot, especially when you're getting kicked and hit."
While Lesnar had talked about how he hadn't felt this good in years since recovering from his surgery, and physically looked in great shape, there were natural questions coming into the fight. He had a 14-month layoff and had taken a beating in his prior two fights. There was the surgery, being 34, an age most wrestlers are past their peak in their original sport.
And even though he had fought nothing but top-level competition in his four years in UFC, it was only his eighth pro fight, so he was both older and still relatively inexperienced in MMA. He did not have the skill level, aside from the wrestling, of his elite opponents in the heavyweight division.
Lesnar's success was based on superior athletic ability, a combination of his power wrestling and amazing speed at that size. But speed often fades with age, and physically, he had beaten up his body for several years after college as a pro wrestler. Although wrestling is entertainment and not sport, it is, in the view of most who have done both, harder on the body than MMA because of the constant travel.
So even though Lesnar was world champion and became one of the biggest drawing cards in the history of the pay-per-view industry, his career, ending with a 5-3 record, always will be the subject of debate. Some will dismiss him as an overhyped freak show, the UFC's answer to Kimbo Slice, as a man lucky to face an aging and undersized world heavyweight champion in Randy Couture and a Shane Carwin whose body shut down and was easy pickings.
Of course, that would ignore his total destruction of Frank Mir, who has proved time after time to be a top-level heavyweight. Others will point to how amazing it was that, after years away from competitive sports – his NCAA title was in 2000 and he started in UFC eight years later, at age 30 – that he was able to beat top guys in their own sport.
But the real story of Lesnar is a question of what could have been. What would have happened had MMA been a viable professional sport that would have offered a competitive pay scale to pro wrestling when he was 22 and his athletic ability was at his peak? Would he have been able to develop all the skills in the manner of someone like Velasquez? What would have happened if he had not developed diverticulitis because it was clear he never was the same after his near-fatal attack at the end of 2009?
The other question is what is next. Lesnar earned millions in his few years in the sport, in the range of $3 million or more, not including endorsements, in each of his four previous fights.
Overeem, who talked about how he really had enjoyed watching Lesnar fights because of the excitement they brought, said he hoped Lesnar would stay in the sport.
"My thought is I think he shouldn't walk away," said the new No. 1 contender. "Love him or hate him, but it's always something exciting when Brock's fighting. He's a guy who goes for it. He achieved a lot in a short span. It's a shame if he stops now. I think there's more in the game for him." Whether true or not, the speculation was abuzz that Lesnar's retirement was the signal of a return to pro wrestling, where he was a major star from 2002 to 2004, and he's far more famous now than he was then. If that happens, it almost surely will be on a limited basis because he is well-known for hating the travel demands that went with the profession.
It is well-known that WWE boss Vince McMahon wanted Lesnar to appear at last year's WrestleMania to face The Undertaker, but Lesnar was under an exclusive contract to UFC and Dana White wasn't going to let his biggest draw do a show for a rival pay-per-view entity.
All week there had been rumors that had Lesnar lost, he may retire and go back to pro wrestling. But White confirmed Lesnar had significant time once again left on his contract. The subject clearly was something White didn't want to talk much about, particularly with the bombshell that Lesnar, had he won the title, was going to retire as champion. That would have made it possible for him to walk back into pro wrestling as the rightful UFC champion, which would have been a tremendous marketing coup for McMahon.
Lesnar leaving UFC as a champion and conquering hero in another arena is far more valuable to McMahon than Lesnar as a guest star coming off two straight losses.
"I've had moments with Brock Lesnar, but overall we've had a great relationship," White said. "I've never had a situation with the guy where we haven't done the right thing."
But as far as specifics, when first asked, White said that even though Lesnar had retired as a fighter, that doesn't invalidate the remaining time on his contract.
When it was brought up that the Internet was abuzz with speculation on Lesnar, that in fact Lesnar and WrestleMania was one of the hottest topics of discussion late Friday night, White didn't have much to say.
"I don't know. We'll figure it out," said an exasperated White. "The Internet is abuzz; mind your own business."
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