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I thought it must have been April Fool’s Day when I first saw the news on Tuesday that former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar had announced his retirement.
It had to be a prank on the big guy’s part. After all, he’s nearly 40 years old, has had one MMA fight in the last five years and is in the middle of a one-year suspension issued by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for failing two drug tests at UFC 200.
That guy needs to announce his retirement?
OK, then. But a UFC spokesman on Tuesday confirmed to Yahoo Sports an MMAFighting report that Lesnar told the company he planned to retire from MMA.
It seems like forever, but it wasn’t all that long ago that Lesnar was the biggest thing in MMA, the forerunner to modern-day superstars like Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey. And though he had a relatively short career, it was an impactful one in so many ways.
He got mainstream media coverage that, up until that point, the UFC couldn’t rightly dream of getting. He sold massive amounts of pay-per-views. Almost overnight, he became one of the company’s biggest stars.
In many ways, though, it was a mirage. With Lesnar, you always felt like you were missing out on something.
He made his UFC debut in just his second pro fight, facing former world champion Frank Mir on Feb. 2, 2008, at UFC 81. Two fights later, he was the UFC champion.
What people forget is that Lesnar lost that first bout to Mir, and in 90 seconds, no less. But because he was such a freakish athlete – massive, and typically powerful, but also extraordinarily quick and agile for a human that size – what he did early in that fight, pounding on Mir, caused many to forget that he was submitted in 90 seconds.
But we never got to see a well-trained, knowledgeable Brock Lesnar at the peak of his powers. That would have been a guy who had the ability to train uninterrupted for a couple of years and who had the time to learn and grow.
Lesnar was thrown into the deep end before he could tell whether an arm bar was a bicycle part or a submission hold.
By the time he started to learn the sport, his body was ravaged by his battles with diverticulitis. He was sidelined twice by the digestive disease and never was near his peak again after a win over Mir in a much-hyped rematch at UFC 100.
He was always a tease, this potentially destructive force whose body simply betrayed him.
He retired after losing badly to Alistair Overeem in 2011, and went back to the WWE, where he quickly became the champion again. When his contract with the WWE expired in 2015, Lesnar flirted with a return to the UFC again, but on March 24, 2015, went on “SportsCenter” to announce he’d re-signed with the WWE.
And that seemed the end of it, until an eventful June night last year when the UFC obtained permission from the WWE for Lesnar to return to compete at UFC 200.
Lesnar used performance-enhancing drugs both before and after his match with Mark Hunt, prompting USADA to issue the one-year suspension.
He would have been 40 by the time he was eligible to return, and it was far from certain that the WWE would once again give him permission to fight in the UFC. His positive tests also became a major topic of conversation prior to his bout at SummerSlam last August.
The WWE didn’t want to deal with questions about whether it was going penalize Lesnar for the PED usage. It didn’t need the headaches.
So the end of Lesnar’s run comes with a whimper, not the bang he came in with or that he returned with last year.
He’ll be remembered as one of the finest sheer athletes ever to compete in the UFC, and a guy with unmatched potential.
He never got enough credit for winning the UFC title in the first place and his 4-3 UFC record and 5-3 overall MMA mark doesn’t do justice to how good he potentially could have been.
It’s not fair to call him great, because that would demean what truly great fighters like Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and others were able to accomplish.
It’s odd, but he had almost the same record as the late Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson had in his all-too-brief MMA career. Lesnar was 5-3 with a no contest, while Slice was 5-2 with a no contest.
Both came along just as MMA was about to hit the mainstream, and they exploded into prominence before they were ready for it.
They both then flamed out and were gone from the sport far too quickly.
Lesnar has plenty of money and will be comfortable for the rest of his days when his wrestling career is done. He needs no one to feel sorry for him.
But it’s going to be hard not to think of the big guy every now and then and imagine what might have been.
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