UFC Heavyweights Finally Pulling Their Weight

As Brock Lesnar stood in the Octagon delivering his now infamous promo, he was THE story of the biggest UFC show of all time. The stories that everyone were talking about after the show were all in some way about him. Whether it was about the match, that promo, his possible challengers within the UFC or whether he could hang with Fedor, it was all about Lesnar.

And the bizarre thing is that it was never meant to be that way. Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir II was never meant to take place at UFC 100, let alone be the Main Event. No, until Mir injured his knee the plan had been for Lesnar vs. Mir II to take place at UFC 98 and for the UFC 100 Main Event to be Rashad Evans against Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson for the Light Heavyweight Title.

And while that decision sounds crazy now, back then it made sense.

The light heavyweight championship has for a long time been presented as the company’s most prestigious belt. Whether it was the heel antics of Tito Ortiz, the everyman stardom of Chuck Liddell or the epic Griffin-Bonner TUF 1 Final, the light heavyweight division has provided the marquee matches and fighters in recent years. Hell, the biggest heavyweight draw before Brock Lesnar, Randy Couture, did his biggest business at light heavyweight with matches against Liddell and Ortiz.

And it wasn’t just the light heavyweight division; the UFC has always been a company that focused on smaller fighters. From the early days of Royce Gracie showing how Gracie Jiu-Jitsu could allow him to beat bigger men to the dominant title reigns of George St Pierre and Anderson Silva the heavyweights have always struggled to secure the spotlight.

And yet for many of the potential MMA fans that the UFC is trying to reach out to, this focus on smaller fighters was a disappointment. Many of these potential fans are disillusioned boxing and pro-wrestling fans, and as such have a ‘bigger is better’ mentality. Both boxing and pro-wrestling were built on their heavyweight titles and helped embed the assumption that a much bigger man would always win in a fight. The potential interest that such causal fans would have in a dominant heavyweight was shown by the early ratings success that EliteXC enjoyed with Kimbo Slice. 

What’s more the mainstream sports media also buys into this ‘bigger is better’ mentality and so believe that the Heavyweight Title is the apex of any combat sport. That’s why the likes of ESPN have hyped Randy Couture as the legend of the sport and why they are now rushing to assume that Brock Lesnar is the “face of the UFC”.

And yet for a long time, the UFC heavyweight division was a joke, with the title held up in a legal dispute and a lack of marquee fights. The past 17 months has changed all that. The debut of Brock Lesnar, the reinvigoration of Frank Mir and the return of Randy Couture has given the heavyweight division the prestige that many casual fans would expect. With veterans seeking redemption such Nogueira and Cro Crop and rising stars such as Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez there are now numerous marquee matches in the heavyweight division.

And at the centre of it all is Brock Lesnar, the man who is quickly establishing himself as the world’s biggest PPV draw. While his Tyson-lite persona and pro-wrestling past may appal more fastidious MMA fans, his dominant style and overwhelming size is exactly what the mainstream expects from the world’s greatest fighter. Lesnar is the type of crowd-baiting champion that fans and journalists who grew up watching Ali or Tyson can understand. Far from scaring away the mainstream, Brock Lesnar finally allows the UFC to place the emphasis on its heavyweight division that the sports media and casual fans would expect.
And yet as the emphasis on the heavyweight division increases so does the pressure on the UFC to sign the legendary Russian fighter Fedor. It was okay saying he was irrelevant and overrated when most UFC fan didn’t care about the UFC heavyweight division but now they have a champion they want to see tested by the best. Given that much of the UFC’s appeal is its apparent lack of promoter politics and confusion over world titles, there’s only so long that Brock Lesnar can reign as undisputed UFC heavyweight champion but not the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

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