Watching the first part of the UFC 121 Primetime special has me in full "Brocktober" mode. Lesnar had been a little tarnished in my mind after crumpling under Shane Carwin's assault in round 1 of their UFC 116 bout. But Brock came back in that fight, and the Primetime special is going a long way towards rehabbing Lesnar's image as the fearsome heavyweight champ.
I also found Cain Velasquez and his story of fighting for his immigrant family to be compelling and sympathetic. But I'm a mark. Always have been, always will be I hope.
Bryan Alvarez and Dave Meltzer discussed the Primetime special and felt that the show was "awesome" and did the job of telling Cain Velasquez' story. Meltzer said "You come out not wanting either man to lose. They both seemed like hard working great athletes who are just dedicated as hell." Meltzer also commented on how good Lesnar's physique looked and that his biggest advantage is the fact that Lesnar can handle the pressure of a title fight whereas we don't know if Velasquez can.
Alvarez said "the show was all about, this was the Brock Lesnar show. I just can't see the average UFC fan seeing this show and not going, 'I have to see this specimen try to destroy someone." Meltzer came away thinking that Velasquez will win based on his better speed punching the bags.
Others are not so generous. Here's Steve Cofield:
Lesnar may be billed as an unstoppable force but it's clear that he's needs to restore much of that aura after he was beat up by Shane Carwin at UFC 116. Las Vegas bettors aren't buying the unbeatable label. Lesnar is a small favorite at minus-140.
Zach Arnold is even more critical:
If there was anything that was hammered home more in last night's Primetime show, it was this - Brock Lesnar is once again going to have to carry his opponent in generating fan interest for the fight. I thought Shane Carwin was boring leading up to the July fight but Cain Velasquez takes that to a whole new level. He's a nice guy and a talented fighter but he simply can't escape being boring in workouts or interviews. He also has a tendency to say a few things that make you go, "Huh?"
It was interesting to see how UFC presented Velasquez on the Primetime show. They heavily pushed the angle of him possibly becoming "the first Mexican heavyweight champion" despite the fact that he was born in California. Zuffa showed footage of him doing Spanish-language interviews trying to put this angle over. Even in those settings, charisma is not a word you could come up with. He's a quiet, relatively unassuming guy with a "Brown Pride" tattoo. That's about it when it comes to what most fight fans take away from seeing him.
What struck me as a dual-edged sword coming out of the Primetime show was how Brock Lesnar fights in the UFC are now no longer so much about his opponent but rather all about him. The fans who hate him will pay to see him get beat up and the fans who love him will watch his fights no matter what. He's by far the strongest drawing card in Mixed Martial Arts and the most intriguing giant that the business has seen. Bob Sapp made an impact in Japan but he did so with a sometimes-cuddly side. Brock Lesnar is anything but cuddly.
Zuffa is desperately hopeful that Velasquez can somehow catch lightning in a bottle and attract new fans but I don't see it happening, even if he does beat Lesnar later this month. Some people have ‘it' and some don't and he doesn't have the ‘it' factor that a simple eye test from a fan can see. The Primetime show last night didn't really give the viewers at home any new reason to want to see the two men fight. I came away watching the show with more of a mild shrug than anything else.
I think Zach is a little too close to the screen here. He may be right that the Primetime special did little in the way of giving hardcore fans new reasons to watch Lesnar vs Velasquez. But the reality is that the market the UFC is aiming for is the casual fan who need to be told that the fight is happening at all and when.
Selling a fight involves answering three questions: 1) who is fighting? 2) why are they fighting? and 3) why should fans care?
UFC 121 Primetime answered all three questions: 1) the most fearsome heavyweight in the world (Brock) vs a likeable and formidable up and comer (Cain) 2) for the title of world's top heavyweight fighter 3) because it's going to be effing epic!