A couple of weeks back, Dana White floated the idea of Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir as the coaches for the next season of The Ultimate Fighter. That notion was almost immediately followed by the news that Frank Mir had agreed to fight Brendan Schaub instead.
Obviously something happened there to make Dana and the Spike TV brass pass on what would have been the best rated show since Kimbo Slice, maybe even bigger. We now know, via the Wrestling Observer (subscription only) Brock turned it down. No surprise that the reclusive Lesnar didn't want to spend six weeks in Vegas being taped every day.
What does Lesnar want to do? According to Meltzer (and other sources Bloody Elbow has been in contact with inside the pro wrestling world), Lesnar would like to make a few million bucks headlining WrestleMania. The Undertaker already did a brilliant job of inserting himself into the Brock Lesnar vs Cain Velasquez narrative at UFC 121.
Meltzer painted a scenario in which Lesnar would indeed coach TUF in return for being allowed to do WrestleMania:
Spike would absolutely love that one, because it'll do the best ratings of all. Plus, UFC would love it because after 13 weeks of that, it almost guarantees a giant buy rate and they would then do that match after all. But I see that as unlikely, because Lesnar leaving Minnesota for six weeks in Las Vegas with two little kids is going to be very difficult for Dana White to pull off. Not that it's going to happen, but I wonder if making a deal where White lets Lesnar do Mania in exchange for doing the show would work out for both. Lesnar gets his big payday. White gets what would likely be the second highest rated season of the series and can do the biggest money non-championship fight of 2011. The filming of the season would be over by March, in time for Lesnar to promote Mania, and then after Mania, in theory he could do a summer fight. Lesnar's autobiography he's doing with Paul Heyman is scheduled for a mid-April release and the season will air starting 3/30, which is perfect timing as far as being on weekly TV in a highly rated show right as the book comes out. However, even with that, the impression I've been given is that it's going to be difficult, if not impossible, to get Lesnar to agree to spend six weeks straight in Las Vegas. Plus, Lesnar wouldn't be much of a coach. Good coaches are guys who understand and can refine technique and training. Lesnar is a great listener and great student of a coach who knows him, but he's never been the most technical even at wrestling, and certainly isn't at this sport. Lesnar/White appear to be an some sort of an impasse in that White is trying to get something done with Lesnar and Lesnar hasn't spoken with him or committed to anything. And Lesnar does still want to do Mania. Vince was apparently still saying as of this weekend that they think they can get Lesnar for Mania. For Spike, Lesnar-Mir is the best pairing for ratings.
Vince McMahon remains optimistic that he can still get Lesnar. Dave Meltzer explains why on his subscribers only message board:
He's Vince McMahon and Dana White likes to stay on Vince McMahon's good side. And Vince likes to stay on Dana White's good side. And he thinks he can make his wife a senator, so making a deal for Brock Lesnar doesn't sound impossible.
Cage Side Seats sums it all up:
I think Vince should just be grateful that Dana hasn't booked a PPV on WrestleMania weekend again, after Vince orchestrated a worked shoot angle on Dana's turf without his knowledge. This is something Dana is simply not going to budge on unless lawyers get involved and his hand is forced.
So what's the latest state of play in this promotional love triangle, courtesy of this week's Observers:
- Meltzer suggested that UFC may need to pull a rabbit out of a hat for their own domed super show, UFC 129 at Toronto's Rogers Centre on April 30th 2011, and that a Lesnar fight could be that rabbit.
- As reported earlier by Meltzer, all of WWE's other WrestleMania celebrity ideas are almost certainly dead in the water, so Vince is presumably still banking on Lesnar being able to do the show. One idea that is now impossible, and thus Meltzer can confirm the name of, was NBA mega heel LeBron James. That idea is out because the Miami Heat has a basketball game on the same day as Mania.
We've been having an interesting discussion this week on Bloody Elbow about UFC monopolies, Fighter Unions, and Zuffa Finances and here is a brilliant case study of what happens when the UFC needs an athlete more than he needs the UFC. I've speculated already that Brock may not even return to the UFC. He doesn't need the money. He's already famous. He doesn't like getting punched in the face.
Brock Lesnar is not a UFC creation. He became a famous attraction in the WWE. He had become a much more compelling figure as a competitor in a real sport, well known for his propensity to lash out publicly and say things that Dana and UFC sponsors don't want to hear. That's a little ironic since Lesnar's failing in the WWE was his limited ability to sell a character on the microphone. Turns out the real Brock is a lot scarier than the fake Brock.
Dana White is on the horns of a dilemma here. If he wants Brock to headline a Toronto show, or even better coach TUF, he might have to bend and let Lesnar appear on WrestleMania. But letting one of the UFC's top stars participate in a worked sports entertainment spectacle could damage the UFC brand.
Those who continue to insist that the parallels between MMA and Pro Wrestling are overstated should think on this: why is it that Floyd Mayweather can do WrestleMania and no one suggests even for a minute that it somehow damages boxing and yet the same is not true for Lesnar and the UFC.
This entire mess just reinforces my belief that it is better for the UFC if the growth of the sport plateaus for a few more years while Zuffa consolidates its monopsony control of the market for martial artists. The WWE won't be producing any more MMA-ready stars like Lesnar since MMA is now getting the top wrestling talent right out of college or the Olympics.
The biggest headache a would be monopsonist like Dana White can have is a star like Brock Lesnar who has a fan base of his own independent of the promotion and competing offers for his services.
The ball is in Dana's hands. He can go for the short-term money and give Brock Lesnar what he wants or he can hold on to control and bet that the UFC is now big enough to get through 2011 without its biggest star of 2009 and 2010.