Dana White did what many said couldn't be done. He managed to talk Brock Lesnar out of Minnesota, not just for a fight, but for six long weeks of reality television. No one is sure how that will go. I can attest from personal experience that working with Lesnar for even 15 minutes can be trying. Working with him for more than a month? Under the bright lights, the wrestling behemoth in front of the camera daily? It could get very interesting indeed.
But as exciting as the reality show hijinks can be, and even The Ultimate Fighter's biggest critics secretly smile every time the show features a drunken douchebag or a sperm sandwich, it's really just a means to an end. The end, of course, is the fight. The UFC didn't quite get that during the first season when they were promoting Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell's second fight. But after Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz shattered expectations and Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans drew more than a million pay per view buys for their grudge match, the UFC understands this is a twelve week commercial for Lesnar's next fight.
After struggling with Shane Carwin's punching power and looking skittish against Cain Velasquez at UFC 121, Lesnar's future was in question. His inability to deal rationally with being hit by a powerful striker led many to speculate that a once promising career would never get back on track. That's what makes this decision by the UFC so interesting.
Lesnar could have been given a bout with Roy Nelson or Frank Mir, two gifted grapplers who wouldn't threaten the UFC's meal ticket with sophisticated standup. Instead, they chose dos Santos. The Brazilian boxer is arguably the best puncher in the UFC's heavyweight division. He's finished all of his opponents save one with devastating combinations and real knockout power. Only Nelson went the distance, but he paid an awful price, accepting a 15 minute beating that was painful just to watch.
Far from protecting their most valuable fighter, the UFC has decided to cut bait. Sources close to the company say some were worried about the former pro wrestler's long term prospects as a fighter. Would he regain his aggressive demeanor? Or has Carwin permanently spooked a man who once seemed to know no fear? This is an opportunity to find out. If he loses again in embarrassing fashion, the promotion has at least helped use his star power to make a new headliner in dos Santos. If he wins? Then the Lesnar Express, the train that has pulled the UFC to record PPV success, will be right back on track for a big money rematch with Velasquez.
It's brilliant matchmaking that will all turn on a single aspect of a multidimensional fight. Can Lesnar walk through punches to drag dos Santos to the mat? If he can, look for a nervous Joe Rogan interview in the middle of the Octagon while spittle flies and sponsors pray for the best. If he can't, the UFC will march forward with the already scheduled Velasquez title defense against a suddenly much more interesting Brazilian challenger.
I think Lesnar has all the tools to ground dos Santos, but after seeing his response to being hit in his last two fights, I wouldn't bet on this bout with Kid Nate's money. We can talk business implications all day. I suspect we've wasted ten thousand words on the subject on Bloody Elbow alone in the 12 hours since the announcement. I hope the UFC makes a mint and the deserving fighters take home their small piece of the pie. But more importantly, as a fan, I hope for an exciting fight. And this one should deliver, another amazing announcement in a 2011 that is suddenly looking an awful lot like the year of the heavyweight.