I'd imagine, and this is just a theory, that losing a prizefight is different than losing a game of basketball, or football. Barring a Bill Buckner moment, defeat is a bit more visceral when none of your vital organs feel quite intact after intending to put in a show for fans who are drunk, just want you to bleed, and have probably never thought about the work required to be a professional fighter.
That's "normal" loss in the world of mixed martial arts. But what happens when you've only ever been the main attraction, don't much like the spotlight to begin with, and experienced a infected digestive tract that put you out of commission...twice?
Brock Lesnar will likely leave the sport early, but already he's led the most interesting career of any mixed martial artist. I don't think it's fair to judge Lesnar as an all time great, or a prospect, or a 'bust'. To me, he is none. He's an anomaly: a career professional wrestler that happened to be really good in an honest fight, and who won a UFC championship as a result. Lesnar has made history, very quick as he enters only his 8th professional MMA fight.
But a loss is also likely to be his exit, and with the potential for a record of 5-3 should he lose, the critics will be at their most vocal. Nate Wilcox at MMA Nation alludes to a fight that may be his last stand, in bouncing off the opinion of Zach Arnold:
It should also be noted Lesnar has money and is 34. If he isn't physically performing up to his own potential and is aware of it, there isn't much incentive left to compete.
Which makes sense. Lesnar without a spotlight to potentially talk about horseshoes and beer in a crass manner is no Lesnar at all. And in fact, we've seen his brash attitude sort of dissipate over the years. Perhaps the fighter is dissipating too, given his injuries.
Although I don't question Lesnar's heart. I just think he has a strict goal in mind while possessing a limited window: the belt, and just enough time to defend it once or twice. A loss to Overeem puts him at the back of the bus, and out of title contention.
Here's the part where readers will can me a moron, but I find an Overeem loss equally debilitating. A Brock exit as a result of a loss can be more easily defined. A loss for Overeem? Not so much. But they share a similar space. Both are young in their HW careers, relatively unproven in this weight class, and yet a loss would put them in limbo.
Overeem, despite his transformation, seemed uncomfortable when had his first honest fight at HW against Fabricio Werdum. It was a strange (and bad) scrap that saw Alistair get overly defensive against Werdum's wild exchanges. To Overeem fans, the blame fell on Fabricio's shoulders. To Overeem's critics, it was a display of Alistair's limitations in the trenches (with his history of not responding well to pressure), and inexperience against elite competition. Perhaps there's truth to both.
But if Overeem loses to Lesnar, his future will look grim at HW where Lesnar types are a dime a dozen. My suggestion is not that Overeem will consider retirement: only that a loss would be foretelling when compared to future opponents, like Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez, and perhaps even Shane Carwin (assuming he even returns).
The implications for the winner of this weekend's fight exists on a scale proportional to the implications for the loser. Overeem can recover from playing the role in the latter scenario. I'm not sure Brock can. And so the story for Lesnar, should he lose to Overeem will likely be 'Lesnar is a never-was'. It was a valiant effort for an actor that used to toss around plastic sharks in promos, but good riddance, the critics will say. A description that fantastically misses the point. Lesnar is a 'was-never-supposed-to-be'. Except for a time, he was.