After almost a year’s worth of teasing that former UFC heavyweight champion and current WWE star Brock Lesnar would leapfrog the rest of the division and return to the Octagon to fight Daniel Cormier, it looks as if a Lesnar return will no longer be happening. Dana White claims Lesnar is retired, and now a Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic rematch is in the works for UFC 241 in August.
As to what’s the main reason behind Lesnar’s retirement (again) after re-entering the USADA testing pool, Dave Meltzer’s latest Wrestling Observer Newsletter (subscription required) indicates that money played a major factor. The sticking point? With UFC PPVs now exclusive to ESPN+ in the United States, Lesnar apparently wanted to negotiate a flat fee which the UFC ended up not agreeing to.
Lesnar had a certain price he wanted guaranteed to do the Cormier fight. UFC, which, with its ESPN deal where the PPV money is guaranteed, didn’t meet the offer. Lesnar had a certain price he wanted that was worth it to him to go through a hard training camp at 42 and then get into the cage with an all-time great fighter and athlete in Cormier. Plus, WWE has continued to offer Lesnar strong deals for limited dates, and on a Lesnar schedule, pro wrestling is far safer and offers considerably more longevity.
Lesnar (5-3, 1 NC) is one of the biggest stars in UFC history, exceeding 1 million+ PPV buys multiple times at the peak of his career, which included title wins over Frank Mir and Shane Carwin. He hasn’t actually officially won a fight since Carwin in 2010, with his 2016 victory over Mark Hunt flipped to a no contest after failing USADA drug tests for clomiphene. Lesnar did serve out the remainder of his one-year suspension after re-entering the testing pool.
With the UFC’s decision to move its pay-per-view events off television and exclusively to ESPN+ (effective UFC 236 last month), it certainly changes the landscape for headliners whose pay can be tied to pay-per-view points, and now there’s only a single outlet to order those PPVs. ESPN is also paying the UFC an extra license fee to have sole US rights to PPVs, so it provides them stability in an otherwise volatile market that sees buyrates vary. That extra security, as Meltzer notes, gives the UFC even more leverage when negotiating with the likes of Brock.
“Given the move from television PPV to streaming, with the corresponding expected major drop in PPV buys, Lesnar, like Jon Jones and Conor McGregor, have to sign deals based on guaranteed money rather than a percentage of the PPV. At the same time, UFC, with the ESPN deal, doesn’t have the financial pressure of needing to do so. UFC doesn’t need Lesnar back nearly as bad now as they would have when they were openly talking about it. If Lesnar was seriously considering coming back, and for Lesnar, every play is economics, the situation had changed significantly as far as the nature of the deal that would have to be offered.”
And so we presumably move on from this chapter of the heavyweight division once and for all, with Lesnar unable to land one last big UFC payday, and in turn that’s one of the few “money fights” for the soon-to-be retiring Cormier that is no longer on the table.