Brock Lesnar is returning to the Octagon at UFC 200 to make things right for himself. That could be scary news for opponent Mark Hunt.
Lesnar’s surprise comeback was revealed over the weekend when news broke the former UFC Heavyweight champion and current WWE superstar would compete in his first MMA fight since December 2011 at the seminal UFC 200 showcase on July 9th at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
His addition to the card was unexpected – not just because Lesnar has spent the past four-plus years as a professional wrestler for WWE, but mainly because he retired from MMA in March 2015.
Retirements can never be taken as gospel in sports – especially combat sports – though, and now Lesnar (5-3 MMA, 4-3 UFC) his back to fight Hunt (12-10-1, 7-4-1). According to Lesnar, he was “haunted” by his diverticulitis-stricken UFC run from 2008-2011 and believes he still hasn’t displayed his best as a fighter.
“I couldn’t live with that decision [to retire],” Lesnar told ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on Monday. “It was a hard decision for me to make, and that decision has haunted me for the last 15 months, and I figured I couldn’t live like that for the rest of my life. I’m a big believer in living out your dreams and facing your fears and just facing the reality of I don’t want to be sitting 20 years from now saying, ‘You know what son, you should have done that.'”
Despite holding the UFC Heavyweight championship for nearly two years during his initial tenure with the promotion, Lesnar has always said health issues held him back. He spent nearly 25 months of his UFC career on the sidelines dealing with diverticulitis and said he was never able to perform in a satisfactory manner, even in winning a world title.
The knowledge he could have done better has always stuck with Lesnar, he said. Now healthy, Lesnar wants to exercise his demons. He received permission from WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon to try and make that happen. One photo call to UFC President Dana White later, a fight was in the works.
“This is very simple: This was me sitting having a cup of coffee at my farm in Canada and thinking, waking up every morning and feeling this feeling of, ‘Was (retirement) the right decision?'” Lesnar said. “I didn’t even tell my wife, I told nobody. This thing haunted me on the inside for a long time, but I thought if I was in the WWE I could still kind of have those feelings inside the ring, but the truth is I have to do this.
“It haunted me because at the top of my career I wasn’t at the top of my game,” he continued. “So I felt like I was cheated out of my career in the UFC. I didn’t lose. In my mind and in my heart I never lost to a foe, I never lost to my opponent. I lost to diverticulitis, that was my opponent that beat me. Other people may have other thoughts and say other things about the way I performed – my performance was due to the illness.”
Lesnar said he began training to fight while discussions were ongoing with the UFC. That’s one of the reasons he hasn’t been seen on WWE programming since April’s WrestleMania 32 event He didn’t care who the UFC selected as his opponent, but it ended up being Hunt, a former K-1 kickboxing champion that’s notoriously known as one of the heaviest hitters in the sport.
Although Hunt has a rotund, average-Joe-like image when compared to Lesnar’s superhero-esque physique, there’s no denying the veteran is a powerhouse in the Octagon that presents a legitimate threat to knock out any foe, Lesnar included.
That doesn’t intimidate Lesnar in the slightest, he said. Even after all the time off he’s eager to fight Hunt, who is the Number Eight Heavyweight in the world according to the UFC’s official rankings.
“It could be anybody. I didn’t care. That’s how simple it was,” Lesnar said. “I didn’t [have a say]. I’ve never turned down a fight in the UFC. I’ve never walked away. Even when I was the champ, I never turned down a fight. Even when I was fighting to be the champion, I never turned down a fight. If Dana White called me and said, ‘You can fight X, Y and Z, who do you want?’ He never gave me those options.
“I’m sitting here today and I feel 1,000 percent, I wouldn’t get in the Octagon if I didn’t,” he explained, adding: “I’m not a second guesser. The only thing I second-guessed was my decision of stepping away from the Octagon. I know it’s been a long time, but I feel great. I don’t have to fake it. I’m not faking it saying, ‘This is the best camp of my life.’ This is for real. I’m so excited.”
UFC 200 will mark Hunt’s 10th fight with the promotion since Lesnar walked away from it at the end of 2011. At the beginning, he was purely a striker but, in recent years, he’s added solid takedown and submission defense to his arsenal. Hunt, 42, nicknamed “The Super Samoan,” is no pushover, but Lesnar said there’s no secret to his approach. He plans on utilizing his powerful grappling-based style to do what he’s always done – except this time he intends to do it better.
“I’m a grappler at heart; he’s a heavy-hitter, and I think that’s what people want to see,” Lesnar said. “The UFC ultimately came together because we’re going to put guys with opposing disciplines against each other. I think I match up very well. If Mark Hunt ends up on the ground, the fight’s over. Obviously I need to work on my standup game, but I’m excited and enthusiastic about doing so.”
Lesnar’s excitement and attitude toward fighting is more positive than ever before. He said a big payday is going to come along with fighting at UFC 200, but he claimed the number of zeroes on his paycheck wasn’t the driving force for him making a return to one of the most intense sports in the world. It’s to show he’s much more than just a professional wrestler.
“I’m a crossover athlete – I’m the modern-day Bo Jackson, people,” Lesnar said. “I’m excited about it and honored to have both companies have faith in Brock Lesnar to allow him to step back in the Octagon.”
WWE champion Brock Lesnar is back after announcing his retirement from MMA less than 15 months ago.