It’s not Conor McGregor. Nor is it Ronda Rousey. But next month’s UFC 200 mega-event will feature one of the biggest stars in MMA history: Former UFC Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar is set to return to the Octagon.
Less than 15 months after officially announcing his retirement from MMA and re-signing a new multi-year contract with WWE, the shocking confirmation of Lesnar’s UFC comeback was made during Saturday’s UFC 199 pay-per-view broadcast.
“I couldn’t live with that decision [to retire],” Lesnar told Hannah Storm during an interview on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Monday morning. “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.’ On the biggest stage of all, I was on UFC 100, so why not be on UFC 200?”
His opponent will be Mark Hunt, but Lesnar’s first UFC appearance since a December 2011 loss to Alistair Overeem is officially set for the co-main event of the landmark fight card on July 9th at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. A Light Heavyweight championship rematch between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones headlines the event.
The possibility of Lesnar (5-3 MMA, 4-3 UFC) making a comeback has popped up in the news numerous times in recent years. His career was cut short due to a battle with diverticulitis, a colon issue that impacted his ability to perform effectively. Even with that ailment Lesnar thrived, making a record-tying two consecutive title defenses and holding the gold for 707 days.
Lesnar, 38, is a multi-time WWE champion and was a star for the company prior to his UFC career. He returned to WWE in April 2012 following the loss to Overeem and once again became a headlining act. He became a free agent again in 2015 and said he seriously considered another UFC run. Instead he announced his retirement in an interview on SportsCenter.
“I’m officially closing the door on MMA,” Lesnar said. “It was a very hard decision at this stage of my career. The fighter inside me wants to compete. The father and husband – I’m an older caveman now. I make wiser caveman decisions. So, I’m here to say my legacy in the Octagon is over.
“I could go back to the Octagon, but what am I going to gain? I was the UFC Heavyweight champion of the world. Due to my illness, my career got cut short. That’s God telling you, ‘It’s time to move on.'”
Lesnar – who owns UFC wins over the likes of former champions Frank Mir, Randy Couture and Shane Carwin – has decided to re-open the door, to the surprise of many. That doesn’t mean he’s back for good, though. Shortly after the announcement was made, WWE released a statement labeling Lesnar’s UFC fight as a “one-off opportunity.”
“Brock Lesnar remains under contract to WWE, however, he has been granted a one-off opportunity to compete at UFC 200,” the statement read. “Following this milestone event on July 9, Brock will return to WWE for SummerSlam on Sunday, August 21, live on WWE Network.”
Lesnar’s first UFC stint lasted less than four years, but he made a landscape-shifting impact on the sport during that period. His name value commanded massive mainstream media attention and his hulking physique paired with an aggressive and powerful fighting style made each of his fights must-see spectacles. Within three UFC appearances, he challenged Couture for the Heavyweight belt, making good on the opportunity by beating the UFC Hall of Famer by second-round TKO at UFC 91 in November 2008.
He would defend the belt for the first time with a dominant second-round TKO of Mir in the main event of UFC 100, an event that reportedly still holds the record as the UFC’s all-time highest pay-per-view seller. He began to suffer the effects of diverticulitis shortly thereafter, however, sidelining him from competition for nearly a year.
Lesnar’s final UFC win came in at UFC 116 in July 2010 when in his second title defense he was forced to rally from a brutal first-round beating from Carwin to win the fight by submission in the second. He would lose the title to Cain Velasquez later that year before health issues again forced him away from the sport for another 14 months prior to his final fight against Overeem.
One of the fiercest competitors in UFC history is not happy about the way in which his MMA run came to end and has more to prove. He’ll get one last chance at closure on the biggest stage in the sport’s history at UFC 200.
“It haunted me because, at the top of my career, I wasn’t at the top of my game, 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,” Lesnar told Storm. “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. I’m sitting here today, I feel 1,000-percent. I wouldn’t get in the Octagon if I didn’t. 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.”