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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Brock Lesnar vs Frank Mir Rubber match 3 ?

has been about a month since Brock Lesnar went from being the most physically prominent force in UFC history to an all-but-invisible fighter.

One would expect by now, with so many pay-per-view main events to fill and barely enough headliners to fill them, the company would have a good idea of when their biggest drawing card will fight next.

But according to UFC president Dana White, right now there are no answers as to whom Lesnar, who lost the UFC heavyweight title to Cain Velasquez on Oct. 23, will meet.

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Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir have split their first two fights. They might not get a chance to determine an ultimate victor.

UFC 100 Frank Mir Limited Edition Collectible Coin

“I haven’t talked with him since the fight,” said White.

While in Germany promoting UFC 122 a couple weeks ago, White said what was expected by most: The fight that makes the most sense for Lesnar is a third meeting with archrival Frank Mir.

Almost as soon as that statement made its way to cyberspace, several MMA message boards suggested people flood White’s Twitter account with messages saying they didn’t want to see that trilogy play out.

“I’ve never gotten such a negative response to any fight,” said White of the immediate Twitter messages.

So, White changed his mind on the fight.

In talking about the change, White said he did not listen to the Internet but rather to his followers on Twitter, although it’s hard to really separate the two.

“I usually don’t gauge things by the Internet,” said White. “The Internet is [expletive] stupid. My Twitter, I do. On my Twitter, there are 1.2 million people that care about this thing and everything else, and you don’t get the goofy [expletive] that you get on the Internet.”

White unabashedly will tell anyone who will listen that UFC’s goal is to make fights that people want to see the most. It’s the reason that Josh Koscheck, who has done an incredible role as antagonist to Georges St. Pierre on the current season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” is getting a welterweight title shot on Dec. 11.

Koscheck’s campmate, Jon Fitch, is on a five-fight win streak that includes beating Thiago Alves and Paulo Thiago, both of whom beat Koscheck, and is generally regarded as St. Pierre’s top contender. He’s got no title shot in sight, but there is public interest in Koscheck challenging.

The idea of making the most marketable matches led UFC to set a company pay-per-view record in 2009 with close to eight million buys, a record that will be broken again this year, as the UFC should finish in the nine million total buys range after the St. Pierre vs. Koscheck fight. Much of that success comes from listening to the audience and having a feel for the matches people want to see most.

But MMA also has a vocal hardcore minority that doesn’t always agree with the bigger audience. In the case of Lesnar-Mir III, even if the hardcores do speak for the average fan, they’re not looking at the long-term picture that the promoters must consider.

Currently, there is no viable, big-money alternative to Lesnar-Mir III. That’s why White pulling back on a fight that likely would do more business than any other on the books so far for 2011 is so perplexing.

If Twitter was prominent in 2006, White would have been flooded with negative remarks about Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock, as insiders knew Shamrock was past his prime. The UFC took a beating on blogs and message boards for making the match. But reality was it set a new business record and to this day, their final meeting – the single most heavily criticized UFC match in history – is still the second-most-watched MMA fight on cable TV.

That third fight, in Oct. 2006, beat several games of that year’s World Series in the coveted 18-34 male demographic, a statistic that led to a breakthrough in mainstream sports media coverage because the numbers were so impressive that many felt the sport could no longer be ignored.

Quite frankly, if White had listened to the hardcore fans in 2008, he likely never would have signed Lesnar to a contract to begin with because of the issues they had about Lesnar’s pro-wrestling past.

Yet as difficult as he can be to work with, Lesnar has been a key element in the growth of the sport over the past three years. The second Lesnar-Mir fight, which did have the advantage of being the main event of UFC 100 and promoted as a special event, did more than 1.6 million buys on pay-per-view, a number far beyond anything any sport but boxing has ever done. Only three boxing events – Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Oscar De La Hoya and Mike Tyson fights with Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis – have topped it.

Lesnar and Mir are even in their series with a win each. A third meeting, without the title at stake, unlikely would come close to the numbers their second fight pulled, but probably would do more than any other heavyweight fight currently available to the UFC, more than anything other than a blockbuster along the lines of a St. Pierre-Anderson Silva fight.

There is an argument that if the UFC was to proceed with Lesnar-Mir III, Lesnar would only have seven fights in the organization, with three against the same person. But the alternatives are not only worse from a single-event box office standpoint, but also for building the heavyweight division for the future.

Roy Nelson, who White conceded would have been the next choice to face Lesnar, is in the middle of a legal situation regarding a contract he signed in 2009 with the Roy Jones Jr.’s Square Ring promotion. Jones’ promotion filed a lawsuit against Zuffa and Nelson, and Zuffa responded to the claim by stating that when Nelson signed his first contract with UFC on June 27, 2009, to participate in “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, Nelson stated he was not under contract to any other organization. Until the legal proceedings are over, UFC will not be using Nelson.

Another potential opponent, Shane Carwin, recently underwent major back surgery and is out of the picture.

There are loads of questions regarding Lesnar and how he’ll respond to the loss. He’s disappeared from public view. His friends say he’s spent the past few weeks hunting and spending time with his family. He’s 33 years old, and has made a fortune in his recent fights.

Will he be like the 22-year-old Brock Lesnar, with barely a dime to his name, who came back from finishing a close second in the NCAA tournament as a junior and won it as a senior? Or even the 30-year-old Lesnar, who lost in 90 seconds to Mir in his debut, but came back to beat Randy Couture and win the heavyweight title? Lesnar has stated that he’s a prize fighter, emphasizing the word “prize,” and notes money is a major part of it.

With his financial success, is Lesnar ready to commit to reinventing himself and, in particular, shore up his weakness when it comes to his reactions to getting hit? Will he be able to outwork a machine like Velasquez? The lack of a next fight is a two-way street, and there’s no indication he’s been burning up the phone lines calling the UFC to ask to get back into the cage as soon as possible.

It’s an open secret that if Lesnar had his way, he’d headline WrestleMania in April, after being pitched a Floyd Mayweather Jr.-type World Wrestling Entertainment offer. White, who has Lesnar under exclusive contract, has publicly stated he would not allow him to do pro wrestling, which is likely to lead to underlying tension.

Lesnar has made millions in his UFC fights based on getting a cut of pay-per-view revenue, and it simply would not be cost effective to be in a match for the company to have Lesnar in against anyone but a top star. This eliminates the next level of fighters like Cheick Kongo, Ben Rothwell and Brendan Schaub from being considered. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, who was knocked out by Mir and hasn’t looked impressive in years, is at best a last-ditch desperation name.

This leaves only Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. But Nogueira has two strikes against him: First, he is nowhere near the draw Mir would be. But second, throwing short-term money gains aside, Nogueira makes even less sense long-term.

UFC has to create a top contender for the winner of the upcoming Velasquez-Junior Dos Santos title fight. Lesnar would be the biggest drawing challenger for either, but he’s going to need one if not two wins to earn that shot. If he lost to Nogueira, he’s out of the running. However, if Nogueira wins, Velasquez beat Nogueira easily on Feb. 21 in Sydney, Australia, and a rematch would be a tough sell. Worse, if Dos Santos wins, a Nogueira-Dos Santos title match would be almost impossible to make, given that Dos Santos is a personal protégé of Nogueira.

If Mir beat Lesnar, matches against Velasquez and Dos Santos are not only fresh matches, but also Mir’s ability to sell a fight would make them bigger than any other potential heavyweight matchups on the roster except one with Lesnar.

Which brings us back where we started: Regardless of what angry Twitter fans might say, Lesnar-Mir is the most logical match to make.


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