What’s next for Brock Lesnar? WWE and UFC returns, AEW move among plethora of free agency options

If the news felt innocuous in any form upon impact on Monday when PW Insider was first to report that Brock Lesnar and WWE had failed to come to terms on a new contract, it’s understandable. 

Lesnar is 43, has competed in mixed martial arts just once in nine years and still has half of his USADA suspension to serve from failed drug tests related to his last appearance in the Octagon. In pro wrestling, meanwhile, Lesnar has quietly drifted away since WWE took its most prestigious title off him at WrestleMania 36 in favor of Drew McIntyre. “The Beast Incarnate” wasn’t booked for SummerSlam last weekend and saw his merchandise pulled from WWE’s online store. 

Innocuous couldn’t be further from the truth, however. 

By taking into account his still impressive standing across all forms of combat — scripted or not — as a rare individual draw who can sell on name value and curiosity alone, the idea of Lesnar as a free agent for hire is big news alone. Add in the current climate from a business and competition standpoint in both MMA and pro wrestling as a whole, and Lesnar has the potential to become a massive disrupter in every scenario involving where he ends up. 

A notorious recluse as it pertains to doing media of any kind, Lesnar has yet to speak about his future intentions and whether that includes fighting again, two years removed from his last UFC tease when he shoved new heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier inside the Octagon after UFC 226 in July 2018. That hasn’t stopped media members, promoters and active fighters from both speculating on social media to outright challenging the former UFC heavyweight champion. 

The debate of whether Lesnar chooses MMA or pro wrestling might be moot considering the potential for him to moonlight between both should he negotiate that way. The bigger story revolves around how strategic it would be for industry leaders WWE and UFC to secure his services as a means to block competitors and how those same promotions could instantly be elevated to contenders by his arrival. 

In pro wrestling, Lesnar is largely a unicorn in that, because of his part-time schedule, he retains the status of being a special attraction in an era where over-saturation is typically the default given the hours of television to fill. Lesnar is almost more valuable because he’s treated as a premium product. In MMA, he certainly has a much shorter shelf life given his age — especially if matched too often against the current elites — and would be more profitable in one-offs that were creatively-matched. 

Either way, Lesnar will likely have no shortage of offers and opportunities to shift the current balance of power. Let’s take a closer look at which ones make the most sense.  

Most likely: WWE

The current divide between the two parties likely has to do with WWE not wanting to continue to pay Lesnar an outrageous full-time salary for half the work. No one has been a shrewder negotiator in recent years than Lesnar who, knowing how much WWE CEO Vince McMahon lusts for his unique value, constantly threatened UFC returns to gain new leverage. 

This remains the best option for Lesnar in that he probably has another full decade in him, if the hunger was still there, to stay in great shape and crush people in scripted battles every few months while remaining wealthy and distant on his giant Canadian farm. With WWE television ratings sinking and fresh competitor AEW doing well, it’s hard to imagine McMahon will allow this to be too long of a pissing contest and risk handing over such a ratings powder keg to a competitor. 

And despite Lesnar’s WWE mystique having become a bit monotonous in recent years, there’s no shortage of great talent he hasn’t yet worked with including Big E, Aleister Black, former UFC fighter Matt Riddle, Keith Lee, Velveteen Dream, a rehash with current WWE champion Drew McIntyre or a main-event feud opposite Bray Wyatt’s “The Fiend” character. That’s not even taking into account Roman Reigns’ recent turn as a possible heel. 

Lesnar will always have WWE to fall back on if he wants to and provided he was able to agree to amenable deal. But little has been talked about Lesnar’s history of being bored with his status quo in search of difficult (and keyword: competitive) challenges. He’s still young enough from an MMA standpoint in a division where age is rarely an issue and smart enough to realize his pro wrestling brand could use a bit of a refresh that this isn’t automatic. 

Very possible: UFC

The only thing that appeared to keep Lesnar from facing Cormier in a heavyweight title fight he wouldn’t have deserved coming off such a long layoff and drug suspension was that he couldn’t get UFC to match his price. It’s fair to argue two years later that Lesnar holds more value for having not returned in a fight he was almost destined to lose badly and might be the perfect opponent for a fight against Jones that has seemingly been hinted at for nearly a decade. 

Recent news of Jones vacating his light heavyweight title to test the waters of the UFC’s heavyweight division was only damped by UFC president Dana White’s preference that current champion Stipe Miocic defend his title next in a rematch against top contender Francis Ngannou. Should that go as planned, Jones would need to wait in the bullpen for the next title shot while he took the time to build up to a heavyweight frame.  Or he could make his debut within the division with an enormous splash against Lesnar that would be a blockbuster pay-per-view and serve perfectly as the type of opponent, given the size and wrestling pedigree, for Jones to test himself to prove he’s comfortable with the big boys. 

Although every Lesnar fight would be an attraction, the UFC doesn’t have as many big-name fights available in which a strong case for Lesnar winning remains an option. Yes, Lesnar seemed to take a great shot against Mark Hunt in their bout at UFC 200, but Lesnar is also four years older with a ton to prove that he can have the same motor when not using performance-enhancing drugs. 

Brock Lesnar seem poised for a return to the UFC Octagon in 2018. 
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This would be wild: AEW

This is the biggest power move All Elite Wrestling could possibly make from the standpoint of creating a new professional wrestling war to spark the nostalgia of fans who lived through the late 1990s. Short of moving its flagship Dynamite shows to Monday opposite WWE’s Raw, there are very little comparable moves AEW could make that would have this big of an impact. 

The bad news, of course, is that Lesnar doesn’t necessarily fit the style, presentation or message that AEW is currently thriving behind as a WWE alternative fueled by those whose talents the mighty promotion had dismissed or overlooked. In all honesty, Lesnar is the prototypical face of a Vince McMahon-led wrestling brand in 2020 or any year. But there’s that word, disrupter, again. Lesnar would grant AEW a level of legitimacy and street cred that a heel-turning Hulk Hogan once did as Hollywood Hogan for WCW in its own battle to compete with — and at times, overtake — WWE in the ratings. 

Just about any feud involving Lesnar would feel fresh, even if it came against opponents he previously faced in WWE (think Jon Moxley and Chris Jericho) who now enjoy much different freedoms and creative control over their own characters. Not to mention that a feud with Kenny Omega, considered the best in the world during his New Japan Pro-Wrestling days, would blow the minds of any hardcore fan just imagining it. 

Lesnar, long a wild card on the microphone, has also been muzzled long enough by WWE through the incredible work of on-screen advocate Paul Heyman that getting to hear an unscripted “Beast” trash talk his “indie” opponents and not care for concerns such as profanity or maintaining a family atmosphere could be the best thing ever. It also might not hurt that the billionaire Khan family, which also owns the NFL‘s Jacksonville Jaguars and Premier League’s Fulham FC, could probably foot the bill if it were looking to take a major gamble. 

Makes more sense than you think: Bellator MMA

Should Lesnar fancy not only a fighting comeback but anything more than a one-off payday to ride off into the sunset, UFC simply doesn’t have many big names he can beat. For as much as the tail-end of Lesnar’s career was compromised by his diverticulitis battle, his game never had a chance to evolve much beyond wrestling. 

If one big fight is all Lesnar wanted, Bellator MMA certainly can provide that in Fedor Emelianenko, which CEO Scott Coker told ESPN on Monday is, “the fight that never happened!” Both men are faded enough that the unknown element of the outcome would be legitimately compelling. 

But even beyond that, Bellator is simply a softer landing for Lesnar from the standpoint of finding him creative fights in which he could remain both active and successful. Just like Coker once did with Strikeforce in matching Emelianenko against Dan Henderson, there are a number of prominent names from lower weight classes against whom Lesnar could make fun fights. It’s also not out of the question Lesnar could make a run at the promotion’s heavyweight title, currently worn by former light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader, should he look to become the lone fighter to wear the crown in both major promotions. 

One could argue it hasn’t been since Coker was the head of Strikeforce that anyone had attempted to compete directly against the UFC. Strikeforce had not only its own EA Sports video game and cable TV deal with Showtime, it launched a World Grand Prix heavyweight tournament in 2011 that was arguably better than UFC’s investment at the time within the same division. 

Strikeforce also had the luxury of airing major fight cards in primetime on CBS, which had previously enjoyed similar success promoting Kimbo Slice and Elite XC. Emelianenko’s knockout of Brett Rogers on CBS in 2009, for example, peaked at nearly 6 million viewers, which was similar to CBS numbers put up by Slice. 

Lesnar, because of his nostalgic and crossover pull, could be a similar short-term boon if the same risk was taken, this time by Bellator, which has very similar broadcasting connections as Strikeforce once enjoyed. 

Not so likely: New Japan Pro-Wrestling

The rise of AEW over the past year (and the simultaneous departure of Omega, The Young Bucks, etc.) certainly detoured New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s initial plans for a North American takeover. Adding such an expensive part-time name just doesn’t seem like a great fit financially to where the company is going. 

Lesnar does have history, however, having worked NJPW for two years between his initial WWE exit and transition from NFL hopeful to MMA fighter. Not only did the former IWGP heavyweight champion fit Japan’s trademark stiff and realistic style very well, his look as a hulking American destroyer is a character that has never gone out of style in that country. 

Don’t bet on it: PFL, ONE Championship, BKFC

The wild card here if Lesnar is only looking to fight again for the largest purse possible is whether an outlier promotion like ONE Championship out of Asia might gamble on the fallout effect of a one-night payoff, particularly in the form of its U.S. promotional debut. 

Lesnar’s acumen as a shrewd business man needs to be remembered in this case for any potential opportunity, big or small, although he does deserve credit for being smart about limiting how often he’s actually seen on TV as a means to retain his value. That’s what makes the idea of him trading bareknuckle fists all the more unlikely just for the pay.  

No chance: Retirement

Still young enough to challenge himself and with so many millions still available to him, there’s only so much fun Lesnar can have in one spot at anytime, even on his beloved farm. If you have listened close enough to his non-scripted interviews over the years, there remains a voracious competitor within his 6-foot-3, 285-pound frame. 

If money wasn’t a large part of his why, Lesnar would’ve stayed away for good years ago. But you combine his knowledge of how to draw big purses and his hunger to constantly prove to himself he’s as tough as he looks, and there’s very little reason to believe this is the end. 

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