He’s calling it a career, at least in MMA. Brock Lesnar revealed Tuesday night on ESPN that he had re-signed with the WWE, ending speculation that he would make a return to MMA and the UFC in particular. He also revealed that he had been training for an MMA return for months, but that while the body was willing, there was something missing from his mental game.

If that’s the case, stepping away was a wise decision. An MMA fight, especially at the top levels of the sport, is nowhere to be if you’re not mentally in the game.

There were other factors: family, most of all. And as Lesnar stated to ESPN, he’s an “older caveman now. I make wiser caveman decisions.”

The UFC certainly pursued his services, and rightfully so. Lesnar is the biggest draw in the company’s history, right up there with Georges St. Pierre. GSP had a nation behind him. Lesnar had a nation of fans — wrestling fans — plus MMA fans who either loved or hated him. He was a polarizing figure, thanks to his professional wrestling background, and there seemed to be no middle ground. That was only cemented when he brought a certain level of theatrics into the MMA game (such as after his defeat of Frank Mir at UFC 100, the highest selling PPV in UFC history). Yet far too many forget that Brock Lesnar was a decorated NCAA Champion who was incredibly adept in the ring. Look no further than his famed “Wheel of Death” maneuver for evidence. In reality, he wasn’t a “fake fighter” who went legit, he was a legit amateur wrestler who went scripted, then real, and in the end, back to scripted again.

His legacy? A dominant four-fight win streak in the UFC heavyweight division, winning the title and defending it twice — still tied for the heavyweight record when it comes to title defenses, at least for now — before falling to illness (diverticulitis), losing his belt to Cain Velasquez, attempting one last run, losing to an Alistair Ovreem later suspended for a failed drug test, and retiring.

With his overall MMA record at 5-3, the second biggest chunk of Lesnar’s legacy, after his title reign, becomes the “what ifs” — namely, what if he had debuted in MMA right after college? What if the scripted “sports entertainment” world of the WWE hadn’t gotten in the way? What if diverticulitis hadn’t cut his MMA run short?

Love him or hate him, Brock Lesnar brought more eyeballs than ever before to MMA, and his impact can’t be denied. He’s also making the right move calling it a career, if his heart isn’t in it. Does it take away some dream match-ups for fans? Sure. Lesnar vs. Mir 3 would have been huge. Lesnar vs. Overeem 2 could have answered a lot of questions, and it still boggles the mind that Overeem’s win in that bout, for which the Dutch heavyweight had a conditional fight license dependent on him passing multiple drug tests within a window of several months (extending past the fight), was allowed to stand, given he eventually failed a PED test within his conditional license window. Bloody Elbow’s great piece on that issue can be found here. Yet keep in mind he only lost to the best: Frank Mir, in a match he was winning, Cain Velasquez, considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight in the sport’s relatively short history, and Overeem, a multi-promotion champion.

Dream match-ups aside, however, what Lesnar also takes away is the chance that he might actually tarnish his legacy. A failed second run, and all of a sudden, the luster is off his career. All of a sudden, he’s no longer a bright spot in the sport’s history who simply burned out too quickly due to starting late and struggling with his health. Suddenly, he’s a failed experiment in cross-over promotion (as much as a former champion could ever be considered “failed” at least).

In the end, this is more than likely the best bet for Lesnar, who relied on dominant wrestling and can bee seen as one of the last champions to really rely on a single discipline. He leaves as the most watched figure in the sport, one who drew more attention than most active fighters in making his final decision to retire, despite not having fought for years. Only the most ardent of nay-sayers can question his success in the sport, and though he poses the most frustrating of “what if” scenarios, MMA fans, and all sports fans, ponder these questions of all great champions, so in that, Lesnar is far from alone.

And in the history of the UFC and MMA, despite an all too short career, he’s in rare company.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.