The UFC put on a blockbuster card for International Fight Week, but there was a distinct theatrical aftertaste in Las Vegas on Saturday.
UFC 226 was fully stocked with legitimate superstars and overall, the action in the octagon did well to mask the late cancellation of the Max Holloway v Brian Ortega featherweight championship fight.
Fans around the world were treated to a short but spectacular superfight for the heavyweight title, one that pitted two great champions in Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier against each other.
The lovable Cormier stunned the reigning champion in the first round with a powerful right hook on the button, cuing bedlam in the T-Mobile Arena. There were tears of joy for the MMA veteran, who became just the second fighter to hold two belts in two divisions at the same time.
— UFC (@ufc) 9 July 2018
This was far cry from the Cormier that was floored by a Jon Jones head kick in the same venue almost year ago to the day. The tears were different then.
As such, the night should have been all about Cormier, the family man who rose above the Jones controversy, still possessing the skill and guile to reign supreme on the eve of his 40th birthday.
But there was another storyline emerging.
Earlier, ghost of the past Brock Lesnar entered the arena, getting a reception that provided a clue as to what UFC overlord Dana White had in store for fans.
The former UFC heavyweight champion walked right up to commentator Joe Rogan and asked to be on his podcast, resulting in the broadest of smiles from Rogan. Truth be told, this was a welcome distraction from the horrendous Francis Ngannou v Derrick Lewis bout, where neither of them managed to stamp their authority on being the number one heavyweight contender. And that’s where the sideshow should have ended, but alas.
In the octagon after the fight, Cormier called out the imposing Lesnar, who was more than happy to be the new contender in lieu of quality opposition. Playing an all too familiar character, the pay-per-view king gave Cormier a push worthy of a WWE highlight, went on an expletive laden rant about the heavyweight division, accepted Cormier’s challenge and punched the camera lense. Sorry, what sport are we watching?
DC calls out Brock Lesnar!
— UFC (@ufc) 8 July 2018
A grinning Dana White could barely contain himself, no doubt seeing dollar signs all over the blood-stained octagon.
Would the show have been any different if Miocic was the victor? Probably not.
Reports have since confirmed that Lesnar – who has tested positive for banned substances in the past – is undergoing USADA testing in order to get back into the cage.
Lesnar has featured in several pay-per-view events for the UFC in past and is undoubtedly a cash cow for the brand. In fact, the 1.6 million PPV buys at UFC 100 remains the second highest in UFC history and his name features four times in the top 14, more than the AWOL Conor McGregor. Kaching!
MMA purists would argue that Lesnar should pose no trouble for Cormier in the octagon, given the wrestling acumen and boxing skills of the latter. But perhaps the UFC, under the WME-IMG banner, is more about the bottom line and less about arranging competitive fights.