In hindsight, it was a feel-good story that might have felt a little bit too good to be true.
Just days shy of his 39th birthday, former UFC champion Brock Lesnar returned from a five-year MMA retirement to defeat Mark Hunt on Saturday at UFC 200, allowing the WWE star a moment of two-fold redemption.
The victory gave Lesnar a chance to rewrite the ending of a mixed martial arts career robbed by a nearly fatal battle with diverticulitis years earlier. Meanwhile, the gift of his star power twice saved the UFC’s landmark event, first after Conor McGregor was pulled in April, and once again three days before UFC 200 when Jon Jones was popped for a doping violation.
For one more day, the obsessively competitive Lesnar once again owned the headlines of the unscripted sporting world. One week later, he’s back, but for all the wrong reasons.
Lesnar and the UFC were informed by the United States Anti-Doping Association on Friday that the heavyweight had been flagged for his own potential anti-doping violation, stemming from an out-of-competition test administered on June 28.
If the news feels cryptic, it is. USADA, which has administered the UFC’s anti-doping program since last July, has a standard policy not to divulge the cause of the potential violation, meaning the public may never know. What we do know is Lesnar wasn’t flagged for recreational drugs, which USADA doesn’t test for outside of competition and his fate ultimately resides in the hands of both USADA and the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which oversaw the fight in Las Vegas.
Without knowing the specifics or severity of his “possible” violation, reacting critically against Lesnar is a slippery slope for now. But to act like the news was shocking for anyone following closely would have been disingenuous, just the same.
Lesnar became the first fighter to be granted an exemption by the UFC from a four-month drug testing window before the fight in a story that was covered by many mainstream outlets. So was Hunt’s belief that the WWE’s drug testing was a joke, along with his telling Fox Sports Australia that Lesnar would be “juiced to the gills” entering the fight.
But none of these stories were elevated to the level of prominence even close to the buzz and excitement that surrounded Lesnar’s short-notice return.
Hunt believed the UFC’s decision to waive the mandatory four-month notice for all fighters returning from retirement — reserved for “exceptional circumstances” according to its policy, which is enforced by USADA — essentially allowed Lesnar to train without being tested for the majority of his camp.
In the end, Lesnar submitted eight tests to USADA, according to the agency’s website, in the 35 days between the June 4 announcement of his return and UFC 200 on July 9. But considering Lesnar, who works a part-time schedule with WWE, hadn’t been involved in an on-screen storyline since WrestleMania 32 on April 3, the timing of his announcement to return remains somewhat dubious in light of Friday’s news.
Simply put: Anyone who watched Lesnar compete at UFC 200 or saw the kind of shape he was in wouldn’t be honest with themselves if they believed he had been preparing for north of only one month. It’s doubly troubling when you consider that’s the same amount of notice that was given to Hunt.
If Lesnar is found to have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs ahead of the fight, the decision by the UFC to make the exemption will be looked at as short-sighted at best, placing their financial interests ahead of fighter safety. Had Lesnar been forced to give the four-month notice and still tested dirty during training camp, he would’ve been pulled from the fight.
The situation also makes Lesnar look like a hypocrite.
He reacted to comments about his hulking physique in the buildup to the fight by defiantly saying, “I’m a white boy and I’m jacked, deal with it.” He was also asked directly just two days before the fight for his opinion of Jones’ doping violation.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Lesnar, who had previously never tested positive for banned substances during his UFC career. “It’s unprofessional. That’s just what it is. What else can I say? Merry Christmas to Brock Lesnar.”
may not have “supported it necessarily.” His victory left him largely free of injury outside of a swollen left eye, clearing him for a quick return to compete at WWE SummerSlam on Aug. 21 (although Lesnar teased of a possible UFC return after the fight).
Now, his immediate future with both organizations will be very much dependent on the severity of his doping violation.
At the very least, the news is unwanted negative press at the wrong time, as WWE is days away from a much-publicized draft and storyline brand split, and the UFC was recently sold for a reported $4 billion to WME-IMG.
Should we have known better watching Lesnar flex on the scale before the fight or been more vocal when he relied on his gas tank late in Round 3 against Hunt despite not having entered the Octagon in five years? If we hadn’t already, the answer is sadly, yes.
For many, the news is a bitter pill to swallow as Lesnar remains the rare athlete who is so much larger than life that everything he does simply has to be true because there’s no one else like him.
But we aren’t living in a dream world. And for Lesnar, the reality is this casts a potentially dark shadow on the unique career of a freak athlete and entertainer whose legend has long been connected with his indomitable size and super-human athleticism.
Even more, it might have ruined a perfectly good story.