UFC 226 Mixed Martial Arts

Brock Lesnar, left, taunts Daniel Cormier after Cormier's heavyweight championship bout against Stipe Miocic at UFC 226 on Saturday in Las Vegas.

The mercenary came donned in a three-piece suit and brown dress shoes.

Brock Lesnar entering the octagon Saturday night after the conclusion of the main event of UFC 226 will go down as a watershed moment for the company. You can mark July 7, 2018, as the day the UFC stopped trying to run itself like a sports league and fully embraced the spectacle-chasing, sense-be-damned spirit of its combat sport ancestors. And that’s not a good thing.

Before we get too far down the rabbit hole, let’s lay out what happened:

  • Daniel “DC” Cormier — the current UFC light heavyweight champion (205 lbs) — made history Saturday when he leveled Stipe Miocic with a right hook from the clinch and won Miocic’s heavyweight (265 lbs) title in what was appropriately billed a “superfight.” Cormier became just the second person ever to hold two divisions’ belts.
  • Brock Lesnar, who made his way to the cageside area before the Cormier-Miocic bout, is a former UFC heavyweight champion and the current WWE Universal champion (dumb name, they know).
  • Cormier uses his post-fight interview to call Lesnar into the ring and challenge him to a championship match. As one may presume, this is where a crazy night for the UFC heavyweight division delved into the absurd.
  • Lesnar shoved Cormier almost immediately upon entering the cage. However, both men were smiling as it happened and as security folks jumped between the two of them. Lesnar, a veteran of professional wrestling, and Cormier, a vocal fan of pro wrestling, were clearly in on the act together — in the business, they call it a work.
  • MMA reporters across the landscape then began reporting Lesnar has re-entered the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s pool of tested athletes with eyes on facing Cormier early next year for the heavyweight title.

The reasoning behind what happened on Saturday is pretty simple.

Cormier, 39, has already stated his intention to retire in 2019 after the final two fights of his current UFC contract are done, and he wants a big-money attraction fight on the way out the door. A bout against Lesnar, who is one of the three biggest pay-per-view draws in the history of the UFC, will bring the eyeballs and fat paychecks to both fighters.

Lesnar has made his intent to fight in the UFC again clear, and in a division devoid of big names outside of Miocic and Cormier, a quick cash-grab and title match were easy pickings for the soon-to-be 41 year old.

In the apparently post-Conor McGregor world the UFC is in, creating spectacle fights is what fans have to expect. However, the message this move sends is a paradigm shift in the way the UFC conducts its business.

Lesnar cutting the line in the heavyweight division and getting an immediate title shot despite being under a performance-enhancing drug suspension and not having fought in two years is a farce in and of itself. One could make the argument that UFC 226’s co-main event stinker between Derrick Lewis and Francis Ngannou exhibited that nobody else at the top of the division deserves a title shot, but the fact remains that a part-timer is getting an opportunity for which other contenders have spent their careers vying.

The UFC has tried since introducing its rankings system to give it weight and give title shots to fighters ranked high in the weight class. Lesnar’s chance at a second championship reign lights that notion on fire and throws it out the window.

It also is a slap in the face of Miocic. The 35-year-old fireman had the record for the most consecutive title defenses in UFC heavyweight history (three) before Saturday night, and by all standards the promotion used to uphold, he should get an immediate rematch for his belt. Miocic isn’t the draw Lesnar is — no one outside of Georges St. Pierre or McGregor is — so denying Miocic a second crack at Cormier is a blatant sign of disrespect to someone who’s never cheated and has been a perfect representative of the sport.

(As an aside, this also puts WWE is a bad spot. Its No. 1 champion is going to continue being off TV while training to fight somewhere else. WWE survived this once, but Lesnar wasn’t champion. Outside of stripping him of the title, I don’t see a way to make any storyline with Lesnar losing the belt compelling when the world knows why it’s happening.)

Worst of all, the theatrics of the Lesnar-Cormier “confrontation,” if you can call it that, undermine the legitimacy of the UFC. Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy is what the WWE is built upon, and what the UFC has tried so desperately to avoid.

Listen, I’m a fan of the UFC, pro wrestling and Lesnar, so I’m all for being worked. I was excited when the staged chaos of Saturday night went down.

But by allowing this, the UFC is now on the same plane as wrestling — sports entertainment. And that isn’t a healthy step for a sport that just recently became more accepted in the mainstream.

Colten Bartholomew is a reporter and columnist for the Tribune. He can be reached at colten.bartholomew@lee.net and on Twitter @cbartdizzle.

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