by Irvin Muchnick
The crossover of legit and fake sport in late-empire America has achieved a new apotheosis of sorts with news that Brock Lesnar, WWE’s lead cartoon monster and fusion sports star, is returning to mixed martial arts at next month’s UFC 200 show in Las Vegas.
Below, see more on the loopy inside politics and business risks of the fight itself. But first a word on something no one has picked up on so far: the gaping questions about UFC’s U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA)-administered performance-enhancing drug policy presented by this snap reemergence of Lesnar.
The published policy states: “An Athlete who gives notice of retirement to UFC, or has otherwise ceased to have a contractual relationship with UFC, may not resume competing in UFC Bouts until he/she has given UFC written notice of his/her intent to resume competing and has made him/herself available for Testing for a period of four months before returning to competition. UFC may grant an exemption to the four-month written notice rule in exceptional circumstances or where the strict application of that rule would be manifestly unfair to an Athlete.”
Lesnar retired from UFC and went back to WWE after getting pummeled by Alistair Overeem in 2011. According to most sources, talks for his shot at UFC 200 began in April, when a dispute between UFC star Conor McGregor and company management led to his being scratched from the upcoming landmark show. In subsequent scrambled-eggs booking, UFC chief Dana White adequately replaced a McGregor-Nate Diaz fight with a grudge rematch between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. But interest in Lesnar as a special attraction heated up.
Did Lesnar — whether in April or at any point — bother to give UFC written notice of his intent to resume competing, and make himself available for PED testing? And if so, will UFC release the documentation of it?
If Lesnar notified UFC in April, then it was well less than the required four months prior to UFC 2000 on July 9. The loophole then would become an exemption from UFC. Did UFC grant an exemption? If yes, did UFC consult with, or in any way inform, USADA?
The language of the policy appears discretionary to the point of meaninglessness. The only thing “exceptional” about the circumstances here appears to be Lesnar’s opportunity to make, as he just bragged in an ESPN interview, “a boatload of money.” Deeming application of the notice rule in this instance as “manifestly unfair to an Athlete” would require heavyweight rationalization, since Lesnar already has a seven-figure contract with WWE.
Indeed, the athlete to whom the non-application of the rule is manifestly unfair is actually Lesnar’s UFC 200 opponent, Mark Hunt. This points to the bedrock perversity of PED vigilance. The only sport in which the public is locked in on drug cheats is baseball, because it involves the ultimate abstraction: athletic statistics. As I like to say, everyone cares more about fake things in real sports than about real things in fake sports. Here the real thing is life and death: an opponent in a fight with an ill-gained advantage is literally punching and throwing with artificially added force.
Most of the talk about Lesnar-Hunt is the backstage intrigue. WWE released Lesnar for this appearance in what the company is calling a “one-off,” but the risks are huge. Lesnar left UFC for reasons, one of them being that he doesn’t particularly enjoy getting hit in the face. Even if Hunt is not a championship-level mixed martial artist, he is a sledgehammer puncher. And as long-time journeyman Michael Bisping proved on Saturday night at UFC 199 — in which he twice floored and dethroned middleweight champion Luke Rockhold after taking the fight as a substitute on short notice — anything can happen in a fight. Lesnar will be 39 years old when he steps back into the octagon.
The guess is that, while Lesnar is cashing in big-time, WWE is leveraging the availability of Lesnar for a return favor from UFC — perhaps a freak-show appearance by fading star Ronda Rousey at next year’s WrestleMania.
I’ve asked UFC for comment on Lesnar’s drug-testing situation. I’m not holding my breath. Don’t be surprised if any eventual answer to the questions posed here is one or some combination of the following: (1) A lie that Lesnar gave timely unretirement notice, without supporting documentation; (2) Going through the motions of granting a waiver after the fact, with USADA’s blessing. Remember that boxing writer Thomas Hauser last year exposed irregularities in Floyd Mayweather’s intravenous injection regimen prior to his megafight against Manny Pacquiao.
I know at least one other journalist who also queried USADA. Flacks for the agency’s media-darling CEO, Travis Tygart, stopped responding to Concussion Inc. several years ago after we exposed Tygart’s role, as a USA Swimming lawyer in the early 2000s, in covering up multiple known slam-dunk cases of sexual abuse by coaches.
Previously at Concussion Inc.: Brock Lesnar at UFC 100, https://concussioninc.net/?p=885, July 19, 2009.