Daniel Cormier vs. Brock Lesnar (as of now) is no more. The long anticipated heavyweight matchup between one of the greatest fighters ever and one of the biggest draws the sport has ever seen is not happening. UFC president Dana White told ESPN that Lesnar has retired from mixed martial arts and Cormier will face former champion Stipe Miocic on Aug. 17 in Anaheim, California.
How big of a blow is this for the UFC? Could it actually be a blessing in disguise to keep the division moving in the right direction? ESPN's panel -- Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim, Eric Jackman, Phil Murphy and Eric Tamiso -- give their takes.
Helwani: It depends on who you're asking. If it's Cormier, no. This fight represented one of his last opportunities to make a boatload of money. If it's the casual fans, probably not, as well, because for some reason they still get excited by the thought of Lesnar fighting even though his last legitimate win came in 2010. Short term for the UFC? It's a wrench in their plans because Cormier vs. Lesnar definitely draws more than Cormier vs. Miocic 2.
But if you're asking a traditionalist, which is what I consider myself, or a purist, yes, it is. Lesnar didn't earn the right to fight Cormier for the belt. The fact that he was even being considered was a sham in its own right. Not only was his last legitimate victory nine years ago, he also failed two drug tests when he made his ill-fated return three years ago. I had no problem with him coming back against a ranked fighter or even a contender, but he's done absolutely nothing to deserve this honor. So yes, for the legitimacy of the sport and the belt, which I would still like to believe means something, it was a blessing in disguise.
Okamoto: A blessing for the UFC? No, I wouldn't think so. A blessing for the integrity of the sport? Yes. But not for the UFC. I'll admit, I've occasionally wondered if the "Lesnar fighting in the UFC" appeal is as strong as it once was -- in a general sense. But the "Lesnar vs. Daniel Cormier" appeal was very strong in my opinion.
The UFC could have sold that fight. Cormier could have sold that fight. Of course, anyone who follows MMA knew it would have been one-way traffic in Cormier's favor ... but it still would have been a huge commercial success. From a personal standpoint, I won't mourn the loss of DC vs. Lesnar. The Miocic rematch is a much better fight. But is it a blessing in disguise that the UFC won't get a DC vs. Lesnar pay-per-view this summer? I don't see how anyone could argue it is.
Raimondi: From a business perspective, losing the Cormier vs. Lesnar fight is a short-term blow. But it's unclear how much of one it will really be now with ESPN+ being the exclusive home of UFC pay-per-view events. Given that pay-per-view buys mean less to the UFC than ever, there's a case to be made that this is actually a positive development.
Lesnar hasn't fought since 2016, a win over Mark Hunt that was overturned because he tested positive for a prohibited substance. The idea of Lesnar coming off both that layoff and failed drug test and going right into a title fight was ridiculous, but largely overlooked because everyone -- including Dana White himself -- was cool with Cormier getting that Lesnar payday as a kind of career achievement award.
Stipe Miocic is a worthy and deserving opponent for Cormier in a fight that will keep the integrity of the divisional hierarchy. Meanwhile, Lesnar is "retired" again until the next time he's able to play the UFC and WWE against one another. Jon Jones was always the fight he wanted anyway.
Wagenheim: Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!
That's nine, if you're counting, which also happens to be the number of years since the last Lesnar victory inside the Octagon. His is not the resume of a legit challenger for a championship. Sure, I get that the first half of the word "prizefight" is what counts most in today's MMA, and if anyone deserves a chance to milk the UFC's biggest cash cow, it's the classy, accomplished Cormier. But you simply cannot put a belt on the line here and expect us to respect you in the morning. I'm sure the NBA would love to have LeBron in these playoffs, and the Final Four would have been a slam-dunk with Zion, but in real sports you've got to earn your way in.
So yeah, give me DC vs. Stipe. They're the two best heavyweights in the world -- a pairing worthy of championship glory. Even beyond that, this rematch presents each guy with the opportunity for a legacy moment. For Cormier: Defeating a champion is an accomplishment not to be diminished, but doing it a second time would be a legendary statement. For Miocic: A turn of the tables doesn't erase last July's knockout loss from the memory, but it would soften the blow considerably. Can't wait for these big boys to get after it.
And yet ... No! No! No! etc. Lesnar, for all his inactivity, his aging and physical deterioration, his lack of evolution and his WWE buffoonery, is a big, boorish presence who'll be missed. He's the sideshow you wish you could walk right on by, but the carnival barker sells you on the spectacle every time. And once inside the Big Top, you begrudgingly enjoy the show. MMA has always thrived on characters -- from Tank to Tito, Chael to Conor, Diaz to Diaz -- and the sport is losing a massive one here. If you're ever looking to return, Brock, we'll leave a spotlight on for you -- just not for a title fight.
Jackman: The hypothetical fight between Daniel Cormier and Brock Lesnar was always found money, sitting there for the taking, but not a significant marker for the future of the business. It's gone (for now) and the reverberations will be subtle.
Cormier wanted the fight more than anything -- as a wrestling fan, as a company man, and as the challenger and B-side in his highest grossing pay-per-view efforts so far. This fight not only represented a payday, but Cormier's chance to be the guy at the top of the mountain. A spectacle of this magnitude draws additional eyeballs and all of them would have been witness to Cormier as a bonafide conqueror.
The fight with Stipe Miocic was always there (Miocic hasn't fought since their first meeting in anticipation of the rematch) and could have been booked after Cormier dispatched Lesnar. So, no ,this is no blessing, and certainly not for Cormier. The champ loses out on a dream fight, while fans get a significantly more competitive matchup between the top two heavyweights. Not a terrible outcome if Cormier can move beyond the pie in the sky and prepare for the tougher test.
Murphy: How the Cormier-Lesnar misfire impacts the UFC depends on how you view the importance of the UFC being a true meritocracy.
From a standpoint of competitive equity, Brock Lesnar is far less deserving of a title shot than Stipe Miocic. Lesnar doesn't have a recognized win in the Octagon since International Fight Week 2010. Miocic holds the promotional record for consecutive heavyweight title defenses, halted by Cormier himself at IFW 2018. For purists, Miocic makes far more sense to challenge DC, as would any other top-five heavyweight, as would light heavyweight champ Jon Jones.
From a business standpoint, these developments are a negative for both the UFC and Cormier. Pay-per-view numbers will be more than halved with Miocic challenging, and that impacts everyone's pockets. And Miocic presents a far greater threat of beating DC; higher-risk, lower-reward is never a good formula. In a weight class with a dearth of legitimate contenders, anything to bolster the existing crop of elite fighters should be leveraged. That's the WWE pro.
A dominant win over Lesnar would have further built momentum for Cormier's trilogy fight against Jones. To the public at-large, beating the more dangerous Miocic, sadly, won't carry the same weight.
Tamiso: For the UFC as a money-making venture, this is a major blow. There have only been a few fighters in the promotion's history to truly break into the main stream, and Brock Lesnar is one of them. Imagine if Lesnar's return vs. Daniel Cormier wasn't a one-off, and then fought Stipe Miocic or Francis Ngannou? There's at least one less Brinks truck needed to deliver the dollars to UFC headquarters. Regardless of Brock returning, DC has one or two bouts left, then the heavyweight division loses another big star. Unless Jon Jones makes the leap, there doesn't appear to be any fresh blood at the top anytime soon.
From the perspective of legitimate sport where rankings matter, Brock's re-re-retirement from MMA gives Miocic, who has the most consecutive heavyweight title defenses, a rematch this summer. You'd think Ngannou vs. Junior Dos Santos at UFC 239 is a de facto title eliminator, so once again, without a Jon Jones jump, things get a lot clearer.