Ever since the early days of televised mixed martial arts matches, the UFC has drawn many comparisons with the WWE. The latest rumors concerning certain names within both pro wrestling and the MMA look set to blur the boundaries between the two even further.
Selling the Brand, Not the Fight
Fans may deny it on both sides, but the WWE has long been the inspiration for the business model behind the UFC. The MMA promotion, which has recently committed to a record-new strategic partnership with the online gaming brand PokerStars, delivers the same adrenaline-fueled spectacle as pro wrestling to viewers on a global scale.
The WWE and the UFC are more than mere promotions for their respective sports, they are world-renowned brands. Despite counting top fighters like A.J. Styles, Ronda Rousey, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Amanda Nunes in their current rosters, the two brands themselves are arguably the stars, not the individual athletes. Like UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta once said: “We would sell out arenas without even saying who’s fighting…we are selling the UFC brand, not the fight.”
Naturally, with shoot wrestling having played such an influential part in the creation of today’s MMA, there have been quite a few athletes who have made the crossover from the Octagon to the ring (and vice versa). Brock Lesnar is probably the first name that springs to any fan’s mind, and rumor has it that “The Beast Incarnate” could permanently retire from MMA any day now.
The legendary athlete made a surprise return to the WWE on Sunday, May 19th when he crashed the men’s Money in the Bank event. Within a matter of seconds — a “destructive 10 seconds” to be more precise — Lesnar knocked Ali from the top, seizing the contract and sending the wrestling world into overdrive. His next appearance will be at the as yet unnamed WWE event in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on June 7th, alongside nemesis Goldberg and The Undertaker. But the UFC fans waiting for his return to the Octagon may have to wait fruitlessly.
Now officially out of the planned bout against Cormier for the UFC Heavyweight Championship later this summer after he and the promotion were unable to agree on the terms for fighter pay for the match, Lesnar reportedly told Dana White that “he’s done” with MMA. While the big man himself hasn’t re-signed his contract with the UFC for this season, he’s yet to give any confirmation to the rumors that he’s stepping away for good. Cormier believes he’ll be back again at some stage: “Brock is a competitor….if the right opportunity presents itself for him he would do it.” Remember, he has memorably “retired” from the sport twice before: firstly in 2011 after losing to Alistair Overeem at UFC 141, then again in 2017 after testing positive for clomiphene and having his UFC 200 victory over Mark Hunt overturned. Like Cormier says, Lesnar “is a fighter, and he is a competitor, and he likes money,” so never say never!
Cyborg to debut?
The end of 2018 was a tough time for former UFC Women’s Featherweight Champion Cris Cyborg. For what seemed like the undefeatable Brazilian lost the belt to her fellow countrywoman Amanda Nunes at UFC 232 in a devastating first-round KO (the first knockout loss of Cyborg’s professional MMA career), sending rumors flying left, right and center about her future prospects. Although she has one fight left in her contract with the UFC, at the beginning of May, the WMMA exponent made quite a loud statement to everyone in the WWE camp.
Cyborg tweeted a photoshopped image of herself holding the famous Money in the Bank case, alongside a caption, which roughly translated into “I want Becky Lynch” from the original Spanish. Not only did she post it, but she also tagged the notoriously influential Paul Heyman, leading many to believe she hoped he would be able to pull the strings and get her on the ladder.
There was no official response from the WWE, and Money in the Bank went ahead with Ireland’s Becky Lynch emerging as the victor. However, many fans and insiders believe it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility. At the beginning of 2019, when rumors first started circulating about a possible Cyborg-WWE crossover, the biggest obstacle was Ronda Rousey, who declared that she would “refuse” to re-sign her RAW contract if that happened. However, now that Rousey is out of action due to her injury and reportedly taking the time off to start a family with husband Travis Browne, the path could be clear for Cyborg to step through the ropes.