Lesnar-Dos Santos keeps UFC growth on track
The announcement that Brock Lesnar and Junior Dos Santos will be the coaches for the 13th season of 'The Ultimate Fighter' likely surprised some folks, particularly since Lesnar, by his own admission, is still in the early stages of learning the mixed martial arts game.
But from a business standpoint, having the two fighters as opposing coaches and making them opponents in a June pay-per-view main event makes sense on a number of levels.
The UFC’s biggest potential fight of 2011 is a rematch between Lesnar (5-2) and the man who took his heavyweight title in October, Cain Velasquez (9-0). If such as a fight takes place, it has a good shot at being the second richest PPV event in company history.
But if Dos Santos (12-1), who doesn’t have Lesnar’s name recognition, beats the former pro wrestling star in their TUF showdown, his drawing power for subsequent fight with Velasquez would increase by leaps and bounds.
Lesnar and Dos Santos are dangerous as opponents because each has major skill advantages over the other. But the winner would be seen by the public as the legitimate top contender for Velasquez’s title.
Getting Lesnar to do TUF was a challenge, as he hates travelling and leaving his Minnesota home. The show requires him to spend from January 24 through the first week of March in Las Vegas filming the show, where a crew of neophyte welterweight fighters will be divided into two teams and battle for a UFC contract.
The show debuts March 30 on Spike TV on and will air on Wednesday nights, with the finale currently scheduled for June 8.
While White did not specifically say the Lesnar-Dos Santos fight would be held June 11 at the Rogers Centre in Vancouver, he did announce that the matchup would be in the first PPV event following the TUF season and that it would be in early June. White noted that Vancouver was not official yet, but when asked about the site later in a media call, he hinted there was a strong chance of it being there.
“It was [difficult putting the deal together],” said White, who actually closed the deal about a week and half ago, noting it was the obvious move once it became clear Velasquez needs surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff that will keep him out of action until late 2011. “I’m already prepared that this is going to be a tough season. I deal with Brock in very short spurts. He fights two or three times per year. It’s always tough.”
White said the company would not be creating an interim title with Velasquez on the shelf for so long.
“No interim title,” said White. “These two coach. They’ll fight. The winner fights Cain.”
The big winners in this announcement are Spike TV and the show itself. The UFC is in its contract year with the network that put it on the map, so ratings are even more critical this year and strong numbers will help the promotion in negotiations. Season 12, featuring Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck as coaches, was the fourth-highest rated season in the history of the show.
With Lesnar, the company’s biggest draw virtually since the day he started in 2008, ratings for this season are likely to be even higher. Replays of Lesnar’s PPV fights on Spike have been consistently higher rated than any other replayed fights on television.
“With Brock’s personality and the way that he is, this is going to be an interesting season in many ways,” said White.
It’s also a career-maker for Dos Santos, as being a TUF coach raises the profile of every fighter put in the position. Some of the UFC’s biggest PPV events in history, including Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock, Quinton Jackson vs. Rashad Evans and Josh Koscheck vs. Georges St. Pierre, were built off the show.
White bristled at talk that putting Lesnar in as coach would hurt the show based on the notion that Lesnar is probably going to be less experienced and well-rounded than some of the fighters he’ll be coaching. But White noted Lesnar’s status as a former UFC heavyweight champion.
Lesnar has been a successful fighter largely due to his size and power, combined with freakish speed and freestyle wrestling skills. However, Lesnar’s camp, which includes physical conditioning expert Marty Morgan, Erik Paulsen, one of the most respected coaches in the sport, and judo black belt Rodrigo “Comprido” Medeiros, moulded him to a win over Randy Couture just 17 months into his MMA career.
Dos Santos is the best pure boxer among top-ranked heavyweights in the UFC. Lesnar, on the other hand, is the best pure wrestler. Dos Santos has never been taken down in his six straight UFC wins, starting with his debut on October 25, 2008, in Chicago when he took just 80 seconds to knock out Fabricio Werdum in what was considered an upset at the time.
He works extensively with former NCAA wrestling champion Mark Munoz on takedown defence. Roy Nelson, Dos Santos’ last opponent, could never get the fight to the ground in three rounds, but Nelson isn’t the level of wrestler Lesnar is, and Nelson did go into the fight with a bad knee.
Lesnar has taken down every opponent he’s faced, even taking down Velasquez twice, but it was Velasquez’s ability to pop up to his feet that made the difference in their fight. Lesnar’s defence against strikers was shown to be his weakness in recent fights with Shane Carwin and Velasquez, and the odds would be greatly against him vs. Dos Santos if he can’t get the fight down.
On the ground, Dos Santos is unknown, since he’s never been put there in UFC competition. Based on his camp, one would think he’s got something off his back. He was submitted in a 2007 fight, his only loss, but Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, one of the best jiu-jitsu heavyweights ever, has been coaching him for years on the ground game.
While part of the deal to get Lesnar to do “The Ultimate Fighter” included guarantee of a title match with a win over Dos Santos, White said that the deal does not include allowing Lesnar to do WrestleMania for World Wrestling Entertainment, a long-simmering item in the MMA rumour mill.
White and Lorenzo Fertitta have insisted that they don’t want one of their fighters to participate in pro wrestling exhibitions, feeling the line between sports and entertainment need to stay divided. In 2006, negotiations by White to bring 1996 Olympic gold medallist and later pro wrestling star Kurt Angle to UFC fell through when White made it clear he would only use Angle if he gave up pro wrestling.
“There was no wheeling and dealing,” said White. “I think everyone knows he’s under contract to me.”
White also announced that if Mark Hominick was to beat George Roop on the Jan. 22 “Fight for the Troops” show in Fort Hood, Texas, and comes out uninjured, then Hominick would get a featherweight title fight with Jose Aldo Jr. The Aldo Jr.-Hominick title fight is right now slated for April 30 at Rogers Centre in Toronto.