ESPN Deal with UFC Reportedly a Factor in Failed Brock Lesnar Negotiations
By: Jesse Donathan
It’s all about the Benjamin’s, baby! In more tantalizing Brock Lesnar news, in a May 2, 2019 wrestlinginc.com article titled, “What Happened with Brock Lesnar’s UFC Return Negotiations, Possible WWE Match for Lesnar,” author Marc Middleton revealed the inside scope on what really derailed the Lesnar versus Cormier fight. And not surprisingly, it all boils down to how much money the UFC was willing to pay Brock Lesnar. According to Middleton, “Dave Meltzer noted on Wrestling Observer Radio that Lesnar had been negotiating with UFC for the summer 2019 fight with UFC Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier, and a deal could not be reached.”
Middleton would go on to note that, “Lesnar reportedly wanted a flat fee from UFC for the Cormier fight, instead of a percentage of pay-per-view buys, but UFC felt like he was asking for too much. According to wrestlinginc.com, “Meltzer noted that UFC is no longer under pressure to draw strong pay-per-view buys because they are getting about the same money through their deal with ESPN.”
As many will recall, Golden Boy CEO Oscar de la Hoya famously said pay-per-view was dead, pointing to their deal with the streaming service DAZN as the wave of the future. Following in Golden Boys footsteps, the UFC & ESPN+ signed a new deal through 2025 marking the UFC’s own entry into the streaming service universe. A move, much like the UFC’s deal with Reebok, that has reverberated throughout the sports entertainment industry.
The very real possibility exists that UFC President Dana White’s recent announcement of Lesnar’s retirement is all part of the ongoing contract negotiations. It should be noted that the news is coming from the UFC president, not the Lesnar camp itself. Purely speculative, the public’s reaction, or lack thereof to Lesnar’s retirement, could possibly be used as leverage in future contract negotiations. And according to Middleton:
“There’s no word yet on if Lesnar has pulled out of the USADA testing but if he has, he could come back and would have to wait another 6 months before being eligible for a fight. If he does pull out, that’s a good sign that he has really decided not to fight. Meltzer noted that if he doesn’t pull out, this all could be a public negotiation by White in an attempt to get Lesnar to lower his price.”
If Meltzer is correct, then it looks like Brock Lesnar really is done. As reported by mensjournal.com, author Tom Briechle wrote in his article earlier this week titled, “Brock Lesnar Retires from MMA for the Second Time in 6 Years,” that Lesnar has in fact been removed from the USADA testing pool. According to Briechle, “Brock Lesnar is officially done with the UFC — at least for the time being.” Mensjournal.com goes on to write:
“Additionally, the US Anti-Doping Agency has reported that Lesnar has been removed from their testing pool.”
So where does that leave us? Brock has reportedly asked for too much money and has left the negotiation table. According to Dana White, he has retired. And the UFC has decided with their most recent deal with ESPN, they’re in a better position bargaining wise to the point where they don’t really need Brock Lesnar’s services bad enough to give in to his salary requirements just yet.
At least, that appears to be the position the UFC took in denying Lesnar’s initial demands according to published reports. If Meltzer and wrestlinginc.com are correct, Lesnar ultimately walked away from the sport and retired due to the UFC being in such a rewarding financial relationship with ESPN that that they choose not to come to an agreement with the WWE superstar.
Though with WME-IMG reportedly working on a four-billion-dollar investment into the worlds premiere mixed martial arts organization, I cannot help but think the UFC isn’t in as an advantageous position as they would like everyone to believe and its business as usual despite the new ESPN+ deal. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Brock Lesnar fighting in in the octagon is big business for everyone involved.
Still, despite the abundance of evidence to suggest Lesnar is done with MMA, there is reason to believe we shouldn’t count him or the UFC out just yet. While its hard to argue with Metzler’s conclusions, the fact is we’ve seen a very similar situation happen before. In a January 11, 2018 independent.co.uk article titled, “UFC, Brock Lesnar and president Dana White being sued by Mark Hunt over Lesnar’s UFC 200 failed drugs test,” author Max Clark writes that:
“According to Hunt, the UFC deliberately hid all knowledge that Lesnar had tested positive. He says Lesnar and the UFC had four months to put him through USADA testing but elected to do it one week before fight night, not providing enough time for the results to come through.”
All but one of Hunts charges were ultimately dismissed in court, with the UFC being found liable for the “breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing,” according to a February 15, 2019 ESPN.com article by Brett Okamoto titled, “Judge dismisses most of Mark Hunts case against UFC, Brock Lesnar.” What that effectively means is that Brock Lesnar has circumvented the system before, skipping over the usual USADA testing required for other athletes and has jumped straight into big time fights, ready to play ball with the best in the business. And small things, like going through the usual required USADA testing periods, only applies to the second-class serfs.
So, Brock Lesnar is done until he isn’t done, the possibility exists that he can come back at the most opportune possible and into big money fights. Whether it’s a last second substitution for a high-profile fight, an interim-title fight or even vying for the undisputed belt, I won’t be surprised in the least bit to see Lesnar back in the octagon competing once again. But for the time being, it looks like Lesnar has retired from mixed martial arts for good. At least until a financial agreement can be reached and Lesnar can be inserted into the most favorable position possible for all parties involved.