A Lesnar comeback? Don't hold your breath

Brock Lesnar, left, hardly looked the part of a bona fide tough guy in his last UFC bout. Ric Fogel for ESPN.com

The only thing we know for sure is that Brock Lesnar didn’t show up at UFC 146 by accident.

To hear promoters tell it, dislodging Lesnar from the friendly confines of his home in Alexandria, Minn., is akin to moving heaven and earth. The former UFC and WWE champion has a misanthropic streak a mile wide and given his druthers, he’d probably drive his sensible Chevy Aveo to and from the gym, take his 1989 Dodge Ram on the occasional hunting trip and go absolutely nowhere else.

As a result, eyebrows were raised industry-wide when Lesnar unexpectedly appeared in Las Vegas two weeks ago during the UFC’s all heavyweight extravaganza. Dana White himself fanned the flames, implying the recently retired pay-per-view juggernaut was in fact considering a return to the Octagon. This week, when a series of semi-cryptic tweets from an internet radio host reportedly claimed Lesnar would make a comeback to the UFC by the end of the year, speculation began in earnest.

Is Lesnar really thinking about reviving his MMA career, or is this all part of a carefully orchestrated professional wrestling angle designed to draw attention to his current WWE run? Has he gone rogue, in an attempt to play the two organizations off each other? To paraphrase one of his ProGraps cohorts: Is he serious, bro?

Now for the cold shower. At this stage, we have no choice but to file a Lesnar comeback in the “We’ll Believe It When We See It” folder, alongside Bigfoot, UFOs and that new Dr. Dre album.

It’s not likely, nor would it be particularly smart for Lesnar to return to the Octagon, and the big fella is nothing if not a calculated businessman.

Last we heard, he was locked into a new, sugar-sweet contract with WWE and as of this week the wrestling company was still referencing him by name on its flagship Monday Night Raw TV show. That’s not something it typically does if it’s planning to wash its hands of an individual talent.

Reports that Lesnar’s relationship with WWE became strained almost immediately upon his return have been fast and furious online, but Vince McMahon’s company has been surprisingly good at blurring the lines between fact and fiction as part of its so-called “reality era” during the past few months. The “truth” (such that it really exists) could be anything in between.

Smart money says the Lesnar-WWE marriage is probably legitimately tense -- go ahead, name one of his business relationships that hasn’t been -- but not irreconcilable. In all likelihood the company’s plans for a SummerSlam PPV bout between Lesnar and Triple H will come to fruition and Lesnar will end up fulfilling the terms of his current deal. Whatever they are.

As for an eventual UFC return, it would probably turn out to be more damaging -- both to his person and reputation -- than anything else for the 34-year-old heavyweight.

Lesnar’s marketability as an athlete hinges on his status as a legitimate tough guy and that standing has already suffered significant hits after back-to-back losses to Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem. At this point, WWE can still bill Lesnar as the pro-wrestler who conquered the UFC, but how many more losses could that mystique endure?

How many more times could fans watch him get overwhelmed by Velasquez’s punches or see him crumple against the cage after an Overeem body shot before their suspension of disbelief evaporates entirely? Not too many more times, certainly.

The things Lesnar accomplished in the UFC were, frankly, remarkable but even before those losses there were warning signs that the division’s elite were catching up to him. Despite his ridiculous athletic gifts, the learning curve was just too steep, especially after his highly publicized bouts with diverticulitis. He came to the fight game too late in life to truly round out his skills, a fact only exacerbated by his choice to do the bulk of his training at home in his private gym, surrounded by handpicked teammates.

As Lesnar continues to age and the UFC heavyweight division continues to deepen, those factors obviously won’t become any less pronounced, or the consequences any more forgiving.

Lesnar had an outstanding run in the Octagon but, even though the UFC would probably leap at the chance to get him back, it’s over now.

At least, it should be.