LAS VEGAS -- Brock Lesnar didn't care about the perceived risks involved in returning to the UFC.
Outside perceptions mean very little to a man who spends his down time sitting on a tractor in his secluded farm in Moosomin, Saskatchewan.
Lesnar didn't return to the Octagon on Saturday night against Mark Hunt because he wanted to prove he could again become the UFC heavyweight champion one day (although that's not out of the question now), and he certainly didn't return to the Octagon to give more publicity to the WWE (although that's certainly a byproduct). Brock Lesnar returned to the Octagon because he wanted to.
"I didn't want to be sitting on my tractor 20 years from now wondering, 'God, I wonder if I would have just fought one more time?'" Lesnar told ESPN.com before the fight. "So I'm going to take care of that speculation right now, and when I'm sitting on my tractor in 20 years I can say, 'Now that was fun.' ... It takes some balls to live life to the fullest. Who in the hell would do this? I'm fortunate. I really am. It takes big balls to do this, but I've always stuck my neck out there. You just lay it on the line."
After Lesnar, who hadn't fought in the UFC in five years, defeated Hunt, one of the top 10 heavyweights in the sport, by unanimous decision at UFC 200, Lesnar still wasn't sure what the future held for him in mixed martial arts. His plan was to return for one more fight. That's all he was focused on. But it's hard to imagine Lesnar closing the door on his MMA career after Saturday night.
"Let's get one thing clear: Brock Lesnar does what Brock Lesnar wants to do," Lesnar said after the fight. "I believe that my future is already laid out for the next month. I'm doing SummerSlam against Randy Orton, and once the dust settles, I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I had one hell of a time tonight and I enjoyed myself. We'll see what happens."
Lesnar had built an unstoppable "Beast Incarnate" persona since returning to the WWE four years ago following his first stint in the UFC. His résumé as an NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion and a UFC heavyweight champion added some legitimacy to a company that long ago admitted it was more entertainment than sport. But in Lesnar, the WWE had a legitimate champion who could conceivably take down anyone, anywhere, anytime.
There was no need to suspend reality with Lesnar because we've already seen what he can do in legitimate competition. There was no need to build a larger-than-life character for someone who was already larger than life in reality. Unlike other wrestlers with crazy names and outfits, Lesnar kept his real name and wore the same shorts and gloves he wears into the Octagon.
So when Lesnar, who is under contract with the WWE for another year and a half, was allowed to return to the UFC for what the WWE described as a "one-off opportunity" at UFC 200, they were essentially giving up creative control to one of their biggest stars for one night on the biggest stage possible. Sure, Lesnar could beat Hunt and solidify himself as one of the baddest men on the planet -- but he could also get knocked out in the first round and hurt the reputation he had built.
Luckily for Lesnar and the WWE, which already began promoting Lesnar's match at their SummerSlam pay-per-view on Aug. 21, he won and showed he was still one of the best heavyweight fighters in both the scripted world of the WWE and the real-life sport of the UFC.
"You can write whatever you want to write, but I think I'm the toughest son of a bitch," Lesnar said. "I'm in the top 10, and that puts me right back in the game."
While the win was a success for Lesnar and the WWE in the short-term, it does open the door for Lesnar expanding his "one-off" UFC comeback into another fight or two. That's a conversation Lesnar will need to have with WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon at some point, but the feeling is McMahon will realize Lesnar's growing fame and success in the UFC can only help the WWE.
"I believe that Vince McMahon is the smartest guy I know," said Jim Ross, who recruited and signed Lesnar in 2000 when he was the head of WWE's talent relations. "He's a promoter. He's P.T. Barnum on steroids, no pun intended. I think that McMahon knows the bigger Lesnar gets in UFC, the more he means for WWE. Both promotions can take advantage of arguably the greatest box-office attraction in UFC history."
Ross, who flew to Vegas to watch Lesnar's fight against Hunt in person, said Lesnar can be a transcendent athlete for both the UFC and WWE and will ultimately decide to continue to do both.
"Brock is a freak of nature, and he's a very competitive guy," Ross said. "I remember back in the day when someone would say they had the fastest 40 [-yard dash] in the WWE, he would stand up at 300 pounds and say you can't outrun me. There's money in him, and Dana White and the Fertittas know they can't let Brock Lesnar slip away this time. They need to bring him back. He can do both. He can do part-time WWE and part-time UFC and make everyone involved a lot of money. He's a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. He's like LeBron James or Peyton Manning. He's everything you'd want in this genre of real fighting in the UFC and the showbiz of the WWE. That's an amazing combination."
There was a time when Lesnar felt he had to choose between the WWE and the UFC. When Lesnar signed a new contract with the WWE last year and said he had "officially closed the door on MMA," he never thought he would step back into the Octagon again. But Lesnar, who turns 39 next week, realizes now that he can do both for at least a little while longer and that being a champion in both the WWE and UFC may not be as impossible as he once thought.
"I believe any man can do whatever he wants if he puts his mind to it," Lesnar said. "I've been out of this game for five years and I stepped back into the cage after training for six weeks and I put a good beating on Mark Hunt. I think anything is possible."