LAS VEGAS – Brock Lesnar is coming back to the UFC next year and will fight for the heavyweight championship.
UFC President Dana White confirmed the long-anticipated return of Lesnar, a popular professional wrestler with WWE who was a national champion for the Gophers in traditional wrestling and a celebrated participant in the Vikings’ training camp in 2004. He remains WWE’s Universal Champion, a title secured last year.
White, speaking late Saturday night after UFC 226, said he intends to match heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier against Lesnar early next year, likely in March, after Lesnar completes the drug testing required by the UFC’s anti-doping policy. Lesnar hasn’t fought since beating Mark Hunt at UFC 200 and failing a doping test in 2016.
Lesnar entered the UFC 226 cage Saturday moments after Cormier took the UFC heavyweight title from Stipe Miocic, and they engaged in a WWE-style argument, including a shove from Lesnar and a brief skirmish between entourages. Cormier insisted the exchange wasn’t staged.
“Brock decided to step in the octagon with me,” Cormier said. “He’s a pro wrestler. He does fake fighting. So I’ll do fake fighting with you until I put my fists upside your face.”
During the conflict in the ring, Cormier shouted at Lesnar, “Your days are in the past, in the stone age.”
Cormier, 39, expects to fight Lesnar in March and plans to retire after the big-money bout, having vowed to quit the sport after turning 40.
Lesnar, who turns 41 next week, won and lost the UFC heavyweight title during his brief MMA career. He is 5-3 in UFC bouts, but he hasn’t won a fight that wasn’t overturned since 2010. When asked about the wisdom of granting a title shot to Lesnar after inactivity and a failed test, both White and Cormier acknowledged they don’t care because of the extraordinary pay-per-view revenue that would be generated. White has called Lesnar the biggest pay-per-view draw in UFC history.
“Maybe we’re living in my world now, so I dictate the rules,” Cormier said with a grin.
Lesnar, from Webster, S.D., won the NCAA heavyweight wrestling championship for the Gophers in 2000 after finishing second the year before. He began mixed martial arts with one bout in 2007 with Hero’s, then moved to UFC in 2008. His career was hampered by diverticulitis, first in 2008 and occasionally thereafter, leading to surgery in 2011.
Lesnar lost that December to Alistair Overeem and retired from MMA. He returned in 2016 for the bout against Hunt, won it, then tested positive for clomiphene, a substance banned by UFC. He was suspended from the UFC by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for one year and fined $250,000, and his victory over Hunt was overturned to a no-contest. All that led to a second retirement announcement, in 2017.