This is how rumors get started.
The scene is a 23-second video shot during the media scrum portion of Thursday's UFC 168 pre-fight press conference. Company president Dana White (unshaven, in a black V-neck) sits front and center as the disembodied voice of The Media asks him about reports that Brock Lesnar will be attending the event on Saturday.
What The Media wants to know is, does the notoriously reclusive Lesnar, who retired after a loss to Alistair Overeem in Dec. of 2011, have business with White in Vegas? Or will he be there strictly for pleasure?
“Really?” White says, as if Lesnar's presence at UFC 168 is news to him. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”
Then three full seconds of silence stretch before another voice, this one belonging to MMA Junkie.com’s John Morgan, asks: “Honestly?”
White cracks a grin. “Honestly,” he says, his eyes slipping to the left. “I don’t know.”
Fade to black, and…cue the blogosphere doing what the blogosphere does.
Roughly 24 hours later, White turned up the tease, responding to Ariel Helwani's questions on the subject by throwing even more accelerant on the long-dormant media firestorm that is Lesnar.
"If there was something there and I hadn't announced it, why would I tell you, anyway?" White said, grin still in place. "You don't worry about what's going on with Brock. If something happens with Brock, you'll know about it."
At his point, we have no idea if White is just messing with us here, though anytime somebody uses the word "honestly" so many times in quick succession, the last thing it does is convince us that person is being honest.
We just don't know if there is any truth to speculation that Lesnar could return, and drawing conclusions from the fact that he apparently wants to watch Anderson Silva's rematch against Chris Weidman in person is a bit of a stretch.
But in MMA circles, any mention of Lesnar—who for the briefest moment was UFC heavyweight champion and the sport’s biggest star—has a ripple effect akin to dropping a 6’3”, 265-pound boulder into the middle of a deep lake.
Not to mention, any inkling that the Big Fella could return, groundless or not, comes at an interesting time in the UFC's history.
The company’s biggest draw (Georges St-Pierre) just announced an indefinite fact-finding mission on the bright side of life; its most dominant champion of all time (Anderson Silva) told Helwani this week there’s a “great chance” he’ll retire on Saturday; the heavyweight champ (Cain Velasquez) expects to miss most of 2014; and the lightweight champ (Anthony Pettis) just had knee surgery.
All of which is to say, you can understand why White could conceivably pick this moment to give Lesnar a call and see if he wants to hang out, you know, just as friends.
But if Lesnar is really, seriously considering a comeback to the UFC—and, again, we have no evidence that he is—please allow me to offer him some unsolicited advice: Dude, don’t do it.
We all saw how the Lesnar experiment ended the first time around. The former NCAA national wrestling champion and WWE star started his UFC career on a 4-1 tear, becoming heavyweight champ and a bonafide pay-per-view powerhouse before his shortcomings suddenly, violently, caught up with him.
He was a once-in-a-generation type of athlete with a fine wrestling base, but he simply came to the game of mixed fighting too late in life and with too limited a skill set. He was unable to close the holes in his stand-up game (not that it seemed like he tried especially hard), and eventually the best fighters in the division exploited his weaknesses.
Oh yeah, and diverticulitis. Lesnar’s career was twice interrupted by the rare intestinal ailment that reportedly almost took his life and did take a sizeable chunk out of his colon.
For a while, his grappling and his physical gifts were good enough, but then at UFC 116 in July of 2010, Shane Carwin poked a tiny hole in Lesnar’s balloon. It merely took another year-and-a-half for the air to leak out completely, first at the hands of Velasquez, then Overeem.
Lesnar is 36 years old now and nearly two full years removed from the sport. By and large, age is not the friend of large men, and time away from the cage? Well, that’s Kryptonite.
Since early 2012 he’s been on retainer in WWE, getting paid good money to carry a soft travel schedule and perform “extreme, no rules” matches with the likes of John Cena and CM Punk. His MMA career may have ended on a down note, but it gave him new life in the world of professional wrestling.
That's good—albeit taxing—work, if you can get it.
At this late stage in his athletic career, with enough money to never worry about it again and a pretty cushy gig in WWE, it’s hard to believe Lesnar would seriously consider a comeback to the UFC.
And yet, there's Dana White, smiling that smile, unable to look us in the eye as he tells us he has no idea why Lesnar is coming to UFC 168.
In any case, the hard truth is this: Unless he spent every waking moment he was not on WWE TV in a temple somewhere working on his striking with Freddie Roach and the ghost of Cus D’Amato, a UFC return seems like a very bad idea.
If Lesnar remains retired, history will continue to look on his brief run as UFC heavyweight champion as a short-lived, but smashing, success. If he comes back, he might win a few fights, but in the end he’ll likely end up on the wrong end of more beatings from the new breed of MMA heavies—the Velasquezes, Overeems and Junior dos Santoses of the world.
What would Lesnar gain from that? Why risk it?
The man got out while the getting was good, and the getting likely won't ever get any better than it already got.