Prior to UFC 116: Lesnar vs. Carwin, I wrote:
Does the UFC really want Carwin to win? I'm sure they wouldn't mind in a sporting sense, but what about in a business sense? Since Brock Lesnar stepped into the UFC in 2008, he's done gangbusters for the company. The UFC's explosive growth over the past two years coincided with his arrival in 2008, fully cementing the broad pro-wrestling audience that was first exposed when The Ultimate Fighter debuted after Monday Night Raw those many years ago.
Lesnar didn't just bring wrestling fans to the UFC, but people who noticed him in tryouts for the Minnesota Vikings as well as portions of the public interested simply in his monstrous physique. He draws the eye because, in addition to his physique, he has a personality to match...
Obviously, we never found out what kind of business a Shane Carwin heavyweight title defense would have done. Lesnar submitted Carwin in the second round of that fight, bringing us to this weekend and UFC 121 where Lesnar will defend his championship against Cain Velasquez.
But this fight poses its own curious business implications for the UFC. Should Carwin have won the title, the UFC could have potentially branded him as Lesnar 2.0 -- a monstrous, sculpted beast of a man with thunder in his fists. In Velasquez, however, they Carwin's main shortcoming -- lack of personality -- but not the easily marketable knockout power or physique.
The best sell for a heavyweight champion is the combination of physique and charisma. That's the difference between guys like Lesnar and Tim Sylvia. Velasquez isn't a physical specimen (if we're being honest, he's rather doughy) and comes across as rather reticent. I also wouldn't expect him to develop the enigmatic lure that skyrocketed Fedor Emelianenko to mainstream recognition. Keeping that in mind, are we in a situation where the UFC would once again favor Lesnar to retain the title?
Zuffa has launched a concerted effort to give Velasquez his own branding, that of being the "first Mexican Heavyweight Champion". It's a bit hokey, in my opinion, and reeks of being a desperate contingency plan. Obviously, the UFC would love to tap into the massive, rabid contingent of Hispanic fight fans that have so often been the last thing propping up boxing. But I guarantee that 90% of the households purchasing Latin Fury pay-per-views would sooner think "Cain Velasquez" is the name of a distant relative rather than one of the top fighters in MMA.
Now, and for the foreseeable future, you can bet Dana White is crossing his fingers that his cash cow Lesnar will be carrying the championship strap.