Brock Lesnar, Diverticulitis, And His Impact On The UFC

“What happened here was a miracle, and I want you to f***ing acknowledge it!” – Jules Winfield, Pulp Fiction

Just two months ago, UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar’s career hung in the balance. What was initially reported as a case of H1N1 quickly became mononucleosis. A short time later, it was discovered that Lesnar had neither, but was suffering from diverticulitis, an inflammation of the pockets in the lining of the colon resulting from diverticulosis. Diverticulosis is rare at Lesnar’s age, 32, with fewer than 10 percent of Americans younger than 40 diagnosed with the disease. Only 10-25 percent of all individuals with diverticulosis suffer from diverticulitis.

Despite the long odds, the pouches in the lining of Lesnar’s colon, called diverticula, became infected to the point of perforation. As Lesnar explained, colon resection surgery appeared to be a strong possibility in his case. “…I pretty much had it in my mind that I was going to get surgery and that I was going to be out for I didn’t know how long.”

Instead, the inflammation responded to antibiotics and intravenous nutrition, which allowed Lesnar’s colon to rest. Despite Lesnar’s fears, his doctors were able to give him a clean bill of health without surgery. “Basically, the doctor’s said ‘you got a lottery ticket. This is unbelievable. We can’t believe that you didn’t need surgery,'” UFC President Dana White explained to ESPN’s Josh Elliot.

Both Lesnar and White referred to the recovery as “a miracle.” Miraculous though the recovery may be, today’s announcement was not particularly surprising. UFC hall-of-famer and former five-time champion, Randy Couture, told me that Lesnar was back in the gym in December. Last week, another source told us not only that Lesnar would fight again, but that a summer return to the Octagon was possible. White confirmed the latter, announcing that Lesnar would defend his UFC Heavyweight title against the winner of the Frank Mir versus Shane Carwin interim title match on March 27.

Lesnar returning to action this summer may allow the UFC to set its sights on a new pay-per-view record in 2010.

The return of the UFC’s biggest star will undoubtedly bolster an already strong UFC pay-per-view lineup through the first five months of 2010. UFC 111 and 112 should each approach one million buys on the strength of four title matches between the two events. As strong as those events should be, they’ll be book ended by UFC 110 and UFC 113, both of which should yield around 500,000 buys. Add to that the return of Brock Lesnar as well as the buy rates for UFC 108 (at least 255,000) and UFC 109, and the UFC may sell 4.5 million pay-per-views before the halfway point of 2010.

In what may have given some insight into the potential date for Lesnar’s return, White made it clear that Mir or Carwin would face Lesnar if they come out of their match in good health. That usually goes without saying, and by explicitly stating that caveat, a quick turnaround may be expected for Mir or Carwin. White also made it clear that, should the Mir/Carwin winner be unavailable to fight Lesnar, the winner of the UFC 110 main event between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Cain Velasquez on February 20 will be in line to fight for the title.

Currently, both UFC 114 on May 27 and UFC 115 on June 12 are without announced main events. The former will likely feature the long awaited grudge match between Rashad Evans and the returning Quinton Jackson, while no matches have been announced for the latter. By installing a Lesnar title defense as the main event to the semi-main of Evans v. Jackson, UFC 114 would have a real chance to match the 1.6 million pay-per-view buys registered by UFC 100. Alternately, a Lesnar title defense as the main event of UFC 115, the organization’s debut in the MMA hotbed of Vancouver, British Columbia, would be a great way for the UFC to enter a new city. None of this is assured, of course, and it may make sense for Lesnar to headline the summer show that coincides with the UFC Fan Expo. Only time will tell.

What we do know is both UFC 106 in November and UFC 108 earlier this month were ravaged by injuries, which reduced the shows’ buy rate to levels well below that which the UFC typically enjoys. The law of averages will surely impact the UFC in 2010, but it is less likely to do so in the way it impacted those two events. As for Lesnar specifically, the proper diet should be able to manage his diverticulosis going forward. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, MMA’s biggest star is likely to lead the UFC to great, potentially record-breaking, heights in 2010 and beyond.

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