Last month during UFC 226, Daniel Cormier became the heavyweight champion. He now holds belts in two divisions, but the best part was when Joe Rogan approached him with the microphone after the fight.
In Cormier’s post-match interview with Rogan, he called-out Brock Lesnar, a former American footballer, WWE heavyweight champion, and a notorious brawler in the UFC. At that, Lesnar—who'd been sitting in the audience—stormed into the ring and rag-dolled Cormier, yelling in his southern drawl, “DC, I’m comin’ for you motherfucker!” Then he pelted the microphone at the camera, as Joe Rogan watched like a kid in a candy store.
And now, Brock Lesnar has not only succeeded in subverting the fake-fighter trope of the WWE, by ruthlessly destroying his opponents in the UFC, but he has blurred the lines between make-believe and reality.
I grew up watching Brock Lesnar on World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE) and to be honest, I always enjoyed the theatrics in between fights, more than the hulking cinematic stunts inside the ring. Because the focus had essentially shifted from athleticism to drama.
In the octagon, when Cormier grabbed the mic and yelled, with WWE-inspired flair, “Push me now and you’ll get slept later, punk!”, he revived the spectacle of what makes combat sports gratifying to the masses. The majority of fans are not technically proficient fighters who understand the chess-like economics of jiu-jitsu or the elastic precision of boxing combinations, but they do understand conflict.
Cormier is a two-time Olympic wrestler and known to be an avid WWE fan, after UFC 210 he compared himself to Roman Reigns, performed a Shinsuke Nakamura impression and revealed that his phone ringtone was Bobby Roode’s “Glorious Domination” entrance theme.
The relationship between UFC and WWE, isn’t just one of inspiration. UFC star Ronda Rousey has embarked on a career in WWE and has just won the women's title at Summerslam. As well as Brock Lesnar, the relationship between the UFC and WWE has featured UFC Hall of famer Ken Shamrock and regretfully CM Punk.
WWE learned early on that the key to promoting fights was the story, and like the attractive melodrama of Van Damme action films, wrestlers developed hero and villain personas through their mic presence, turning the ring into a stage and the backstage into a warzone.
Boxers like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson had, in their own very distinctive styles, the gift of the gab, but caricatures began developing in the UFC with guys like Chael Sonnen, “The American Gangster,” Wanderlei Silver, “The Axe Murderer” and Michael Bisping, “The Count.”
But the enfant terrible, who has taken UFC drama by the throat, is “The Notorious” Conor Mcgregor, who manages to verbally dismantle his opponents as if swatting away flies. Just remember how his insult to Jeremy Stephens “who da fook is that guy?” became a meme, and how he made Nate Diaz walk off CNN and how he brazenly attacked Khabib Nurmagomedov’s bus.
But there’s something about Cormier’s delivery that feels like WWE, exemplified by an assault of one-liners after Lesnar lost the title at Summerslam. Most notably, “When we clash, I’m in that ass!”
The melodramatic scuffle between Cormier and Lesnar attracted 5.7 million views in a week on YouTube. Fans from both world’s left comments like, “UFC went full WWE, never go full WWE,” and “I want to see Brock holding both WWE Universal and UFC titles,” and “The WME Era is in full effect.”
The entertainment factor has largely been attributed to The WME-IMG take-over, or the WME era, referring to the US$4 billion sale of the UFC to the William Morris Endeavour, a Hollywood talent agency, who merged with the sports and marketing empire IMG.
On his vision for the UFC, co-creator Art Davie declared, “This just wouldn’t be sports, it would be spectacle.” With the WME take-over, puritans would be redirected to the Olympics for their wrestling because UFC is about giving the masses what they crave. Whether it's about delivering over the top super cards, big money fights, or title shots not necessarily based on rankings, we’re all counting down the days until Lesnar's return.