This was supposed to be a big week for Brock Lesnar. He'd been scheduled to headline UFC 131 against top heavyweight contender Junior dos Santos after coaching opposite him on Spike TV's The Ultimate Fighter reality show. The fight was perfectly scheduled to tie in with the national book tour he'd be launching to push his newly released autobiography "Death Clutch".
Instead of headlining a major UFC PPV and doing the talk show circuit to hype his book, this week Lesnar is recovering from major surgery after doctors removed 12 inches of his large intestine. His diverticulitis returned after filming The Ultimate Fighter, forcing him to bow out of the bout.
While UFC president Dana White says Lesnar plans to return to the Octagon next year after he recovers, the reality is it's entirely possible he'll never return and if he does, he might never be the same. Lesnar will turn 34 years old in July and he'll have endured a very serious surgery that will impact his digestion, his training and his performance.
All of this comes on the heels of Lesnar losing his title, and worse, much of his mystique, against Cain Velasquez at UFC 121. Lesnar's reputation as a brutal, irresistible physical force had already been damaged by Shane Carwin at UFC 116, but after Velasquez sent him sprawling across the cage, ducking and covering to avoid being punched in the face, Lesnar's aura was gone.
By the time he returns to the cage, it will have been at least 15 months since fans have seen Lesnar fight. It will have been more than 20 months since they saw him win and two and a half years since his last truly dominating performance in the Octagon -- his demolition of Frank Mir at UFC 100.
Brock Lesnar roared into the UFC like a hurricane. Despite losing his first fight to Mir by knee bar at UFC 81, fans saw him throw Mir around the cage, batter him on the ground and lose by making a forgivable rookie mistake. From there it was a rocket to the top of the UFC's heavyweight division. Lesnar sent veteran Heath Herring flying across the ring with a jab. He KO'd champ Randy Couture with a clubbing right hand. Then he got his revenge by pasting Frank Mir into the mat at UFC 100.
And Lesnar did it all with defiance and anger. After beating Mir, he spat at a cameraman, taunted the beaten Mir, dissed a UFC sponsor and generally showed raw fury, unrestrained Id and a rare magnetism. Lesnar may have been the most hated man in the UFC, but he was also the most feared, most talked about and most watched.
Sadly, diverticulitis brought Lesnar down only a couple of months after his UFC 100 triumph. Lesnar's illness serves as a painful reminder that fame based on physical prowess is a very fragile thing. He fought back from the initial diagnosis and managed to avoid surgery by changing his diet, but some say he was never the same.
While no living man can take a punch from the fearsome Shane Carwin without suffering serious consequences, many fans were shocked and worse, amused, by Lesnar's reaction at UFC 116. When Carwin touched him, Lesnar cringed and cowered. He didn't stay in the pocket and trade punches, he curled up into the fetal position against the cage. He did show incredible heart and resilience in surviving Carwin's assault and coming back to submit him in the second round, but many could not forget the first.
In his second post-illness fight, a title defense against Cain Velasquez at UFC 121, Lesnar charged Velasquez as recklessly as he had charged Mir in their first fight at UFC 81. Unfortunately for Lesnar, Velasquez was able to ride out the storm and once the tide turned it was anything but pretty.
Lesnar's loss to Velasquez wasn't just crushing, it was sad. The once feared monster of MMA tumbled and skittered across the cage like a clumsy drunk. While he gamely tried to trade blows with Velasquez, it was embarrassingly obvious that his heart wasn't in the battle and the referee stoppage couldn't come soon enough.
When a rotator cuff surgery took Velasquez out of action after his title win, the UFC shrewdly put the spotlight back on Lesnar, booking him opposite number one contender Junior dos Santos on The Ultimate Fighter reality show. Expectations for the season were sky high. The UFC struck ratings gold a couple of years earlier when it featured YouTube sensation Kimbo Slice on the show and it was thought that Lesnar would do similar numbers.
Unfortunately, Lesnar came out like a lamb, not a lion. The raving madman of UFC 100 was no where to be seen. Instead Lesnar acted like a mildly jerky jock coach. No one cared. Ratings were the worst in the show's history.
When the news came out that Lesnar's diverticulitis had returned and he wouldn't be able to fight dos Santos it was just one more anti-climax. The UFC moved quickly to book Lesnar's old rival Shane Carwin in his place, but as good a fight as dos Santos vs Carwin is, it can't match the spectacle and intrigue of a Brock Lesnar bout.
Given Lesnar's ferocious will power and drive to compete, if anyone can recover from illness and surgery and return to the UFC, it's Lesnar. But no matter how hard he works, he'll never be BROCK LESNAR again.