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How Lesnar Lost His Heat With One Swig

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↵There was so much buzz leading up to UFC 100 it was nearly impossible to expect the company to maintain that same level of mainstream sports crossover into the week following the event. ↵

↵Enter Brock Lesnar. Had Frank Mir won the heavyweight title at UFC 100 the casual sports fan -- the fan needed to make UFC a legit sports venture for years to come -- would have gone back to our regularly scheduled lives without a second thought to UFC until Kimbo Slice inevitably wins this season of The Ultimate Fighter. ↵

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↵Brock Lesnar pummeled Frank Mir on Saturday Night, and UFC -- and mixed martial arts mastermind Dana White -- had their crossover appeal. ↵

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↵Lesnar was one of the biggest stars in wrestling before a failed attempt at the NFL and his eventual move to MMA. And while White does not want anyone to associate his company with the spectacle that is professional wrestling, it was nice to have a ready-made star to hitch his wagons to, especially in the wake of the way Chuck Lidell's career ended. Lidell was a name synonymous with UFC, and while he helped lead UFC into a new era, he never became that huge mega-household name the company needed, guest spots on Entourage and ESPN poker tournaments not withstanding. ↵

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↵Lesnar could be that guy for UFC. The difference between what Lesnar and all champions before him is simple. People hate Lesnar. ↵

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↵For whatever reason -- be it his background in sports entertainment or the way he crashed onto the UFC scene with such fanfare and little training -- people hate Brock Lesnar. When Lesnar hoisted the heavyweight belt on Saturday night, he did so with two middle fingers blazing. He talked about getting on top of his wife. He shunned UFC sponsor Bud Light because they weren't paying him, saying he'd drink Coors Light instead. ↵

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↵A real-life heel was born. The anti-hero. ↵

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↵Lesnar should embrace the role of being the hated man in UFC. People will travel far and wide -- and pay copious amounts of hard-earned cash -- to watch challenger after challenger try to defeat him. We like our cowboys with white hats and black hats. We like to root for good over evil. That's what the WWE always did best -- you knew who was good and who was bad. And yes, sometimes it was cool to root for the bad guy ('cause Stone Cold says so) but we knew who they were every time. Lesnar could provide that for the UFC, only without a script. The real-life sports heel is someone who doesn't come along often. And the UFC had one holding a championship belt. ↵

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↵Then Lesnar apologized. With one swig of that Bud Light in the press conference after UFC 100, Lesnar lost all his heel heat. He admitted that White gave him a 'whip-the-dog session' after the match. Do you think White cared about the middle fingers? Do you think White cared about Lesnar wanting to have sex with his wife or taunting Mir? White only cared about the sponsors, and undoubtedly explained to Lesnar that while Bud Light didn't cut him a check for the fight, their money helped pay his reported $3 million dollar purse that night. So he might want to shut up and play nice. ↵

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↵And he did. Lesnar had a chance to stick it to his boss, to the fans and to everyone covering UFC and become what WWE always tried to make him -- the transcendent heel in sports. Instead, Lesnar tapped out. ↵

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↵Darren Rovell at CNBC wrote that Lesnar's actions plugging Coors Light instead of Bud Light wasn't a good idea, even if it was a calculated move by Lesnar to prove a point to White and the UFC that the current sponsorship agreements they have with fighters is unfair. ↵

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↵⇥”The idea of pumping up Coors Light when they presumably didn't pay him wasn't a good idea. But the question as to what Lesnar owes UFC's official sponsors is a good one. Lesnar did what he did because he felt that, as the biggest star in UFC, he deserved his cut of what the UFC was making. This comes at a time when the UFC is now asking those who sponsor fighters to give the organization a cut so it's harder to ambush official sponsors who don't chose to sponsor the fighters.” ↵
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↵Calculated or not, angering the sponsors was a great idea. And while White was probably fielding calls from Anheuser-Busch executives all night, he should have realized that he had the opportunity of a lifetime on his hands. If Lesnar kept his heel heat through the press conference and into all the post-fight interviews, he'd have the first anti-marketing star in sports history. ↵

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↵Think about it. People hate Brock Lesnar. Brock Lesnar hates Bud Light. Shouldn't you drink it just to piss him off? ↵

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↵I asked Rovell if there's ever been an athlete who's infamy has been used for marketing purposes. We talked about Barry Bonds and being untouchable by sponsors. Rovell mentioned Latrell Sprewell's American Dream And-1 campaign and you can make a case that in the aftermath of Kobe Bryant's troubles in Colorado, his rehabilitation process played out through his shoe contracts and other national sponsorships. ↵

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↵With Lesnar, this wouldn't be about rehabilitation. It wouldn't be, like Bonds, a reluctant villain. The UFC could market Lesnar as a real-life villain. Is there an athlete whose marketability is in the fact that people hate him? Can hatred be marketable? ↵

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↵Rovell pointed out that there's only one real sports heel right now, and that's NASCAR's Kyle Busch. While NASCAR is more sponsor-conscious than any other sport, Rovell points out that a guy like Busch is good for racing. ↵

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↵⇥“NASCAR is glad that there is a guy like Kyle Busch,” Rovell explained, “He plays the ultimate villain and is a real-life villain. The NASCAR guys can sure pitch a product, but some of the fans just want these guys to punch each other in the face.” ↵
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↵Well, they want their favorite racer to punch Busch in the face, at least. And, according to Rovell, Busch doesn't mind. “He just cares about racing. Yes, he makes sure the M&M people are happy -- he's not stupid -- but he couldn't care less about the rest of it.” ↵

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↵Like him or not, Busch has been great for racing. His antics have kept NASCAR relevant far more than whatever Dale Jr. has done on the track the last few years. ↵

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↵There are heels in all sports, but rarely are the true sports villains at the top of their game. While the Ron Artest's and Sean Avery's of the sports world bounce from team to team, neither has the cache in their sport that Busch has. Or Lesnar could have. ↵

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↵UFC 100 was an unparalleled success in crossover appeal for UFC. Will anyone care about UFC 101? 102? It remains to be seen how many people who hopped on the cage-fighting-is-cool bandwagon stick in the coming months. But people will care about Lesnar. The next time he fights, people will pay attention. It just leads one to wonder: if instead of coming out in that post-fight presser and swigging a Bud Light, Lesnar smashed it on the floor and told corporate America -- and White -- that he's in charge, how much more publicity and heat could Lesnar have sustained? And how great would that heat be for the future of UFC? ↵

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↵Lesnar has proven he is a great fighter either way. But he could be waking up a true legend, and not another corporate tapout. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.