With today’s news that Brock Lesnar will not be returning to the UFC, I got to thinking about just how a second Lesnar UFC stint would go. In my mind, Lesnar’s return would have put the UFC in a somewhat awkward situation. Lesnar was unlikely to be particularly competitive against the very best heavyweights, but his name value would have been a huge incentive for the UFC to match him up against opponents worthy of headlining (or at least co-headlining) a pay per view.
So I thought: why not use my statistical prediction model to analyze Lesnar’s chances of winning against current heavyweight competition? Since the model has been so successful against the betting lines so far this year, I think it’s reasonable to suggest that its estimates would be at least somewhat accurate.
Obviously, this analysis assumes that Lesnar would at least be putting in an earnest effort to compete, and not just showing up for a paycheck. With that said, I’ve subjectively modified his Fight Matrix ranking downward to account for the layoff since his last fight in December 2011.
Here is what the model says about Lesnar’s chances against the heavyweights:
Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez
Projected Favorite: Cain Velasquez (97.7%)
Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (2.3%)
Throwing Lesnar in the cage with Velasquez again would represent a serious case of matchmaking malpractice. Their title fight in 2010 was lopsided enough, with Velasquez badly hurting Lesnar early and finishing the fight by first-round TKO. Velasquez has major statistical advantages in every category, including takedowns. This simply would not be a competitive fight.
Brock Lesnar vs. Fabricio Werdum
Projected Favorite: Fabricio Werdum (84.3%)
Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (15.7%)
This would be a really awkward matchup for Lesnar. Werdum’s striking has developed enough that he would likely have a decisive advantage against Lesnar at standing distance, especially since Lesnar never really developed much as a striker. Lesnar would have to go for takedowns, and would likely succeed, but then have to contend with Werdum’s world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game and guard in particular. It’s hard to see Lesnar winning this one.
Brock Lesnar vs. Junior Dos Santos
Projected Favorite: Junior Dos Santos (85.2%)
Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (14.8%)
While Dos Santos has taken far too much punishment in his recent fights, there’s no reason to think that trend would continue in a match against Lesnar. This fight basically pits one of the heavyweight division’s hardest punchers, and toughest fighters to take down, against an opponent in Lesnar who reacts horribly to getting hit. Sure, it’s possible that Lesnar could land takedowns in all three rounds and grind out a decision from top position, but far more likely that Dos Santos would stuff a takedown, or scramble back to his feet, and knock Lesnar out.
Brock Lesnar vs. Andrei Arlovski
Projected Favorite: Andrei Arlovski (74.2%)
Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (25.8%)
The model probably overrates Arlovski because of his inflated Fight Matrix ranking (a result of his KO of Antonio Silva), but this is still a bad stylistic matchup for Lesnar. Arlovski is similar to Dos Santos in that he has excellent takedown defense and big punching power. Lesnar would have a better puncher’s chance here due to Arlovski’s questionable chin, but would still be a clear underdog.
Brock Lesnar vs. Travis Browne
Projected Favorite: Travis Browne (61.7%)
Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (38.3%)
Browne has the same combination of power punching and takedown defense that Dos Santos and Arlovski possess, but his striking is not as polished (although Browne has improved in recent outings) and his ability to fight past the first round is worth questioning. I could see Lesnar winning this one via 29-28 decision, but he would need to survive the first round to do so, and that probably would not happen.
Brock Lesnar vs. Mark Hunt
Projected Favorite: Mark Hunt (58.5%)
Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (41.5%)
This is a weird one. Hunt probably doesn’t have the athleticism necessary to keep Lesnar from taking him down, but once again, he would have huge advantages in striking technique and power. Lesnar would not have much margin for error here – one big uppercut from Hunt as Lesnar attempts a double-leg shot, and the fight could be over.
Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem
Projected Favorite: Alistair Overeem (67.5%)
Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (32.5%)
When these two fought in 2011, it sure looked like Lesnar wasn’t anywhere near Overeem’s level. At the same time, Overeem is probably the one heavyweight whose chin is just as bad as Lesnar’s. Overeem’s kickboxing skill is so far above Lesnar’s that he should easily be the favorite, but with so many KO losses in his career, it’s very hard to call Overeem an overwhelming favorite against any single heavyweight fighter at this point.
Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir
Projected Favorite: Frank Mir (50.9%)
Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (49.1%)
If Lesnar had chosen to return to the UFC, this is almost certainly the fight that would have been put together. It’s also one of the most competitive fights according to my statistical model. Lesnar would bring a huge advantage in takedowns and ground strikes, but Mir would have advantages in knockdowns and submissions. This is one of those fights where it’s probably a coin flip, but whoever wins is going to look far better than his opponent in the process.
Brock Lesnar vs. Ben Rothwell
Projected Favorite: Brock Lesnar (55.3%)
Projected Underdog: Ben Rothwell (44.7%)
Rothwell is basically an upgraded Roy Nelson. He doesn’t defend strikes or takedowns well, but he hits very hard and has a good chin. The gap in athleticism between Rothwell and Lesnar would most likely be too great to overcome, but the chance of a Rothwell KO win is still high enough to make him just a slight underdog here.
Brock Lesnar vs. Stipe Miocic
Projected Favorite: Stipe Miocic (60.4%)
Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (39.6%)
Miocic has below-average punching power for the division and absorbs too many strikes, but he makes up for it with a strong wrestling base and a lot of volume. It would be interesting to see Miocic’s takedown defense tested here, but it seems pretty likely that he would be able to stay standing enough to batter Lesnar and win by TKO or decision.
Brock Lesnar vs. Antonio Silva
Projected Favorite: Brock Lesnar (62.3%)
Projected Underdog: Antonio Silva (37.7%)
Needless to say, Bigfoot’s stock is way, way down after his KO losses to Arlovski and Mir. He has good Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills and hits hard, but he’s just far too slow to stay standing against Lesnar. I imagine that Lesnar would ground and pound his way to a TKO victory in this one.
Brock Lesnar vs. Roy Nelson
Projected Favorite: Brock Lesnar (65.1%)
Projected Underdog: Roy Nelson (34.9%)
Statistical analysis has never liked Nelson and probably never will. I personally think he would stay standing for about seven seconds before being dumped to the canvas by Lesnar. Nelson does actually have a strong background in submission grappling but it’s hard to imagine him being able to do much from bottom position; he’s never been known for his guard in particular. At the same time, seven seconds might be enough time for Nelson to win by KO anyway.
Brock Lesnar vs. Brendan Schaub
Projected Favorite: Brendan Schaub (50.1%)
Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (49.9%)
This is the one fight where I think my model is really underrating Lesnar. Schaub has the more developed striking game for sure, but I have a hard time seeing him stuffing Lesnar’s takedowns. Schaub’s takedown statistics are actually very good but when has he ever faced a wrestler of Lesnar’s caliber?
Overall, there are a number of marketable heavyweight fights that Lesnar could probably win, particularly against Frank Mir and Roy Nelson. However, Lesnar’s advanced age, inability to take a punch, and one-dimensional offense would make matchmaking a delicate balancing act for the UFC. It’s unlikely that Lesnar would put together a three-fight winning streak against quality competition. Title contention would simply be unrealistic. All in all, by choosing to stay with the WWE, Lesnar probably made the right decision, both for his health and for his bank account.