Two of the biggest mixed martial arts (MMA) stars in the world may very well be fighting for the last time this weekend. Former UFC heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar returns to the cage at UFC 141 after more than a year away due to diverticulitis surgery. After losing three straight fights in America (although rebounding against Jeff Monson last month), former Pride heavyweight champ Fedor Emelianenko returns to Japan for the first time since 2007 to face Satoshi Ishii at Dream: New Year! 2011.
Lesnar was diagnosed with diverticulitis in 2009 and sat out nearly a year before fighting again at UFC 116. It had been hoped that major changes to his diet and lifestyle had staved off the disease, but a major relapse while training for UFC 131 necessitated the removal of nearly a foot of his large intestine earlier this year.
Lesnar will get a title shot against Junior dos Santos with a win over Alistair Overeem this weekend. But what if he doesn't win?
Fight Opinion's Zach Arnold is skeptical that Lesnar will return if he loses to Overeem:
However, will he have any desire left to hit the comeback trail? Brock often likes to move onto different challenges when he thinks he's plateaued or has just gotten plain old bored. He did that with WWE, he did that when he tried out for the Minnesota Vikings, and he pulled that routine as well when he was given everything on a silver platter by Antonio Inoki and New Japan. He won the IWGP belt in a 3-way match over Masa Chono & Kazuyuki Fujita in maybe the worst-ever attended Tokyo Dome show (a feat that may be eclipsed by the upcoming 1/4 Tokyo Dome show headlined by Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Minoru Suzuki), was given what he wanted in terms of last-second travel itinery, booked in the same formulaic title matches, and then... he just quit. He didn't even bother losing the title belt.
So, yeah, Brock has a proclivity of shutting down when he decides enough is a enough, no matter how logical or illogical it is. Given that he is currently UFC's #1 PPV drawing attraction by a country mile, losing him would be a big blow for Zuffa. The company still relies on PPV sales so heavily to finance everything else. With Georges St. Pierre on the sidelines, Lesnar's value over everyone else is exponentially important. Jon Jones is starting to develop a following but it's only maybe half of what a typical Lesnar fight can bring in at the box office.
I'm less inclined to think that Lesnar will pick up his marbles and go home with a loss than Arnold is, but I also wouldn't be shocked if Brock decides to walk away rather than continue to fight while being locked out of the UFC title picture. It should also be noted Lesnar has money and is 34. If he isn't physically performing up to his own potential and is aware of it, there isn't much incentive left to compete.
Things are even more stark for Emelianenko. Before his recent decision win over Monson in Moscow, Emelianenko lost three fights in a row going back to his June 2010 submission loss to Fabricio Werdum. After his most recent defeat, a knockout loss to Dan Henderson, Emelianenko talked about retiring immediately after the fight. He did the same after losing to Antonio Silva in the first round of the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix. Apparently a meeting or two with his management caused him to change his thinking and he was back in action in short order.
A loss to the ungainly Ishii, an Olympic gold medalist in Judo whose MMA career has been a bust, could very well be the last straw for the proud Russian. Neither Lesnar nor Emelianenko losing directly means retirement, but either losing makes that possibility exceedingly likely.