Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
Four fights into his career, Brock Lesnar stood inside the cage with a heavyweight championship belt in his hand. Four fights later, inside the same cage in the same arena, he walked out a retired fighter.
Lesnar ended his eight-fight mixed martial arts career in Las Vegas on Friday night in the MGM Grand Garden Arena after a first-round TKO loss to Alistair Overeem at UFC 141. It was a four-and-a-half year career filled with promise, hype, promotion, criticism, historic pay-per-view buys and two long periods away from the cage battling diverticulitis, an intestinal disorder
"I've had a really difficult couple of years with my disease," Lesnar said. "I'm going to officially say tonight is the last time you'll see me in the octagon."
Standing in the cage, making the announcement in the immediacy of the moment provided fans and the UFC an unpredicted end to a predictable fight.
He shouldn't be. No one should be.
Lesnar's aura of invincibility faded slightly after his win over Shane Carwin at UFC 116. Carwin showed that Lesnar can be punched, can be tamed, can be beaten. Heck, he nearly did it in that first round but the referee didn't stop the bout. It could have gone either way.
Cain Velasquez destroyed the mystique of Lesnar as unstoppable beast when he beat Lesnar by TKO in the first round at UFC 121. As that big 6-foot-3, 265-pound mammoth of a man came crashing to the canvas that night, this moment drew closer.
Twice Lesnar was sidelined by diverticulitis, an illness characterized by inflamed or infected pouches that develop inside the wall of the colon. The first came shortly after defending his title against Frank Mir at UFC 100 on July 11, 2009. Lesnar returned one year later -- July 3, 2010 - to beat Carwin. Lesnar lost the title to Velasquez on Oct. 23, 2010. Seven months later, on May 12, 2011, the UFC announced that Lesnar was again dealing with diverticulitis. He chose to have surgery shortly thereafter.
"I'll tell you one thing, I'm not retiring," Lesnar said on a conference that day. "This is not the end of my career - far from it."
But it essentially was.
"Brock Lesnar is officially retired," he said Friday. "I promised my wife and kids, if I won this fight, I would get a title shot and then that would be my last fight. If I lost, then this would be my last fight."
Lesnar exploded on the scene in 2008 with a three-fight run that began with a loss to Mir and ended with a knockout of Randy Couture to win the title. Before that, Lesnar rose to prominence in pro wrestling, becoming the WWE champion and that company's biggest star. Eventually that career ended in 2004, and Lesnar made an attempt to catch on with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. He didn't make the team.
"Brock Lesnar came to me one night in the MGM [in 2007] and said I want to fight in the UFC," UFC president Dana White said. "I laughed in his face. He was 1-0, came from the WWE, and he brought a lot of excitement to the heavyweight division. What that man accomplished in a short amount of time with one [prior] fight is amazing. I get it. It doesn't shock me, but I didn't know."
Lesnar quickly became a huge draw on pay-per-view for the UFC. Four of the promotion's top five PPV buys involved Lesnar.
White said Friday after the fight that he has no problem with Lesnar's retirement. He's "retired under contract," White said, and he wouldn't address any lingering rumors about Lesnar possibly returning to the WWE.
If Lesnar was prepared to walk away from MMA, it's something that White wouldn't try to delay or change.
"This isn't a game where you're like, maybe I'll play another two or three years and hit a ball with a stick," White said. "This is the real deal."