LAS VEGAS -- The bad guy won on Saturday and that's good news for the UFC.
White couldn't have scripted a better ending to UFC 91 than the one he witnessed from his front row seat at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. While he billed the bout as "the biggest fight in UFC history" and pushed Lesnar's sole UFC win against
He knew he had a marquee name. He knew he had a potential superstar. He knew that he had someone that could attract bigger numbers than the company had ever seen.
He just didn't know if it was too good to be true.
It wasn't until he watched Lesnar land a series of hammerfists to the head of the fallen champion that that he knew.
Lesnar is for real.
It was the ending that White had no doubt hoped for as he publicly praised Couture for coming out of a one year retirement during which he sued the UFC, attempting to get out of his contract in order to fight for a rival promotion. While Couture ended up coming back as most fighters with a problem with the UFC end up doing, the bottom line is Couture is 45 years old and past the twilight of his career. A win over the 31-year-old Lesnar would have been a nice one-night story, but it would have been terrible business-wise for the UFC in the long run.
If this was pro wrestling, this would have been the equivalent of
There was a motion-picturesque feeling to match before it even began with Lesnar entering the Octagon to Metallica's
Only this time,
While White doesn't normally push fighters who haven't proven themselves, he knew he had a star in Lesnar from the moment he first met him at the MGM before Couture's last UFC fight in August 2007. He knew that if Lesnar could actually back up his freakish physique and unparalleled hype with actual results in the Octagon, he would have potentially the biggest star the UFC had ever seen.
"It drove me crazy when people compared him to Kimbo Slice," said White after the fight. "If I had any hair I would pull it out. This guy is far from a Kimbo Slice. This guy is a real athlete."
Lesnar, who became the first fighter to win the heavyweight title in just his fourth MMA fight, said he had never even heard of Slice, admitting he doesn't have the Internet or read newspapers.
"I don't even know that guy," said a straight-faced Lesnar. "Who is that?"
"You're lucky," said White.
Although Lesnar certainly has a better athletic pedigree than Slice as a former NCAA wrestling champion, even White had to laugh as he introduced Lesnar at Thursday's pre-fight news conference, which was held in the main lobby of the MGM Grand and attracted a crowd of nearly 1,500 spectators. "I never thought I'd say this," said White with a smile. "But fighting for the heavyweight title with a record of 2-1 ..."
Putting Lesnar, who was just 1-1 in his brief UFC career, in the Octagon with Couture for the heavyweight title was certainly a gamble but it paid off bigger than any bet laid down at the sports books, which surprisingly had Lesnar as a slight favorite in the fight despite his inexperience.
Sure, Lesnar was bigger, faster and stronger than Couture but Couture is a masterful tactician in the Octagon and it wouldn't have surprised any of the pundits sitting at ringside if he had surprised Lesnar in the first round and successfully defended his title against the newcomer. At that point it would have been hard for White to push Lesnar, with a 1-2 record in the UFC, as being the next big thing in the sport.
Luckily for him and the UFC, he didn't have to worry about that as he helped put the heavyweight belt on the new champion and ushered in a new era in the UFC.
"After I beat Heath [Herring] I said, 'Can you see me now?'" said Lesnar after the fight. "Well, can you believe me now?"