Trading Shots: Junior Dos Santos isn’t wrong about the absurdity of a potential Brock Lesnar title shot, and yet …

Junior Dos Santos wants almost anyone but Brock Lesnar to fight for the UFC heavyweight title next. And yet, don’t we all know who it’ll be, even if JDS is right that it makes no sense? Retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes joins MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes to discuss in this week’s Trading Shots.

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Fowlkes: Junior Dos Santos went out there in Wichita and put his thing down on Saturday night, Danny. He hurt Derrick Lewis with a body kick in the first, then put him away with a swarm of punches in the second. That’s three wins in a row for him at heavyweight, which is usually right about when the wind begins to whisper tiiiiitle shooooooot.

But there’s a problem. UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier is still working on getting healthy enough to fight, and when he is ready it seems like a given that his next opponent will be pro wrasslin’ star Brock Lesnar, who UFC President Dana White insists he hasn’t even heard from lately. In other words, what we have here is a heavyweight holding pattern.

But then I’m sitting there this morning and I’m listening to Dos Santos’ post-fight remarks after his big win. When asked who should be next to fight for the title, his immediate answer is, “For sure not Brock Lesnar.” He goes on to explain further:

“I like to see Brock Lesnar fighting, but not for the title. He’s not even part of this sport right now. He cannot come back and fight for the title like this. I know ‘DC’ wants to make money, but man, it doesn’t make sense.”

I think we both know he’s totally right, just like I think we both know it won’t matter. So what does that tell us about what we’re really up to in this sport?

Downes: It tells us that we’re in a lull. We have more #content than ever, but there still seems to be a bit of discontent among fans. We can criticize the powers that be for their willingness to give Lesnar a title shot, but they’re following the marketplace.

There’s no doubt Cormier vs. Lesnar would sell more pay-per-views than Cormier vs. Dos Santos or a Stipe Miocic rematch. So I guess they’re giving the people what they want?

The Lesnar situation reminds me of your UFC Wichita “5 Takeaways” column. Did you know that Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos was on a six-fight winning streak going into the weekend? I sure didn’t. How many fans, even the hardcores, knew that piece of information? Being a good fighter simply isn’t enough to make an impact.

Elizeu and Junior may share a similar last name, but I realize their situations are quite different. ‘JDS’ is a former champion and the heavyweight division is as shallow as your beer palate. What they have in common, though, is that they still can’t draw like a pro wrestler. I bet more people would tune in to watch CM Punk get beat up again than the next Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos fight.

MMA has always been a mix of sport and carnival. Do you think the pendulum has swung too far to the other side? Or is it just that we’re so awash with “sport” that the carnival aspect elicits greater emotion? Love it or hate it, at least you’re feeling something.

Fowlkes: I actually did know about the other dos Santos’ winning streak before this event, but only for one reason: My Brazilian coworker Fernanda Prates spent much of the week talking about him. As in, why didn’t people care about him? Did they just not know what he’s done, or were they firmly indifferent?

Then fight night came and he dominated Curtis Millender, and now it’s like you can already feel him fading back into the faceless pack.

The thing that’s really weird to me is how we can simultaneously hold these two conflicting ideas about how the sport works. Let some mid-level lightweight call out Khabib Nurmagomedov and he’ll be flooded with responses from fans telling him that he hasn’t earned it, that he needs to win more fights and climb up the rankings first. But let Lesnar roll in off a doping suspension and a decision win that was overturned due to the same and suddenly no one wants to let a silly thing like rankings or wins get in the way of Cormier’s red panty night paycheck.

In most other sports, success breeds fame. Winning is what makes people care about you, even if you have the personality of a Tom Brady.

But pro fighters get the worst of both worlds. They have an incredibly difficult job and so few chances to actually do it. The minute they lose the fanbase insists that they suck and have always sucked. Even if they don’t lose, they might get skipped in line by someone who doesn’t even really do this sport. And we all just shrug like, hey that’s how it goes.

What else are we supposed to say, though? If you were advising the next Junior Dos Santos, some fresh-faced kid who’s headed into his UFC debut and is starting to realize that wins mean everything except for when they mean nothing, what would you tell him? How does one even maintain one’s sanity in a sport where someone like ‘JDS’ can be so plainly right and yet also so very wrong at the same time?

Downes: I guess I’d tell him that you’ll get used to it. Think of the current political scene. Regardless of what side of the aisle your socio-economic principles lie, you’ve probably been outraged by 10,634 different things all in the last month.

Remember the teenager in the MAGA hat at the Lincoln Memorial? Those 15 minutes dried up faster than the last winner of “The Voice.” (“The Voice” is still around, right?)

Every week there are new challenges. You might get injured during training camp. Your opponent might drop out at the last minute. The replacement fighter might have a totally different skill set than what you spent the last six to eight weeks prepping against. What do you do? Well … you do need the money.

Maybe we’d be better off if we thought of MMA as entertainment first and a sport second, instead of the other way around. The NFL can’t change the Super Bowl matchup because one of the teams “isn’t a draw.” The NCAA tournament is coming up. If there aren’t any upsets, then all the talking heads will grown and say that March Madness 2019 was a flop. That’s just a risk. NCAA officials don’t have the same tools at their disposal as fight promoters.

The “Big Bang Theory” had the highest viewership in television for years. Very few people, however, would say that it was the best show on television. “The Meg” grossed $530.2 million in 2018. That’s right, a science-fiction thriller starring Jason Statham fighting a 70-foot prehistoric shark was one of the top 15 grossing films of 2018.

That’s not to say that every movie should be like a Werner Herzog film, nor is it an elitist smear against the “unwashed masses.” Whether it’s television, movies, or mixed martial arts, fans of those mediums expect different things when they consume them. I guess it’s time to ask yourself what your expectations are. Are they the exception to the rule?

For complete coverage of UFC on ESPN+ 4, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

Ben Fowlkes is MMA Junkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMA Junkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.

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