Those who thought they saw the last of Brock Lesnar in the UFC had a surprise waiting for them on Saturday night.
The former UFC heavyweight champion announced his mixed martial arts retirement after a one-sided loss to Alistair Overeem on Dec. 30 so he could return to World Wrestling Entertainment.
But Lesnar kicked off a fresh round of speculation about his future on Saturday night, simply by making a stroll across the floor of the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Moments before UFC 146's main event, the heavyweight title fight between Junior dos Santos and Frank Mir, Lesnar turned heads in the arena by showing up in the front row and chatting up both Zuffa president Dana White and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta.
In White's media scrum following the postfight press conference at the MGM, he said that during their conversation, Lesnar requested a personal audience later in the evening. But White could only speculate as to what's on the former champion's mind.
"He said, ‘what are you doing tonight?'" White said. "I said I have a press conference, and he said he wanted to meet with me face to face. You never know with him. he might want to come back, he might just want to hang out."
The 34-year old Lesnar won the UFC heavyweight championship in just his fourth pro fight, defeating Randy Couture at UFC 91, and seemed on the verge of a long title reign. But he was never the same as a fighter after a prolonged bout with Diverticulitis. Lesnar lost his title to Cain Velasquez at UFC 121 via first-round TKO, then lost to Overeem before deciding to go back to the WWE, where he first became a star pay-per-view attraction a decade ago.
Lesnar returned to the WWE in April and headlined a pay-pew-view event, which reportedly drew a disappointing buy rate, leading to the speculation Lesnar could be looking for an MMA return.
For his part, White said he thinks Lesnar could return and compete.
"I still think Brock Lesnar is one of the top guys in the heavyweight division," White said. "Is he in the top five? I don't know. We'll see."
As White and Fertitta built the UFC over the past decade, they've kept a strict wall between mixed martial arts, which is a legitimate athletic competition, and pro wrestling, which is athletic show biz. But White might be softening his stance a bit, as he indicated he may be open to the idea of letting Lesnar do both.
"I think people get it now with Brock," White said. "Brock is a huge WWE star and huge UFC star. He's accomplished at both. ... He went back to the WWE, there's no secret. I think people get it. There's nothing fake going on here, it's real. They get it."