Going into UFC 168, talk abounded on the possibility that Brock Lesnar could come back to Octagon competition. “Did you hear? He’s in Las Vegas! He meeting with Dana White!” But of course, the images of Anderson Silva shattering his own leg and being carried out of the cage – possibly forever – made us forget, or even care, about the comings and goings of a former heavyweight champ who’d left the world of real combat for the realm of pro wrestling fantasy. And yet, the whispers did linger, and eventually returned to become a meta-story consisting of a lot of “he said/she said” but not a lot of cold, hard facts.

On Monday, Lance Pugmire of the LA Times tweeted this:

And later, Ariel Helwani tweeted this:

Is this a case of “where there’s smoke there’s fire”? Or is the talk nothing more than a ploy to gauge fan interest, a trick to either drum up interest in Lesnar’s WWE exploits or to see if fans would really give a crap if the big guy returned to the UFC? The answer to these questions, unfortunately, will elude us until the powers that be want us to know them. But in all honesty, it doesn’t matter. Because ultimately, the underlying issue is not whether a particular faded UFC star of days gone past will come back into the fold – that sort of discussion is merely the symptom of something greater. The real issue is why we want to talk about Lesnar.

The real issue is that we need him. Or someone like him.

With Silva out of the picture, and Georges St. Pierre adrift in the sea of semi-retirement, the UFC has only a few “big” stars on their roster, and none of them are yet comparable to Silva and GSP (and sadly, to Lesnar) in terms of how much buzz they generate. Sure, Jon Jones is tough and Cain Velasquez is a beast, and Ronda Rousey is a trailblazer and media magnet, but are they the same kind of must-see TV as the Brazilian, Canadian and WWE star? Can they get the public talking – not just for SportsCenter appearances and mainstream media soundbites, but real public talk, like in overheard conversations at your local gym or coffee shop or the cafeteria at the office?

No, they cannot. And maybe they will at some point in the future (remember: when GSP first dethroned Matt Hughes he was nowhere near as popular; only over time did he grow into the PPV powerhouse he is today), and maybe they never will be that kind of star. But here and now we need someone, because when the sun sets on this chilly Wednesday in January, we will have none.

If Lesnar were to return to the UFC, there is no meaningful fight for him. He wouldn’t be competitive against the heavyweight division’s elite, and does anyone really want to see him face Frank Mir again? Watching Lesnar fight, and fail, again will only leave a bad taste in our collective mouths, a taste akin to eating something you knew was going to be rancid when you put it on your fork. But MMA is a sport whose peaks and valleys lie with the fortunes of its marquee names, and right now we need a big name in those lights, a name to fill the void created by a pair of sudden departures.

Right now we need to at least talk about the rumors of Lesnar. At this very moment, despite his allegiances to fake wrestling and Vince McMahon, he’s all the superstar we’ve got.