Reflections on Brock Lesnar

As the UFC moves forward into a bold 2012, we have a lot to look forward to. GSP will return to defend his title after being out for nearly a year due to a knee injury, Rampage Jackson will be retiring, Jon Jones and Rashad Evans will finally square off for the light-heavyweight championship, and Chael Sonnen and Anderson Silva will have their much anticipated middleweight title rematch later this year in Brazil.

One player however who will be sorely missed, by both UFC President Dana White’s wallet and myself, is former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar (5-3 MMA, 4-3 UFC). Given all that Lesnar accomplished in the world of MMA in such a short period, it seems fitting to reflect back on those accomplishments and see what kind of legacy Brock Lesnar left behind.

Brock made his professional MMA debut on June 2, 2007 at the K-1 Dynamite!! USA show against Min-Soo Kim of Korea. Lesnar had made the announcement of his joining the MMA promotion in 2006 at the end of of K1 Hero’s Las Vegas show. It took him all of one minute and nine seconds to overwhelm Kim and win via submission due to strikes. Considering Lesnar has lunchboxes at the ends of his arms, that’s not surprising in the least.

Not content with performing in the minor promotion, Lesnar found Dana White at UFC 77 and pleaded with White to let him have a chance at fighting in the UFC. Dana was at first sceptical, telling Brock, “This is not the place where you want to learn how to fight”. Lesnar’s feeling was, “Either I’m good at this or I’m not.” Sure enough, a deal was reached and Brock made his UFC debut at UFC 81 against former heavyweight champion and Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu ace, Frank Mir (16-5 MMA, 14-5 UFC). When the fight started, Brock immediately shot in for a takedown at a speed matched only by men that are half his size. Referee Steve Mazzagatti stopped the fight a few seconds into it and took away a point from Brock, citing repeated blows to the back of the head. Mir had a chance to recover though it was short-lived because when the fight began a second time, Lesnar caught Mir with two flush right hand punches that sent him down to the canvas. Lesnar then unleashed a flurry of punches, escaped an armbar attempt, only to be caught in a fight-ending kneebar by Mir from the bottom due to his inexperience in professional MMA. The fight lasted a total of one minute and 30 seconds.

Lesnar’s next fight was booked for UFC 87 against Heath Herring (28-14-1 MMA, 2-3 UFC), a veteran from the days of Pride FC in Japan. It was a fight that you really had to see to believe, as Lesnar broke Herring’s orbital bone with a thunderous right hand that sent Herring spinning backwards across the cage less than 20 seconds into the start of the first round. Lesnar went on easily dominate Herring for three full rounds and won via unanimous decision. His next fight, much to the shock and in some cases disgust of MMA fans, was against Randy Couture (19-11 MMA, 16-8 UFC) for the heavyweight title. Brock went to win via TKO in the second round, declaring him the UFC heavyweight champion and with the win, solidified his presence at the top of the UFC food chain.

Conflict was brewing however in his former foe Frank Mir, who had just won the interim heavyweight strap from Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (33-7-1-1 MMA, 4-3 UFC) at UFC 92. A rematch finally happened at UFC 100 on July 11, 2009 when Brock won via brutal KO in the second round. Lesnar also displayed his ability to learn from past mistakes and to be more patient in a fight as opposed to rushing into things. For those of you who haven’t seen the fight I highly recommend looking it up but be forewarned: if you’re squeamish, look away from Frank’s face at the end of it because it resembles something that comes out of a meat grinder whilst processing hamburgers. After avenging his only loss, Brock Lesnar seemed poised to become to dominant heavyweight champion for years to come.

Unfortunately, his body had other plans. While preparing for his second title defense against Shane Carwin (12-1 MMA, 4-2 UFC), Brock came down with a severe intestinal disorder known as diverticulitis. While the fight with Carwin was originally set for UFC 106 on November 21, 2009, it was delayed all the way until July 3, 2010 due to Lesnar’s recovery schedule. When the fight finally happened, no one knew what to expect. Would Lesnar be able to deal with Carwin’s proven one-punch KO power? Would Shane be able to prevent Brock’s thunderous takedowns being an accomplished amateur wrestler himself? Would Brock really be at 100%?

Sure enough, those questions and more were answered. Shane caught Brock with a big uppercut in the first round, causing Brock to pedal backwards and cover up, run from the punches, ultimately leading to Lesnar turtling up on the ground, hanging on for dear life as Shane reigned down a flurry of punches no one had ever imagined would be coming Brock’s way as opposed to the opposite. Lesnar managed to survive the onslaught as Carwin punched himself out and was exhausted coming into the second round. Brock took advantage of that fact as he took Shane down and submitted him with a textbook arm triangle. Was I cheering loudly at the bar when I saw this? Oh brother, you have no idea. This fight demonstrated two things. Lesnar had tremendous heart as any other fighter would have crumbled beneath Shane’s punches and that he was evolving as mixed martial artist. Having beaten the heavy handed Shane Carwin, it seemed like nothing could get in Brock’s way at this point.

I guess someone forgot to tell Cain Velasquez (9-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC) whom Brock fought on October 23, 2010 at UFC 110. Cain not only showed superior cardio but vastly superior striking to Brock’s, which had Lesnar running backwards like a scared rabbit and at one point, showing off his dance skills across the octagon. Lesnar lost via TKO in the first round and also left with a nasty scar on the left side of his face which is still visible to this day.  More importantly however, he lost the heavyweight championship. At this point, fans really started to question Brock’s credibility as a fighter given the poor striking skills he exhibited in the fight with Cain.

Brock admitted he had a severe deficiency with his striking game in an interview with Fighters Only! magazine in the June 2011 edition. He knew he had things to work on, so he began the rebuilding process. In the meantime, he signed on as a coach for season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter opposite fellow heavyweight and KO artist, Junior Dos Santos (14-1 MMA, 8-0 UFC). Brock went on to coach the winning finalist Tony Ferguson, but unfortunately, came down with another bout of diverticulitis and had to withdraw from his fight with Junior. Shocked doesn’t begin to describe what I was feeling at that point.

Junior went on to beat Brock’s replacement for their fight at UFC 131. Ironically enough, it was Shane Carwin. Junior won via UD and then went on to defeat Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight strap at UFC on Fox 1. While all of this was happening, the UFC was busy signing Alistair Overeem (48-11-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC). Overeem’s arrival was lauded by fans and critics alike and his debut fight set for UFC 141 was set to be opposite none other than Brock Lesnar, who would return to the octagon after having been out of action for over a year due to his illness. Brock claimed to be back at 100% fighting health and said he was ready to regain his belt.

The night of the fight told a different story. While walking out to the cage, you could tell Brock wasn’t the same. He didn’t have the same look of pure killer rage that filled his visage when he fought Frank the second time. He looked tired and withered which is not how you want to approach a title eliminator match. Alas, it was Overeem who walked away the victor as he floored Lesnar with a vicious liver kick in the first round only to finish up with punches on the ground, the most striking of which (no pun intended) was a shot to the gut. Brock took to the microphone and uttered a phrase I shan’t soon forget: “tonight was the last time you’ll see me in the octagon.” It still echoes with me to this day.

So in review, what did Brock Lesnar accomplish?

  1. Heavyweight championship in only his third professional fight
  2. Tied for most title defences in the heavyweight division
  3. Consistently fought top-level competition throughout his career in the UFC
  4. Highest paid mixed martial artist in history at $5.3 million (ESPN Magazine, May 2011)
  5. Highest number of PPV draws in UFC history (none of the events he headlined brought in less than one million buys)

I’d say that’s pretty darn impressive for a guy who entered the sport with zero experience and got by mostly due to his athleticism and wrestling ability. Whatever you decide to do in future Mr. Lesnar, I wish you the best of luck. Shine on you crazy diamond. You will be missed.

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