Thursday, January 26, 2012
Brock Lesnar: A retrospective
I remember when I first read the news that Brock Lesnar would be trying his hand at MMA. At first, I thought it was just a publicity stunt, like Mike Tyson getting in the ring with Bob Sapp. My memories of Brock Lesnar were not unlike most fans: I remember his WWE days when he was parading around the ring with Paul Heyman calling him “The Next Big Thing.” He would do the F4, or whatever that move was called, to that guy John Cena when he was a rapper and not a wannabe Marine. I remember when he tried out for the Minnesota Vikings and laughing because the thought of him trying a real sport was comical to me at the time. Then, I learned about his previous collegiate wrestling credentials. Knowing how easy it is for wrestlers to adapt to MMA, I became curious. Was there actually a way Brock Lesnar could succeed at MMA?
I got really excited when K-1 announced Brock’s first fight. However, being against giant kickboxer Hong-Man Choi, I wondered if K-1 was mercilessly throwing Brock to the wolves. I thought he would get knocked out in a matter of seconds. “Wait, if he were able to take him down quickly, he could have a chance,” I thought. Whether he could or not was never answered, as Choi was forced to withdraw and was replaced by Min Soo Kim. Alright, the playing field was even now. Or was it? I watched in awe (on YouTube of course) as Brock took him down, mounted him, and pummeled the poor Korean into submission just over a minute into the first round. Wow. Talk about expectations being exceeded. Even with that one fight, I could tell there was a chance he could be something special. All he had to do was keep working his way up, but then the UFC came calling.
Brock’s first UFC fight was against former heavyweight champion Frank Mir. I thought this fight would make or break Brock Lesnar. Brock’s likely ground and pound attack would fall right into Mir’s strength: submissions. If Brock could be calm and execute a good gameplan, I thought he could actually have a chance against Mir. However, I thought if he got too overzealous, he’d get tapped. He got overzealous, Mir caught him, and he tapped. But before that, my jaw was on the floor. The athleticism and quickness Lesnar had for a heavyweight was unreal. The way he spun around Mir when he had him down initially…it was so quick I thought it was Frankie Edgar doing it. And the POWER. It was sloppy and raw, but when those “lunchboxes” hit Mir, you could tell it hurt. With a little more time, I began to realize that Brock Lesnar could actually be a legitimate mixed martial artist.
The next task for Lesnar was Mark Coleman, a legend from the early days of MMA that the UFC had just re-signed. “Cool, they’re giving him an easy fight with name value to help his progress,” I thought. When Coleman withdrew due to injury, the replacement shocked me: Former PRIDE heavyweight Heath Herring. A very dangerous Heath Herring. Brock couldn’t seem to catch a break in my eyes. First Mir, now Herring…did the UFC want to make an example out of him? Then, the unthinkable happened. In a controlled, but brutal performance, Brock Lesnar dominated “The Texas Crazy Horse.” In addition to displaying the freakish natural gifts he owned, he showed he could execute a gameplan and strategy to assist in the dispatching of an opponent. Lesnar caught some flak for doing a lasso gesture mid-fight with Herring, but after seeing Brock charge at Herring like a bull after knocking him down in the first round, it was Heath who should have brought the lasso.
At just 2-1 in his MMA career, it was announced Brock Lesnar would face Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight title. This quick…after three fights…really??? Whatever, the heavyweight division was paper thin at the time anyway. Plus, I fully expected Randy to school Brock like he did to the likes of Vitor, Rizzo, Tito, and Liddell back in the day. I thought that Randy would use his patented boxing and clinch work to slow down and frustrate Brock. But as “The Natural” said after the fight, that’s one big son’ bitch. Brock dwarfed Randy, and after getting out of some early trouble, he dropped Couture on the feet in the 2nd round. He followed Randy down, and after unleashing a bevy of piston-like hammerfists, the fight was over. At just 3-1, Brock Lesnar was the UFC heavyweight champion. He avenged his loss to Mir in devastating fashion at the record-setting UFC 100 event. He pummeled and battered Frank until he couldn’t take any more in the 2nd round. Frank’s face looked like someone had repeatedly smashed it with an iron. He was now 4-1, and a legitimate UFC champion.
But just as quickly as his ascent to the top was, his downfall was arguably quicker. A well-documented bout with diverticulitis delayed a bout between Lesnar and number one contender Shane Carwin until UFC 116. The first round saw Carwin absolutely batter Lesnar on the feet. It made the first round beatings Frankie Edgar took from Gray Maynard look like pillow fights. Somehow, Lesnar was able to survive the round, and Carwin looked visibly gassed, presumably from punching himself out. In round two, Lesnar was able to take down and submit the exhausted Carwin via arm-triangle choke. While Lesnar showed guts to be able to weather that first round storm, and willingness to be a complete fighter by evidence of the arm-triangle, the fact remained that Lesnar’s Achilles heel was exposed. Before his UFC career had started, there were rumors the Lesnar couldn’t take a punch. This fight, and especially his next one, helped prove those rumors to be more and more accurate.
Lesnar’s next fight was against powerhouse Cain Velasquez at UFC 121. In this fight, Lesnar showed none of the promise he displayed in his previous six outings. He tried to stand with Velasquez, and after that failed miserably, could not come close to taking him down. Velasquez’s powerful, quick, and accurate strikes make Brock dance around in a Bob Sapp-like whirlybird before he finally fell to the canvas and was put away. Brock didn’t look a thing like the athletic freak we saw blow through Herring, Couture, and Mir. Just from the way he looked walking to the cage…he seemed uninterested, flat, and like his mind was somewhere else. Next up for Lesnar was a coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter. This was supposed to be a ratings gold mine, with Lesnar’s WWE persona still prevalent. Remember after the 2nd Mir fight where he was practically foaming at the mouth into the camera, flipping off the entire crowd, and made a post-fight speech slamming Bud Light and implying that he would slam his wife? That was nowhere to be seen on the show. While he was a pretty decent coach, there was none of that personality to be seen, and ratings suffered. Things got even worse for Brock, as he was forced to withdraw from his scheduled fight with fellow TUF coach Junior dos Santos after a second case of diverticulitis. After a successful surgery, Lesnar was ready to return, and face his biggest test yet.
His next fight was against Alistair Overeem. There was a lot of buzz surrounding this fight: Would Brock return to form? Was The Reem for real? Oh yeah, and it was also a number one contender fight to determine a challenger for Junior dos Santos’s heavyweight title. I remember thinking that it was such a great fight to make, mainly because they were both bad match-ups for each other. If Lesnar went back to his relentless wrestling and ground and pound attack, Overeem might not be able to handle it, but if Overeem kept Brock on the feet, he could make it a short night. It became apparent once The Reem brushed off Brock’s first takedown attempt how the night would go, and with one powerful kick to the body, Alistair Overeem had finished Brock Lesnar, and not just in the fight itself.
After the bout, Lesnar announced his retirement. How can you blame him? The guy had been through hell with his bouts with diverticulitis, and it was an amazing feat for him to even step into the cage again, let alone win a fight. Is he a UFC Hall of Famer? I say, why not? Every pay-per-view card he was on did huge numbers, and there’s no denying that without Lesnar, the UFC wouldn’t be as close to the level of success they find themselves in now. People may say “Oh, well he only had eight fights.” Well I say, look at the names in those eight fights. Aside from Min Soo Kim, there’s Herring, Couture, Mir, Carwin, Velasquez, and Overeem. Those names were literally at the top of the food chain at the time, and no one has had to face a gauntlet of names like that in their first eight fights. Had he been given lesser competition to help him hone his skills and diverticulitis been taken out of the equation, I think Brock would still be fighting today, maybe even still be a champion. Though his time in the MMA world was short, there is no question that his accomplishments will be remembered for a long time. Thank you Brock, for entertaining us every time you stepped in the cage, and helping our sport grow to new heights.